Emotional Abuse as a Child Linked to Adult Chronic Pain

Did you know that suffering emotional abuse as a child can increase your risk of developing chronic pain conditions as an adult? Several studies have found a link between childhood emotional abuse and various physical ailments in adulthood.

Emotional abuse can involve verbal assaults, such as name-calling or shaming, withholding love, support, or approval, or physical violence. All these forms of abuse can have a devastating impact on a child’s development and well-being.

Children who are emotionally abused are more likely to suffer from mental health problems, including depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to have problems with relationships and self-esteem as adults.

What is chronic pain?

Chronic pain is defined as pain that lasts for more than three months. It can be caused by various conditions, such as arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraines, and endometriosis.

Chronic pain can have a profound impact on every aspect of your life. It can interfere with your work, social activities, and sleep. In some cases it can also lead to substance abuse, as people try to self-medicate to cope with the pain.

Trauma and Mental Health lead to Chronic Pain

According to Talley et al., (1998) childhood trauma increases the risk of individuals developing neuroticism and depression, both of which result in physical complaints mediated by the mind-body connection (i.e. the mind’s ability to affect the body).

Emotional abuse in childhood is also linked to muscular tension and hyperventilation, both of which may result in muscle pain. Another very common result of childhood trauma is hypervigilance and catastrophizing, which leads to paranoia about internal physical stimuli, which in turn may alter the way pain is processed.

Adverse childhood experiences have been linked to changes in the brain’s limbic system, which is involved with the processing of pain. Childhood trauma impairs the connectivity of the prefrontal cortex to the limbic system, making the limbic system harder to regulate. The hippocampus is reduced in volume, reducing its plasticity and impacting neurogenesis. Both of these conditions have been linked to physical ailments.

The Takeaway

If you experienced emotional abuse as a child, it’s important to be aware of the link to chronic pain in adulthood.

Chronic pain is the result of health conditions that can significantly reduce quality of life. If you are struggling with any such ailments, please seek professional help. There is no shame in seeking help; in fact, it takes courage and strength to do so. You deserve to live a happy and pain-free life.

A therapist can help you understand the connection between your childhood experiences and your current pain, and they can provide coping and treatment strategies.

If you’re a parent, be mindful of the way you speak to and treat your children. Emotional abuse can have a lasting impact on their mental and physical health. Seek help if you find yourself struggling to control your anger or verbal abuse.

For Further Reading

You might also want to check out the following posts about narcissistic families and the impact of childhood trauma:

And finally, this is my story. I was the scapegoat daughter of a narcissistic father.

Disclosure: Please note that some of the links in this post are affiliate links. When you use one of my affiliate links, the company compensates me. At no additional cost to you, I’ll earn a commission, which helps me run this blog and keep my in-depth content free of charge for all my readers.

4 thoughts on “Emotional Abuse as a Child Linked to Adult Chronic Pain”

  1. I’d really like to see the reference/s for this linking of childhood emotional abuse to adult chronic pain if you still have them to hand. Is one of them the Talley et al? If so, might you share the full reference? Thank you 🙂

    • Hi Richard, thanks for reading my post 🙂
      The Talley et al paper relates to a study in Australia, looking into the link between IBS and abuse. You can access the paper here – https://gut.bmj.com/content/gutjnl/42/1/47.full.pdf
      They found that “abuse was associated with neuroticism and psychological morbidity.” In other words the impact of abuse leads a person to have extreme mental and physical reactions throughout their life due to triggers, which lead to several health issues.
      Hope you find it useful.


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