Find a Therapist at NetworkTherapy.com


Find a Therapist or Treatment Center

Highlights
   for Consumers
Find a Therapist
Find a Treatment Center
About Therapy
Research a Condition
Research a Medication
Support Groups
National Hotlines
Featured Articles
What's New

   for Providers
List Your Practice
List Your Treatment Center
Publish an Article
My Account
Webmail

The Lingering Effects of Childhood Trauma

» Mental Health Library » Disorders & Conditions » Child Abuse » Featured Article

By: Allison Davis Maxon, M.S., LMFT

Allison Davis Maxon, M.S., LMFT

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s) are stressful or traumatic events, like abuse, neglect and trauma. They may also include family dysfunction such as witnessing domestic violence or growing up with family members who are addicted to drugs or alcohol. ACE’s are strongly related to the development and prevalence of a wide range of health problems throughout a person’s lifespan, including those associated with substance abuse and addiction.

Adverse Childhood Experiences include:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Intimate partner violence
  • Mother treated violently
  • Substance misuse within household
  • Household mental illness
  • Parental separation, abandonment or divorce
  • Incarcerated household member

Recent research has demonstrated a strong relationship between childhood trauma, neglect and other adverse experiences, and substance use disorders and behavioral problems. When children are exposed to chronic stressful experiences, their neurodevelopment can be disrupted as their biological system is exposed to toxic stress during critical stages of their development. As a result, the child’s cognitive functioning or ability to cope with negative or difficult emotions can be impaired. Over time, and especially during adolescence, the child may use negative coping strategies, such as substance use or self-harm, as a way to cope with the intense or overwhelming emotions they are experiencing. Eventually, these unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to addiction, disease, disability, and social and emotional problems, and a shortened lifespan.

How Childhood Trauma Effects Health Across a Lifetime

https://www.ted.com/talks/nadine_burke_harris_how_childhood_trauma_affects_health_across_a_lifetime#t-622453

Toxic Stress is bad for our brain!

Brain science has taught us that, in the absence of protective factors, toxic stress damages children’s developing brains. Stress is the body’s normal response to every day events or challenges. Positive stress, like the first day of school, a big game, or a test, is a normal part of growing up, and parents or caregivers can help children learn how to handle positive stress, which is moderate and temporary. These kinds of every day demands for a child will increase their heart rate and the amount of stress hormones in their body, but they will return to normal levels quickly.

Too much stress, toxic stress, occurs when the child is exposed to overwhelming amounts of fear and distress related to violence, threats of violence, physical or sexual abuse, parental loss or abandonment, foster care, parental addiction and/or mental illness. Then a child’s brain and body will produce an overload of stress hormones, such as cortisol and adrenaline, that harm the function and structure of the brain. This can be particularly devastating in children, whose brains are still developing at a significant rate, especially for the first three years of life. Toxic stress is the kind of stress that occurs when a child lives for months or years with a violent alcoholic parent, a severely depressed and neglectful caregiver, repeated ‘attachment disruptions’ such as those that a child experiences in foster care, or a parent who takes out their frustrations by physically and emotionally hurting their child.

For teenagers, the higher the ACE’s score, the more likely they are to engage in increased high risk or self-injurious behaviors such as; smoking, drinking, illicit drug use, promiscuity/pregnancy, cutting, suicidal ideations and/or attempts. For children and teens, it’s important for us to try and understand these behaviors through a ‘trauma lens’ as a way for the child to cope with overwhelming amounts of toxic stress. They are often impulsive, emotionally reactive and have poor regulation skills.

Knowing our own ACE’s score, helps us gain insight into why we may be struggling with feelings of depression, shame, guilt, anxiety or loneliness. To relieve these feelings many of us resort to over-eating, using drugs (nicotine, marijuana, opioids) or alcohol as way to get temporary relief from the toxic stress that lives in our bodies and minds.

The past isn’t always the past! Find out your ACE’s score here:

https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/

Hope and Resiliency

Adverse childhood experiences and other traumatic events in childhood do not have to dictate our future. Children are both malleable and resilient. Children survive and can even thrive despite the trauma in their lives. For these children, adverse events and protective factors experienced together have the potential to strengthen resiliency.  The most significant factor that will help a child cope with adverse childhood experiences such as exposure to violence, trauma or abuse is having at least ONE dependable, meaningful, primary attachment relationship. One adult caregiver who has developed a positive, trusting and committed relationship with the child is the most critical factor in assisting the child in healing from a traumatic history.

For adults, knowing and understanding our ACE’s score gives us the ability to have compassion for our younger selves having survived through a tremendous amount of toxic stress. It can also serve to guide us to our strengths and resiliencies as we learn to replace those negative coping strategies with ones that are building us up, relieving our distress and helping us feel more connected to ourselves and to others.

About the Author...

Allison is a clinician, educator, and advocate specializing in Attachment, Trauma and Adoption/Permanency. She is passionate about creating systems of care that are strength-based and trauma-informed. She has 25 years of experience in child welfare, childrenís mental health and trauma informed care. She is the chief operating officer at the National Center on Adoption and Permanency. Allison is co-author and master trainer of Kinship Centerís ACT: An Adoption and Permanency Curriculum for Child Welfare and Mental Health Professionals, co-author and master trainer of Pathways to Permanence: Parenting the Child of Loss and Trauma, and creator of 10 Things Your Child Needs Every Day, a video training tool that assists parents/caregivers in strengthening their attachment relationship with their child.

Click here to contact or learn more about Allison Davis Maxon

Last Update: 7/26/2018



Home  |  Provider Directory  |  Mental Health Library  |  Resource Center  |  For Providers
Find a Therapist  |  Find a Treatment Center  |  List Your Practice  |  List Your Treatment Center
About Us  |  Contact Us  |  User Agreement  |  Privacy Policy  |  Site Map
This website is certified by Health On the Net Foundation. Click to verify. This site complies with the HONcode standard for trustworthy health information: verify here. The information provided on this site is for educational or informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical or behavioral health care advice. The information is not intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care provider. Please consult your health care provider if you have any questions or concerns about your health.
Copyright © 2000-2018 NetworkTherapy.com, Inc. All rights reserved.
Welcome Guestbook What's New Site Map Find a Therapist Find a Treatment Center About Therapy Frequently Asked Questions Disorders & Conditions Medications Treatment Approaches Featured Articles News Archive Mental Health Dictionary Support Groups National Hotlines Web Directory Mental Health Books Related Web Sites For Providers Provider Login Back to top of page