Most people think of child abuse as sexual abuse or the physical abuse of being beaten.
But the science of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE), found that other types of childhood abuse—experiencing emotional abuse, emotional neglect, living with a parent who’s addicted to alcohol or other drugs or is mentally ill, having a relative who’s incarcerated or witnessing a mother being abused, witnessing a sibling being abused, bullying, racism, and other traumatic experiences—can do just as much damage.
That’s because the brain itself can’t distinguish between types of trauma. It’s all just trauma that a child’s brain has to adapt to in order to survive.
For example, when a father’s only interactions with a child are to suddenly rage without warning, the stress hormones in the child’s brain trigger a kid to flee for his life, fight or freeze in fear. And if that kid has to protect himself from that father every day, eventually that kid’s brain is altered
“Child abuse is, of course, reflected in the science of adverse childhood experiences but also in some sense, the experience of ‘too much’ or ‘not enough.’
“In order to cope,” the child begins to develop powerful but primitive defenses, marked by increasing hostility to others.
In place of [emotional needs] grew a kind of grievance and behaviors—including bullying, disrespect, and aggressiveness—that served their purpose at the moment but became more problematic over time.
Science is very clear that babies need two important types of positive experiences to lay a solid foundation for a healthy life.
One is physical and emotional closeness: “Being held and comforted, having our feelings acknowledged and our upsets soothed are all critical for the healthy development of young children.”
The second is mirroring, “the process through which an attuned parent reflects, processes, and then gives back to the baby the baby’s own feelings."
“Without mirroring, children are denied crucial information both about how their minds work and about how to understand the world. Just as a secure attachment to a primary caregiver can lead to higher levels of emotional intelligence, mirroring is the root of empathy.”
ACEs science also shows that to change behavior that is unhealthy, criminal or unwanted requires a very counterintuitive approach. Instead of using practices based on blaming, shaming and punishing, as we have for centuries, incorporating policies and practices on understanding, nurturing and healing.
Look at your role in maintaining disfunction and how trauma is passed from generation to generation. Most families consider their lives to be normal. They probably never gave a thought to how their behavior was shaped by what they experienced as children; and how as adults their behaviors perpetuate generational abuse.
People with high ACE scores go in one of two general directions: They see the world as a place of suffering that needs healing, encourage people to work together to solve problems, and believe that the world works better without conflict than with it.
Generally speaking, their positive childhood experiences have mitigated the adversity they experienced.
Or they see the world as a dark and dangerous place where carnage is rampant, problems are everywhere and are best solved by identifying and defeating enemies, building walls, and cutting off communication. Attempts to communicate on an emotional level with intimate partners is often greeted with an adversarial complaint, defensiveness, and resistance.
And if enemies do not present themselves, they who see the world as a dangerous place will create enemies and make them larger than they really are, so that their “defeat” empowers them to find more enemies to conquer. They stay in a constant stage of conflict readiness.
Generally speaking, people in this group haven’t had enough protective factors in their lives, and thus favor punitive approaches to changing behavior.
Article content by Jan Stevens Aces Connections Staff