The Truth About Trauma: ACEs and Their Outcomes
The best way I heard it described was as a “dark filter.” Like every good Instagramer, I know the impact of a filter. It changes everything about a picture: the color, the mood, the meaning. It can make the difference between a hit post and one that will be ignored entirely.
Unfortunately, dark filters don’t just exist on social media.
You find them over the eyes of many human beings, most often after enduring traumatic events. They change the way we see the world: the colors, the mood, the meaning. They cast a negative glow on everything that happens. They can make us feel lonely, sad, or apathetic.
Filters make it difficult to move past suffering and easy to fall into despair. Childhoods filled with trauma create dark filters. Dark filters often lead to negative outcomes in life.
Experts use the term ACEs, or Adverse Childhood Experiences, to describe these traumas. The 10 negative experiences researchers labeled ACEs are:
- Emotional abuse
- Physical abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Violent treatment of Mother
- Substance abuse in the household
- Mental illness in the household
- Parental separation or divorce
- Incarcerated household member
- Emotional neglect
- Physical neglect
According to research, when kids experience 1 or more ACE, they are at increased risk for:
- Injuries (Brain injuries, fractures, burns)
- Mental Health issues (depression, anxiety, suicide, PTSD)
- Maternal Concerns (Unintended pregnancy, pregnancy complications, fetal death)
- Infectious Disease (HIV, STDs)
- Chronic Disease (Cancer, diabetes)
- Risky Behaviors (Alcohol and drug abuse, unsafe sex)
- Fewer opportunities (Education, occupations, income)
To be clear, experiencing these childhood traumas does not mean a person’s life will turn out poorly. While almost two-thirds of Americans have experienced at least one ACE, many are well-adjusted members of society. So yes, it is possible to have negative experiences in childhood and adjust well as an adult. But there is an obvious connection between the number of ACEs in childhood and the occurrence of these negative outcomes.
So what do we do? How do we help remove survivors' dark filters? How do we break the cycle of violence and abuse? Can we change what survivors are statistically supposed to experience?
The first, and by far most important, thing we can do is prevention. We can protect our children, promote healthy social norms, and strengthen families. We can teach children positive skills and create awareness of the impact of ACEs. We can choose not to contribute to the problem. We can model healthy relationships, conflict resolution, and communication. We can love our spouses and children well. We can choose not to abuse drugs and alcohol.
Prevention starts with you and me. Choose to be an example worth following.
Second, be aware and intervene early. Despite our best efforts, we can’t prevent every bad thing from happening. We live in a broken world and ACEs will continue, even though we do our best to prevent them. Early intervention can make a huge difference. Children who witness domestic violence once and immediately get help are much less wounded. Children who suffer neglect for a week recover faster than those who suffer neglect for a year. Kids who get proper healthcare (mental and physical) after abuse fare better. Traumatic things happen to kids all the time. Keep your eyes open and be ready to step in. Help them process the trauma and cope with the repercussions that will follow it.
And lastly, be understanding. If the ACEs study does anything for us, it should give us compassion for those who are struggling. PTSD, depression, and anxiety often find their roots in unprocessed trauma.
Many of those who abuse alcohol, drugs, kids, or their spouses suffered trauma themselves. Let me be clear: this never makes it okay to abuse another. But it should cause us to have a different approach with them. Extend grace and compassion. Give them our number. They need a chance to process the trauma they've endured. Everyone deserves a chance at a new start.
If your childhood included one or more ACE, you have endured trauma. You are a survivor, and you’re not alone. We are here for you and want to help you process the trauma. You aren’t doomed to follow statistics. Even if you already see yourself slipping into some of the negative outcomes, it's not too late. Your dark filter can be lifted.
Call us today at 1.800.770.1650 or text “IOWAHELP” to 20121.
*Statistics, graphics, and ACE information from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s “Adverse Childhood Experiences” website: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy