Adverse childhood experiences lead to trauma and toxic stress. Toxic stress prevents optimal brain development and adversely affects the endocrine and immune systems, leading to a greater likelihood of chronic diseases in later life and a greater likelihood of mental and emotional problems.
In the Adverse Childhood Experience Study (ACE Study), a large-scale international study of over 17,000 middle-aged individuals in the social middle class), Felitti et al. examined the prevalence of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and the relationship to psychological, physical and social problems in adulthood.
As negative experiences they mentioned repeatedly physical and/or emotional abuse, sexual abuse and dysfunctional family situations. They found that the likelihood of psychiatric, somatic and social problems is directly related to the number of adverse experiences in childhood (they call it the ACE score). Almost 40% of the 17,000 individuals scored two or more negative childhood experiences, one in eight scored four or more negative childhood experiences.
Adverse childhood experiences can occur in many different ways. In the ACE study, a distinction was made between abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction.
- Physical abuse.
- Emotional abuse.
- Sexual abuse.
- Physical neglect.
- Emotional neglect.
Dysfunctional family situation.
- Psychiatric problems of the educator(s).
- Someone in the family who has been imprisoned due to criminal activity.
- Violent behavior by the mother.
- Abuse of alcohol or drugs.
- Separation or divorce of the parents at a young age.
The ACE study focused primarily on the family situation, but of course there are more factors that play into adverse childhood experiences such as: racism, being bullied, street violence, or war situations.
Adverse childhood experiences can get under our skin and affect our physical and mental health through toxic stress.
People with high ACE scores appear to have lower stress tolerance. Then, severe or frequent exposure to certain types of stress can have a “toxic” effect on the body and brain. The likelihood of mental, somatic and social problems is directly related to the number of negative experiences in childhood (the ACE score). Almost 40% of the number of participants scored two or more negative childhood experiences, 12% scored four or more negative childhood experiences. Dutch studies of ACEs among adults confirm this outcome. Adults with depression or addiction to alcohol appear to have experienced four or more ACEs more often than adults without physical or mental health problems.
Calculate your own ACE score here.
None of this sounds very positive if you have a higher ACE score yourself. Yet, as far as I am concerned, there is good news. It is extra important to take good care of yourself and it is never too late to have a happy childhood.
Because it is possible later in life to:
- Learn new skills to increase your chances in society.
- Build up self-confidence.
- Build or expand a supportive social network.
- Develop your morale to be able to discern what is helpful behavior and what is subversive behavior.
- To develop altruism and learn that generosity, without expectations is a direct path to happiness.
- To learn how to efficiently regulate your own emotions.
- To learn how to make your own decisions and thus feel in control in your life.
Meanwhile, many studies have shown that when people change their age and work on their mental health later in life, it has a positive effect on physical health.
Trauma therapy can be a start. Contact me to see what I can do for you in this.