Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult health
Research shows some of the worst health and social problems can arise as a consequence of adverse childhood experiences. The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study (ACE Study) is a research study of more than 17,000 middle class Americans, recruited between 1995 and 1997. They all received a standardized physical examination and provided detailed personal information about their childhood experience of abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction. The group was tracked for long-term health outcomes.
By taking a whole life perspective, the ACE study began to uncover how adverse childhood experiences such as physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, parental divorce, incarceration of a parent or guardian, exposure to domestic violence and neglect are all strongly related to an individual’s development and prevalence to risk factors for disease, health and social well-being.
These experiences do not just go away as adults without support. Many stressful events in childhood may come back up in adulthood. The ACE Study found a link between having stressful events in childhood (ACEs) and chronic diseases. It can also cause social, emotional and behavioral problems. These problems include but are not limited to heart disease, lung cancer, diabetes, autoimmune diseases, depression, mental illness, suicide, and being a victim of violence.
ACEs are only one part of your story.
Science tells us that biology does not have to be destiny. Knowing your ACE score and how it may have contributed to your health can be important, but remember that trauma can be overcome through resilient skills and support from a professional.
Sometimes, the long-lasting effects of childhood trauma are just too great to tackle on our own. Sometimes we aren’t even aware that we are living in the shadows of our childhood trauma. We need to bring unresolved issues into a therapeutic relationship, and get back-up in unpacking the past. When we partner with a skilled therapist to address the adversity we may have faced decades ago, those negative memories become paired with the positive experience of being seen by someone who accepts us as we are, a new window to healing opens.
Part of the power of therapy lies in allowing ourselves to form an attachment to a safe person. A therapist’s unconditional acceptance helps us to modify the circuits in our brain that tell us that we can’t trust anyone, and grow new, healthier neuralconnections. It can also help us to heal the underlying, cellular damage of traumaticstress, down to our DNA. In one study, patients who underwent therapy showed changes in the integrity of their genome even a year after their regular sessions ended.
When you embrace the process of healing despite your Adverse Childhood Experiences, you don’t just become who you might have been if you hadn’t encountered childhood suffering in the first place. You gain something better, the hard-earned gift of life wisdom, which you bring forward into every arena of your life. Best of all, you can find ways to start right where you are, no matter where you’ve been.