Updated: Nov 26
Did you grow up with Adverse Childhood experiences (ACEs)?
And what does this have to do with childhood trauma and toxic stress?
Now, if you learn best by reading, keep scrolling on to read about ACEs and childhood trauma. If you learn better by listening and visuals, click on this link where I deliver the information of this article on video:
ACE include physical abuse, emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, and household violence.
The more ACEs you experienced growing up, the higher your likelihood of heart disease, insulin problems, low performance at school and work, and substance abuse later in life.
So how many different ACEs did you grow up with?
If you are curious, can take the ACEs quiz on: https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2015/03/02/387007941/take-the-ace-quiz-and-learn-what-it-does-and-doesnt-mean
And find your ACE score. Be mindful that the ACE score does not reveal any fatalistic future, but is rather a guide to what you may be susceptible to given your childhood trauma.
Its quick, just 10 questions, and it gives you an estimate... but by no means is a deep exploration into you as a person.
ACEs can’t predict accurately how your life will pan out, but a high ACE score can serve as a rough first screener to identify whether you can benefit from some treatments or interventions to heal yourself or give you an awareness of what you may need to do to protect yourself from negative behaviours and poor health.
I scored 3. And I found the explanation behind the score somewhat insightful.
Now, let’s talk about social issues. We don’t live in a vacuum after all do we? How does our interactions with society, with people, impact us - given the ACEs or childhood trauma that you have been exposed to?
In this case, we can refer to social problems like bullying, discrimination, and community violence.
So firstly, why is this even a problem?
Most of us have grown up with some form of bullying or discrimination or exposed to community violence. If it’s so normal, why do they affect us so much?
Well, evolutionarily, when you are rejected from your community, it’s pretty much a death sentence. You will end up living at the edges of your community or your tribe, with subpar access to food and shelter, and care.
In worse cases, you might even be ousted from your tribe, and banished. This is dangerous because you will be a target for other tribes, and lack food, shelter, and support. So when we experience such social rejection, our body and brain also goes into survival mode: fight, flight, or freeze. Because your body and brain hasn’t really had a chance to evolve into the era we are in now, the history of human progress has been far too rapid for the biology to catch up.
So, going back to the impact of such experiences,
if you encountered social violence, and you go back to an unsupportive home environment, without responsible adults, such adverse social experiences can contribute to toxic stress.
Because The adults are not around to make you feel safe and cared for when the outside world is in chaos and danger.
This leads to a maladaptive stress response, which I had talked about in my video “Why can’t I heal from my trauma?"
So what does this 'Maladaptive Stress' response do to our immune system?
It sets it on overdrive as the default mode, leading to long term wear and tear of the brain and the body.
Imagine revving a car for days or weeks at a time.
What are the health risks of ACEs or childhood trauma?
Behaviourally, childhood trauma manifest through:
Low physical activity
Alcoholism- or addictions of any type (I would put sugar under this category as well)
Absconding or missing work or school
Physically, childhood trauma manifests through..no surprises here:
Obesity from not moving much
Cognitive decline /poor cognitive development/ cognitive stunting
Diabetes or insulin problems
Suicidal ideation and attempts
Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
How can we reduce the effects of ACEs or childhood trauma, and toxic stress?
If you have children, or work with children, early interventions can be very powerful.
This could very simply be having conversations with the kids about what has happened, how they feel, and teaching them some skills to self-regulate and interact in adverse environments.
One key thing is to ensure that they feel assured, safe, and secure.
Dr Shonkoff, a pediatrician and director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University said that such intervention have been shown to help children with later learning and literacy, and boost their resilience, by helping them build secure attachments with caring adults. Research suggests that a child needs one, just the ONE safe loving consistent caregiver in early life to give him or her a significantly better shot at growing up well.
Dr Shonkoff also tell us that there are people with high ACE scores who do very well in life. And I have had the privilege to meet many of them through my clinical work.
According to him, resilience is built throughout life, through close healthy relationships. So if you have had a traumatic history, your partner, family or close friends, can be aides to your resilience.
What else can you do?
Talk to a mental health professional: Remember how exclusion and rejection, and even isolation (COVID quarantine!) can be damaging? Well when you talk about things, and share your experiences with a trained trauma therapist, you are in a bubble of safety and security that you both build together over time, and you can work through the nuts and bolts of your ACEs.
Meditation and breathing exercises
Engaging in various forms of art/expressive therapies
Physical activities: Sports, martial arts
Yoga: I advocate specifically for yin yoga, which is a meditative form of yoga that works with the connective tissues and the parasympathetic nervous system. A very powerful antidote for trauma survivors. I personally like to recommend clients to start out with Yoga with Adrienne. If/When you are seasoned, I recommend Yoga with Kassandra, and also Travis Elliot (for a philosophical lecture to accompany your practice). I have listed the links below.
Social support: REACH OUT.
Psychedelic-assisted therapy has now proven to be an effective and efficient way to process trauma, although this is NOT a viable option for children. You can access trained therapists through: https://mindmedicineaustralia.org.au/cpat-graduate-directory/
If you’d like to hear more on alternative approaches to trauma care, you can listen to The Counsellor’s Couch, a podcast platform by the ACA, Episode 4, where I share further information on this topic. It runs for about 30 minutes.
If you or someone you know are really struggling, particularly with behavioural issues, please find trauma-informed supports rather than surrendering to punishment.
There are various different supports from domestic violence, to rehab establishments, specific programs in schools, and even through private practitioners. people with an intrusive trauma history need to be heard, to he able to heal. Give these people, and even yourself, a chance to commit to healing. And that is final key point I want to drive home is:
Commit to your recovery.
Because it is not going to be easy, nor is it going to be quick, but it will sure as hell be worth your while.
There is no one right way to process a traumatic experience, but one important aspect of healing from trauma is knowing when to ask for support. Trauma-informed doctors, counsellors, social workers, chaplains, and religious leaders can help people cope with and heal from a traumatic childhood.
You are also welcome to book an appointment with me to discuss your trauma recovery.
Psychedelic Assisted Therapists
Yoga with Adrienne
Yoga with Kassandra
Yoga with Travis Elliot