What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), and why should you be aware of them? Simply stated they are traumatic experiences that we have as children. Everyone has some traumatic experience growing up, the loss of a family member, the death of a pet, something. So what?
The so what has come to the fore in the ground breaking study on the effects of psychosocial stress on us as human beings, the ACE study. This is important because to this point society has said that the things that happen to us as kids have little to no impact our adult life. That is until this ACE study proved otherwise.
What research unassociated with the ACE study has shown is that as children we are able to learn, to absorb so much so rapidly because we are in a certain state of receptivity. Researchers have indicated that children are in a constant brain wave activity of 2-7 Hertz up to a certain age. This is state of awareness is somewhat akin to the hypnotic, and the dreaming sleep state. This allows a child to learn rapidly, and it is not something that is not a conscious process for the child, this learning process. They just learn. But, there is no discernment, no critical thinking in this learning. A child cannot think critically about how to resolve a life issue, how to deal with a stressful situation. So if a child is in an environment ACE, a child learns, and this is the scary part, on a less than conscious level, how to be abusive or how to make do in the stressful environment to the ill-effects of their health.
During graduate research I chose to study the connections between hypertension and psychosocial stress, a fancy term for how the social environment can be a source of stress, and impact health. My findings were disturbing to me then, the 1980s, and have been verified by the more recent and extensive ACE study. The cause of hypertension, I posit, is due to ACE on a grand social scale.
What I found was that the population I studied had a history of psychosocial stress that was implicated in the onset of hypertension. A key component in a person developing heart disease is how they deal with anger, and more importantly repressed anger. Hypertension is associated with the heart and can be a precursor to heart disease and stroke. My concern from my study was what were the sources of the psychosocial stress? The ACE study has provided sources and produced statistically significant research that informs us of the effects of ACE on overall health.
Let’s see how the Adverse Childhood Experience study developed. It all began when a doctor doing weight loss work with morbidly obese women made a peculiar error. While interviewing a patient he misspoke one of the interview questions and asked the patient, “How much did you weigh when you were first sexually active?” versus “How old were you when you were first sexually active?” This miscue sparked a memory in the patient that she was a small child when she had her first sexual contact. It was with a trusted adult or older person, it was traumatic, and after this the weight problems began.
The abuse, the stress had been sexual and even psychological, an ACE. This uncovering set the stage for a longevity study on adverse childhood experiences, and how they affect people over the course of their lives. The findings were more disturbing than one can imagine.
What types of abuse, neglect and dysfunction were addressed in the study? Here is what The National Council Adverse Childhood Experiences webinar
Abuse, by category
Psychological (by parents) 11%
Physical (by parents) 28%
Sexual (anyone) 22%
Neglect, by category
Household Dysfunction, by category
Alcoholism or drug use in home 27%
Loss of biological parent < age 18 23%
Depression or mental illness in home 17%
Mother treated violently 13%
Imprisoned household member 5%
The most unsettling part of these findings is that many people were impacted by multiple categories. This author has a colleague whose life experience includes all ten categories, an ACE score of 10, the highest!
An abbreviated summary of the findings and final insights from the Adverse Childhood Experiences study, as relayed at the 2012 National Council webinar are most interesting:
- Adverse Childhood Experiences are very common, but largely unrecognized.
- 33% of the people in the study had NO ACE score, but the rest had one or more: 1 – 25%, 2 – 15%, 3 – 10%, 4 – 6%, 5 or more – 11%.
- What presents as the ‘Problem’ may in fact be an attempted solution.
- Their link to major problems later in life is strong, proportionate, and logical.
- ACEs are strong predictors of later death, disease, health risks, social functioning, well-being, and medical care costs.
- ACEs are the basis for much of adult medicine and of many major public health and social problems.
- Adverse childhood experiences are interrelated, not solitary.
- Treating the solution may threaten people and cause flight from treatment. (here is where things like Meditation, hypnosis, self-hypnosis and EFT can be useful)
- Change will be resisted by us in spite of enormous benefits.
The truth of the matter is that many of the people who seek the services of Consulting Hypnotists, EFT Practitioners and the like have been impacted by ACE scores. These are ordinary people with ordinary problems, like those looking to lose weight, or stop smoking. Take smoking for example. The Adverse Childhood Experience study indicated that people with higher ACE scores were more likely to smoke than people with lower or no ACE scores. The study indicated that smokers, like an alcoholic or drug addict, were self-medicating, the ‘Problem’ – smoking – was an attempt at a solution. Having worked with smoking cessation for many years, this makes perfect sense. Using hypnosis to help them think critically and resolve their internal conflicts about smoking often sends the ‘Problem’ packing.
The point here is that our everyday lives are impacted by things we don’t consider, and in many cases, the problems that we are suffering with are really not our fault. We did not consciously cause them. There is a way out, but it does require being aware, and taking responsibility for one’s personal resilience in spite of the negative effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences. You can find out how you size up ACE score wise at one of the many places online where you can take a quiz.