What are ACEs?

Written by HarleyTherapy.com
by Harley Therapy   |   Psychological Issues
Published

photo by: Jakub Kriz

photo by: Jakub Kriz

You know people whose childhoods were worse than yours, and you try not to complain. Everyone had a tough childhood, right? And you can’t blame childhood for all your problems now you're an adult.
Or can’t you?


What are adverse childhood experiences?

We all experience challenges growing up. A friend abandons us, we have to face the stress of a new school, a cherished grandmother passes. But we bounce back. Challenges help us realise who we are, lead to personal strength, and help us grow as a person.
But some of us experience more difficult things than other children. Things that don’t have positive knock-on effects. In fact, quite the opposite.
Adverse childhood experiences, or ‘ACEs’, are negatively challenging events that leave a child overwhelmed and anxious, and which they often have no support to navigate and can’t bounce back from.

The negative affect of ACEs

Instead of leading to personal growth, adverse childhood experiences negatively affect nervous, hormonal, and immunological system development.
Your brain throw your ‘stress thermomstat’ onto a permanent high, and you are locked into a constant state of alertness.
ACEs leave you struggling to cope all the way into adulthood, where they can result in health and social difficulties.

What are examples of ACEs?

The original list of ten adverse childhood experiences, falling under three main categories, arose out of a large-scale American research study in the 1990s. They are:
ABUSE
NEGLECT
  • physical neglect
  • emotional neglect.
HOUSEHOLD DYSFUNCTION
  • mental illness of someone in the household
  • substance abuse by someone in the household
  • mother treated violently
  • parental separation or divorce
  • an incarcerated household member.

Should other things be considered ACEs, too?

There is ongoing discussion about other childhood challenges that should be included on this list, such as:
  • growing up in poverty
  • being raised in a dangerous or unstable community
  • the death of a parent.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) has in fact made a much more detailed questionnaire than the original 10 questions. It includes peer violence, community violence, and war and collective violence.


Why are adverse childhood experiences a big deal?

Some people manage to thrive despite ACEs.
But most people, especially those who seem to have a ‘sensitive gene’, are affected all the way into adulthood, particularly if we experienced four or more adverse childhood experiences.
We can end up with depression, anxiety, addictions, weight issues, and relationship problems that leave us lonely.
ACEs are also connected to ongoing physical health problems. When our body is constantly flooded with stress hormones it raises the body's inflammatory response. Inflammation is connected to many diseases.
And unfortunately, adverse childhood experiences also lead to a higher risk of both being incarcerated and of committing suicide.

What should I do if I have experienced ACEs?

First of all, recognise that you should not feel ashamed or different. Adverse childhood experiences are actually common.
In the original study that identified the main list of ten ACEs, just under 40% reported living through two or more ACEs, and 12% reported four or more.
Secondly, don’t panic. Just because you had many adverse childhood experiences is no guarantee you are going to suddenly get sick, develop addictions, or spend the rest of your life miserable.
And there are many things you can do as an adult to change the affects of ACEs, such as a healthy diet, exercise, a committed wellbeing regime, and mindfulness meditation.


Seek support

One of the best things you can do to take back your life from adverse childhood experiences is seek support.
A therapist creates a safe space for you to face up to, heal, and free yourself from the repressed experiences and emotions of difficult childhood experiences. You can learn how to take care of yourself, how to make better choices, and how to get the love and support from others you both need and deserve.
Ready to face up to your adverse childhood experiences and start to move on? Find your perfect therapist, book today, and take a step forward this week.
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