Adverse childhood experiences and beginning to say YES to ourselves.


Do you experience a lack of motivation? Have Feelings of being depressed, not enjoying many activities and not having or expressing strong feelings? Are you very independent with few close friends?
This can result from Adverse Childhood experiences (ACEs), which are experiences and events that you had as a child experienced as really distressing and stressful.
The ACEs study, whose findings were published in the Journal of Preventative Medicine, found that adverse childhood experiences are prevalent and that over half of the studies participants had grown up in dysfunctional homes with parents who were alcoholic or drug users, absent parents or with a depressed or mentally ill person. They had grown up suffering sexual, physical or emotional abuse. The ACE study scientifically validates that the environment you grow up in significantly impacts your health and way of being throughout your life.

Shame and Illness: These are often the result of these types of experiences. Shame says that ‘I am fundamentally wrong and everyone else is normal; I am just not’. It is pretty standard for children to blame themselves and not the person who hurt them, and they believe that they are the only ones with this problem.
Being a victim of abuse predisposes you to have significant health problems and even die early. Health issues include heart disease, Auto-immune disease; cancer, stroke; chronic bronchitis and diabetes.
When you feel vulnerable, you might feel internally feeling alone and detached from other people, although outwardly, you appear to be okay/ or not? You are withdrawn, passive, and tend to daydream a lot, maybe believing that things will be okay as long as you please other people. You feel like you have to be strong, get on with life, and not feel it.

It is hard for you to trust people and find interpersonal relations challenges. Other people misunderstand you and feel they judge you and dislike you for being good at what you do or confident in your work. Many people say that they have always felt something wrong inside them, and they have always been emotional and feeling like a young part of them finds life very difficult.

Withdrawal and dissociation are normal responses to trauma from childhood. In these cases, the Child part of us needs much time to heal to escape hiding and take control of our lives. The stuck places if you like inside of us which become fixated parts are that way because we needed to take care of ourselves in the best we knew how to at the time, and now as adults, we still feel a pull from this vulnerable part of us that has feelings and needs, and we know that we cannot fight, or freeze, or run away or pretend it is all okay anymore. Some people experience it like their body starts to talk to them in symptoms like pains, saying, listen to me/help me.

Feeling shy and withdrawn can be very difficult, with people believing that the safest solution is to stay alone and not ask for what they need from others or themselves.

Avoiding social situations can be a good thing, but also, it can be to your detriment because you miss out on learning/friendships/gatherings and celebrations where your presence is appreciated and where you enjoy

If you feel confused a lot of the time and unsure how to be, you might tend to get pulled along with the wishes of others rather than making your own decisions, not knowing what you want, think, feel, wish for, and need.

Some causes for feeling this way and having these difficulties are:

  • Suffering from abuse, abandonment or neglect as a childhood
  • Being criticised as a teenager for being hypersensitive
  • Growing up in a cold, emotionally unresponsive environment

These experiences cause anxiety to some degree and leave people feeling alone and vulnerable. Feeling vulnerable in this world can be harrowing, and there is so much advice on self-help strategies and techniques that encourage people to be themselves and follow their hearts. People do this and find they are still alone, lost, scared, and frightened. In the book, The Tyranny of Choice, Renata Saleci explains how people are spending so much time and money on new strategies for redefining themselves and how psychoanalysts are finding that people are being led to believe that journaling their daily tasks towards an end goal, as an example, are displaying obsessive behaviour as a result. People are lost with their friends around them having the latest body makeover or signing up to the Gurus teachings promising happiness and freedom to be themselves yet, the vulnerable feelings remain and now on top of these vulnerable feelings, obsessions! So, there is a problem and difficulty, and following these self-help promises promoted in the media produces other problems.

There are no magic solutions to the difficulties and struggles that we find ourselves in, and when it comes to trauma from childhood, short-term therapy that focuses on thoughts and quick solutions is not what you need. It would be best if you had longer-term therapy that focuses on an attuned, safe, caring relationship where you have the time to make sense slowly of your experiences and find the words or places in your body where the words live. Firstly it will help you make sense of your feelings and experiences in a safe environment where a growing attachment based on a sensitive and caring relationship will build a sense of well-being and safety. This is where the magic happens, in a safe relationship where you can, in your time, make sense of the vulnerable feelings that today are disrupting your freedom to live your life.

Dr Gabor Mate, who is passionate about tackling trauma, has written a book called ‘When the Body Says No: the cost of Hidden Stress’. He describes how if you go to the doctor with a skin rash, the doctor will not ask you about your life your stress levels and not ask you what your childhood was like? The doctor is just going to look to the medicine bible and give you a prescription and send you on your way within 10mins. Many people will feel happy with this and will believe that the medicine will help them, which, for some, it has a vital part to play; however, frequently, the rash returns in another form. Other people become despondent, believing that if the doctor does not care about their rash and wants to give them a prescription rather than be interested in their life, what hope do they have. In both cases, the point is being missed. The point is life! For example, Dr Mate describes how Multiple Sclerosis has its roots in childhood; when the child learns that they have to take care of their parent for whatever reason, they learn early that they have to suppress themselves to be accepted in their family. Later on, the disease takes over their bodies in their lives because they have not said NO to others’ demands on them.

The body is saying No to being denied its own life! Auto-immune diseases are the body turning against itself as others have done to them. Adverse childhood experiences predispose us not to express ourselves authentically. They affect our immune, endocrine, hormonal and nervous systems and teach us to say no to ourselves. We can learn to say yes to ourselves; not through any quick fixes and empty promises but through a safe and therapeutic relationship.