The Adverse Childhood Experiences Study conducted by Kaiser in the 1990s was a powerful public health study. The ACEs study linked having adverse (traumatic) experiences in childhood leads to detrimental and negative consequences in adulthood.
In the study, adverse childhood experiences include, but are not limited to the following:
Having experienced violence, abuse, or neglect
Witnessing violence in the home or community
Having a family member attempt or die by suicide
Having substance use problems
Having mental health problems and instability due to parental separation
Having household members in jail or prison.
The higher the amount of these ACEs experienced, the higher chance you will have negative, lasting effects in your adulthood. This results in toxic stress, social and emotional/psychological problems and a higher likelihood of having a chronic disease.
It wasn’t until my training to become a social worker that I was introduced to the ACEs study, but I was a participant long before that. These life markers were the intimate stories of my friends, family, and even myself. Following these breadcrumbs, I became acutely aware of the number of adults I knew whose lives painfully qualified this research.
These ACEs were more than a survey question; they were my loved ones and part of my own life story. As sad and heartbreaking as it is to experience or watch the effects of ACEs wreaking havoc on adult lives, there is hope. Through awareness, therapy, support, and process, you can heal. I’ve healed and continue to. You may not be able to reverse or erase what was done “to you” or fill voids of things you didn't get then, but you can work diligently to change your future, your life narrative, and even astonishingly as it sounds, your own brain.
Having a high number of ACEs in your childhood does not have to define you. For damn sure, you DO NOT have to repeat them onto the next generation. I do want to acknowledge there are things out of our immediate control like systematic racism and sexism- but knowing these are in play can increase your own self-compassion towards healing.
So my dear, having ACEs in spades in your childhood does not have to be a life sentence. There is hope- endless amounts actually. Through therapy and telling your story, you can cultivate the connection, safety, and security you needed as a child. You can and will improve your health, life and your overall wellness chances.
I’d bet my life on it.