Part II of II – See Childhood Pain, Lingering Effects: the ACE Study Part I
My last post shared the basic research results from the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Research in the past decade is starting to show that childhood pain has lasting consequences. At this point, we know that people who experience four or more types of adversity before age 18 are two, three and four times more likely to have chronic health problems or develop depression or addictions.
You can calculate your own ACE score at www.acestudy.org
At least half the population will have a score of at least one. One in four of us probably will have a score higher than that. When we are kids, we are powerless to stop or avoid abuse or neglect. Whether we are born into a health family is out of our control. So now what? Does childhood pain we are doomed to physical illness?
Childhood Pain and Survival
Childhood pain often gets dismissed or minimized. We tell ourselves emotional abuse is no big deal, or our family was doing the best they could. Or maybe we had it “better” than our grandparents. One way to deal with pain we cannot avoid or are powerless to stop is to ignore it as much as possible. Over time, we get so used to ignoring it, we don’t see the negative things it’s doing in our lives.
When we experience a traumatic event, an “adverse experience,” our survival part of our brain, the stress system, will get ready to fight, flee, or freeze. As kids, fighting and fleeing aren’t the most useful responses. How can we fight an adult who’s three times our size? If we flee, where will we go? So we freeze. Freezing is a survival response that slows down our heartbeat, makes our breathing shallow, and distances our thoughts and feelings from what is happening. These responses make it more likely we will survive that immediate incident, but over the long haul the result of freezing is harmful.
Childhood Pain = Freeze
When we freeze as a child, it increases the chance we will freeze again the next time we are in trouble. So if your response to your dad beating up your mom was to freeze and hide when you were five, your most likely going to freeze again when you are 25 and faced with a car accident. The freeze response means the toxic feelings, thoughts, and sensations of the trauma get stuck, stuck in a place where they will remain until we face them.
Childhood pain may have long-term physical health consequences because our stress system is spread throughout our entire body. It’s connected to the heart, brain, blood vessels, immune system, and digestive track. The hormones created to help save our lives will damage our body if they remain active for too long. It’s possible the more childhood pain we experience, the longer we marinate our innards in the toxic hormones. This could explain the results of the ACE Study. We’ll see what the research shows.
Healing from Childhood Pain
In the meantime, we might be able to reduce our risk of chronic health problems by healing from our childhood pain. This is where our practice, Integrative Health Resources, comes in. We specialize in helping you heal. You might be in the middle of a major life transition and your childhood pain is showing up again. Or maybe you know you’re haunted by what you’ve been through, and you’re finally ready to deal with it. You might already have a chronic illness that’s related to your childhood. We are ready and willing to work with you on all those dimensions.
Source: Born for Love: Why Empathy is Essential And Endangered by Maia Szalavitaz and Bruce D. Perry, MD, PhD