It’s thanks to our upbringing. More specifically, thanks to the abuse and the stress hormone cortisol. Here’s an overview of the effects of cortisol.
Cortisol and adrenaline, the other stress hormone, are both secreted by the adrenal glands in response to a signal from the pituitary gland, which, in turn, responds to a signal from the hypothalamus.
Adrenaline causes a sudden surge of energy and raises your heart rate and blood pressure, thus giving your cells more oxygen. Cortisol, which kicks in a moment later, increases blood sugar and suppresses processes that aren’t essential, like digestion, growth, and reproductive system functions. Increased blood sugar prolongs the initial surge of energy. Cortisol also helps reduce inflammation and assists memory formation.
This increase in energy comes in handy if you suddenly come across a saber-tooth tiger. If you decide to run away, you can run faster and longer. If you decide to fight, you are stronger and have more endurance. Reduced inflammation helps if you get wounded, and better memory formation helps you plan your actions the next time you encounter a saber-tooth tiger.
When you reach safety, you breathe a sigh of relief, adrenaline and cortisol levels drop to normal levels, you rest and calm down, and then go about your life as usual. Evolution has adapted our bodies to long periods of safety punctuated by occasional short-lived periods of intense danger. As a result, experiencing danger, escaping, and finding safety does not cause permanent damage to either the body or the psyche.
Few of us, however, are hunter/gatherers who occasionally meet up with animals who would like to eat us. The pattern of our lives is quite different. We are more likely to encounter dangers that are frequent or that continue without a break. We are more likely to live in a state of chronic stress rather than experience acute stressors followed by periods of calm.
For ritual abuse survivors, danger certainly was not an occasional occurrence in childhood. It was almost constant and, whether we were amnesic or not, our bodies were braced for the next bout of abuse. There was no time to relax in safety and allow our bodies to return to normal. We were under unrelenting stress, always on high alert. So the adrenal glands were always doing their job, preparing us for danger by secreting adrenaline and cortisol.
What happens when cortisol remains high? At first, the body adapts, everything seems normal, and you feel energized. If it stays high for long periods, it can cause symptom such as these:
• insulin resistance and high blood sugar
• bone loss
• muscle weakness
• frequent illnesses
• high blood pressure
• bruising and slow wound healing
• low sex drive
• weight gain — particularly around the stomach, upper back, and face
• irregular menstrual periods
• anxiety and depression
• insomnia and sleep disturbances
• difficulty concentrating
If insulin remains high for a long time, diabetes develops, and if blood pressure remains high for a long time, cardiovascular disease develops. Bone loss leads to osteoporosis, and weight gain leads to obesity. None of these symptoms lead to increased health and well-being.
I’ve written about this before. (Just search for cortisol or chronic disease.) I keep coming back to it because it makes me very, very angry. Even when the abuse stops, the effects keep rolling along. It’s bad enough to be hurt as a child, but have to live for the rest of your life in illness and pain…? NOT FAIR.
This time, I am noticing other emotions creeping in to join the anger. One is amazement that my symptoms have been no worse than they are. I was obese for years but never slipped from pre-diabetic to diabetic. And I have lived for decades with high blood pressure which resulted in several arrythmias and a wonderfully reliable Pacemaker. Decades of depression and obsession with suicide did not lead to self-inflicted death. I am still here.
On the heels of amazement comes gratitude that I have lived as long as I have and have accomplished as much as I have. I am so glad that I have broken the cult rules over and over and lived in opposition to their values. I am glad that my teenage anger fueled rebellion and took me down a path of kindness and beauty. I still wish my childhood had been different and my family had been different, but there is nothing I could do to change it as a child and nothing I can do now to change any part of the past.
I have the present now, though, and a finished blog post, published on time for a change. I have a bright sunny (if chilly) day and a garden to go to, one with flowers that are still blooming. When I come back from the garden, I will return to a kitchen that is almost clean, laundry that is completely clean and half put away, and an exciting project to work on. (The GrassRoots RA/MC Survivors’ Collective.) These things do not erase the anger, but they sure help balance it.
PS I found two articles that discuss the effect of continued stress on the development of unborn babies. Since cult abuse is usually intergenerational, many survivors had mothers who were constantly stressed during pregnancy.
An Australian study showed that childhood abuse affected the size of the pituitary gland. https://analyzedirect.com/blog/early-life-stress-and-pituitary-gland-development/. If the mother was stressed, the gland was enlarged in both males and females. Chronic stress caused enlarged pituitary glands in females, but not males. Occasional stressful life events did not affect its size.
Here is a long and thorough article, “The Hypothalamic-Pituitary-Adrenal Axis: Development, Programming Actions of Hormones, and Maternal-Fetal Interactions.” https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fnbeh.2020.601939/full. It describes in detail the pathway that initiates the response to stress and the pathway that counters the stress reaction.
11/25 Thanksgiving Day (United States)
11/28 First Sunday of Advent
11/30 St Andrew’s Day
Sundays of Advent: 11/28, 12/5, 12/12, 12/19
12/4 Total Solar Eclipse
12/18 Full Moon
12/21 Winter solstice/Yule/St. Thomas’ Day
12/24 Christmas Eve
12/25 Christmas Day
12/31 New Year’s Eve
Dates Important to Nazi and Neo-Nazi groups
11/29 -12/16 Chanukah/Hanukkah (Jewish Festival of Lights)
(NOTE: Not all groups meet on Jewish holidays. Some groups also mark Candlemas, Beltane, Lammas, Halloween, the solstices, and the equinoxes.)
You can find more information on the following holidays at:
Thanksgiving – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/11/20/thanksgiving/
Yule/Winter Solstice – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/12/15/yulewinter-solstice/
Candlemas – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/01/21/candlemas/
Valentine’s Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/02/10/valentines-day/
Spring Equinox – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/02/13/the-spring-equinox/
Easter: personal – (for background, see Spring Equinox) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/easter-blues/
Walpurgisnacht/May Eve – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/04/20/walpurgisnacht/
Beltane – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/04/28/beltane/
Mothers’ Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/04/26/mothers-day/
Fathers’ Day – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2020/06/20/ritual-abuse-and-fathers-day/
Summer Solstice (corrected text) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/06/15/well-this-is-embarrassing/
Lammas – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/category/lamas/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 1 – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2013/08/31/the-feast-of-the-beast/
Feast of the Beast/Bride of Satan: Part 2 – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2017/03/20/feast-of-the-beast-part-ii/
Fall Equinox – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2012/09/16/the-fall-equinox/
Halloween (personal) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2016/10/11/halloween/
Halloween (background) – https://ritualabuse.wordpress.com/2011/10/02/samhainhalloween/