Well, isn’t that normal for a family?

That worked for my parents and grandparents. They turned out just fine.

I have an ACE score of three. I grew up in a family whose outward appearance seemed great. In private there were different actions and circumstances that would be identified as trauma by today’s standards.

Through a blend of therapy, medication, self-care and meditation, I am working on healing those wounds. I’m not perfect. I catch myself in moments of anger, wanting to lash out at others; behavior I learned as a child. By taking an active role in my mental health, I can model the world and community in which I want to live; a world of love, compassion and connection. It was not always this way for me though. It has been a long road of education, forgiveness, and acceptance for me to get to where I am today. Understanding my ACE score was one of many steps in helping me understand my past while taking control of my future.

The acronym ACE stands for adverse childhood experiences. Trauma has become a hot button topic in prevention and community work over the last decade. A study was published in 1998 that asked an interesting question about trauma and its connection to health:  Is there a relationship between adulthood health and childhood abuse, neglect, and household dysfunction?

The study asked around 10,000 adults about different experiences from their childhood and compared them to their current health outcomes. The individuals in the study were asked the following questions.

Prior to your 18th birthday:

  1. Did a parent or other 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?
  2. Did a parent or other 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?
  3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever… Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way? or Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?
  4. Did you often or very often feel that … No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special? or Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?
  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 Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?
  6. Were your parents ever separated or divorced?
  7. Was your mother or stepmother:
    Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her? or Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard? or Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?
  8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic, or who used street drugs?
  9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill, or did a household member attempt
  10. Did a household member go to prison?

The ACE score is determined by adding together the number of questions that are answered “yes.” These questions all connect around abuse, neglect and challenges in the family setting. Often these behaviors and situations are multi-generational, meaning that they are passed down from generation to generation.

The website AcesTooHigh has a great summary of the findings as well as other resources. They note that there is a positive relationship between abuse, neglect, and family dysfunction with the presence of adult diseases including including ischemic heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, skeletal fractures, and liver disease. The statistics summarize those individual with higher ace scores had more marriages, higher rates of depression and suicide and were more likely to be smokers and alcoholics.

What does this mean for the community? Breaking the cycle of dysfunction and abuse can positively affect the collective community’s mental and physical health. When people recognize the trauma they have experienced and work to break the cycle for their own children, they can help reduce the risk of negative health outcomes for their future.

What is your ACE Score? Resources are available for individuals and families looking to heal as well as learn to build healthy relationships.

For more information on ACE scores please check out http://acestoohigh.com

The original study can be found here: Relationship of childhood abuse and household dysfunction to many of the leading causes of death in adults. The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study.

(Photo Credit: Nicholas Trietsch)

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