what is the half-life of trauma?


sick again. not sick like ‘i have a cold in the middle of the fucking summer’, but sick like whole body pain.

keep hoping i will find the magic bullet. some herb, some dietary change, some new exercise, or hell! even some medication–that will keep my body from doing this without introducing intolerable new symptoms in the process. tired of hearing people with “well” bodies complaining about sick and/or disabled people who ask for their bodies and needs to be accommodated occasionally. or claiming that people are just “being neurotic” and that their illnesses are not real. “prove it!” they say.


Okay, let’s start with this–not the only study of its type or the only study with similar conclusions, by any means.

In women with chronic pain, self-reported childhood maltreatment was associated with higher diurnal cortisol levels. These results add to the evidence that abuse in childhood can induce long-term changes in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenocortical activity. They further underscore the importance of evaluating childhood maltreatment in fibromyalgia and other chronic pain conditions.

In non-sciency terms: there is growing scientific evidence that folks (esp. female-assigned folks) who experience trauma also experience significant alteration to their hormone levels that can contribute to various chronic pain conditions like fibromyalgia or osteoarthritis (to name a few).

Interestingly, another recent study showed a correlation between being the child of a survivor of extreme trauma and having heightened levels of  cortisol (think of it like a stress hormone).  <waves> Yup, that’s likely folks like me, who come from extended legacies of trauma.

I find this line of research particularly fascinating when I place it in context with the anecdotal evidence that I am surrounded by in daily life. Approximately 80% of my friends, acquaintances, and family members who experience chronic pain are also survivors of some kind of abuse.  But abuse and other trauma are incredibly common experiences. Heartbreakingly common. Devastatingly common. And it’s not like we sit around confessing our struggles with chronic pain or abuse/trauma histories all the time–these are things that a lot of people are socialized to feel deep shame about, and a need to conceal. None of this is quantifiable, but it sure as hell feels like correlative evidence to me, anecdotal or not.

However. As any junior high school chemistry student can tell you, correlation is not causation! But it does give me pause, a moment to stop and say hrm, that sure is interesting.

And it also gives credence to the various theories and schools of thought that embody somatics. The most familiar concept of somatics to me is the idea that the mind uses the body to store trauma, and that those experiences can be intentionally or unintentionally unlocked later via exercise or movement. Like this, see?

What is the legacy of trauma? How does this affect my body or influence the ways that I am in pain now?


4 Responses to “what is the half-life of trauma?”

  1. woah i had no idea that it could change hormone levels! has there been any piece of literature that you felt outlined this in a way you liked?

  2. i wish! i think my mam was the first one to mention the concept to me, and since then i’ve just run into a few summaries with links to abstracts of research studies, but the authors who included the links did very little add’l writing. synchronicity or something, but i’d love to see more.
    but fascinating. so so fascinating.

    • yeah, i guess it makes sense. i knew that exposing young people to extreme stress/abuse earlier in life flooded their brains with an obscene amount of adrenaline that chemically alters the brain permanently, but i didn’t think about how that could work pansgenerationally.

  3. mi4w said

    Great Post, would love to have the source of the quote above.

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