Root cause of the psychological aspect of fibromyalgia

“Its not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves”, Henry David Thoreau

Several decades ago before I knew much about this demon called fibromyalgia, I diagnosed myself ahead of the long -awaited- for- official diagnosis from a neurologist or rheumatologist. It was early on when I adopted the behavior of those living with a chronic disease. I realized it would not go away and probably become worse with aging. I was ill and it was traumatic, living without respite from pain and fatigue. I was living with some small degree of hope that the scientific community would find a cure. I believed it was because I was a woman and as female we are marginalized. Furthermore, I believed the condition was all about the social construction of the female role, therefore there were so few men diagnosed with the syndrome.

It was in my first book that I spent my time dealing with the fact that being female and the female role that developed in society was primarily responsible for the development of fibromyalgia. While there is some degree of truth to that premise, gender is but one of three aspects of this root cause and even more to the point gender is not binary and cannot stand on its own as causation. I wrote in my second book that fibromyalgia is a bio-psycho-social issue that must be broken down in all its elements to give a more coherent analysis.

Psycho Issue

In this blog I would like to begin with the psychological root cause, rather than the social issues of gender as I believe it comes first. That is not to say that gender, sex and gender identities are not significant and interrelated/ connected with our psychological well being, only that I believe it is the ‘psycho’ that is first in setting the scene for our journey into the fibromyalgia realm of root cause. Furthermore it began in our developmental years, later to become a permanent fixture.

As I write I keep in mind the book The Myth of Normal by Dr. Gabor and Daniel Maté whose work has changed my mind about so many unknown ’causes’ of many invisible dis-eases. They write of childhood trauma and that each of us has some degree of it. This trauma could result from such perceived innocuous occurrences as being separated from the mother for a short period of time as a youngster, or more serious issues such as abuse as a young child. During the developmental years incidents of emotional pain remain with us and can be triggered at any time . I have searched long and hard to discover my own source of childhood trauma.

All of us with fibromyalgia suffer from a general anxiety disorder and our pain and fatigue can be triggered by memories that are buried deep in our psyche. So how did this happen? Were we born anxious? Did we inherit this “black dog of depression” (a quote from Winston Churchill about his own depression)? Anxiety and depression are siblings but which came first?

Those of us with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome have characteristics that are similar- hard working, overly empathetic, care givers of others to neglect of our own emotional well being, highly sensitive, uncanny ability to read other people’s emotional states–were we born this way or did we develop these personality traits as we became adults? Was it nurture or nature? What are the roots of our development of this syndrome? We can only attest to these similarities in our ‘nature’ to earlier experiences of trauma in our young lives.

Recently there has been a somewhat renewed interest in fibromyalgia because of the death of Sinéad O’Connor who suffered from fibromyalgia. It has been reported that she was subject to frequent beatings as a child and as a result had neurodevelopmental damage from this childhood trauma. I believe it is impossible to escape fully from how you were raised. It seems like it lives inside you always, haunting your conscious or unconscious thoughts. William Faulkner is quoted as saying: “The past is never dead. Its not even past”. While many can keep childhood trauma hidden better than others, all of us with fibromyalgia exemplify various aspects of this demon when we are triggered. There are many who will disagree and are vehement that they had wonderful childhoods. The difficulty is in admitting that such a perfect beginning of our lives does not exist for anyone.


It is part of the healing process to find the time amidst our pain and fatigue to cogitate about our life history. If possible a ‘good’ therapist who can recognize our need for ‘talk therapy’ to unravel how it is that we developed this condition. It isn’t a quick fix and will be emotionally painful. If the cost of a therapist is too prohibitive a good friend who is able to listen to our probing of our developmental years could help, or we can do it ourselves albeit with more difficulty.

We must keep at it until we understand the root cause of the trauma to our central nervous system. It is the main first step to avoiding triggers which bring on those severe flares.

6 thoughts on “Root cause of the psychological aspect of fibromyalgia

  1. Malinda

    Thank you for this well written and thought provoking article. I agree that moments from our childhood (and perpetuated in adulthood) shapes us in ways we do not fully understand. Our lives (mind, body, soul) are like delicate vases; and when too much ‘life’ gets poured in, we respond from that point where we have placed ourselves. I honestly can’t find the right words to describe it. Thank you again.

  2. Valda Harner

    Hi Dr. Keddy, Despite your fight with fibromyalgia you have accomplished so much. I suffered a traumatic neck and lower spine injury resulting in two surgeries just 5 weeks apart and developed fibromyalgia. In spite of being so sick I went on to the best part of my career and earned a Masters degree. With fortitude and determination we can still have a life rather than being robbed of our life by fibromyalgia. Blessings to you.

  3. Barbara Keddy Post author

    My dear Valda: I agree with you that we cannot just give up and stay in bed, which I am often tempted to do. Now that I am an old woman it becomes more and more difficult to know if the pain is of old age or fibromyalgia. I suspect both. I am not on easy terms with life but so fortunate to have an adequate income, support system, housing, a kind physician and wonderful husband. This has been my lot in life and I wish I had known what I know now in my younger years. This neurological disorder due to childhood trauma is still easily triggered and it did not become easier in old age. I admire all you have accomplished- keep on keeping on. Thank you so much for writing, Regards, Barbara

  4. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Malinda: It takes so long to uncover our pasts and sometimes we never can. But, we have to keep on digging into it so that we can find the root cause of our psychic pain that causes so much physical pain. Little wonder we have so much fatigue. Its a grueling endeavor. But it can be done. At least then we have hope of containing those triggers that bring about flares. Thank you so much for your comments, Best wishes, Barbara

  5. Sue

    Hello Barbara
    Do you think that if we discover the root cause of our childhood drama the pain will go away?
    I’m not so sure anymore. I have reflected on my various childhood traumas, physical and emotional, and still have a lot of pain.
    I too am a very old lady and have some joint pain I never had before. Old age is very interesting and I am finding I’m happier than ever before. I enjoy reading your messages. There is always something new to learn.
    Off topic, but I have discovered that 1/4 c of tonic water a day has given me relief from savage nighttime leg cramps. You probably already know of this, but it was a revelation to me.
    Take good care of yourself

  6. Barbara Keddy Post author

    Dear Sue: In answer to your question – No I don’t think finding out the root cause of our childhood trauma is enough to take away our pain! It is just the first step to at least recognize why we have a compromised central nervous system. At least we can then understand this demon we are living with. I believe that with old age fibromyalgia becomes even worse. It seems logical to me that the younger a person is more likely to have a better quality of life if they can understand what is happening to their bodies IF they have the privilege of living in a less stressful environment, can exercise moderately, do yoga, mindfulness, afford healthy food; then-the better off the person can be. At My age the CNS is much too often in a state of hyper alert to calm down easily. I don’t think our pain will go away but I do know that fibromyalgia is not life threatening, but does affect our quality of life dramatically. Like all non life threatening conditions there are degrees of pain and fatigue. Mine has been so bad this summer with the peculiar climate we have had.
    With kind regards,

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