Posted by: Psych Student | 2009/08/26

Physical manifestations of a psychological incongruence

My question is as follows:

Is it possible for one to have physical manifestations of sexual abuse up to 20 years later? Let me shed some light!

I was forced to engage in a sexual encounter with a family member at the age of 6 years old. I was too young to process the information but was aware thet it had occurred. I turned to eating as a way of fulfilling what was easier to block out or not face. Today I am an all or nothing person who is conditioned to eat without any stimulus. I tend to be a psycholoogical eater.

I am 23 years old and have manifested funny illnesses all my life and from the age of sick, was always the child with scarlet fever, hepatitus, measles etc. Today i suffer from hypothroidism and since i have been digging in to this sexual abuse thing, i have gotten really bad acid reflux.

I started this journey because I' ve been tryiong to lose weight since I was 12 (which was the age i started weigh-less but also the age i realised i had been sexually abused.) I am struggling to lose any weight and am attributing it to the fact that my body is clinging to it for comfort due to never really thinking and dealing with the abuse.

So my question applies here: is it possible for the body to let us know that something needs to be delt with through physical manifestations of illness? How would you reccommend that i approach this - treat the cause (abuse) and not the symptom (obesity)? I suppose in laymans terms I could rephrase it by saying - am i fat/easily ill because i was sexually abused and have not delt with it?


Student Psychologist

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Our expert says:
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If one believed in Freudian slips, your comment about physical complaints "from the age of sick" would probably count as one.
Significant psychological stress, arising for whatever reason, can indeed impair one's immune system and make one more vulnerable to infections, and could be associated with acid reflux ( though being over-weight would also do that ) ; hypothyroidism would be more complex to try to fit into that model.
Do be aware that there is NO good evidence from good research that it is healthy or useful to :dig into the sexual abuse thing", and significant evidence that doin so may extend and prolong the degree and breadth of distress. What is valuable is using methods like CBT to deal with the CURRENT symptoms as such. ONLY efficient attention to the current symptom can relieve it --- years of digging into the theoretically causative events are not likely to relieve it.
Similarly, you are much more likely to be sucessful in losing weight by working on a realistic diet and exercise plan, rather than by exploring a psychological theory as to wh you might have started over-eating.
The body is a body --- it does not "know" things, and hasn't a mind of its own with which to decide to "let us know" anything. It doesn't send an SMS. Some situations contribute to some symptoms, but such "messages" would not be of much use, as they are inevitably mis-read and misunderstood, and delay and complicate the provision of attention to underlying concerns, rather than accelerating that.
Even where psychological factors may play a significant role in producing symptom patterns ( and espeially behaviour patterns wrapped up in those symptoms ) these patterns and cycles easily become habits, which one has to attend to in their own right, even after the originating "causal" factors have burned out or evaporated. It happens in purely physical areas of medicine, too, that a "cause" in itself disappears, leaving a now self-generating and continuing process which must be dealt with in its own right.

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