Archive for October, 2012

Is there a connection between having an unhappy childhood and having a chronic illness as an adult?

Wednesday, October 31st, 2012

With very few exceptions, everyone I’ve talked to who has a chronic illness (and I’ve talked to LOTS of people who do) has wondered why they got it. I have too. Many of them believe what I do: that one of the main factors that caused their illness, was having an unhappy and often traumatic childhood that included not getting nearly enough love from their parents or caretakers.

I believe there is a strong connection between our childhoods and our chronic illnesses for several reasons. The first is that the majority of the people with chronic illnesses I’ve coached over the past 10 years have told me that their childhoods were emotionally traumatic and that they didn’t feel very loved by one or both parents.

One recent client, whom I’ll call Lillian, is a good example. Neither of her parents was emotionally there for her when she was growing up, especially her father. And she’s had cancer – not once, but twice. She was diagnosed with lymphoma was she was seven years old. It responded to treatment, but she never fully recovered her health.

Then, 10 years ago, when she was 38, Lillian was diagnosed with leukemia. She had to undergo a bone marrow transplant. That cured the leukemia, but her body, including her immune system, were severely damaged and she hasn’t felt well or had what she considers to be a good day since. Is is just a coincidence that she didn’t get the love she needed (and still longs for) and that she has had cancer twice. I sure don’t think so.

The second reason I believe in that strong connection is because researchers have been finding more and more evidence that people who’ve had unhappy or stressful childhoods are much more likely to be diagnosed with chronic illnesses (and also chronic pain) as adults. The illnesses include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and many others.

The third reason I believe in the connection between an unhappy childhood and developing a chronic illness is my own experience. As I’ve written elsewhere, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease when I was 47. I feel strongly that having an unhappy childhood was one of two main causes (for reasons I won’t go into here, I believe that the other main cause was my many mercury-amalgam fillings).

There is one more reason I think there is a connection between having an unhappy childhood and developing a chronic illness. It comes partly from what I have learned and understood about  my clients, but more than that it comes from my own life. As a child, I developed a serious chronic illness that resembled polio, but wasn’t. I eventually recovered from it.

In a therapy session many years later, I had the profound but completely unexpected realization that I had deliberately but subconsciously acquired the illness to get  attention and love from my parents that I desperately wanted and needed, but wasn’t getting.

I wish I knew and could explain how I acquired the illness, but I don’t and can’t. But more than enough corroborating evidence came along with the realization to convince me that, beyond a reasonable doubt, it was true.

If, after reading what I’ve written, you suspect that you may have unconsciously decided to acquire a serious chronic illness, please don’t blame or criticize yourself for having done so. If you did that, it was because, like me, you had an unmet need. What you needed and didn’t get then was lots of compassion and understanding, and what you need and deserve now is lots of compassion and understanding. Please give them to yourself.

You also need lots of compassion and understanding if you had an unhappy childhood and there is a connection between it and the chronic illness you have now. Please give them to yourself – as much as you possibly can. Doing so helps bring about physical and emotional healing.