How To Overcome An Adverse Childhood Experience

Updated December 26, 2022by BetterHelp Editorial Team

Content Warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention topics that include abuse, substance abuse, trauma, suicide, and addiction. The information found in the article is not a substitute for professional medical advice or ongoing mental health treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have.

Childhood trauma from an adverse experience can stay with people for the rest of their lives, and if left untreated, can have physical and mental consequences. In this article, you will learn about what strategies to help cope with adverse childhood experiences and start living healthier and happier lives.

What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can manifest in many different forms. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and their ACE study, these past issues can have a significant impact in adulthood. They can lead to various physical and mental health problems. 

According to the ACE study, the higher someone scores on the ACE questionnaire, the more likely they may develop depressive and anxiety disorders.

Some examples of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are listed below:

  • Enduring the separation or divorce of parents

  • Living with a family who abuses drugs or alcohol

  • Having a family with severe mental health illness

  • Seeing a family incarcerated 

  • Witnessing a family being abused by another

  • Experiencing physical, mental, and emotional abuse and neglect

Note: If you or a loved one is or has been exhibiting symptoms of drug or alcohol use, reach out for help today at SAMHSA National Helpline (Substance Use): 1(800)662-4357.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), ACEs are much more common than people often think, with over 60 percent of the study participants reporting having at least one ACE. Additionally, around 1 in 6 people have had more than four of them.

Although ACEs can happen to anyone from any background, studies suggest that women, minority groups, as well as those who identify as being part of the LBGTQ community, are more likely to have experienced them as children.

What Challenges Can ACEs Cause?

In addition to developing mental health issues like depression and anxiety and chronic physical health issues like headaches, obesity heart disease, and cancer, it also increases the risk of suicide and behaviors such as:

  • Hypersexuality, sexually transmitted diseases, and unwanted pregnancies

  • An inability to form meaningful relationships with others

  • Substance abuse and addiction

  • Difficulties with finances and holding employment

  • Aggression, violence, and criminal activity

In theory, ACEs are entirely preventable when children are raised in supportive and caring homes where they may develop healthy social and emotional connections to the world.

Mentor and after-school programs, support for lower-income households, and substance abuse and safe sex education can also help prevent the prevalence of ACEs.

Yet, millions of people around the world will still experience ACEs and live with the challenges created by them throughout their childhood and maybe even into their adulthood. There are ways to combat and recover from ACEs and we will discuss them further below.

How To Address Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)

While challenges that can arise from adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can be chronic, they don’t have to be lifelong if they are treated early on. It’s never too late to start getting help through therapy and other treatment methods.

Take The ACE Study

The ACEs questionnaire is a very brief, 10-question survey that covers various forms of trauma that you may have experienced prior to turning 18 years old. Although other forms of trauma, such as bullying or racism, are prevalent, this study focuses specifically on adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) that occur at home.

Aside from providing useful information to the CDC, the survey provides insight into these experiences in order to create effective intervention strategies. The survey also allows us to become more aware of our past by revisiting it and reflecting on moments that we may have suppressed. While bringing these memories to the surface may be difficult, it’s a necessary step in recovery.

Even if you are already in treatment with a healthcare professional or therapist, the information obtained from this survey can help your provider better understand the depth of your trauma and they may be better able to serve you.

Find Fulfillment

Many people who have adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) may have difficulties finding meaning in their lives or may not have ways to express themselves and cope with their emotions in productive ways. There are many different activities that can help provide an outlet for adverse emotions, such as journal-writing, physical activity, yoga, and meditation, and making time for hobbies.

You can also consider volunteering in your community to help combat ACEs as well by being a mentor to other children who may be living with similar experiences to you. Helping younger generations seek help for their ACEs will prevent them from many years of distress. We tend to feel our best when we help others.

Although it may seem like no one else has gone through your trauma, and while your experience is unique to you, it can help to see fighting ACEs as a community concern. Preventing this public health issue requires the support from a collective, not just an individual. Being a part of that can help you overcome your ACEs by providing you with a strong purpose.

Seek Professional Support

For all conditions, no matter if they are physical or mental, getting help from a professional is ideal for healing and making progress in improving your mental health. There is a chance that you might have been seeing a doctor, psychiatrist, therapist, or other related professions to help treat the symptoms you are having. 

However, as mentioned before, by becoming more aware of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) and knowing what your score is on the ACEs study, you can provide this information to a mental health professional. Perhaps you received surprising results yet, having this knowledge now can help you better understand how much your trauma has indeed impacted your life.

On the other hand, if you have been aware and troubled by ACEs in the past, but you haven’t sought out help yet, it’s highly recommended that you do so. One of the most effective ways to get help and overcome ACEs is to find a counselor or therapist, especially one that has experience in assisting people with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). 

A mental health professional can be useful in helping you talk about these adverse experiences in an open and non-judgmental space so that you can release them. A counselor or therapist can help you address specific issues that are contributing to your thoughts and feelings and determine if they are being expressed as physical ailments as well.  

At BetterHelp, licensed mental health professionals are available to help you heal your past so you can start living a better future, by giving you the skills you need to cope and change the negative thought patterns into positive ones, and improve any unwanted symptoms.

Online therapy is convenient and just as effective as in-person sessions, and through text, email, and video chat, you won’t miss a thing. You can communicate with your counselor and therapist anytime and anywhere, as long as you have a device that can connect to the internet.

Takeaway

Enduring adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) is something no one should have to go through. While you might feel a variety of difficult emotions, including loneliness in your struggles, you are not alone. With the help of your community and mental health professionals, you can overcome them, and lead a full, satisfied life.

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