Posts Tagged ‘multiple sclerosis’

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.

How to Love Yourself When You Have a Chronic Illness – Part 2

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Last spring I wrote a post I called “How to Love Yourself When You Have a Chronic Illness.” In it I included a letter I had written to Richard M. Cohen, an author and award-winning journalist, in response to an article he had written for O – The Oprah Magazine. In his article, Cohen, who has had multiple sclerosis for 25 years and has had colon cancer twice, wrote that what he sees in the mirror disturbs him (I’m sure because of how having MS has changed how he looks), that he will never love himself, and that the idea of self-love seems mythical.

In my letter, I wrote that compassion is a form of love, and I suggested that Cohen give himself the same compassion that he would give to his wife or one of his children if they were facing the same serious health challenges that he is.

I reread that post recently and I saw that while my suggestion to Cohen was a good one, it didn’t go far enough. Here’s why:

Those of us with chronic illnesses deserve and need compassion, and I have found that my clients understand that and see that it makes sense to give themselves the same compassion they would give to someone they cared about who had a chronic illness.

But we also need and deserve to be loved. While we deserve compassion because of the challenges and pain we live with because of our illness, we deserve love (and need it) because we are human beings. Very few people love their children, parents, partners, or other loved ones any less if they (their children, parents, or partners) are diagnosed with a chronic illness. They don’t wonder if they are less deserving of love or less lovable. And you are not less deserving of love and no less lovable because you have a chronic illness.

So be as good to yourself as you would to someone you truly loved and give yourself lots and lots of loving and compassionate hugs.

How to Love Yourself When You Have a Chronic Illness – an Open Letter to Richard M. Cohen

Monday, April 20th, 2009

Richard Cohen is an author, a journalist, and a former senior producer for CBS and CNN. He has multiple sclerosis and has been diagnosed with and treated for colon cancer. I’ve been an admirer of his ever since I read his book “Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness” (you can read my review of the book  here.) But when I recently read an article he wrote that appeared in the October, 2008 issue of O – The Oprah Magazine, I felt compelled to write to him.

The theme of that issue was love, and Cohen’s article was titled “We Live In The Real World.” In it he wrote “I never will love myself. The idea of self-love seems mythical, and what I see in the mirror disturbs me.” While he goes on to say that he can still love his life and that “life is made precious by what we give to others,” I wanted to let him know that even though what he sees in the mirror disturbs him, he can give himself compassion, and compassion is a form of love. If what I said to Richard resonates with you, you can heed the suggestion I gave him. Here’s the letter I sent to him:

An Open Letter to Richard M. Cohen

Dear Richard,

I’m writing to you in response to an article you wrote for the October 2008 issue of O – The Oprah Magazine. Your article, titled “We Live In The Real World,” was one of twelve in that issue that explored the essence of love.

In the article you wrote, “I never will love myself. The idea of self-love seems mythical, and what I see in the mirror disturbs me.” For many years–actually, it was for many decades, I think I was at as disturbed as you were by what I saw in the mirror. I didn’t like what I saw and I didn’t like many of the things I knew about the person I saw.

My feelings about what I saw and what I knew about that person underwent a major shift about three years ago. In a big “aha” moment, I realized two things: 1) that the things about me I found disturbing were the result of either illness-related or emotional wounds, and 2) that the wounded person in the mirror was as deserving of the compassion I instinctively feel for those who have been wounded as was anyone else.

Since compassion is a form of love, that realization was the beginning of loving myself in a way I never had before. That love kept growing and growing, and I now have more love for myself than I’ve ever had. I also have much more love for others. On top of that, my emotional wounds have healed more than I imagined was possible, and my illness symptoms (I have Crohn’s disease) have lessened dramatically.

In closing, I’m going to give you the same suggestion I give to many of my clients. I know it’s unsolicited, but I hope you’ll consider following it. It’s this: give yourself the same compassion you would give to a loved one, such as your wife or one of your children, if they were suffering from multiple sclerosis, colon cancer, and the symptoms and wounds that go with them.


Tom Robinson

PS This email not withstanding, I really liked the article, and I’ve been an admirer of yours ever since I read Blindsided: Lifting a Life Above Illness.