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Adverse Childhood Experiences FAQs

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Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) are traumatic events that can lead to troublesome physical and mental health conditions later in life, including addiction. Get the FAQs.

Frequently Asked Questions About Adverse Childhood Experiences

Q: If siblings grow up in the same household, how can one sibling have had an ACE based on a given event, while the other sibling does not?

A: The answer to this question has to do with the trauma definition. On an emotional level, trauma is completely subjective. It's something that was shocking to you, personally. It's how you experienced it.

You could have a pair of identical twins and have very different responses to the same event.

For example, maybe your father yelled at you both and was really, really upset, and one twin might just brush it off: "Oh Dad's having a bad day. No big deal." The other twin might completely internalize it and feel really shaken up by the way that the father acted.

On one hand, we do know that certain experiences tend to be very traumatic for most people; examples include physical abuse, sexual abuse, mental and emotional abuse, and neglect. However, it's also important to recognize that what is traumatic for one person may not be traumatic in the same way or to the same degree for another person.

The adverse childhood experiences quiz highlights common areas that tend to be more traumatic for more people. However, that does not necessarily mean that your suffering is less because your experience looked different.

For example, one of the areas that is not really highlighted on the questionnaire is sibling abuse, and that is a significant dynamic that can be very traumatic for some people.

The quiz tends to highlight the adult-to-child relationship, although some of the questions allow for more nuance: "Was anyone in your household hit or kicked?" "Was anyone in your family in a physically abusive relationship?"

Learn more about trauma and addiction.

Q: How do I know how many ACEs I had? Is there a quiz?

A: Yes! To find out your ACE score, take the short, 10 question quiz and review the facts with our blog post Do You Have Adverse Childhood Experiences? Take The Quiz.

Q: How common are ACEs, really? How many people have them?

A: According to the landmark Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) / Kaiser Permanente study completed from 1995 to 1997, the percentage breakdowns are as follows:

  • 36% of total survey respondents (both male and female) had no ACEs.
  • 26% of survey respondents had one ACE.
  • 16% of survey respondents had two ACEs.
  • 10% of survey respondents had three ACEs.
  • 12% of survey respondents had four or more ACEs.
percent-reporting-adverse-childhood-experiences

Q: I’ve done some therapy and healing work around trauma, but I still feel like I’m carrying around a lot of pain. How can I continue the work of healing from childhood trauma?

A: We have a common cultural misconception that healing an underlying core issue is just like popping something in the microwave and hitting the one-minute button; oh look, it's done! But usually, it doesn’t work that way.

That's not to say that you can't heal issues quickly. You can; that is possible. But often, it can take several iterations of working with the same event. This makes sense because you've had years and years of acting from this pain, so there's emotional baggage kind of built up around it.

However, one technique from our Program that might be very helpful is to follow your energy back. This is particularly helpful in working with childhood trauma and addiction.

To do this, you zero in on the first time that you can remember feeling this particular kind of abandonment, this kind of lost, this kind of despair. Ask, "What was that first incident of this feeling?"

When you work with that first inciting incident, what you find is that a lot of the other incidents that are on that same emotional plane tend to resolve because you've addressed that first time. That's not to say you don't need to repeat the work several times to feel free; maybe you will.

However, it is also hopeful in the sense that, when you really address the first time that feeling happened - which tends to be in childhood because you're early on in life! - then a lot of those other, similar issues can resolve themselves more quickly.

Learn more about psychosocial development in early childhood.

Q: Will healing techniques work for someone born addicted and abused and neglected all their childhood?

A: Yes.

This is a truth that the ACE authors highlight. You can have someone who scores very, very high on this test, but if they have some kind of stabilizing influence in their life, they can overcome that dysfunction.

For example, maybe that person’s nuclear family is really dysfunctional, but maybe they have a grandparent who lives nearby and they see that grandparent enough that they provide a stabilizing influence.

As a result, that person is able to have a more functional life and overcome a lot more than someone who had similar ACEs but lacked that stabilizing influence.

That’s the power of one person to change the trajectory of someone's life in childhood. The good news is, it's also true in adulthood. We tend to think there's this magical age when we all become adults, and the things that happen to us as children stop mattering to us. But there is no magical age. The things that happen to us as children still matter. They're always going to matter.

The great thing about this is that you can harness the power of having a healthy relationship at any age!

Healing Underlying Core Issues

As a non 12 step rehab, we understand that adverse childhood experiences often are the underlying core issues for a whole plethora of coping behaviors, including addictions. To learn more about healing these issues, download our free eBook:

Download eBook:  Healing Underlying Core Issues

More on Adverse Childhood Experiences:

Psychosocial Development in Early Childhood

Do You Have Adverse Childhood Experiences? Take the Quiz

Caroline McGraw

This post was written by Caroline McGraw

In addition to her work as "the voice of The Clearing", Caroline Garnet McGraw writes about getting past perfect and rising up real at A Wish Come Clear. Visit and receive your free Perfectionist Recovery Toolkit today!

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