7 Ways to Overcome Childhood Adversity
The expression, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” is not always true. More often than not, the opposite is true.
As children, the pain we endure does not always make us stronger; sometimes they make us more vulnerable. Cutting-edge research reveals that our childhood emotional trauma plays a huge role in whether we develop physical disease in adulthood.
Addiction can often stem from childhood trauma. Just last week, we learned that childhood trauma can even change our brain chemistry as adults catalyzing the potential for mental health issues. A new article goes over the steps that adults can take to work through childhood emotional trauma.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) includes:
- Emotional or physical neglect
- Verbal humiliation
- Growing up with an addicted or mentally ill family member
- Parental Abandonment
- Divorce or loss of parents
These traumas that we endure as children predispose us to autoimmune disease, heart disease, cancer, depression, and a number of other chronic conditions decades after the trauma takes place. When it comes to addiction, often those who experience ACEs do not realize they are using substances and behavior to cope with their childhood emotional traumas.
Recognizing that our chronic childhood stress can play a role in our development can be enormously freeing. If you’ve wondered why you have such horrible depression and anxiety or why you were more prone to addiction, learning about the effect of your childhood can make you feel like it was not always your fault. In some ways, you were swimming against an invisible current that never ceases. This information can be a welcome release. Finally you can find out what has been working against you for your entire life.
Knowledge is power. Understanding your body and brain can allow you to take the necessary steps to remove the fingerprints that early adversity left on your neurobiology. You can begin the journey to healing and reducing your vulnerability to inflammation, depression, addiction, physical pain, and disease.
There are a range of promising approaches to help shift your brain chemistry by making new connections in your brain through a pattern of reinvigorating and shifting your thoughts and reactions. You have the capacity within yourself to change your health for the better.
Here are 7 steps that can get you on the right path to wellness:
- Take the ACE Questionnaire.
The single most important step you can take is to fill out the ACE Questionnaire and share your results with your health-care practitioner. Although sometimes controversial, your ACE score will tally up the different types of abuse, neglect and emotional traumas you endured during your childhood. The rougher your childhood, the higher your score is likely to be and the higher your risk is for later health problems.
When you get your score, take it to your therapists. It is the first step to acknowledging that there might be a link between your past and your present. Your doctor will acknowledge this possibility and get you on the right plan of action.
- Begin Writing to Heal.
Writing is extremely therapeutic and can heal you. James Pennebaker, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, suggests that writing can help you let go of childhood events that have held you back.
“In your writing, really let go and explore the event and how it has affected you. You might tie this experience to your childhood, your relationship with your parents, people you have loved or love now…Write continuously for twenty minutes a day.”
It can be challenging to write about the pain you went through as a child but take it a step at a time. You may find that writing about your deep dark secrets can have a positive effect on your health.
- Practice Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga
Meditation can be extremely beneficial for working through Adverse Childhood Experiences. Those who practice mindfulness meditation are able to shift their genes and regulate their physiological stress response. A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program can be extremely effective. In fact, adults who suffer from PTSD due to childhood sexual abuse were shown to have reduced anxiety and depression from completing the program.
If meditation intimidates you, you are not alone. Personally, I had to get involved in a meditation retreat and several workshops before I was able to truly understand what meditation really was. Try finding a meditation group in your city or go on a three-day meditation retreat if that is a reasonable option for you. Unlike antidepressants, meditating is a natural treatment that has no side effects.
In addition, when children face ACEs, they often store decades of physical tension in their bodies. Yoga decreases blood flood to the amygdala, the brain’s alarm center, and increases blood flow to areas of the brain that promote increase brain function, calmness and protect us against depression and anxiety.
The long-lasting effects of childhood trauma can be extremely challenging to tackle on your own. In many cases, it is beneficial to talk to a skilled therapist to address the adversity we may have faced decades ago. Those negative memories can help us become more positive people by opening a new window for the healing process to begin.
Part of the power of therapy is to allow ourselves to trust another person. A therapist’s unconditional acceptance helps modify the circuits in our brains that tell us we cannot trust anyone. It helps us heal the cellular damage of traumatic stress down to our DNA. In one recent study, it revealed that patients who underwent therapy showed changes in the integrity of their genome—even a year after their regular sessions ended.
- EEG Neurofeedback
Electroencephalographic (EEG) Neurofeedback is a clinical approach to healing childhood trauma In this form of treatment, patients learn to influence their thoughts and feeling by watching their brain’s electrical activity in real time on a laptop screen. With continuous practice, the patient learns what thought process and thought patterns lead to neural activity associated with pleasant images and sounds.
Think of it like a musical conductor who’s trying to get different parts of the orchestra to play more softly in some cases and a little louder in others in order to achieve harmony. After one EEG Neurofeedback session, patients improve their emotional resilience making it a great option for those who still suffer the long lasting effects of chronic, unpredictable stress in childhood..
- EMDR Therapy
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a potent form of psychotherapy that involves individuals remembering difficult experiences and finding ways to relate those memories in a way that no longer causes pain to present anymore.
How it works: EMDR-certified therapists help patients recall specific difficult experiences. They are then asked to gaze back and forth rapidly often by following a pattern of lights or a wand that moves from right to left, right to left, in a movement that simulates the healing action of REM sleep.
The repetitive directing of attention helps the brain to reintegrate neuro connection that can, in turn, reduce the amounts of traumatic memories we store in parts of our brains. EMDR therapy has been endorsed by the World Health Organization as one of two forms of psychotherapy for children and adults in natural disasters and war settings.
- Community Healing
Often our childhood trauma steps from bad relationships, but the right kinds of relationships can help to make us feel whole again. Finding the right support system can help us have a much better shot at healing. Find your “team” that will have your back when things are rough. It has been argued that the opposite of addiction is actually connection. When we have a connection to someone, we feel more whole as individuals. Try finding communities that focus on recovering emotionally and overtime, you will have the right support system to get you on the right track.
When you embrace the process of healing, despite your Adverse Childhood Experiences, You gain something better—the hard-earned gift of life wisdom, which will positively affect every arena of your life. Living through hard times can be the motivator to treasure your close relationship to others and see the world at large. Remember that. If you or someone you love is struggling with substance abuse or addiction, please call toll-free 1-800-777-9588.