Let’s jump right in, shall we?
Adverse Childhood Experiences or ACE’s is the largest public health study to inextricably link early life traumas to adult health outcomes. It was conducted in the late 90’s by two, white, male doctors at Kaiser Permanente; a fancy healthcare corporation, not a german King. It’s important to note that traumas we experience between the ages of birth to 18 are different from traumas we may experience as adults because during those first years of life our brain is going through fundamental stages of development. It’s also important to acknowledge that for many of us, adversity does not end in childhood. Our childhood experiences are simply laying the tracks for the direction our train is gonna go. For some of us, without reconstruction or intervention, we go off the rails. For others, we find miraculous, alternative routes to happiness.
Here’s a five minute video that sums up the original study:
In case you didn’t watch the video, here are the ten categories of childhood trauma identified in the study:
- Physical abuse
- Physical neglect
- Sexual abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Emotional neglect
- Parental divorce
- Parental mental illness
- Parental substance use
- Parental incarceration
- Witnessing domestic violence
An ACE score is calculated by counting up the number of traumas you’ve experienced which can range from 0 to 10. According to the original study, the higher our ACE score, the higher our risk for health and social disparities like obesity, smoking, COPD, becoming a teen parent, completing suicide, becoming addicted to drugs, alcohol or behaviors like compulsive gambling. In other words, having a total bummer of a childhood leads to having a total bummer of a life, again, with some mysterious exceptions. We’ll get to that in a minute.
Hey Doc, you forgot about…
Because the original study involved 18,000 mostly white, college educated middle class folks who can afford a plan at Kaiser, they left out a whole bunch of other childhood traumas.
Here’s a short list from my own childhood which didn’t come up in the original study:
- Witnessing police violence
- Witnessing a fatality
- Witnessing community violence
- Being the victim of community violence
- Living in unsafe/partially condemned housing
- Situational homelessness
- Street homelessness
- Someone trying to buy me (as like, a ‘date’ for their son)
- Receiving an offer to pose nude for that dead pimp’s magazine (I was 15)
- Systemic oppression
- Being the victim of school violence (aka bullying. I woke up under a car in the street.)
The good news is, thanks to some protective factors and half a lifetime of personal healing work, I’m only mildly maladjusted and can pass for a middle class white lady thanks to my name, degree and sunny outlook.
What would you add to the list?
I’ve been studying their study for nearly ten years. Since then, systemic oppression, adverse community experiences and discrimination have been added to the list. Lots of health and human service organizations have created their own ACE screenings which offer more targeted consideration for the people they serve. Pretty good progress on making room for the rest of us. However, we still have a long way to go when it comes to truly seeing each other and having compassionate understanding for what hurts us and what we need to heal. If there was a pandemic of spiritual awakening, I have this theory we’d arrive at world peace in about 400 years. Dare to dream, right?
Here are some additional childhood trauma’s I’d like us to consider:
- Biologically inherited trauma (aka: epigenetics)
- The death of a sibling
- The death of a parent
- The significant illness or disability of a sibling
- Imperceptible attachment fractures (aka, when a parent doesn’t like you or has a favorite child)
- Blatant attachment fractures (parental abandonment)
- Being given up for adoption
- Having one or more foster placement
- Being subject to child labor
- Becoming the victim of human trafficking
- Being bred for the sole purpose of maintaining a blood line or inheritance
- Growing up gay, lesbian, bi, queer and/or trans and having your identity denied, silenced, ignored, shamed or punished
- Being placed in a cage by a sociopathic tyrant who believed your parents crossed an imaginary line
- Being the child of a sociopathic tyrant
- Being a refugee in a hostile country
- Being a refugee, native person or captured human, or their descendant, whose rights were violated in the name of colonization, capitalism or an otherwise violent empire
- Emotional Incest (when a parent treats you like a spouse depending on you for romantic, emotional fulfillment as well as domestic help)
- Parentification (emotional incest minus the romantic component, aka, you didn’t get a childhood and became an adult in a very small body)
- Religious Abuse (This subject is its own thesis. A great resource on religious, narcissistic abuse is the work and memoir of Cherilyn Clough. She’s brilliant.)
- Having a parent or parents who bribe your way into an Ivy League school
- Becoming a child celebrity
- Participating in your family’s reality tv show as a child
- Becoming a child model
- Having very personal information shared nationally or globally about you or your family without your consent or control
- Being ignored or ostracized by society completely
- Having a parent or parents who commit fraud, extortion or otherwise cheat people out of boatloads of money
- Having a parent or parents who pay an institution thousands of dollars to have you kidnapped in the middle of the night and taken to a reform school where you experience horrific abuse
- Being raised with no boundaries, rules or structure
- Being raised by a nanny
- Being sent to boarding school
- Being expected to achieve and maintain impossible standards of greatness or perfection
- Being mercilessly compared to the success, appearance or ability of other children or adults
- Having a parent who is openly racist, classist, sexist and/or homophobic
- Living in a society that values profit over people
- Surviving a mass shooting
- Experiencing a pandemic
- Living in a society that profits from legalized animal abuse, exploitation and brutality
- Living in a society that profits from legal labor exploitation
- Living in a society that engages in and profits from war
We could be here all day making each other really sad but instead, I’ll sum it up:
Trauma is any experience or circumstance that overwhelms our personal ability to cope. Period. Amen.
The thing is, it really helps when we have external recognition of and support for our personal adversities. For instance, being super rich and super poor in western society are considered the direct result of personal effort. If you’re rich, it’s because you worked hard and earned it, which is a big, fat traumatizing lie. It’s also not a guarantee of happiness. Quite the opposite, it can be an incredible source of dysfunction and pain which is not acknowledged or qualified anywhere. Similarly, if you’re poor, it’s assumed you’re a morally corrupt idiot who’s very lazy. Another lie, which has recently been debunked by Dr. Devon Price in their book Laziness Does Not Exist.
What’s the cure for all this crap?
As I said earlier, protective factors, and personal resilience really help and, they’re equally complex. In the same way that adversity is defined by each one of us, the things that protect and heal us are just as unique. This is actually the central theme of my (as yet unpublished) book; I believe we’re all born in divine Providence. Through some combination of free will, dark forces and spiritual serendipity, we are individually and collectively finding our way back to love.
But I feel an ethical responsibility to offer a list of at least some concrete resources you might find helpful in getting from here to there:
- See a therapist.
- Try EMDR
- Try yoga
- Try meditation
- Try EFT
- Don’t try a life coach if you’ve never been to a qualified healthcare professional to address your mental health needs first. It’s fine to go to a coach after you’ve been treated by a physician for a heart condition or to get your diabetes under control but it can be unsafe to have one without the other.
- Ignore pop psychology unless you’re simply looking for quick, clickable amusement (it’s for entertainment purposes only)
- Try the 12 Steps
- Do your own research
- Join a support group
- Engage in advocacy
- Try Art Therapy
- Try HeartMath Energy Healing
- Try Reiki Therapy
- Try Sound Bathing
- Try Forest Bathing
- Try Shamanic Healing
- Try talking to a friend
- Try dancing
- Try singing
- Try cooking
- Try crying
- Try laughing
- Try cooking with a friend while you laugh, cry, dance and sing
Most importantly, trust your process.
Yay! First post of the series written! And, as per usual it’s too long but at least it’s done. My day job has kept me very busy and exhausted. I really wanted to sit around today, finish a book, watch YouTube videos, paint my nails and do yoga but my devotion was NOW, as in Now is the time to start that series, pumpkin. And I’m like, geeezzzzz god. Ok! I do it cause I love you. So, let me know what you think, if you’d ever heard of ACE’s and any ah-ha’s you had.
Happy Sunday. Take extra good care of you!