Healing From Childhood TraumaSeptember 13, 2018
ACEs are adverse (harmful) childhood experiences that impact brain development. They can damage immune systems and change how people respond to stress. The physical effects of ACEs can show up even decades after the occurrences of toxic experiences themselves. The groundbreaking CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study showed that ACEs are often at the root of some mental illnesses, violence, social and financial problems, and chronic disease.
Further information about this topic, as well as the actual ACE questionnaire, can be found on https://acestoohigh.com/.
The 10 items on the ACE questionnaire represent the most commonly reported sources of childhood toxic stress, but they are not the only sources of it. You may have gone through an experience that isn’t represented on the questionnaire, and still have been impacted in significant ways.
The inspiring news is that our brain functions are not set in stone by any particular age; they can change across our entire lifetime. In other words, you can heal from early adversity, even if it’s taken a real toll on you. Here are a few things to consider trying throughout your journey towards healing:
1. Talk about ACEs with appropriate others. The safest person might be a mental health therapist or other healthcare professional, but trustworthy friends or family could also provide support in their own unique ways.
Shame and vulnerability researcher Brene Brown has reflected: “The less you talk about [shame], the more you got it. Shame needs three things to grow exponentially in our lives: secrecy, silence, and judgment.”
When you make it okay to talk about your experiences, and when you’re met with empathy, shame loses its power. For more insights on this topic, you may want to watch Brene Brown’s TEDtalks: “The Power of Vulnerability” & "Listening to Shame".
2. Check out the book “Childhood Disrupted: How your Biography becomes your Biology” by Donna Jackson Nakazawa. (You can even download the audiobook for free through the public library.
Understanding the science behind your experiences can help to demystify them and foster greater feelings of personal control. It allows you to realize that you are not messed up—messed up things have happened to you. Moreover, your brain and body have likely functioned well by adapting exactly as needed to survive whatever you were going through at the time.
3. Engage the power of mindfulness. Mindfulness is about present-moment attention, without judgment (it is not about having a “blank mind”). By learning to notice and accept your thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations as they are, as well as aspects of the outside world that rest outside of your control, you can change the structure and functions of your brain.
Mindfulness builds more connections within your brain and can lead to greater emotional regulation. There are a number of different mindfulness practices out there, and it’s unlikely that each one will feel right for you. Remain open-minded and experiment with different techniques, and set yourself up for greater success by starting with short sessions.
Visit https://mindful.org for more information on this topic. Additionally, http://www.mindfulnessinstitute.ca/ presents a schedule for drop-in sessions (no experience needed) here in the city.
If you would rather experiment in the comfort of your own home, check out the following apps: Calm, Headspace, and Stop, Breathe & Think
4. Find a mental health therapist who is specially trained in EMDR. There are many different types of therapeutic approaches out there. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is an evidence-based psychotherapy approach for treating trauma and other mental health concerns.
EMDR uses visual, tactile, or auditory stimulation in a left-to-right pattern (i.e. “bilateral stimulation”) to help clients reprocess past experiences. This reprocessing thus decreases the level of disturbance associated with the triggering memories. The EMDR process can be likened to what naturally occurs during REM sleep. For a list of FAQs on the topic, visit: https://emdrcanada.org/emdr-defined/
Of course, the above list provides only a simple overview of each of these potential stepping stones. It would be rare that a single resource could possibly be a one-stop solution to the complex matters that we as humans face.
If you would like to see another post that addresses any of these suggestions in greater detail (or any other topics related to mental health), please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org with your requests!
Shayla Drewicki, MC
Mental Health Therapist/Registered Provisional Psychologist #2458p
The Family Centre offers free counselling, no appointments needed.