ACES (Adverse Childhood Experiences)

At least two books, described below, highlight the effects that ACES (adverse childhood experiences) can have on your life.

Another resource that can be utilized right now is the ACES quiz, which will give you an idea of where you stand. Click on the link.

I. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal (2015) by Donna Jackson Nakazawa

For detailed info see my previous post regarding this book. Below are selected quotes.

Simply living with a parent who puts you down and humiliates you, or who is alcoholic or depressed, can leave you with a profoundly hurtful ACE footprint and alter your brain and immunologic functioning for life.

Recognizing that chronic childhood stress leads to chronic adult illness and relationship challenges can be enormously freeing. If you have been wondering why you’ve been struggling a little too hard for a little too long with your emotional and physical well-being—feeling as if you’ve been swimming against some invisible current that never ceases—this aha can come as a welcome relief. Finally, you can see the current. And you see how it’s been working steadily against you all of your life.

…(A)s Bernie Siegel, MD, puts it, quite simply, after half a century of practicing medicine, “I have become convinced that our number-one public health problem is our childhood.”

II. The Deepest Well: Healing the Long-Term Effects of Childhood Adversity (2018) by Nadine Burke Harris

Some ACEs statistics courtesy of interviews with Harris:

Two-thirds of Americans have been exposed to one significant adverse childhood experience, and between 13 and 17 percent have been exposed to four or more. We know that being exposed to high doses of childhood adversity dramatically increases the risk for seven of the 10 leading causes of death in the United States. (New York Times)

An individual with four or more ACEs is 10 times more likely to be an IV drug user as someone with no ACEs. (New York Times)

…For depression, it was 4.5 times. For suicidality, it was 12 times. (NPR)

As explained in her NPR interview, how you might envision the physiological effects of toxic stress:

Well, imagine you’re walking in the forest, and you see a bear. Immediately, your hypothalamus sends a signal to your pituitary, which sends a signal to your adrenal gland that says, release stress hormones adrenaline, cortisol. And so your heart starts to pound. Your pupils dilate. Your airways open up. And you are ready to either fight that bear or run from the bear. And that is wonderful if you’re in a forest, and there’s a bear. But the problem is what happens when the bear comes home every night. And this system is activated over and over and over again.

What can help to offset ACEs? New York Times interview excerpt:

One of the key ingredients for keeping the body’s stress response out of the toxic stress zone is the presence of a healthy buffering caregiver…We also know that if a caregiver is able to self-regulate, their kids have much better outcomes. Good old-fashioned mental health care really does help. In research studies, certain types of interventions, including child-parent psychotherapy, can help to normalize cortisol levels and get the body’s stress response back on track.

Regular physical exercise, a healthy dose of sleep, and meditation are suggested, among other things, for adults dealing with the effects of their ACES.

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