What To Do To Overcome An Adverse Childhood Experience

Updated July 15, 2021

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

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What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?

Adverse childhood experiences can in many different forms. Still, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and their ACE study that formed in association with Kaiser Permanente, 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 questionnaire, the more likely they will develop complications like depression and anxiety. It’s not guaranteed to happen, but ACEs are certainly a risk factor for these concerns, which will be covered later in this article.

With that said, what are some examples of adverse childhood experiences that can lead to such problems down the road?

Here are some of the most common ones: [1] [2]

  • Enduring the separation or divorce of parents
  • Living with a family member who abuses drugs or alcohol
  • Having a family member with severe mental health issues
  • Seeing a family member incarcerated and unable to support them
  • Witnessing a family member being abused by another
  • Personally experiencing physical, mental, and emotional abuse and neglect

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, ACEs are much more common than people often think, and over 60 percent of participants reported having at least one ACE. Additionally, around 1 in 6 people have had more than four of them. [2]

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 in the past. [2] [3]

What Issues Can ACEs Cause?

As mentioned before, people can experience countless public health problems because of adverse childhood experiences. 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 [2] [4] [5]

  • 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

Not only do ACEs have a tremendous negative impact on individuals, but they also affect entire communities as well, and it costs society billions of dollars each year.

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In theory, ACEs are entirely preventable through providing homes that are caring and supportive to kids so that their social and emotional health can develop properly throughout these formative years. Mentor and after-school programs, support for lower-income households, and substance abuse and safe sex education and practices can also be highly beneficial as well.

Unfortunately, millions of people around the world will still experience ACEs and struggle throughout their entire adulthood. Still, luckily, there are ways to combat and recover from adverse childhood experiences and the impact they have on people’s lives.

How To Address Adverse Childhood Experiences

While the issues that can arise from ACEs can be chronic, they don’t have to be lifelong if they are treated. It’s never too late to start getting help, and below you will learn about various things you can do to start doing so.

Take The ACE Study

The ACEs questionnaire is a very brief, 10-question study 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 on adverse childhood experiences that occur at home that affect people and their family members. [6]

Aside from providing useful data to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention so that everyone can understand this issue better and provide improved intervention strategies, there are benefits to participating in the study because it makes you more aware of your past, which is an important part of overcoming it.

If you’ve been struggling with health concerns and you’ve haven’t been sure as to why you felt the way you do or why things are happening, the study can help enlighten you and based on your score. It could very well indicate that there is a connection between what you’re experiencing now and what you’ve dealt with in the past.

Even if you’ve been seeing a health professional or a therapist already, this information can be valuable to them, and they may be able to serve you better if you’ve taken the quiz and share your score with them.

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Keep Yourself Busy & Find Fulfillment

Many people who have adverse childhood experiences will have difficulties finding meaning in their lives and don’t have ways to express themselves and cope with their feelings in productive ways.

Many activities can help in this regard and provide an outlet for the negative emotions that they are dealing with, such as journal-writing, getting adequate exercise, practicing yoga and meditation, and making time for hobbies.

You can also consider volunteering in your community to help combat ACEs as well, and you can be a mentor to different kids who may be dealing with the same thing that you did in the past.

Although it might seem like a personal issue, and the experiences that you have endured might be unique to you, fighting ACEs is a community concern, and preventing this public health concern requires the support from many people collectively trying to reach a goal, not just an individual. Being a part of that can help you overcome your ACEs by giving you a strong purpose.

Seek Professional Support

For all conditions, no matter if they are physical or mental, finding help from a professional is optimal for healing and making progress.

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 ACEs, and knowing what your score is on the ACEs study, you can provide this information to the health professional who is already helping you. Perhaps you haven’t seen the results you were looking for before, but if you have this knowledge now, they can tackle the newfound source of the issue by bringing light to it.

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, especially because you understand why you feel the way that you do.

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 who are in the same shoes as you or have been.

A mental health professional can be useful in helping you talk about these negative experiences and the emotions that come from them in an open and non-judgemental space so that you can release them. The counselor or therapist can then help you address these specific issues that are contributing to your thoughts and feelings as well as possible physical issues.

At BetterHelp, licensed mental health professionals are available to help you tackle the past so you can start getting better in the present, by giving you the skills you need to cope and change the negative thought patterns into positive ones, and from there you may notice that your symptoms improve.

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.

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Conclusion

Enduring adverse childhood experiences is something no one should have to go through. While you might feel a variety of negative feelings and 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 feel happy and fulfilled instead.

References

  1. Mayo Clinic. (2018, May 21). Overcoming adverse childhood experiences. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinichealthsystem.org/hometown-health/speaking-of-health/overcoming-adverse-childhood-experiences
  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2020, April 03). Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/fastfact.html
  3. Merrick, M. T., Ford, D. C., Ports, K. A., & Guinn, A. S. (2018). Prevalence of Adverse Childhood Experiences From the 2011-2014 Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System in 23 States. JAMA Pediatrics, 172(11), 1038. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2018.2537
  4. Rymanowicz, K. (2018, December 13). Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs): What are they and how can they be prevented? Retrieved from https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/adverse-childhood-experiences
  5. Reavis, J. (2013). Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Criminality: How Long Must We Live before We Possess Our Own Lives? The Permanente Journal, 17(2), 44-48. doi:10.7812/tpp/12-072
  6. Aces Too High. (n.d.). Got Your ACE Score? Retrieved from https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

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