Do you feel like you’re failing at your goal of creating a better childhood for your kids than the one you had?
I always told myself that my childhood wasn’t that bad. I had enough food, clothes and I’ve heard of worse childhoods than mine. I wondered why, in spite of all the good I’d created in my adult life, I still struggled? I wasn’t depressed. I was doing fine. Yet, my life felt so hard sometimes.
I also really worried that my occasional low moods and bursts of anger were bad for my son.
A couple years ago, I learned about the ACE Study. ACE is an acronym for Adverse Childhood Experiences. The study shows a direct link between chronic stress in childhood and diseases developed in adulthood, as well as problems with mental and emotional well being. For more info, read ACE Study at the CDC.
Some examples of childhood trauma that the ACE Study measures: separation or divorce, emotional or physical abuse, someone in the home addicted to alcohol or drugs, feeling that you were unloved or not important, etc. These types of experiences bathe young brains in stress hormones and can negatively impact us over our lives. ACEs contribute to the onset of disease and lack of emotional well being in adulthood and can affect us to the point that the way we raise our children may be negatively impacted. If you’ve been struggling emotionally or physically, I highly recommend getting your ACE score in order to use the information as a motivator for healthy change. I’ve added the questionnaire here to make it easy for you to get your score.
*Prior to your eighteenth birthday:
1. Did a parent or another adult in the household often or very often . . . swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you? Or act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt? If yes, enter 1 ________
2. Did a parent or another adult in the household often or very often . . . push, grab, slap, or throw something at you? Or ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured? If yes, enter 1 ________
3. Did an adult or person at least five years older than you ever . . . touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? Or attempt to touch you or touch you inappropriately or sexually abuse you? If yes, enter 1 ________
4. Did you often or very often feel that . . . no one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? Or feel that your family members didn’t look out for one another, feel close to one another, or support one another? If yes, enter 1 ________
5. Did you often or very often feel that . . . you didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you? Or that your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it? If yes, enter 1 ________
6. Was a biological parent ever lost to you through divorce, abandonment, or another reason? If yes, enter 1 ________
7. Was your mother or stepmother often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or have something thrown at her? Or was she sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? Or ever repeatedly hit over the course of at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife? If yes, enter 1 ________
8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs? If yes, enter 1 ________
9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt suicide? If yes, enter 1 ________
10. Did a household member go to prison? If yes, enter 1 ________
Add up your “Yes” answers to get your ACE Score
Your ACE Score is not an opportunity to blame your parents.
My ACE score is 5. It’s tempting to want to blame my parents for my score, but the awareness I’ve gained and the healing I continue to create for myself has helped me to understand that blame is unhelpful and only serves to keep us feeling stuck.
My parents’ ACE scores are probably higher than mine. My dad is gone now and my mom continues to survive what seems like an unusually high amount of illness. What I know about their childhood makes mine sound like a walk in the park. My parents did the best they could to raise us with the knowledge that they had. I’m better off because of their will to persist and do a little better than just survive. We have to take a stand for ourselves and do the work to improve so that future generations experience less adversity than we did.
Taking ownership and working on our own healing can help us create a supportive and peaceful home for our children.
I’m not suggesting that childhood should be without challenging experiences. Minor adversity and healthy growth experiences are what helps build resilience and capacity for every day challenge. Children with supportive, present, and loving adults in their lives are more likely to triumph and grow into thriving adults.
The good news is that no matter your ACE score you can improve your life and the lives of your kids.
Your ACE Score is a tool to bring awareness and perhaps if you’re like me, help you to understand that no, you are not crazy. Your childhood did affect the way you feel today. Adults must make the effort to improve their lives in order to model healthy adulthood for children. Your ACE Score might be the first step in your healing. Even better news is that your amazing remold-able brains and rebounding bodies can change and improve, making it possible for you to increase resilience at any age. You can leave stress behind and make room for a better life.
There are many supportive tools and therapies available and most were created by someone who wanted to make their life and the lives of others better than what they had experienced. Ask just about any therapist, life coach, or person serving in a helping profession and they’ll probably tell you they experienced some adversity during childhood. I was clear that I wanted to help others by the age of 5.
Some of the tools I offer here can help you feel better and do better. If this article resonated with you, I’d love it if you’d reach out and tell me what kind of support you need. I’ll be glad to respond and offer suggestions or set up a time to chat.
*"The initial phase of the ACE Study was conducted at Kaiser Permanente from 1995 to 1997. More than 17,000 participants completed a standardized physical examination. No further participants will be enrolled, but we are tracking the medical status of the baseline participants." Image, the ACE test, and other data are from the CDC website.