Childhood Trauma & Adult Healing

Have you heard the buzz about the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study? Well, back in 1995 the initial phase of the ACE study was conducted using survey information gathered from participants who answered questions about “childhood maltreatment and family dysfunction, as well as items detailing their current health status and behaviors” (CDC, 2014). The researchers looked at various experiences that a child might have while growing up, which included things like a parent in jail, a parent using alcohol or drugs, family divorce, and experiencing or witnessing abuse. The original study explored the impact of these ACEs on obesity rates, but since initiating this inquiry, it has become abundantly clear that these experiences also directly relate to many adulthood health problems, including mental illness. And, the higher the ACE score, or the greater the number of ACEs experienced, the greater the likelihood of adult health problems. This study supports the notion that certain, namely traumatic, experiences in childhood establish a propensity for poor health, early death, and poor quality of life in adulthood.

It’s important to recognize, however, that not everyone who has a high ACE score is destined to experience significant health problems in adulthood. Resiliency is a powerful thing. This study does not take into account any protective factors that people carry with them. We can’t always control what happens to a child, but we can hold hope that we will be able to provide enough protective factors, including surrounding the child with caring, stable adults, meeting their emotional needs, and allowing them to feel heard and valued, which can act as an antidote to trauma.

In my work with trauma and supporting clients in their healing journeys, I am routinely reminded of the integral connection between the mind and the body; emotional pain is so often expressed through physical means. In my practice, I am never surprised to hear of an adult with fibromyalgia who has a significant amount trauma in their life story. The body aches from the mind’s emotional discomfort with those experiences. As supported by the findings of the ACE study, those with impactful childhood experiences are more likely to struggle with both physical and emotional issues as an adult. I have found that so often adults with chronic pain, chronic migraines, digestive issues, and difficulty with weight also have significant experiences from earlier in life that still feel unresolved and persist in bothersome emotional reactions.

Ultimately though, we must remember that it’s not about what’s wrong with you; it’s about what happened to you. The traumas we carry from childhood do not make us who we are. And when we take the steps towards healing, it’s essential to recognize that we are writing a new chapter, paving a path of our own choosing, and perhaps making the choice to set down the heavy load and be okay with that. If we can carry hope for a different tomorrow, we are not doomed to a lifetime of yesterdays.

For more information about the impact of trauma on the child’s brain CLICK HERE

Written by Lauren Robbins, MS LPCC LADC