CHILDHOOD TRAUMA – DOES IT EVER END? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

Childhood trauma is rampant. 5% of all American children are hospitalized for acute or chronic illness, injuries or disability. This doesn’t include all the millions of children who suffer trauma secondary to poor parenting.

Adults who seek psychiatric help have conduits to their past that are often hidden from their conscious minds. Whether they were ill, injured, abused, abandoned, ignored, devalued or suffered from a major psychiatric illness like Schizophrenia or Bipolar Disorder, they suffered when they were kids and they’re suffering now as adults.

According to statistics from the CDC (Center for Disease Control), victims of childhood trauma live 19 years less than non-victims. That’s an astounding number! If you think about the increase in alcohol abuse, drug abuse, poor decision making and years of chronic stress, it makes sense.

Medication alone can help decrease symptoms, but it certainly doesn’t deal with the hurt, low self-esteem and agony that adults carry forward from their past. To not deal with the bottled-up stress can lead to an autoimmune system that has been overwhelmed for years and at some point can no longer protect against illness and cancer.

Our lives are a continuum and we need to be in touch with how that continuum affects us now. If we don’t deal with our past in a timely fashion, our bodies may deal with us in a very unkindly manner.

For those of you who experienced childhood trauma, I’d be interested in how you dealt with it. What helped? What didn’t? What was it like being alone and misunderstood? Any experiences with childhood hospitalizations? Any ideas from professionals?

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15 thoughts on “CHILDHOOD TRAUMA – DOES IT EVER END? by Art Smukler, author & psychiatrist

  1. This issue has been terribly important to me throughout my life. Women with a childhood history of abuse are more likely to have depression and also chronic pain. That has an effect on your immune system, I believe. I have had fibromyalgia for almost 25 years. I am 55. I had endometriosis which was not diagnosed FOR 25 YEARS! I recently learned that new research shows that 30% of women with endometriosis also get fibromyalgia. Endometriosis does not just affect reproductive organs, but is an autoimmune disorder that stresses your immune system. It is more prevalent and causes more doctor visits and economic losses than BREAST CANCER.

    Women with endometriosis, a top cause of infertility, are much more likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, chronic fatigue syndrome, fibromyalgia and allergies, new research has found. The researchers urged doctors to look for the other diseases in women when diagnosing endometriosis, which afflicts 8 to 10 percent of women of childbearing age. The study, by scientists at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, George Washington University and the Endometriosis Association, involved 3,680 women with endometriosis. The scientists found that 20 percent of the women had more than one other disease.

    George Washington University was where I had my endometriosis treated by doctors who were at the cutting edge, pardon the pun! I had 4 surgeries to address severe pelvic pain. I was unable to work after that, and have been on permanent disability for the last ten years. It took years for my pelvic pain to resolve, but I am doing better now.

    What do I know? My father was a psychiatrist with severe alcoholism, who battered my mother until his death in a car accident when I was 7 years old. My mother was verbally and emotionally abusive, full of hostility and rage. At age 19, I found out that my stepfather, who had lived with my family for 10 years, had sexually abused my little sister. All these thngs affected me mentally and physically. The dysfunction with personal relationships was the worst part, for me. I have had many years of therapy to work all these things out. I will not tolerate any abuse any more, even from my own family. I have a choice now. I am a survivor.


  2. I can tell you that what worked for me was to begin with traditional “talk therapy” where I was allowed to recite my experiences as a child. During this time, I was on antidepressant medication which worked to control my severe depression and occasional suicidal thoughts (although I hated the side effects). After about two years, the talk therapy felt as though it wasn’t working to move me forward and I switched to a cognitive behavioral therapist. I also began meditating and taking yoga classes several times a week, eliminated gluten from my diet and increased my Vitamin B and Vitamin D and, along with changing my negative thought patterns, I was able to stop taking antidepressants. I have been off of medication for over a year and now when I get depressive episodes I am more resilient and able to trust that I can work through issues with CBT techniques and hold on.


  3. Sometimes self-injury is a the only action that can effectively stop dissociative episodes.That makes it especially common among girls who were sexually abused. Cutting is usually a private process and the scars are hidden. It’s imperative to stop self-mutilation as soon as it’s discovered, as cutting can take on a life of its own with addiction-like qualities. Treatment usually involves psychotherapy plus SSRI antidepressants, which decrease the impulsivity behind most acts of self-harm.


    1. As an ex-cutter, I managed to stop the cutting after I met my future husband. The cutting is personal and reflects how a person actually feels about them self. It’s a freeing feeling and gives you control. showing you how much pain you can handle. It can get out of control but remains hidden, where all scars to the Psyche go. You can move on in life but I have found that you are a total of what you’ve experienced, bad and good. You are also in control of who you become.


      1. Thank you, Cheral. I also feel that cutting is not only an expression of frustration and anger at one’s self, it’s a displacement of all the rage one feels towards the abusers but just can’t be expressed. It’s not easy to do, but once that anger can be focused towards the people who deserve it, the destructive self-attack can be much better controlled.


    1. I know of no formal studies relating stress to causing cancer. My clinical impression is that years of stress, with chronic adrenal stimulation and chronic autonomic nervous system overload has to cause some auto immune deterioration. We do know that with stressful situations there is an increase in infections like herpes zoster etc. and it seems logical to me that cancer cells would have an easier time proliferating.


      1. In my case, I strongly suspect (but have no ‘proof’) that it led to my non-specific IBS/gluten intolerance and my adrenal glands being so out of whack that it took diet and herbs years to get me back to where I could sleep at night and stay awake all day long.


  4. One of the almost insurmountable problems faced by those who have been abused as children is the fact that it is drummed in to them from a very early age that they must never talk about it to anyone. This can become so important in their mind that they find it difficult to overcome even when their logical mind is telling them they need to ‘let it out’ when they are adults and understand it’s something they need to do to help themselves recover.


    1. I agree. Breaking any parental/societal rule is very difficult. No matter how horrible the abuse, the child feels like they don’t have the right to be angry and that it feels like a betrayal.


  5. I appreciate how you highlight that childhood trauma comes from so many sources. It’s amazing how our past can control our future.


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