Date of Award


First Advisor

Jennifer Daniels

Second Advisor

Anne O'Dwyer


Childhood sexual abuse (CSA), particularly incest, is an unbearable and devastating violation of the human condition. When the body perceives a threat, the hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal axis is activated in which neurons in the paraventricular nucleus (in the hypothalamus) synthesize and secrete corticotropin releasing hormone and arginine vasopressin. Dissociative responses, a direct result of trauma, occur when the limbic system causes a reduction in the right lateral hemisphere’s emotional processing center of the brain resulting from a surge of endogenous opiates by the HPA axis and subsequent serotonin (5-HT) dysregulation. This thesis explores how eating disorder symptoms, in large, seem to be a way to cope with and desperately try to prevent re-experiencing symptoms that are characteristic of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Purging behavior in particular, tends to be utilized as tension-reduction behavior as it causes an increase in endogenous opiates that mimics and instigates a dissociative response.

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