What is wrong with me? Understanding the power of childhood experiences

By Rick Isenberg - 04/18/2019


Many of us grow up with a subtle sense that there is something wrong with us, that we are not good enough or not worthy. Why is this? A growing body of evidence shows that these core beliefs, as well as many mental health and medical disorders, have their roots in difficult experiences we have as children. We have come to recognize that emotional wounding in childhood may have profound effects. Indeed, we often do not outgrow the adverse experiences of childhood; they often go underground and come back to haunt us later in life.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study and its daughter studies published over the past 20 years have provided conclusive evidence linking childhood adversity to adult emotional, medical and social problems. Ten risk factors were identified: physical, emotional, and sexual abuse, physical and emotional neglect, and five specific forms of household chaos (growing up with mental illness, drug/alcohol abuse, domestic violence in the home, divorce or separation, and incarceration of a family member) have been linked to the development of  adult mental health disorders (such as addiction, depression and suicide, and domestic violence), social issues (such as teenage pregnancy, performance problems at work, and financial insecurity), and medical issues (such as diabetes, severe obesity, heart disease, cancer, sexually transmitted infections, autoimmune disease, and many others).

The increase in risk is shocking. With four or more childhood risk factors, we are 5 times as likely to become alcoholic, 12 times as likely to shoot up drugs, 4 times as likely to be chronically depressed, and 10 times as likely to attempt suicide.

So what do we do?

As troubled adults, we can seek help for our mental health and emotional issues. Therapy techniques directed at healing our childhood emotional wounding—such as EMDR, somatic experiencing, and psychodrama—can reduce distress and allow for healthier functioning. At PCS, we specialize in providing such services to men, women, children, couples, and families struggling with the consequences of childhood adversity. We can heal the wounding that continues to play out in our lives. There is hope.

And we must act to protect our children from toxic stress. Listen to pediatrician Nadine Burke as she makes an impassioned plea for pediatric medicine to confront the prevention and treatment of trauma, head-on, in this TED Talk: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=95ovIJ3dsNk For more information about the ACE study, check out the CDC’s ACE Study site: https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/childabuseandneglect/acestudy/index.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fviolenceprevention%2Facestudy%2Findex.html

Article by Dr. Rick Isenberg, MD

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