Adverse Childhood Experiences. ACEs. I remember coming across this in my Freshman college elective class. It was only during the initial introductory class that my professor began writing on the whiteboard the definition, symptoms, and outcomes of ACEs. A sense of panic, anxiety, embarrassment and shame filled me. I got up, gathered my things, and ran outside of class.
Those weren’t just words she wrote. It felt like she was writing who I am on there—for the entire class to see. Those words spoke to experiences that I tried my best to suppress, block out, and ignore.
My professor came out to ask what was wrong. I told her, now explaining through tears falling down my face, I can’t. I just can’t. I would need to drop out her class.
I was not ready to accept this reality. And it would be years until I was brave enough, strong enough, to sit fully with the parts of me which needed acknowledgment & healing—focusing my attention directly on Adverse Childhood Experiences.
1. What is Adverse Childhood Experiences/ACEs?
Adverse Childhood Experiences are preventable, traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years). ACEs affect the developing brain, and its physiology, which in turn influences the individual in adulthood—in the negative.
Adverse Childhood Experiences was a term created by researchers Dr. Vincent Felitti, Dr. Robert Anda, and their colleagues. The observation first began with Dr. Vincent Felitti in 1985. He ran a clinic designed to help participants lose weight. However, 50% of participants would drop out before completion of the program. Frustrated, Dr. Vincent Felitti needed to understand why. Was he failing his patients?
In his investigation, Dr. Vincent Felitti began to uncover an egregious reality: a link to obesity and traumas experienced in childhood. This led to the collaboration with Dr. Robert Anda of the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), to further explain and understand this finding.
Between 1995 to 1997, the CDC teamed up with health insurance conglomerate, Kaiser Permanente, to put out a comprehensive survey. Over 17,000 members completed the survey. And it was from this important effort that we have a definitive and well-outlined understanding of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs).
2. What were some findings of the Adverse Childhood Experiences/ACEs study?
ACEs are categorized into 3 forms: abuse, neglect, & household dysfunction. Abuse in the forms of physical, emotional, & sexual. Neglect in the form of physical & emotional. And household dysfunction, including mental illness, mother treated violently, divorce, substance abuse, or an incarcerated family member.
The higher the ACEs score of a person, the higher and increased likelihood they will develop long-term negative health consequences (diseases, stroke, cancer, substance abuse, & diabetes)—including an earlier death.
As ACEs occur during the formative years of childhood, these events shape and change the child’s brain. Their brain wires to be more sensitive and reactive to stress. Ultimately, changing the attitudes and behaviors towards themselves and their reality.
3. High Adverse Childhood Experiences/ACEs may lead to Narcissism & Insecure Attachment Styles
More studies need to be done on the correlation between high ACEs scores and insecure attachment styles—including its connection to Narcissism. We know insecure attachment styles (Anxious Preoccupied, Dismissive Avoidant, and Fearful Avoidant) are born out of inconsistent nurturing, mirroring, or emotional attunement between child and parent/caregiver.
We also find those with Codependent or high Narcissistic traits come from similar backgrounds. There may be a link here which can only be confirmed with proper studies. For now, we can presume Adverse Childhood Experiences can lead to dysfunction in attachment styles and result in codependency, narcissism, or highly antagonistic personalities.
4. Adverse Childhood Experiences/ACEs Affect Relationships
Due to ACEs affecting neurodevelopment, this leads to emotional, & cognitive impairment. Individuals with high ACEs scores cannot see dysfunction in their experience of reality, because they have nothing to compare it to.
We see this in toxic domestic violence cycles, where abusive on again-off-again relationships occur. Including the individual’s attraction to drama-filled relationships where the familiarity of high conflict and high-stress arousal states are common.
Jeffrey Young, Ph.D and Janet Kiosk, Ph.D introduced Schema Therapy in 1993. One belief of Schema Therapy is the people we find the most charismatic and are the most drawn to, are subconsciously triggering us to fall back into old familiar traumas and negative family patterns.
Therefore, when we are not understanding of our ACEs—especially how they influence and affect us—we are at risk of falling into the predictable pattern of statistics.
5. The Responsibility of Healing
High ACEs is due to the passed intergenerational traumas. Sadly, it’s the lack of awareness of the parent or caregiver who is most prone to passing these familiar wounds—from generation to generation.
Some traumas are simply masqueraded as “tradition”. The danger comes from not questioning the nature of the reality passed onto you. Lack of self-awareness is key in passing on traumas. Because accountability is part of intercepting any chance of domestic violence cycles affecting future generations.
When the individual with high ACEs comes to awareness and acceptance of their experience, they are confronted with a choice. The choice to heal forward, or as I initially did—avoid, deflect, and ignore.
Because there is a grieving process: for the childhood innocence that may have been stolen or never available at all.
You Are Not What Happened To You
If you are reading this, realizing you have endured and suffered through high ACEs, let me remind you that you are not alone. There is some comfort in knowing there are others who have worked through their specific pains and each day commits to their healing journey forward.
Regrettably, the healing journey forward with Adverse Childhood Experiences will require you to put in focused effort and work. And what I’ve found, is you do work that your abusers or offenders could never do. This is overwhelming, exhausting, and unbearable at times.
You didn’t put the abuse or trauma into your life…so why do you have to put the work they never could? And possibly never will?
Yes, it’s unfair. It’s not an easy straight path forward. Instead, the price of freedom from pain and trauma is work. But maybe because freedom has always been worth it.
If you are looking for excellent therapists, I recommend those who specialize in Eye-Movement Desensitization & Reprocessing (EMDR). Please check out our Resources page here. EMDR has a proven track record of healing advance traumas.
In conjunction with therapy, working with a trauma-informed Life Coach can help goal setting in between therapy sessions. Please feel free to contact Liana Vibes for more information.
As we begin the new year, may 2023 be one full of healing, strength, resiliency, and self-care.
Be gentle, stay well, & vibe well,