Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences in Adulthood
Each of us has a unique set of experiences that shape our lives in meaningful ways. For some of us, memories of difficult experiences in childhood can have lasting impacts well into adulthood. Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur during childhood and can have negative effects on a person's mental, physical, and social well-being. These experiences can create psychological stress in childhood that fundamentally changes the ways in which we view the world, disrupting a child’s sense of safety and creating ripple effects into adulthood.
At Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates, we understand that discussing these experiences can be difficult, but we want to create a safe space for healing and growth. In this article, we will explore the types of ACEs, the impact they have on adulthood, and coping mechanisms to help you heal and move forward. Our hope is that this article will provide insight and support for those affected by ACEs, and encourage them to seek the help they need and deserve.
What are ACEs?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that occur during childhood and disrupt a child’s sense of safety, creating increased psychological stress. ACEs come in various forms and can have negative effects on a person's mental, physical, and social well-being.
Experiencing any of the following events before age 18 constitutes an ACE:
Abuse: Experiences of physical abuse (hitting, kicking, shaking, and other forms of physical violence), emotional abuse (verbal attacks, threats, and other forms of emotional manipulation), or sexual abuse (sexual touching, exposure to pornography, and forced sexual acts).
Neglect: Experiences where a caregiver fails to provide the necessary physical, emotional, or medical care for a child. This can include withholding food, shelter, and medical attention.
Household Dysfunction: Events that upset a child’s sense of physical or emotional safety, including the death or incarceration of a caregiver, witnessing domestic violence, divorce, or having a caregiver with mental health or substance abuse issues.
We all carry our childhood experiences with us throughout our lives. As you read this list, consider whether you or someone in your life experienced one or more of these ACEs. Did you lose one of your parents before the age of 18? Did your own parents witness domestic violence when they were a child? Reflecting on our own childhood experiences and recognizing the impact of ACEs can help us better understand ourselves and those around us.
How ACEs Impact Us as Adults
ACEs can have a profound impact on individuals, shaping their experiences and affecting their lives well into adulthood. Experiencing one or more adverse experiences in childhood can put a person at a higher risk for a number of different conditions. Here are some ways that ACEs can impact us as adults:
Physical health issues: ACEs can increase a person’s risk of developing physical health issues such as chronic pain and cardiovascular disease. The stress of ACEs can also weaken the immune system, making them more susceptible to illness.
Mental health issues: ACEs can lead to mental health issues such as anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD symptoms may include flashbacks, nightmares, and hyper-vigilance.
Substance abuse: ACEs can increase the risk of substance abuse in adulthood. Adults who experienced ACEs may turn to drugs or alcohol as a way to cope with the emotional pain and trauma they experienced as children.
Relationship problems: People who have experienced ACEs may struggle to form and maintain healthy relationships. Trust issues, low self-esteem, and difficulty communicating can all impact a person's ability to connect with others.
Employment issues: ACEs can make it harder to succeed in the workplace. ACEs can make it more likely for someone to experience difficulty with focus, concentration, and decision-making, which can negatively impact employment and career success.
Note that not everyone who experiences ACEs will struggle with these issues. However, recognizing the potential impact of ACEs can help us both seek help for ourselves and better support those needed.
Coping with ACEs in Adulthood
We cannot change the past and undo the things we experienced as children. However, we can take steps to reduce psychological distress and restore a sense of psychological safety. If you or someone you know has experienced one or more ACEs, here are some things you can do to cope.
If you have experienced ACEs, therapy can be an incredibly beneficial tool for processing your experiences. Trauma therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment for you to process your experiences and develop coping mechanisms for treating PTSD. A trained therapist can help you identify triggers and develop strategies to manage them.
Additionally, therapy can help you learn to regulate your emotions, improve communication skills, and develop healthier relationships. With the help of a therapist, you can work towards healing from your ACEs and moving towards a more fulfilling and healthy life.
Mindfulness is a powerful tool for coping with ACEs. By focusing on the present moment, you can learn to regulate your emotions and reduce stress. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation or deep breathing exercises, can help you become more aware of your thoughts and feelings and learn to approach them in a non-judgmental way.
Mindfulness can also help you build resilience and improve your ability to handle stress, which can have a positive impact on all aspects of your life. By incorporating mindfulness into your daily routine, you can develop a greater sense of calm and well-being, which can help you cope with the challenges associated with ACEs.
Building a supportive network of friends, family, and/or a therapist can provide a safe space for you to process your experiences and receive emotional support. Additionally, support groups can be a valuable resource for connecting with others who have similar experiences and receiving validation and empathy.
By building relationships with people who understand and support you, you can reduce feelings of isolation and develop a sense of belonging. Remember that seeking support is a sign of strength, and there is no shame in reaching out for help.
Getting Help ACEs
If you have experienced ACEs, know that healing is possible. At Westmoreland Psychotherapy Associates, we’re committed to helping you on your healing journey. If you're struggling with the effects of ACEs, don't hesitate to reach out for help. Our therapists are experts in trauma therapy techniques like EMDR therapy, CBT therapy, and more.
Remember that healing is a journey, and it takes time, patience, and dedication. We would be honored to work alongside you on your healing journey. Reach out to us today to get started.