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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

The Long Lasting Negative Effects of Abuse

Allan N. Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Nov 11th 2007

The American Academy of Neurology published yet one more finding that demonstrates the negative effects of child abuse long after a woman has reached adulthood. Migraine headaches are a fairly common phenomenon. However, those women who suffer depression along with migraine headaches are likely to have been abused when they were children according to research conducted by the Academy.

This study lends further proof to the fact that mind and body are not separate and that health problems later in life can be caused by events during childhood that had the effect of altering neurobiological systems. In other words, abuse during childhood has terrible health consequences later in life.

If the abuse suffered by these women continued beyond age 12, the women with the migraines were five times more likely to report depression.

There is also evidence that sexual abuse is even more devastating than physical abuse resulting in even greater physical and psychological problems later in life.

These findings hold solid when compared to women who experience migraine headaches but do not have depression. Women who do not experience depression but suffer from migraine headaches are most likely to have not been abused, either sexually or physically.

Leonard Shengold, MD, wrote a powerful book about child abuse that was called Soul Murder. His book is brilliant and brought into sharp focus just how harmful abuse is for children. The title of the book is extremely compelling and he explains the title in the text. The harm caused by child abuse and neglect, of all types, causes not only physical and mental harm but destroys a person's spirit.

There is treatment available in the form of various types of psychotherapy, as well as medication, for the survivors of abuse. In addition, there are many support groups available in most communities nationwide.

You comments are always welcome and encouraged.

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

Reader Comments
Discuss this issue below or in our forums.

evidence - - Aug 24th 2010

i find the evidence mentioned above untrue.  how can you say women who are not depressed in adult life but just had headaches were probably not sexually abused or physically?

I was sexually abused as a baby and through till i left home at 17, i was physically abused along with my brother and we were neglected. 

i did not fully know i had been sexually abused until i was 18.  it had been so intergrated into my growing up i did not know it wasnt right until i was 15 and even then i thought it ws my fault.

i do not believe i was ever seriously depressed or registered depressed over it but i had difficulties like anyone else coming to terms with it and i still do. i am now 45.

the evidence cannot assume abuse did not take place unless the woman was depressed in later years, i for one would say this evidence was wrong.

What happens to the abusers? - Deborah - Aug 8th 2010

The hardest part for me regarding the abuser is to know they got away with it.  They are usually the mean people who have no problem leaving bodies in the wake as they climb the corporate ladder, abusing as they go.  Abuse is about control freakism.  The other hard part is when you finally decide to clear yourself of that crap that entered your system, you are clearing THEIR stuff and yours.  You are doing the work for two people.  It is exceedingly unfair and sickening.  And usually, it doesn't clear out unless you are willing to spend YEARS and YEARS of dedicated effort.  That's why victims get ill with a plethera of mental, emotional and physcial sicknesses.  It now seems to be a part of being "cool" to be mean.  The results are shown in attitude towards others and the increase in animal cruelty.  It's supposed to be fun to throw a cat out the window or set fire to a dog.  I heard about these stories growing up in my neighborhood.  That's abuse, too.  Being exposed to hearing about cats being buried up their heads and run over with the lawn mower.  The "biology" movie of what happens to animal when denied water.  It was a wide-eyed kitten in a cage.  That does 2 things, it either de-sensitizes the children (maybe that's a plan?)  OR, for someone sensitive like myself, it set up years of images in my head of torture.  Stories that have gotten worse and worse about how people aren't just murdered anymore, they are disembowled, stabbed 27 times, tortured, etc.  Stories of CHILDREN being put in scalding water for God's sake!  Speaking of God, I don't think God is involved.  It is the human pit bull training that has taken over.  It's a mean ness in people that seems to want to come out for little reason.  RARE is the individual with manners and compassion or gives more than 3 seconds of eye contact.   I am surprised even when someone offeres even the slightest kindness - like letting me go ahead of them in line if I have 2 items instead of a basket full.    I have little capacity for love, it's like I can't handle much.  I feel like my molecules are abot to come apart.  What's worse, is I feel like I have been f*cked up beyond repair.  Amazingly, I still want to be of benefit to others, I want to demonstrate love.  But anyone who has tried to love me has ended up bailing.  It's because things will p*ss me off and I'll come back with fury.  It's got worse the older I've gotten, my tolerance has gone to zero with people's b.s. especially if it is something mean said to me.  Sometimes I swallow it, but it comes out later in some way.  I've had job after job, although managed to hang on in corporate sales for 4.5 years.  talk about abuse!  And then there is the sexual sickness in our country.  We are one of the TOP THREE sickest countries where sex is concerned.  Child porn?  Sex objects have gotten younger and younger in the media. Just look at toddlers and tiaras.   Good God!  For the love of money.  It makes me sick.  And images like that get IN, images are powerful.  Anyway, I've had nightmares from the age of 3 and they all involved someone chasing me or trying to "get" me.  That's an indicator of something.  To saddest thing to me is I was pretty.  Even when I was carrying extra weight.  The commments and ridicule had such ANGER in them.  I never understood the anger about my weight.  My father even threw food at me when I was 8.  I was put on amphetamines and valium at age 11 to lose the 30 lbs, I did.  That got me a different kind of abuse.  No torment over weight, kids just stayed away from me.  Older kids and MEN, didn't.  My parents loved me I think, but the obession on my body was never ending.  Being ignored or tormented at school never stopped.  I had no friends until 6th grade.  So in early development, I became stunted.  However, I'm inteligent, too and was aware enough to realize there was something wrong with me.  So of COURSE I became an alcoholic, drug user (pot, downers, coke).  Of COURSE I've never had a relationship that included love and partnership.  Sex only.  AND sexual anorexia for 12 years, I didnt have sex at all from 1989 to 2001!  Of COURSE grown adults felt the need to take shots at me later on.  Because I carried the dark energy from all that mental and emotional torture.  People feel that, and are too self indulgent to NOT take a shot.  You want to beat the ugly, already beaten up dog.  Or ignore it.  I still have a sense of humor, but I have lost a part of myself I don't feel I'll ever get back.  And that is the ability to love others.  I want to, I've tried, but I don't think I have any idea what love is.   I'm in financial ruin and have been most of my life.  I witness myself doing and saying things that are destructive (like telling my manager to stop with the editorial comments to me).  I know you're not supposed to do that, but just like a pit bull, I've been hit one too many times, so now I probably just need to be euthanized.  We don't have that option do we?  The sad part is knowing, if I had just felt empowered in some way, my life would have been much different.  Beautiful + fun and light hearted + intelligent + believing I can achieve goals vs. feeling ugly and worthless and incapacitated and like I said, past the point of rehabilitation.  It sure feels that way!

how long after the crime can u do any thing - vicki - Jun 12th 2010

my daughter is 43 she just tryed to overdose on pills this week she was molested by her father from 8years old till 16 is it to late to turn him in . when we lived in hawaii it went to family court and all hushed up. i never new what was going on hr lives in another state. we have not spoke for 12 years . she want to protect other children from him.and i agree can you email back with any advice God bless you      vicki

wow..this was very vital information... - rosalie - May 14th 2010

i am soon to be 50 yrs old and i have had to battle the garbage in my head forever.  i was sexually abused by the neighbor boy from the ages of 7 to 10.  (i kept this secret till i was 27!)  Also, after we moved at the age of ten, my mother became physically abusive, i had welts and bruises, for the least little thing, i was shy and at school i got harrassed.  and hence, my first relationship and father of my two kids... turned out to be a contol freak and i was treated like a piece of the furniture.  when i left, he became physically abusive.  i had black eyes, and he chased me and my kids on foot down a country road while he was in a truck.  threatened me with loaded rifle, and good thing i was scared enough to call the police, for it was inside his truck.   and, as i have said i have had great battles with depression and yes attempts of suicide.  i am so glad that i read this article.  cause, to this day i do feel like my spirit was killed along time ago.  i do not have great joy for life and its fallen apart so many times i don't know if i can pick up the pieces again.  i deal with my self-worth and who i really am.  my friends tell me i am a good person, but, the way my life has gone i think i can't be that good with all the garbage.

thank you for this information, it has answered some questions that i have been dealin with of late.  and i share my story now not as a victim, but, as someone that is a surivivor, that still needs some help to have a healthy life. 

too much - janet - May 1st 2010

my dad hit me when i was young and gave  me a black eye he also beat my mom who also hit me once or twice.Now im in an abusive relationship which is getting worse ive  no confidence to leave and my family and friends are sick of hearing about it for the past eleven years.Tonight he beat me real bad and strangles me constantly until i pass out. Im depressed and have never been able to hold a job down or a course if i start one. Weve made up now but there will be another explosion by the end of the week.I feel one day he will kill me or ill kill myself which ive been thinking bout quite alot the past year. Reading this makes sense to me but i feel its too late.

Yes, but... - - Feb 10th 2009

The information here is true to my knowledge but there are no explainations fo anything. There is nothing indicating any kind of disorders or illness' caused by abuse. If there were the information would be a lot more helpful. 

there is always light in the darkness - maricel masadao - Feb 4th 2009

leslie,don' lost hope.always remember that there is still a light in the dark.move on.always put in your mind that not all boys have the same see? my family cares and loves me so much.and please dont blame God for leting that happen to u,maybe He has a reason for that.have faith in God,always pray that He will help u to move on for He is our light and He is our hope.....................i will pray for u and MAY GOD BLESS YOU...................

when i was - Leslie - Sep 27th 2008

only a little girl my grandpa sexually abused me...i am now 18 yrs old and ever since i was little i have been scared of my dad. it hurts me inside to have thoughts in my head that my own dad wants to sexually abuse me but i know its all in my head..just last year i started developing mental issues i never thought i would be going through anxieties,panics, phobias, obsessive thoughts ofthings i had never thought of in my life, i havent even been able to finish school, i avoid my friends, i spend months locked in my house, nothing is like it once was before  it hurts really bad, i know somehow someway im gonna come out of this, im still fighting anybody reading this if you have been sexually abused and feel like their is no hope their is you just gotta reach out for it i know i will and im still reaching

abuse - - Jul 21st 2008
i have been taught not ti talk about it but i think i have been so many ti mes i can not count my firest time about 4yrs i am know 53 i have been raped 3 times just from my husband his right ok for him my first my uncle shortly after my firdt time my mom and dad divorxed so therre are more but i dont want to go thrre

Why - Diane - Jul 12th 2008

I was abused when i was lttle. I'm 42 and i had my first sexual relationship when i was 40. One of the people who abused me died 3 years ago and for some unknown reason after shutting it to the back of my mind for over 30 years i want to talk about that abuse. I want questions answering like why me and were the abusers abjsed themselves ?. When this person died i went out of control drinking meeting men off the internet having sex for no reason, drinking even more then when i was drunk self harming myself and calling the police getting locked in cells going to the hospital then i went to the doctors for help they told me i was an alcholic and i had to stop drinking so i could get help i find out now it was crap doctors have no idea what people like me go through there is no help out there for people like me and what annoys me even more is the likes of the abuser get more money spent on them then people who have been abused. I have been sober for almost a month and where is the help i spoke to my so called doctor not so long ago and she accused me of being drunk over the phone what am i suppsoe to do i'm in a relationship that is controlled not only verbually but sexually and i have no one to turn to.

metal abuse - shara - Apr 16th 2008

i am verably abused from my father that turns into a very big and loud arugument i have no where to go.and i am very sick and in pain. please respond.

migraine and child abuse - Marie - Feb 22nd 2008

I am a 61 year old retired lady. I have suffered fron severe, prolongued migraines for 40 years. I take multiple prophylactic drugs which are moderately effective.

I suffered serious, physical and emotional abuse for 12 years at 2 convent schools. It was grievous bodily harm including a fractured finger and a perforated eardrumI was once bashed unconscious by a nun. I was 4 years old.

I was caned nearly every day. I was frankly out of my mind with terror, every day for 12 years.

I have symptoms of PTSD including hypervililance, exaggerated startle reflex, nightmares and performance anxiety. I shake and tremble during choir concerts or piano and clarinet lessons.I know I do have a genetic susceptibility to migraine but I am convinced, after much research that my 12 years of terrible fear, pain and despair has made my migraine very much worse.My nightmares are always about people hurting or killing me.

I am lucky that I have a wonderful husband of 35 years who always loves and supports me. I have never developed depression.

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