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The Long-Term Impact of Childhood Adversity

This interview is from the Like Mind, Like Body podcast. You can listen to the full interview below, on iTunes or Google Podcasts.


Dr. David Clarke has spent his career helping people recover from mysterious aches and pains across their body. The diagnosis? "Stress Illness" - the body's extreme physical reaction to emotional factors. 60% of the time, he says, the stress dates back to childhood, where parents have the opportunity to make or break a child's chances of developing pain. Join us as Dr. Clarke shares some of his wildest stories, along with what he's learned as a parent and how to avoid falling into the "tough love trap."

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How much of this stress illness do you think is actually caused by these traumatic childhood events and how does that work biologically, that there’s this lag time of decades before it really shows up in people?

That is a long process. Relatively briefly, the process begins with treatment of the child that makes them feel like a lesser human being, that impacts their self-esteem in a negative way. And typically also creates emotions - anger, fear, shame, grief, guilt - that get repressed, and remain repressed for many years.

Other outcomes from the childhood adversity are more positive. People become very detail-oriented, compassionate, sometimes perfectionists, very helpful toward other people - sometimes overly helpful. The world loves people with these positive qualities. They’re exactly the kinds of people you want to have to be your friend, your co-worker, your neighbor, your spouse. So these people get a lot of positive feedback from the world in general. And gradually that support improves their self-esteem. They begin to feel like they are much better people than they did when they were children.

Eventually they can reach a point where they feel like, “You know what, I’m actually a pretty decent human being, and these terrible experiences that I went through as a kid were really not my fault and not something that I deserved." And often that point is when they first form a relationship with a neutrally supportive partner. But it also starts to stir up some of those repressed emotions. Because the more positively you think about yourself, inevitably the more you recognize how badly mistreated you were as a kid.

Those negative emotions start knocking on the door. But you’ve got years and years of skills at repressing them. So if those emotions have no way to reach your conscious awareness because of that repression, if they have no way to be put into words, they end up getting expressed via your body. They can go almost anywhere in your body. They can go multiple locations in your body at the same time. So its possible to have, for example, migraines and back pain at the same time. Or pelvic pain and diarrhea at the same time. Or numbness and tingling in your extremities. Or chest pain or joint pain. The list of symptoms that can result from this is virtually endless.

It’s all from these emotions looking for a way to express themselves. The more you put them into words, the less they need to go into your body. And that’s what results in the relief of symptoms.

[this is an excerpt only - for the full episode, listen to the podcast above]

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