Conventional wisdom holds that children are resilient, and they bounce back easily from childhood experiences by the time they reach adulthood. This is considered to be even more true if the child doesn't remember the events. A large study has de-bunked that myth. Read on!
There's an epidemic in the United States which is causing increased risk of suicide, chronic disease – including heart and lung disease and cancer – as well as addiction, violence and divorce. It costs the U.S. healthcare system over $103 billion annually. The good news is that there is a cure, and we can prevent new cases. This short TED Talk explains:
Dr. Nadine Burke Harris’s TED Talk explains that Adverse Childhood Experiences, also known as ACEs, correlate highly with poor health outcomes in adulthood.
ACEs include the following experiences during childhood:
- · Abuse, whether emotional, physical or sexual – or emotional or physical neglect
- · Witnessing one’s mother being abused (domestic violence)
- · Losing a parent to separation or divorce, or another reason
- · Having a family member who is depressed, has addiction or is incarcerated
How Was This Epidemic Discovered?
As explained in this article, when a physician conducting research on obesity noticed higher than expected numbers of dropouts in his study, he began asking questions and discovered that most of the patients reported history of childhood sexual abuse.
Until then, he did not realize how common sexual abuse is. We now know that one in four girls and one in six boys will experience sexual victimization at some point before his/her eighteenth birthday. The study also found that 64% of Americans have experienced at least one ACE, and of those people, 87% had 2 or more.
The higher the score, the worse the respondents’ health outcomes. In other words, those who had more ACEs were more likely to have cancers, heart disease, autoimmune disorders, addiction, depression, divorce, and overall their lifespans were shortened by as much as 20 years compared with people who had no ACEs.
Adverse Childhood Experiences Study
This information was gained from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study, a longitudinal study conducted by Kaiser Permanente on a huge sample of insured patients – 17,000 mostly white, educated, middle- to upper- class, employed people – in other words, some of the most high-functioning members of society who should have the best access to healthcare. This makes me wonder how much higher the stats on the incidence of childhood adversity and poor health would be if the sample had included people who live in poverty, those who are incarcerated, and others of less means and access to healthcare.
All of This Sounds Pretty Scary, but Here’s the Good News!
For one thing, if you have experienced childhood trauma, you now know that you aren’t alone. Traumatic experiences in childhood are quite common in the United States. The most important thing is to recognize that traumatic experiences can affect us years later, even if we think we should be over it by the time we reach adulthood.
How Do I Find Out My ACE score?
You can take the quiz at this link. As I’ve mentioned - and you may have read in the linked articles - the higher your ACE score, the more likely you are to be affected by mental and physical health issues. It’s scary to hear that having an ACE score of 6 or higher is correlated with lifespans as much as 20 years shorter than the average.
However, you don’t have to fall into those statistics, even if your score is high! I have worked for years helping people who have experienced childhood trauma and what I know is that having traumatic experiences is very painful, but the most damage comes from ignoring how you have been affected by these experiences – and the healing begins when you allow yourself to feel the emotions you’ve been avoiding.
When the emotional effects of childhood trauma are not addressed, they don’t go away on their own. Often we develop methods of coping with trauma symptoms - like avoiding developing close relationships so we don’t get hurt - and numb the emotional pain with drugs, alcohol, the internet, being busy, sex, shopping, perfectionism, eating disorders, work, school, and/or gambling.
Knowledge is power – what do you do with the information once you learn about it? You can ask yourself honestly whether you have healed from the Adverse Childhood Experiences referenced in your score. If not, what are the steps you can take to begin the healing process?
You can heal from childhood trauma. There's a therapist out there for you!
Psychotherapy for trauma can include, among other techniques:
- · Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy techniques
- · Creative methods such as art, music, yoga and dance therapy
- · Mindfulness approaches
- · Body-based (also known as somatic) methods including Somatic Experiencing and Sensorimotor Psychotherapy
- · Eye-Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
There are many useful methods therapists use to help you heal from trauma – I don’t mean for this to be a comprehensive list. In fact, I’d love to hear what you have tried in the comments below!
It’s important to speak to a potential therapist about his or her training in trauma treatment. Make sure you feel comfortable that this is the right person for you, and if you don’t, it’s okay to tell the therapist that and find someone else who can help you. Trust is an important part of the therapy process, and without developing a trusting therapeutic relationship with your therapist it will be extremely difficult to work through the trauma.
Childhood trauma is preventable! I will write about that in a future blog post. By the same token, the health outcomes the ACE Study identified are not a matter of fate. Rather, they are the body's expression of unresolved trauma, and by addressing the underlying cause you can potentially limit future illness. I’m so glad the ACE Study has provided so much information which is now being used to help spread the word about this major public health issue affecting our children and so many adults in the United States. I hope more people will understand the effects of their own ACEs and address them as needed.
If this has made you think about finding help to work through your own childhood trauma, call me at (443) 510-1048 or visit my website.
Burke, N.B. (2015, February 17). How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk
Center for Nonviolence & Social Justice. (2014). What is trauma? Retrieved from: http://www.nonviolenceandsocialjustice.org/FAQs/What-is-Trauma/41/
Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault. (2013). Sexual assault in the U.S. Retrieved from: http://www.mcasa.org/_mcasaWeb/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Sexual-Assault-in-the-US-updated-2013.pdf
National Child Traumatic Stress Network. (n.d.). Effects of complex trauma. Retrieved from: http://www.nctsn.org/trauma-types/complex-trauma/effects-of-complex-trauma
Reagan, L. (2015, February 21). Why can’t I just get over it? Retrieved from: http://www.yourtango.com/experts/laura-reagan/why-cant-i-just-get-over-it-0
Stevens, J.E. (2012, October 3). The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study – the largest, most important public health study you never heard of – began in an obesity clinic. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/2012/10/03/the-adverse-childhood-experiences-study-the-largest-most-important-public-health-study-you-never-heard-of-began-in-an-obesity-clinic/
Stevens, J.E. (2015, February 17). Nadine Burke Harris: How childhood trauma affects health across a lifetime. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/2015/02/17/nadine-burke-harris-how-childhood-trauma-affects-health-across-a-lifetime/
Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). ACES 101. Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/aces-101/
Stevens, J.E. (n.d.). Got your ACE score? Retrieved from: http://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/
United States Centers for Disease Control. (2014, May 13). Injury prevention and control: Division of violence prevention. Retrieved from: http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/
What do you think? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments below! And if someone you know needs to read this, please share!