the Hope of Survivors

Victims & Stress: The Effects of Stress Due to Pastoral Sexual Abuse—James Marcum, M.D.

Jim Marcum(From the January 2009 edition of HopeSpeak)

Autumn’s colors were dimming that November afternoon when I first met Susan.* She was the last patient that Thursday afternoon and had traveled quite a few miles for me to evaluate her heart. She was tall with short, blonde hair and was wearing a light green sweater. As I listened, she began telling me about her symptoms. She was having frequent palpitations, shortness of breath, headaches, a poor appetite and could not sleep at night. I scanned her previous evaluations and looked at her X-ray and electrocardiogram. I felt like I knew what the problem was, but I needed, not more tests, but more information.

Susan’s physical exam was normal, however, I noticed this thirty-something woman could not look me in the eyes and sat in a slumped position. I expressed that I felt like these symptoms could be explained by extra stress on the body with the resultant release of the stress chemicals epinephrine, cortisol, and a host of others. I probed further. “Do you think your body is under stress?”
I sensed hesitancy and withdrawal. I backtracked a bit and explained what stress was. When we go against the Master’s design, the owner’s manual, stress is put on the body. This stress might be lack of rest, lack of water, poor eating habits or even lack of exercise. The world also promotes stress by all the chemicals and, yes at times, even medications. Stress is a moneymaker, I explained, and society promotes stress. Sometimes this “work all the time, stay busy, do this and that” mentality contributes greatly as well. This constant stress and the resultant chemical reactions could definitely cause symptoms and was a real disease condition. I had her attention. Her eyes met mine for the first time.
EKGShe began to open up. Tears flowed as she related all the stress in her life. She was from a small town and a close-knit family. Her stress began years ago when, as a teenager, her well-respected pastor had made advances. She had nowhere to go and no one to help. This stress led to a myriad of poor choices. Now her body was crying, “I need help.”

We talked more and developed a plan to control stress. She realized the mind and body on a chemical level were interrelated. Unresolved conflict, whether in a relationship, in a family, at work, or with our God, could cause increased stress chemicals and disease. Often our poor coping mechanisms contribute as well.
I asked Susan to go back to the owner’s manual—the Bible—as the real source of Truth. I urged her to look for love, the real source of healing. We plan on getting back together after the holidays. A treatment plan had begun. We prayed before she left. Her chemistry was changing. Healing had begun.

Dr. James L. Marcum is speaker/director of Heartwise Ministries. He is a Cardiologist practicing with the Chattanooga Heart Institute and a member of the board of directors of The Hope of Survivors.

* Name changed for privacy.

The LORD is nigh unto them that are of a broken heart...Psalms 34:18