A few months ago while completing my Chrysalis Effect training I came across the concept of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) and how they can go onto affect the health and wellbeing of adults.

Of course I have been aware of this through personal experience and working as a nurse. But it didn’t realise that it was an actual recognised thing and there have been studies on it!

I was curious and decided to complete the ACE Questionnaire for myself.

So my score was a bit high. Did this mean that my childhood is going to affect the rest of my life? I hope not!

I then looked into it further and thought it would be helpful to share some of the things I learnt.

So what exactly is ACE?

ACE has been defined as experiencing one or more of the following traumas under the age of 18 years old.

  • Sexual Abuse
  • Recurrent physical and/or emotional abuse
  • Witnessing violence at home
  • Having a family member with substance misuse issues
  • Having a family members in prison
  • Living with a family members with mental illness
  • Emotional neglect
  • Physical neglect

How can it affect you?

The eight categories of adverse childhood experiences are strongly connected and overlap.

If you have multiple categories of childhood exposure you are more likely to have multiple health risk factors later in life.

These can be caused by;

  • physiological changes
  • harmful behaviours,
  • dysfunctional beliefs
  • negative social relationships
  • emotional difficulties

The ACE Study highlighted that if you have scored 4 or more categories of ACE, compared to those with none, you had more of a risk of the following things:

  • mental health problems including depression and anxiety
  • alcohol and drug misuse
  • smoking
  • increased numbers of sexual partners
  • obesity
  • physical inactivity
  • poor health behaviour
  • Chronic pain
  • Heart Disease
  • Chronic Lung Disease
  • Cancer
  • Liver disease
  • Broken bones

Why does this happen?

Apparently it is a biological thing. Frequent and prolonged levels of stress as a child can have a toxic affect on your body and harm your developing brain and other organs.

Also, you may have developed some behaviours as a way to cope with your childhood, which in turn have negatively affected your health

If I have a high ACE score, does it mean that I will definitely have health and wellbeing issues?

 Not necessarily. If there was another person in your life such as a family member or friend, who you had a nurturing, stable relationship with, then this may have helped you develop the knowledge and skills you needed as an adult.

And remember, although the health and wellbeing impacts of ACE can affect you throughout your life, it doesn’t have to!

What can I do to help myself?

  1. Practice Mindfulness

Yes I know! I’m banging on about this again! But research has shown that adult survivors of ACE have fewer health and health behaviour issues when they practice mindfulness.

  1. Consider Talking Therapies

This can help you challenge some of your distorted childhood beliefs and coping behaviours that are still having a negative effect on you as an adult.

Why don’t you go and have a chat with your Doctor to see what type of therapy they suggest. They may be able to refer you on the NHS.

Alternatively you can go private. But do find someone who you feel confortable with and have a rapport. After all you are going to be sharing some personal stuff with this person!

  1. Keep a journal

Writing down your experiences as a child can help you put it behind you. To find out more, why don’t you read Writing To Heal which can help you get the most out of this practice.

  1. Learn how to set boundaries

 As a child your bounderies will most likely have been abused, which now causes you difficulty in saying NO. You probably give yourself a hard time about it too!

Talking therapies can help you put strategies in place to help change your behavior and mindset.

  1. Consider joining a Support Group

Going through a healing process can take some time and if you don’t have the support of someone close to you then you may wish to consider finding a support group for people with similar experiences to you.

  1. Take action today!

Make that decision to move your life forward. It doesn’t matter if its taken you 10, 20 or 50 years to realise you need to do something. It’s never too late!