Supporting Your Partner with ACEs and Endometriosis
As someone with endometriosis begins on their journey of understanding and managing the condition, they may begin to see how it is tangled up in a web of other associated conditions such as SIBO or Interstitial Cystitis. But perhaps less apparent is how mental health can also make up a part of this story.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are potentially traumatic events that happen in one’s childhood (0-17 years of age). These can include but are not limited to: experiencing violence and neglect, witnessing violence and neglect, bereavement, accidents, divorce, and financial instability. ACEs can have a lasting negative impact on health and well-being, and this includes for people with endometriosis.
As I’ve written about previously, chronic stress, such as that caused by the presence of ACEs, can trigger the ‘fight or flight’ response in unhealthy ways. Digestive and reproductive processes don’t function properly, adrenaline and cortisol production are excessive, and pro-inflammatory cytokines can become upregulated. This increased inflammation causes irritation to nerves around the body, including in the areas of pain from endometriosis. This is especially cruel as early life abuse has been associated with an increased risk of endometriosis. Many people with endometriosis have experienced ACEs, and ACEs can worsen endometriosis symptoms. However, this does mean that addressing the trauma may help to calm this stress-inflammation-pain cycle.
Of course, seeking help from a professional such as a therapist is the best way to go for addressing these early life traumas. But as a partner of someone with endometriosis and ACEs there are some ways I can help, and here’s how you may be able to as well:
Listening to your partner is the easiest and most important step you can take. Stories of childhood trauma can be difficult to hear, and full of inconsistencies as they are memories recalled from long ago. But you’re not there to decide if they are true or pass judgement on them. If your partner has decided to share these stories with you, the best thing you can do is listen and be there for them.
Similarly, you may feel the need to try to heal them. These are people we love and seeing or hearing about them in distress is upsetting. However, unless we are trained professionals, we aren’t really qualified to offer the support they need, and we could do more harm than good. As previously stated, listening, and believing is enough.
Which leads me to the final point; help them get the help they need. We can help are partners by supporting them as they look for help, or showing that it’s nothing to be ashamed of if they harbour some shame around seeking help. However, don’t force someone to get help who doesn’t want it!
The link between endometriosis and ACEs can be a cruel cycle of stress and pain, but it can also be broken. By addressing the causes of chronic stress such as early life trauma, people with endometriosis may be able to break that cycle and relieve some of their pain. As partners of people with endometriosis, we can help them on this journey.
Finally, it’s important to note that ACEs do not cause endometriosis, and not everybody with endometriosis has experienced childhood trauma. There may be many different factors affecting one’s likelihood of developing the condition, and ACEs may or may not be a part of that puzzle.
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