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Sexual Abuse Takes Toll on Victims

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As if women who suffer from sexual abuse don't have enough challenges in healing and moving on with their lives, a medical expert from the Mayo Clinic has revealed there are also physical side effects that plague victims sometimes as long as the emotional side effects.

According to Dr. Larry Bergstrom, MD, Director of the Integrative Medicine Program at the Mayo Clinic Scottsdale Arizona the emotional stress of being a victim of sexual abuse may lead to physical illness such as fibromyalgia, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and even cancer.

"I've seen in my referral practice that about 75 percent of my patients who suffer from fibromyalgia have sexual abuse in their past," Dr. Bergstrom said. "It's common for victims of sexual abuse to develop problems trusting people in their lives, so they develop perfectionist personalities, which drive them to be compulsive 'people pleasers' and make them believe they have to do everything themselves, otherwise it won't get done right."

These personality traits take their toll on the patients, because they can't do it all, and their compulsions drive extreme amounts of stress into their lives. That stress manifests itself in a wide variety of ways, from simple pain to IBS to even cancer.

No one knows this better than Trish Kinney, who was raised in a sexually abusive environment, which she believes led to her developing a cancerous tumor. Kinney, author of Silver Platter Girl, from Seven Locks Press (www.silverplattergirl.com), absolutely knows there was a relationship between her abuse and her cancer. She also knows that both circumstances can be beaten, because she's done it.

"There is a difference between knowing the truth and telling it," she said. "It's crushing to comprehend that a member of one's own family is capable of such an act, but even more crushing when a victim finally empowers herself to talk about it, and the family refuses to believe her. It is the victim who is sacrificed, who is accused of lying, for the continued empowerment and control of the abuser with no regard for truth or consequences of such behaviors."

But telling is the single most important thing an abused woman can do, Kinney added.

"Every time an abuser chooses to abuse a victim, he takes a chance that he will be exposed, that the victim will tell," she said. "The dynamics of abuse usually protect the abuser and assure the continued silence of the frightened, intimidated victim. But when the victim tells, the abuser loses power. And an abuser without power cannot hurt anyone. An abuser without a victim is powerless. Telling empowers the victim and reduces or eliminates opportunity for further abuse. Our voice is our most powerful weapon. Combine it with the truth and the opportunities for healing are limitless."

More importantly for Kinney, was the recognition that her cancer was directly related to her trauma.

"I gathered all my trauma, turmoil, anger and sorrow and willed it into a physical manifestation so that I could remove it from my psyche by having it removed from my body," she recalled. "I remembered the moment that I began to form the tumor, and I can describe exactly what was inside of it, and back it up with medical aging of the tumor. It was part of my conscious plan to 'get sick to get well.' The deep symbolism of my bone marrow transplant as a transformative rebirth serves as validation that my cancer experience was my path to healing my emotional life."

While difficult to understand, the patients in Dr. Bergstrom's practice are like a snapshot, taken at 10,000 feet above sea level, of the physical toll taken on victims of abuse. The challenge, Kinney added, is to transcend the statistics and accept every woman's journey to healing, no matter what road she chooses to arrive at that destination.

"We are the sum of the things that happen to us, things that we are exposed to, whether or not by our own choice," she said. "we need to choose a way of living that honors who we are, that truthfully examines where we have come from and where we want to go, and makes healing and healthy living a priority.