The Link Between Illness and Abuse

This post was written by a friend of mine and she communicates it so well, I am copying the post in its entirety.

This is such a huge issue, which is still almost completely unnoticed in the church’s ignorance of abuse. And it is affecting many, many people sitting in our pews.

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ILLNESS AND ABUSE: My Doctors Said…

By Sharon Merhalski

I am a survivor of childhood abuse: every kind of abuse from my mother (22% of pedophiles are women) and sexual abuse from my brother. As an abused child I experienced a childhood of illnesses. I now understand illness is an expected scenario given the constant internal and external stress an abused child (and children raised in domestic violence) carries. And I now understand until abuse issues are dealt with and healed, that internal stress cannot be alleviated, resulting in continued illness in the adult years.

I believe the Bible gives plain affirmation on this subject (words inside parenthesis are definitions for the previous word from the Strong’s Concordance).

Hope deferred maketh the heart sick: but when the desire (longing) cometh, it is a tree of life. Proverbs 13:12

A victim living in an abusive situation constantly hopes the abuse will end. When they are separated from the abuse by age or living situation there is usually an internal longing (especially with child abuse)–hope for a healthy relationship with the abusive parent. When hope longed for doesn’t happen the Bible says it makes their heart (feelings, the will and even the intellect) sick (be weak, sick, afflicted, cause to grieve, diseased, put in pain, be wounded) If our feelings, will and intellect are sick we are under extreme stress and on our way to physical illness.

In spring of 1984 I was 35 years old. I had severe allergies requiring weekly allergy injections and a lot of allergy medication. I was always fatigued, in bed a lot of the time, fought sinus and bronchial infections and yeast infections constantly and was an overall miserable mess.

In September of 1984 I came to a crossroad in my spiritual and emotional life that ended in my allowing God to take my very damaged heart and emotions and heal them with His Word. About six months into this lengthy process my allergies were so minimal that I no longer required allergy shots and I seldom took allergy medications. By mid-1985 the sinus infections and yeast infections were few and far between. The bronchial infections maybe happened once a year.

At this time I began to see a licensed physician who is a dear Christian man. He was the first doctor I asked about the ‘coincidence’ of my emotional healing and healing from allergies and infections. I remember clearly his saying to me it was no ‘coincidence’ and then teaching me about inner stress. He assured me what I experienced was a normal reaction to my internal healing. Since then I have asked two other physicians the same question and received the same answers.

In the last twenty-plus years I have been entrusted by God to both counsel and work with many women who are survivors of abuse…child abuse and/or domestic violence. The pattern I have observed is almost all of the women with unresolved/unhealed issues have been physically ill in some way…from allergies to cancer. And, those women whom I have observed through their personal spiritual and emotional healing process have experienced a lessening, if not total healing of their physical illnesses, i.e. arthritis, allergies, repeated infections, stomach and/or bowel problems, Candida/yeast infections, etc. I have always been very thankful I can share with each woman why their health was improving…using the words of my physicians—my Heavenly physician/Jehovah-Rapha and my earthly physicans–spoken to me. (The Bible has much to say on this subject.)

A few years ago I began to find research on this perceived ‘phenomenon’ of relieved stress and healing. Recently there has been much research done on this subject. I now understand fully the reasons for an increase in health when there is a decrease in stress…internal stress and external stress.

If you are a survivor or victim of abuse, or know a survivor or victim of abuse, I hope you will assimilate this information for yourself and/or pass it along to others.

Links to articles:

Physical Abuse Raises Women’s Health Costs Over 40 Percent The implication of this is that there are all these women suffering long-term health problems as a result of abuse.

possible link between sex abuse and Interstitial Cystitis

Child abuse ‘impacts stress gene’

Facial Fractures Speak Volumes

Childhood Abuse Raises Psychosis Risk in Women

Teenage Stress Has Implications on Adult Health

In this search page there are a couple posts about studies on domestic violence and ill health.

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Verbal Abuse and Neglect More Common than Physical Abuse

This article courtesy of the Post-Bulletin.

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Dodge County statistics on child abuse are a good indicator of what kinds of abuse are most prevalent. Mainly, it’s neglect and verbal abuse. Physical and sexual abuse, which get much of the media attention, are relatively rare.

The county gets about 300 reports of abuse annually, about half of which are found credible, said Nancy Reuvers, child family service supervisor.

Of 88 assessments, which don’t require court action, 68 were for neglect, such as not enough food, no supervision, educational neglect, exposing children to drug use, or parents spending money on drugs instead of food, she said.

Fourteen were for physical abuse; four were for mental or emotional injuries; one, for medical neglect; and one, for sexual abuse.

The hardest to prove is mental or emotional abuse. The only way to know that abuse is there is if the child suffers psychological problems from being belittled, sworn at or constantly being called names. The effect is cumulative over months and years, she said.

Of the 23 investigations, which often require court action, five were for neglect; nine, for physical abuse where there were marks; and nine, for sexual abuse, which could be peeping to invade privacy or showing children porn.

Sticks & Stones: Why Verbal Abuse Kills, II

Sticks and stones
May break my bones,
But words could even kill me…

Have you noticed that while you are accumulating birthdays the you inside doesn’t get any older? Somewhere in my late 20’s I realized I didn’t feel any different than I had when I was 18 or 22. Now I look in the mirror and think, “Who is that middle-aged woman?” I’m still the same me I was 25 years ago; I just have more experience.

This phenomenon illustrates the reality that who we are is not defined by our physical bodies. Yes, our physical appearance and health can influence who we are, but who we are is not our bodies. Because this is true, there is another reason why verbal abuse is just as powerful, and more certainly deadly, than physical abuse.

Physical wounds heal relatively quickly. Wounds to your personhood – emotions, mind, psyche – often never heal. Time certainly isn’t the healer of these wounds. When you look back at physical wounds received in the past there is no pain, the memory of what it felt like is dimmed by time. In fact, the pain you feel in retrospect is more likely be the emotional/mental pain attached to the incident, not the physical pain.

But psychological pain — pain within the you inside your skin — is just as fresh today as it was 15 years ago. And in retrospect, the pain of a physical assault is no different from the pain of a raging verbal abuse. The pain is due to the assault on your person, as I wrote in part 1.

This is also why the pain of abuse is cumulative. You don’t “get over it” so the next assault is falling on a clean slate. The next assault is falling on wounded, broken places, tearing them down further.

Sticks & Stones: Why Verbal Abuse Kills, I

Sticks and stones
Will break my bones,
But names will never hurt me….

Do you remember chanting that nursery rhyme on the school playground? We were told by the teachers that names couldn’t hurt, so anything a bully said could be ignored. It was a great idea for children (maybe) but it’s a naive idea that doesn’t work in real life. And there are reasons.

It is almost universally accepted that physical abuse is worse than verbal abuse. Stereotypical abuse includes black eyes, broken arms, bruised and broken ribs, split lips, etc. Every emergency room doctor and pediatrician knows what to look for and will call the authorities. It is visible, it is obvious, and it is horrific.

But the same injuries might occur from falling down the stairs or from a car accident. It is not the physical injuries that are really the problem. The danger of escalation to life-threatening injuries is certainly real and not to be discounted. But I’m going to suggest that the physical wounds of abuse are not really the measure of how bad abuse is. In saying this I am not attempting to minimize physical abuse. I am trying to communicate that all forms of abuse are equally devastating and dangerous — and why.

Because we identify people by their external appearance, we are confusing physical injuries with the substance of the abuse. OK, that sounded a little disconnected. Bear with me a minute here.

Remember, who you are is not your body. You are the person who is wearing that body suit during this earthly lifetime. Who you are is independent of your body, though the two are connected.

What makes physical abuse so horrific is the same thing that makes verbal abuse so horrific. What makes either one unbearably bad is the attack on the person — the real person, not the body being worn by the person. Physical abuse generally comes with verbal abuse. The physical abuse communicates assault, hatred, even murder, against the person within the body. The physical abuse is a vehicle for the heart of the abuse – the attack on the person inside the skin.

Abuse is an assault on the person. It can and will kill the person. Physical abuse is just one manifestation of abuse – it is not the worst; it is the most visible and it can certainly kill the fastest. All forms of abuse can and will kill because they are attacking who the victim really is. The heart of all types of abuse is the assault on the person — sometimes through the person’s emotions, sometimes through the person’s self worth, sometimes through the person’s body, sometimes through the person’s spirit — but always against the person.

Sticks and stones
May break my bones,
But words could even kill me…

No Bruises = No Abuse?

One of the things that made our abusive family life so difficult to concretely validate was the lack of bruises.  It is possible my sons just don’t make bruises easily (I’m that way, so it is possible; I get bruises but they are rarely visible).  But for some reason, Gary always managed to hurt himself visibly, not the kids.  Prior to our first separation, he regularly ended up in an arm/wrist or leg/foot brace or spint because he’d torn ligaments or sprained something hitting or kicking one of the kids, or punching holes in the walls.  He always had excuses for everyone outside the family.  And I was afraid to tell the truth because I was afraid of DFCS.  I knew it would sound “worse than it was” since the kids weren’t “hurt” – but actually it would have sounded just like what it was.  At that point, I was still in serious denial.  I finally realized there was a name for what we were living with right before I left Gary the first time, at 10 years into our marriage.

After that first separation Gary got a good bit smarter.  He almost killed himself in one of his rages (the “last straw” event that precipitated our first separation) and after that he was a lot more selective about how he struck people, and he entirely quit punching holes in the walls so he wouldn’t hurt himself.  (That’s a story for another time, I think).  

But the fact that there were no bruises made our life that much harder for all of us.  When we did go to counselors, or in relating with the social worker, it was just my word against his.  You have to understand; I lived with this man and I still believed him even when I saw things happen with my own eyes.  Well, not entirely, but to a large degree.  He was so very, very, very good and utterly believable.  I doubted myself constantly.  He would tell me to my face I was lying about him punching holes in the walls, and he believed himself, when there were holes in the walls and his hand was torn up.  And I’d wonder if I could possibly be mistaken even though I had watched it happen – he was that believable.

But does the lack of visible bruises mean the abuse was any less real?  For a long time I thought it did.  I know for many years I thought it wasn’t that bad since other people have it so much worse.  Now, especially as I saw the way the whole package worked together – verbal abuse, anger, rage, violence, in one escalation/crisis/relief cycle package – I know this is not true.  I know there are people who say verbal abuse isn’t “as bad” as physical violence.  There are people who say verbal “abuse” isn’t abuse.  How little do they know. 

Abuse of any kind breaks its victims on the inside, regardless of whether there are visible bruises.  I think it can even be worse than physical abuse because visible bruises are clear-cut and undeniable (yes, I know the abuse is still denied, but it’s harder).  People will live a lifetime with verbal abuse and think it “doesn’t really matter” and “words can’t kill” when, in fact, words do hurt and they can, literally, kill.  I’ll talk about that more eventually as well.

Abuse is more about the attitude of the abuser than it is about the actions used to express that attitude.  A lack of visible bruises should never be used as an excuse to deny abuse.  We need to look deeper than physical bruises.

A True Story – Abuse in a Christian Home

 I have posted another article by Marcia, a Christian counselor in my Articles section, under Abuse in the Christian Home.  I have excerpted only a little bit to give you a flavor of the whole…

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…The first thing I noticed about her was that she was a tiny little thing. The next thing I noticed was that she was very young. Perhaps in her late twenties, but with a look of youthful innocence…

She was silent for a moment. Looking down at an invisible object somewhere on the floor, she tightly gripped her small clutch purse with both hands on its corners, centered it smoothly on her lap, and in a soft, almost breathless voice, exhaled, “I killed my husband…”

You can read the whole post here.