How To Heal From Adverse Childhood Experiences With Somatic Therapy
Written by Kianna Morgan, a therapist in training and MSW student. Kianna is passionate about trauma-informed practices and enjoys writing as a way to share empowering information with people suffering from trauma and chronic stress.
What are Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs)?
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) is a term that was coined by Dr. Robert Anda along with his research colleagues after concluding a two year study that surveyed 17,000 individuals about their childhood, current health, and behaviors. ACEs are potentially traumatic events that occur in childhood (0-17 years).
“ACEs are linked to chronic health problems, mental illness, and substance use problems in adulthood. ACEs can also negatively impact education, job opportunities, and earning potential. However, ACEs can be prevented.”
Out of the original ACEs study, a questionnaire was developed to help identify whether an individual has experienced childhood adversities. This includes experiences like physical, sexual, and emotional abuse or witnessing abuse. It also explores whether the child’s home environment exposed them to experiences that would have compromised safety, stability and bonding. This would include things like living with someone that has a mental illness, has been incarcerated, and/or exhibited problematic alcohol and drug use.
With that said, “ACEs don’t have a single cause, and they can take several different forms. Many factors contribute to ACEs, including personal traits and experiences, parents, the family environment, and the community itself. To prevent ACEs and protect children from neglect, abuse, and violence, it’s essential to address each of these factors.”
The highest potential score on the original ACEs questionnaire is a ten. The higher the score, the more at risk someone is for negative physiological side effects such as mental illness, physical illnesses like cardiovascular disease, and a shorter life expectancy.
It is important to note that an ACEs score does not reflect positive life experiences or other factors that might support resilience in an individual. Luckily, positive factors and experiences can act as a buffer to the negative effects of a high ACE score.
How do protective factors buffer negative effects of ACEs?
“Protective factors are conditions or attributes that, when present in families and communities, increase the well-being of children and families and reduce the likelihood of maltreatment.” When adverse experiences can not be prevented, protective factors can insulate children from the most devastating effects of ACEs and support resilience in their systems.
Protective factors can be individuals but also communities and organizations. Having the support of protective factors allows children to establish healthy attachment patterns and co-regulate with safe adults. A strong social support network can help build resiliency and protect children from further suffering.
Unfortunately, many do not have access to enough protective factors in their lives. When a child doesn’t have a stable support system their nervous system becomes chronically activated and dysregulated.
Neutral stimuli are often perceived as a threat which only further activates their nervous system. As a result, children and adolescents may experience difficulty concentrating in school, regulating their mood, coping with daily stressors, behaving impulsively and more.
How do ACEs affect us in adulthood?
It is an unfortunate reality that the behaviors resulting from living in a dysregulated nervous system also put individuals at risk for experiencing additional trauma. Without intervention, the imprints of ACEs compounded by additional trauma creates an internal environment primed for mental illness, auto-immune disease, cardiovascular disease, substance abuse and more.
One of the primary causes of this avalanche of conditions is a nervous system that is not able to find homeostasis. This lack of regulation negatively impacts every other system in the body and limits our ability to connect with others.
This inability to find homeostasis is due to what is called allostatic overload. Allostasis is the process by which the body maintains homeostasis when exposed to a stressor. In the case of an adult with a high ACEs score, their stress exposure has exceeded their bodies ability to respond and maintain homeostasis.
Fortunately, there are interventions that can help us heal following trauma, chronic stress and ACEs. Building a healthy support system and finding protective factors can make a huge impact on your healing journey. Working with a Somatic Therapist is a great place to start exploring co-regulation and other practices that can help your nervous system find homeostasis.
How can somatic interventions help me heal from ACEs and chronic stress?
The trauma-informed therapies we use at Red Beard Somatic Therapy focus on supporting nervous system regulation. They also help us settle and learn to connect to your body which will help us build resilience in the face of future stressors. .
Our work is rooted in the polyvagal theory, a theory of the nervous system that describes how the autonomic nervous system shapes our experiences and behavior. When an individual is constantly in fight, flight, freeze, and/or fawn they are unable to connect with others and themselves in a healthy manner. Connection is a prerequisite for creating a support system that acts as a protective factor. Our practices will help you safely reconnect with yourself and build the capacity to connect with others.
Additionally, regulating your nervous system will also support the other systems of your body. Through somatic therapy you may also experience reduced chronic pain symptoms, improved digestion, increased ability to concentrate and retain information, and more.
Red Beard Somatic Therapy has a team of trauma informed somatic therapists that specialize in applying interventions that empower you to heal following ACEs and chronic stress.
At Red Beard Somatic Therapy we will create a safe holding space for you to connect with your body and regulate your nervous system. Our team is dedicated to helping you find tools to heal from ACEs and toxic stress. We will support you on your journey to homeostasis and empower you to reach your desired quality of life.