One of the most common questions people ask after learning about the Adverse Childhood Experiences study is, “how can childhood events have such profound, diverse effects, decades later?”
The answers to that question are complex but start with the way harm is done directly to body systems by chronic stress and the changes the toxic stress does to the brain and most basic emotional processing.
Our bodies develop to respond to stress in ways that favor short-term survival over long-term survival. This response makes sense; if you can’t survive a situation that poses an immediate, life-threatening emergency, long-term survival is irrelevant.
The ten traumas identified in the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study [see panel] are so profound that they cause children to have ongoing fear for their lives and safety. That causes a stress response that is helpful in the short term but not in the long term.
These chronic stress responses can change how a child’s circulatory system, nervous system, respiratory system, endocrine system, and immune system develop. Even when people with high ACE scores don’t engage in other high-risk activities, their risks of dying prematurely from diseases like cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and COPD are higher.
However, many people with high ACE scores will also engage in high-risk activities, thus further increasing adverse health outcomes.
Chronic stress in childhood is likely to cause a child’s brain to develop to be ready for more chronic stress. Children are more likely to view the world as a terrifying place. Depending on the child’s trauma, they may develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), or have difficulty forming a healthy, secure attachment.
These things will cause further stress for the child; PTSD means the child will experience debilitating bouts of anxiety and panic. Impaired attachment means the child will have trouble learning to calm themselves and regulate their emotional ups and downs. When a traumatized child starts school, their brain is still in survival mode. That means their learning and social skills are likely to develop slower than they would otherwise, and this makes school less enjoyable and rewarding for them.
All of this translates into children with brains that are strongly predisposed to behavioral or chemical addictions, as they are ways that the child can make their brain more normal. Behavioral addictions include risk-taking and eating. Chemical addictions can consist of smoking or vaping nicotine, marijuana, alcohol, or harder drugs. These coping mechanisms can have adverse health outcomes. The consequences from addiction, impaired school performance, involvement in the criminal justice system can set young people on a different life trajectory than they would be on otherwise.
Children who have suffered ACEs are less likely to succeed in school. More likely to suffer from addiction. And more likely to be in an unhealthy relationship. All this making it less likely they will pursue an advanced degree or hold down a steady job. Financial hardship is one of the metrics identified in the original ACE research.
If someone struggles with employment, the primary source of health insurance for most people, the odds of them consistently receiving medical care are lower.
And here we see how the harm caused by ACEs comes full circle; changes in emotional health affect psychosocial and economic health, which, in turn, affect physical health. There are countless ways these different spheres can affect each other. But the good thing about circles is you can break them at any point.
Our brains can change and respond to positive experiences, even in adulthood. There are specific therapies that are particularly helpful in healing from childhood trauma. But treatment will be of limited use if you’re in an abusive relationship, don’t have a stable income, housing, or access to food and medical care. You can also fix all of these things. Therapy and lifestyle improvements will help reduce the stress in your life, and that, alone, will help with physical ailments related to ACEs.
Check out our blog posts on
Healing from ACEs
You may be surprised by these five ways in which surviving child abuse is much like training for the Olympics.
Are you the Cinderella or a stepsister in your family’s story of generational abuse? How will you pass on the generational abuse torch?
Holidays for abuse survivors: it is not your job to swallow the truth elephant just to make your family feel comfortable.
Take the ACE Test, benefit from getting your ACE Score and start personal discovery, and better mental, and physical health.
What is Narcissistic Abuse? How can it be characterized? What is the ‘double-message double-bind” that abusers use? What can you do?
Suffering kept silent is a heavy-weight on the soul but sharing the burden of pain with your community can be difficult if they don’t want to hear.
many scandals that have rocked the Catholic church. Unfortunately, they have rocked every other denomination, faith, countless secular institutions and countless families. And the pain and tumult these scandals leave for non-offending members is massive. With that in mind, we wanted to share this piece.
Integrate your younger-self into your adult life. An abusive upbringing can make us feel like our young-self is still in our childhood home.
Your friend has just told you that they have been sexually assaulted, abused, stalked or raped and you want to support them but you’re not sure what they need. Maybe it happened to them decades ago, in childhood, or maybe it was as recent as today. You want to help your friend in any way you can. Situations may vary, but here are 5 tips for friends of survivors.
Having anxiety is difficult to explain to people. Sometimes, you feel like everything is falling into place, and the next, your world feels like it’s crashing down on you. Stress, feelings of neglect, worries about the future, all of these can combine into an anxiety episode or attack.
Consent is simply about setting your own boundaries and respecting the boundaries of others. We don’t need complicated contracts or apps to ensure consent; we need a revolution within our culture itself.
A memoir contains a magical ability to heal. Discover how using a memoir for healing from abuse works? How do you start?
No relationship is perfect, be it familial, a friendship, romantic relationship, or a marriage, yet any of these can be a toxic relationship
Using one of these kits, certain evidence such as DNA and debris can be collected from a crime scene — and when it comes to assault, that crime scene is the survivor’s body.Even if you never have to use one, it can be helpful to know what exactly a rape kit is, and what it isn’t.
Physical abuse encompasses more than the current widely accepted definition. The intentional infliction of physical pain, even if there is not an accompanying injury requiring medical attention, is still physical abuse.
Did you experience food abuse? When a parent has food available and chooses to withhold it from their child it is neglect.
Abuse Survivors and Our Bodies. Did you suffer child abuse? If so. you may care about yourself less because you think nobody cares about you.
No matter how much one breaks the cycle of abuse, it can’t magically and retroactively change the leaves and branches of one’s family tree.
The US has the largest prison population in the world and highest per-capita incarceration rate but how are we treating the high rate of ACEs in prison?
Victims of racism or abuse have a lot in common. Azure Moyna shares the greatest gift you can give someone who has been abused or mistreated.
How to lose the language of abuse and achieve the miracle of actually being able to think in the new language. Emotional language is everything.
Are you a victim of abusive parenting and now a parent yourself? Wonder how you can parent without being abusive? Here are some ways you can break the cycle.
Trusting someone with your story of abuse is a huge hurdle to overcome if you have been sexually abused. You need a sexual abuse co-pilot.
Society has ranked types of abuse in a hierarchy society considers most to least bad, and even buckets abuse into legitimate and illegitimate categories.
“Boy in the Hole” by Akiva Hersh is a heart-filled story of surviving and overcoming, intergenerational trauma. It starts with the makings of a very traumatized grandmother and follows two generations of her family tree. It is a study in intergenerational trauma, in...
It’s important for survivors and victims of abuse to have allies. A friend when going through a rough time. Do you know how to be an ally?
We hear the expression. “blaming the victim,” but do we really know what victim blaming means? Or why we blame victims?
My recovery as a sex offender started when I stopped making excuses. And it started in the hostile environment of a prison.
It’s difficult to recover from ACEs, but it can done. This blog gives eight useful tips to recover from ACEs allowing people to go through life with ease.
Experiencing trauma leads to all sorts of negative consequences but did you realize that it there is a strong relationship between overwork and past trauma?
Got a Valentine message for your ex? Name a cockroach after your ex then. El Paso zoo will feed it to one of their Meerkats for you.
20 years ago CDC research on childhood trauma, called ACEs, showed survivors lead shorter sicker lives. Why aren’t we preventing it?
Survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault and other traumas are rightly proud of overcoming the horrendous mistreatment they have suffered. At the same time, victims of abuse want understanding and support for the enormous harm they have suffered. Survivors are...