In this article:
- Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events in childhood, including abuse, neglect, and witnessing domestic violence, that can profoundly impact long-term physical and mental health.
- ACEs interfere with daily activities, influence major life decisions, and can lead to chronic diseases, sleep issues, emotional disorders, and behavioral problems.
- Healing from ACEs involves therapy, self-care practices, and community support, while prevention strategies include recognizing risk factors and engaging schools, communities, and policymakers.
- Resilience and hope play a vital role in overcoming ACEs, emphasizing the importance of continued research, awareness, and support for those affected by these experiences.
Childhood shapes us. It’s a fact we can’t ignore. Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, can cast long shadows over our lives. These aren’t your everyday challenges; they are traumatic events that can lead to serious health problems down the line.
In this article, we delve into what ACEs are, their different types, and how they can affect us into adulthood. We’re going to look at how they impact not just our physical health, but our mental wellbeing too. We’re not stopping there, though. We’re going to explore the ways in which ACEs influence our daily routines, our relationships, and even our life choices.
But it’s not all doom and gloom. We’ll also be shedding light on the myriad strategies to heal and recover from ACEs. We’ll explore the roles of therapy, self-care, and community resources in the journey towards healing. Finally, we’ll look at how we can prevent ACEs from happening in the first place, and how resilience and hope play crucial roles in this narrative.
Definition of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)
Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs, are deeply distressing or disturbing events that happen during our early years. They’re not the usual ups and downs of growing up but are significant incidents that shake our very foundations. These can range from physical, emotional, or sexual abuse to household dysfunction like parental separation or exposure to substance abuse.
Different types of ACEs
The types of ACEs are numerous and varied. They fall into three broad categories: abuse, neglect, and household challenges. Abuse can be physical, emotional, or sexual. Neglect, on the other hand, is when a child’s basic needs aren’t met, either emotionally or physically. Household challenges can include witnessing domestic violence, growing up with family members who have mental health conditions, or living with parents who are separated or divorced.
Every type of ACE leaves a distinct mark on a child’s life, shaping their future health and wellbeing in unique ways. But, no matter the type, the impact of these experiences can be long-lasting and profound.
So what are the Adverse Childhood Events (ACE’s)?
They fall into three main categories:
- Mental Illness
- Mother treated violently
- Substance abuse
- Incarcerated Relative
Long-Term Effects of ACEs
The ripple effects of ACEs are far-reaching and can extend well into adulthood. They can show up in our bodies as physical health issues. For instance, sleep disturbances are a common aftermath of ACEs. These could range from insomnia to frequent nightmares, affecting daily functioning.
Chronic diseases are another physical health impact of ACEs. Research links early life adversities to an increased risk of diseases like heart disease, diabetes, and even certain types of cancer. These health conditions may be due to the body’s prolonged stress response triggered by ACEs.
On the mental health front, ACEs can lead to emotional disorders like anxiety and depression. It’s as if the traumatic experiences create an emotional echo, which can resonate throughout a person’s life. This echo can manifest as persistent feelings of sadness, worry, or fear that are hard to shake.
Behavioral issues are another potential outcome. ACEs can shape behaviors, leading to difficulties in relationships, at work, or in school. Some people may engage in risky behaviors as a way to cope with their unresolved childhood trauma. In essence, ACEs can cast long shadows over a person’s life, affecting both their physical and mental health.
Effect of ACEs on Health for 4 or More ACEs
- The CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study (7) and subsequent surveys that show that most people in the U.S. have at least one ACE, and that people with four ACEs— including living with an alcoholic parent, racism, bullying, witnessing violence outside the home, physical abuse, and losing a parent to divorce — have a huge risk of adult onset of chronic health problems such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes, suicide, and alcoholism.
Experiencing 4 or more ACEs is associated with significantly increased risk for 7 out of 10 leading adult causes of death, including heart disease, stroke, and cancer (1).
Having an ACE score of 4 increases the risk of emphysema or chronic bronchitis by nearly 400 percent, and attempted suicide by 1200 percent (2)
ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental health, substance misuse, and reduced educational and occupational achievement. (3)
Chronic diseases in adulthood linked to exposure to ACEs include depression, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and cancer. (4)
ACEs prevention can have a positive impact on education and employment levels. Preventing ACEs could have reduced the number of adults with depression by as much as 44% – up to 21 million avoided cases of depression (3)
Previous studies have also suggested that ACEs may be associated with increased cortisol levels and chronic inflammation, which in turn may be linked to chronic diseases. (5)
ACEs Increase Risk for Chronic Illnesses and Poor Physical Health, including chronic fatigue, lung disease (asthma, COPD), stroke, coronary heart disease, lupus, thyroid. (6)
How ACE’s Affect Wellness
The impact of ACEs goes beyond health, affecting overall wellness and the quality of life. One way this manifests is in our daily routines. Trauma can make normal activities feel like climbing a mountain. Simple tasks like cooking, cleaning, or even socializing can feel overwhelming. It’s not just about being physically able to do these things, it’s about having the mental energy to face them.
Interference with daily activities
ACEs can also have a profound influence on life decisions and relationships. They can shape our choices in careers, hobbies, and partners. Sometimes, without realizing it, people who’ve experienced ACEs may find themselves drawn to situations that mirror their childhood trauma. For instance, someone who grew up in a chaotic environment might unknowingly seek out or create chaos in their adult life.
Influence on life decisions and relationships
In terms of relationships, the effects of ACEs can be complex. Trust issues, fear of abandonment, or the need to control can strain relationships. On the flip side, some people might become overly accommodating, losing their identity in the process. The way we relate to others is often a reflection of our early experiences, and for those with ACEs, it can be a challenging landscape to navigate.
The 10 ACE’s
How to Calculate your ACE score
The questions below cover the ten most frequent ACEs answered by a group originally interviewed by the co-principal investigators of the studies, Robert F. Anda, MD, MS, with the CDC; and Vincent J. Felitti, MD, with Kaiser Permanente. They are not an exhaustive list and there is and ‘Extended ACE Score’, not included in the original research which can also be considered.
You can download a PDF version here>>
Answer the questions below and score 1 point for each ‘YES’ Prior to your 18th birthday:
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often…Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? or Act in way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?
- Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often…Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? or Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?
- Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch orfondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
- Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t lookout for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
- Did you often or very often feel that … You didn’t have enough to eat,had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? or Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
- Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
- Was your mother or stepmother: Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife.
- Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
- Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide?
- Did a household member go to prison?
Now add up your “Yes” answers: This is your ACE Score:
Therapy and counselling options
Healing from ACEs is possible, and there are several strategies that can support this journey. Therapy is one such strategy, providing a safe space to unpack and understand these experiences. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), for instance, can help reframe negative thought patterns that might have formed due to ACEs. Equally, trauma-focused therapies like Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) can also be highly effective.
Self-care is another vital aspect of recovery. This can range from physical activities like yoga or hiking, to mindfulness practices like meditation or journaling. It’s about finding activities that nourish and restore you, helping build resilience against stress. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish; it’s a necessary part of the healing journey.
Support groups and community resources
Lastly, don’t underestimate the power of community. Support groups can provide a sense of connection and understanding that’s invaluable for those dealing with ACEs. You’re not alone in this. Local community resources or online platforms can provide a wealth of information and support. Remember, reaching out for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Prevention of ACEs
Preventing ACEs involves recognizing risk factors and intervening early. Risk factors can be things like family dysfunction, substance abuse, or violence in the home. By identifying these early, professionals can step in to provide support and resources.
Intervention strategies are key in prevention. This can include programs that support parents, teach coping skills, or promote safe, stable, and nurturing relationships. It’s about breaking the cycle and providing the tools needed for healthier interactions.
Role of schools, communities, and policy makers
Schools, communities, and policy makers also play an important role in prevention. Schools can implement programs that teach social-emotional skills and offer support to students dealing with ACEs. Communities can provide resources and create safe environments. Policy makers can enact legislation that supports families and protects children. Remember, preventing ACEs is a societal responsibility, and we all have a part to play.
Your Next Steps
Knowledge is power, especially when it comes to your health. Resilience and hope are essential when dealing with ACEs. It’s about understanding that although ACEs may have shaped your past, they don’t have to dictate your future. Healing is possible and every step you take towards recovery strengthens your resilience.
If you’ve been impacted by ACEs, know that you’re not alone. There’s a community out there ready to support and stand with you. Don’t be afraid to seek help and take care of your mental and physical well-being.
If you would like to read more about how Rapid Transformational Therapy (RTT™) can help read here>>
Frequently Asked Questions
What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?
I know it can feel overwhelming, but ACEs refer to stressful or traumatic events that occur during childhood. These include abuse, neglect, and witnessing domestic violence. It’s a tough topic, but it’s important to address.
Why do ACEs impact long-term health?
Having experienced ACEs myself, I understand the profound impact they can have. Chronic diseases and sleep issues can develop due to the persistent stress on the body. It’s not an easy pill to swallow, but it’s the reality for many.
How do ACEs affect mental health?
Emotionally, ACEs took a toll on me. They often lead to emotional disorders and behavioral issues. While other platforms may skim over this, I believe it’s crucial to highlight.
How do ACEs influence wellness and daily activities?
ACEs can throw a wrench into everyday life. They can interfere with your ability to function effectively in daily activities and even influence major life decisions. That’s been a hard lesson for me.
What can be done to heal from ACEs?
I’ve learned that therapy, self-care practices, and community support can be invaluable. However, I’ve also experienced some pitfalls, like finding the right therapist or the time commitment for self-care.
Can ACEs be prevented?
Prevention of ACEs is a complex issue. It involves recognizing risk factors, implementing intervention strategies, and engaging schools, communities, and policymakers. I must admit, it’s a daunting task, but one that’s so important.
What is the importance of resilience and hope when dealing with ACEs?
From my personal journey, resilience and hope have been my lifelines. Knowing that ACEs don’t have to define my future has been a source of strength. On the other hand, it’s been a tough road, and some days are harder than others.
Now, I encourage you to take action. If you or a loved one has been affected by ACEs, reach out for help. There’s a community ready to support you. Book a FREE call here>>
Finally, I leave you with this: Do you believe that our experiences shape us, or that we have the power to shape our experiences?