Physical health and well-being are intrinsically linked to mental health and well-being. Most of us who pursue holistic well-being know this to be true, either consciously or in our gut. As a self-identified geek, I love when I find science that backs up what I already know to be true.
In this case, the science comes from Drs. Felitti and Anda, the principal investigators in The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. Conducted in the mid-90s, this study investigated ten categories of abuse and trauma that people might experience in childhood. The simple 10 item survey required only yes or no responses, based on experiences prior to the age of 18. The survey asks questions like “did a parent or other adult often or very often swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you, or act in a way that made you afraid you might be physically hurt?” and “were your parents ever separated or divorced?” or “did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?”
For each “yes” answer, you score one point. The total number of yes responses is your ACE score. So say your parents divorced and otherwise your childhood was pretty awesome, then your ACE score is a 1. Answer yes to more questions and your score goes up. A third of participants in the study scored 0. About a quarter of the study participants scored a 1. The remaining 38% scored 2 or more. Curious about your score? You can take the survey here: http://www.acestudy.org/uploads/3/4/9/6/34961588/10-qacecalc.pdf
In addition to finding an easy way to assess the extent and nature of adverse childhood experiences, the study found a strong link between individuals’ ACE score and physical and emotional health problems later in life. The higher your ACE score, the higher your risk for physical health problems like cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and frequent headaches. You’re also more likely to struggle with drug or alcohol abuse, obesity, depression, and engage in other risk taking behavior.
Childhood pain may have long-term physical health consequences because our stress system is spread throughout our entire body. It’s connected to the heart, brain, blood vessels, immune system, and digestive track. The hormones created to help save our lives when we were young will damage our body if they remain active for too long. It’s possible the more childhood pain we experience, the longer we marinate our innards in the toxic hormones. This could explain the results of the ACE Study. We’ll see what the research shows.
So there you have it – science shows childhood pain will show up in physical health problems. Many of you fans of holistic health already know the importance of healing in all it’s forms. Happily, psychotherapy can help heal childhood pain at any age. By engaging in a healthy, supportive relationship with a mental health professional or other well-trained healer who specializes in trauma, you can change your thoughts and reverse the damage done early in your life, improving your overall health and well-being from the inside out.
About The Author: Kathy Slaughter is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and owner of Soaring Heart Counseling (www.soaringheartcounseling.com) Her professional focus now includes human sexuality, relationships and trauma. Her expertise in human development, gender identity, relationships, and trauma give her a unique perspective on the challenges of creating a life worth living.