“The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study is one of the largest investigations ever conducted to assess associations between childhood maltreatment and later-life health and well-being. The study is a collaboration between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Kaiser Permanente’s Health Appraisal Clinic in San Diego,” (Retrieved 6/26/15 from http://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/acestudy/). With an “n” (number of participants) over 17,000, this study provides some solid groundwork on the significance of adverse childhood experiences and its effects on a person later in life.
It is indicated that if a person has a score of 4 or higher, they have reached a “tipping point,” and will most likely experience some kind of maladjustment in health as an adult. This is pretty phenomenal, though seemingly fairly intuitive: not such a great childhood = repercussions that echo later in life. The study indicated that the higher the score, the more likely those children become adults who struggle with things like alcohol and drug dependency, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), Depression, sexually transmitted diseases and more. The indication for the connection in regards to certain physical illnesses is remarkable.
After hearing Leah Harris speak at the annual Ira S. Stevens Memorial Conference this last week, I decided to take a look at my own childhood. I had a moment of curiosity. I’ve heard of the study. I’ve been aware of it as a professional, but I never thought to take a look at it for myself. I don’t tend to be one to “blame childhood,” for every shortcoming. As a matter of fact, I tend to protect my childhood with a sacrosanct fervor. Additionally, the write up of the study does say that adverse childhood experiences are actually common. So perhaps this introspection is not necessarily mandatory to understand each of our trials and tribulations and ingredients that make us who we are, but when I get to thinking it becomes a journey of its own.
Taking a glimpse in the direction of my childhood is not foreign, but I just don’t go back there often as I much prefer to look at who I am today. Hearing Leah speak, however, gave me a moment to pause. I am accomplished, sure. I am somewhere in the middle when it comes to age, not without life experience, but with much more ahead of me. With twenty five years of work history, being a solidly contributing member of my community, leadership experience in multiple arenas for the last two decades and a good balance of the creative and professional endeavors, I feel good about where I am currently in my life. I know that I fought hard to find my steadiness and confidence, but I don’t always remember how hard. I can still hear one mentor say to me, “you are so intelligent, why do you keep apologizing? How did you get to a point where you lacked such confidence that you cower when you have the skills?”
That was a hard thing to hear, and to answer. It changed me and it is something that still tickles the back of my brain and heart to this day, though I am grateful that voice is a whisper at this point. Learning the difference between true humility (being okay with not knowing everything or needing to know everything) and false humbleness (where one prostrates themselves to others to win favor or be smaller than) has been a lifelong meditation for me. I don’t fight as hard, anymore. Rather, I tend to surround myself with people and situations that are supportive and if I should find myself in a position where that is not the case and I feel like my advocacy for myself goes unnoticed or heard, I will move on. I no longer hold to extreme loyalty as I once did…as a child…in a slightly adverse situation.
Which brings me back to the intent of this thought process. How affected are we by our adverse childhood experiences? How much sludge gets left over and even more minutely, how much residue that we may not even notice. I struggle in my life with some medical conditions: some genetic, some brought on by poor choices. I have the power and ability to change on a regular basis and I still, like many others, have blocks to forward movement both emotionally and physically. I sometimes find myself becoming aware, waking up in a moment, and wondering why I don’t feel so good. Today, though, I have the tools to gauge those moments, the will to retreat and find solitude to rebalance, and the strength to come back an even fuller being.
Does this have to do with my ACE? Perhaps. My score is a 4, after all.
If you are interested in finding out your own score, visit