According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a history of Adverse Childhood Experiences, also referred to as ACEs can determine the risk for future health issues. It is possible to prevent adverse childhood experiences from making an impact on a community with the right resources.
If you believe you experienced ACEs during childhood, consider looking into the Adverse Childhood Experiences Test and using that knowledge to overcome and find freedom for the rest of your life.
What Defines Adverse Childhood Experiences?What exactly are adverse childhood experiences? Several situations are thought to influence a child’s future health and wellbeing:
Child abuse. Physical, verbal, emotional, or sexual abuse aimed toward the child and/or their siblings create feelings of danger and toxic stress.
Neglect. When a parent or caregiver intentionally neglects the physical and/or emotional needs in a child’s life, the child can grow into an adult who reacts to those feelings of scarcity or becomes emotionally distant in their personal relationships.
Violence witnessed in the home. Domestic violence creates an environment where a child can no longer thrive but must learn to survive until they are old enough to leave.
Violence witnessed in the neighborhood. Shootings, stabbings, theft, and threats should never be an issue for a child, yet thousands of children are subjected to this behavior in their communities. Some neighborhoods make it unsafe for a child to walk to school without an adult present.
Living with a family member who has substance abuse problems. Whether the child must pick up the household responsibilities the family member can no longer perform or are introduced to drugs and alcohol by the caregiver, dependence is an issue that can lead to severe addiction and mental health problems in the future.
Living with a family member diagnosed with mental health issues. Some mental health conditions cause parents and caregivers to remain emotionally distant or become increasingly unpredictable. This can lead a child to not knowing what to expect when they come home from school or how their parent will react day by day or even hour to hour.
Living with food scarcity or without the basics. Deep poverty reportedly strikes more than 18 million people across the United States. Even with one or both parents working fulltime, due to circumstances, a family may still be unable to routinely keep the lights on and the water running. Many families must choose between paying utilities and buying food. This can leave a child fed, but never completely full or satisfied.
Parents divorcing after a tumultuous marriage. The stress from a devastating divorce isn’t only felt by the couple involved. Children sometimes feel as if their entire world is falling apart when parents fight, divorce, and remarry.
One or both parents incarcerated. Witnessing the arrest of a parent is a traumatic experience for any child, but to grow up without that parent and with the knowledge as to why the parent was taken away can leave a lasting imprint on the child. Other children (or adults) can sometimes label these children and as a result, the child may subconsciously follow in the parent’s footsteps.
Are you at risk of experiencing adverse childhood experiences? There is a test you can take to learn if ACEs are something you should be concerned about.
What is the ACE Test?
The Adverse Childhood Experiences Test (ACE Test) considers any trauma, abuse, or neglect you may have experienced during childhood and assigns a score. The test does not take into account other factors such as your current lifestyle that could negatively impact your future health. You can find the easy-to-take questionnaire online and it only takes a few minutes to complete.
According to the ACE Test, the higher your score the more at-risk you are of developing problems in the future. The test is meant to be used as a data tool, not as something set in stone. Not everyone with a high score of ACEs will turn to drugs and alcohol or develop mental health disorders. Take any feedback you gain from the test as simply that – feedback and data.You can use the test to inform and proactively work to prevent issues in the future. The test asks ten questions about events that may have occurred before your eighteenth birthday and is confidential; it doesn’t ask for any of your personal information.
The test breaks down the trauma into three categories: abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction. The lower your ACEs score, the less likely you are at risk of developing mental health disorders and substance abuse problems in the future.
What Your ACE Score Determines
With a higher ACEs score, you may find yourself at a higher risk for developing the following health concerns:
- Mood disorders
- Mental health disorders like PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder) or OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder)
- Eating disorders
- Alcohol abuse
- Substance abuse
- Lack of work ethic
- Heart disease
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Suicide attempts
- Other physical illnesses including cancers
Prevention is the best medicine. More communities are working with the CDC to add programs to train parents on parenting skills, domestic violence awareness, family enrichment programs, and interpersonal skills.
Others are incorporating family-friendly policies into the workplace as well as high-quality childcare and preschool programs. As more communities rally together to bring resources into homes, perhaps fewer children will face adverse childhood experiences.
Overcoming Adverse Childhood Experiences
Adverse childhood experiences do not have to direct your future. You can learn techniques that will help to release the physical tension brought on by stress and reframe your thoughts from hurtful to beneficial.
Flexibility training such as yoga
High cortisol levels and stress is often an issue for people who’ve experienced ACEs. Painful memories can trigger the release of an excess of cortisol that can cause health problems long term. Practicing yoga and other flexibility methods can lower cortisol levels and relieve stress.
When stress is high, people tend to pull their muscles up which can weaken their back, core, and shoulders. A consistent yoga practice can help to release these tight muscles and help you feel the tension (and quite possibly the years of tension) lifting away.
Sometimes just having an objective professional listen to you is a huge step in the healing process. A mental health care professional will take the time to create health care plans you can follow to increase your chances of living a more healthy and productive life. If you decide to use a Christian-based counseling center for your needs, the therapists can also point you toward a deeper relationship with God as you heal.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)
This therapy technique is useful for treating a wide range of mental health conditions including PTSD. PTSD can develop in adults with a high ACE score or after a traumatic event. CBT helps the patient identify the thoughts that precede certain feelings and self-sabotaging behaviors. Once identified, the individual can switch their thoughts and the feelings associated with them, and thus, change their reaction.
The act of putting pen to paper is a cathartic step in the healing process. Releasing your worries, fears, and thoughts onto the page pulls them from your mind and out into a tangible form. Some people find that journaling for a few minutes every morning is enough to set a positive tone for the day. No one ever has to read your journal if you don’t want to share it. Writing can be a confidential key to your breakthrough.
Prayer and worship
Relying on God’s love during healing is crucial. Stepping outside of yourself to spend time in prayer and worship can release feelings of safety, love, and freedom. Prayer and worship time is also a great time to integrate a personalized mindfulness practice, such as breathing or grounding, into your daily routine.
Allowing your story to help others
Once you feel you are at a place of healing, consider using your story to help others experiencing the same childhood trauma. You can raise awareness in your community while also fulfilling purpose by reaching out to those in need. Even if you do not share every detail with others, becoming a safe and caring person a child needs is just as important.
As you find freedom from adverse childhood experiences, share with others what you have learned. You might hold the keys to someone else’s freedom too. I would love to walk with you out of the darkness and struggle of whatever you have experienced, and into the light of God’s love, healing, and freedom.
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