This article was first published on Medium
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” — Leo Tolstoy writes in Anna Karenina, a literary piece still considered by many as the greatest book ever written.
The principle of this wisdom indicates that in order for a family to be happy, there needs to be success in all aspects of family life — physical and emotional attraction remaining constant between the mum and dad, sound household finances, good parenting, unity in values and amiable relationship with the extended family. Failing one or more leads to unhappiness. The same principle applies indirectly to the environment in which a child is nurtured. Any form of enduring unhappiness within the domestic setting generally leads to an unhappy child.
Adverse Childhood Experiences
I grew up in a uniquely unhappy family and after a lifetime of dodging bullets I have preserved into middle age with some serious scarring but overall in sound health. Writing became a form of catharsis for me and during the years I researched on the subject of childhood maltreatment for the purpose of penning a novel, I stumbled upon a study of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention. The study lists 10 specific types of trauma that can result in a child under the age of 18 feeling stressed or traumatised, potentially leading to chronic problems later in life:
Abuse — (1) Physical, (2) Emotional, (3) Sexual
Neglect — (4) Physical, (5) Emotional
Household Dysfunction — (6) Mental Illness, (7) Mother treated violently, (8) Substance Abuse, (9) Divorce/ Separation, (10) Incarcerated family member
Why is ACE relevant?
In this case study with 17,000 American participants, nearly 2/3 of adults reported at least one form of ACE, and almost 40% experienced 2 or more adverse experience as a child. Poor childhood tends to lead to negative impact on our health and quality of life, it is believed that those who endured 6 or more ACEs has a reduced life expectancy of 20 year. Overall, the CDC also reports an estimate $124 billion in cost associated with the mistreatment of children.
ACE is not a Blame Game
The study done by CDC was made with the intention of recognising and resolving an epidemic. Yet I feel that even with such compelling statistical study, every time the subject of childhood trauma is raised, there is often an immediate backlash of denial. Common remarks include:
· But that was such a long time ago
· Oh, just grow up!
· At least you had a home
· You need to stop blaming your parents for your problems
This unrelenting dismissal is perplexing to me, as though no one wants to believe that the purpose of conceding a dreadful past was not to point blame but to heal and work towards a better future.
What to do if you believe you have ACE?
It has been over 20 years since the study by CDC was completed and published. Yet there hadn’t been any known efforts of remedy or proposed solutions. It is possible that parents resent the notion that they could have been responsible for the detriments of their now adult children. Many adults who grew up with ACEs may also believe that as long as the adverse experiences were ‘forgotten’, they have since moved on and those bad memories have no relevance in their current life. Even more likely, the adults who endured a less-than-perfect childhood proceed to become less-than-perfect parents and everyone is none the wiser. Without a unified acknowledgement and consolidated effort to resolve the issue, society had somehow managed to sweep a chronic endemic under the carpet.
A quiz had been developed to help individuals understand the bearing ACE had in their early life. The quiz is developed to provide guidance so that a person may gain insight to their adult decisions and behaviours and seek help if necessary.
Acing the ACEs test
“Time does not heal the wounds that occur in those earliest years; time conceals them. They are not lost; they are embodied.” — Vincent J Felitti, researcher on the ACE study.
The ACE quiz is test that I wish I hadn’t Aced. As I look into my past with melancholy, the tremendous effort I had taken to seek treatment and heal myself is finally paying off and I look towards my future with relief and hope. While I am still unable to share the specifics of my dreadful journey, I continue in my little endeavours to publicize the merits of the ACE study to those children whose sufferings were never acknowledged. It is never too late to love your inner child.