You can benefit from taking the ACE Test
Dr. Vincent Felitti found that patients who filled out a confidential questionnaire that covered their childhood abuse history required fewer doctor visits. In other words, just answering questions about traumatic events in their childhood served to reduce patients’ health risks. Why would even the most minimal discussion of the most painful childhood experiences have such substantial medical benefits?
In my first book, Scared to Leave Afraid to Stay, I told the story of a woman who had been sexually abused by her brother when she was three until she was eight. He had spanked her and touched her sexually. She blamed herself because some parts of what he did felt physically pleasurable. She never received therapy until she was an adult and experiencing problems in her marriage.
One day, her therapist put an empty chair in the middle of the room and said to pretend the little girl abused by her brother was sitting in the chair. “Tell me what the girl did wrong,” the therapist said, and at that moment, she realized she was not to blame. This breakthrough changed her life.
Those of us who watched MASH will remember the episode below in which Hawkeye suddenly cannot stop sneezing and at one point says he is going to die. The other doctors looked for physical causes and tested him for allergies. When none of this worked, they called in psychiatrist Dr. Sydney Freedman. The breakthrough came when Hawkeye realized that a traumatic episode from childhood had been misremembered because it wasn’t safe to know the truth. The person he thought saved him had actually pushed him into the water. Once he knew the truth, Hawkeye was back to good health.
Without the benefit of the ACE (adverse childhood experiences) Research, we minimize the harm from traumatic events in our childhood. Circumstances may force us to push the trauma deep inside us, where it inevitably causes even more damage. The good news is that by knowing about ACEs, we can learn the truth, respond to it, and work to reduce the fear and stress exposure to ACEs can cause.
The original ACE Study focused on ten types of traumatic childhood events that can have an enormous impact on a child’s life. These include three types of abuse: physical, sexual, and emotional: two types of neglect: physical and emotional: and five household dysfunctions: domestic violence, separation of the parents, mental illness of the parents, incarceration of a parent, and substance abuse of a parent. ACE counts each type of trauma rather than each incident. Children receive a score of one for each ACE. As your score goes up, the risks and harm increase. Subsequent research has proven there are other traumas with similar harmful effects.
A digital ACE test is available on the Stop Abuse Campaign website. You are welcome to take the test, see your results, and learn more about how this can affect you. Perhaps even more important, you can use this information to improve your life. Parents can use this information to help their children. Doctors working with the ACE Research tell us that children exposed to multiple ACEs can be saved from the devastating consequences. This is one reason the failure of family courts to consider ACE is so harmful to children.
Responding to Your ACE Score
ACE is medical research that was initially used to diagnose and treat patients. Many symptoms, like back pain, stomach problems, exhaustion, and headaches, have no apparent physical causes. Middle-aged and older patients often sought relief only to be told there was no explanation or that it might be hypochondria. The idea that these medical problems could have been caused by decades-old trauma rarely occurred to anyone. With the availability of ACE, doctors found that many of these symptoms were caused by ACEs.
ACE Research tells us that fear and stress are the cause of many medical problems. This means that patients exposed to ACE should respond as problems develop. They may want to consider therapy to deal with problems as Hawkeye and my client did. It is particularly important for those exposed to ACEs to work on stress reduction. You can accomplish this through exercise, yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, or anti-anxiety medication.
We live in a society that often discourages discussion of childhood trauma. The family courts and many professionals tell victims to “just get over it.” Actually, talking about it with safe people is beneficial. At the Stop Abuse Campaign, our goal is to prevent adverse childhood experiences. We seek to promote knowledge about ACE and to encourage discussion of this critical issue.
One of the problems with ACEs is that, as children, we often did not have the power or ability to protect ourselves. Too often victims are blamed for the actions of their abusers. Many protective mothers and other survivors have found it is empowering to work to change a system that failed to protect them. We hope you will use the ACE test to learn your score and use the information we provide to heal. If you are interested in empowerment, join the Stop Abuse Campaign as we work to prevent adverse childhood experiences. Hopefully, taking the ACE test and any needed follow-up will lead to a better life, a healthier life, and a happier life.
Domestic Violence Writer, Speaker, and Advocate
Barry Goldstein is one of the leading domestic violence authors, speakers, advocates, and a frequent expert witness.