Trauma is defined as a long-lasting emotional response to an event that is distressing, frightening, or shocking. It greatly impacts how a person views themselves, their safety, and their ability to healthily regulate their emotions and relationships. These negative mental and physical symptoms can persist long after the original traumatic event has finished. Anyone can experience trauma at any point in their lives. However, there is a specific type of trauma that is being thoroughly studied, known as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs).
Understanding how trauma and ACEs are both connected but different at the same time is vital in helping us know how these experiences affect us. It’s especially important to the health of our nation as a whole.
What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?
Adverse Childhood Experiences are traumatic experiences that occur in childhood. They are mostly identified as experiences that prevent the ability of a child from feeling safe, disrupt the stability of a home, and prevent healthy bonding experiences. These are all vital aspects needed for children to grow into healthy adults.
This is for several reasons. When we are children, we learn our social skills by watching other people. That is why it is so important to practice good manners and kind behavior around children. They watch us, and they use that as a basis for how they should behave. When they see violent behavior, such as domestic abuse being committed against a family member, they think this is normal behavior. This warps their view of what is appropriate or not, which not only sets up a child for failure but prevents them from forming healthy relationships.
These experiences can also fundamentally change how a brain works and functions. When trauma affects a brain that is still growing, it can have devastating effects. Since the brain controls all functions of the body, it’s not just mental problems that appear. This affects our nervous systems, so more often than not, these children feel as though they are in a constant state of danger. The over-reaction of our nervous systems can cause persistent health problems, which can grow into bigger problems as a person matures.
What Adverse Childhood Experiences Can Look Like
The main sources of ACEs are:
- A presence of addiction, such as drugs and alcohol, or mental health disorders, such as depression, in the home
- Having a family member attempt or die by suicide
- Child abuse like physical, emotional, and sexual
- Witnessing domestic violence
- Physical and emotional neglect
- Loss of a parent through death, abandonment, imprisonment, or divorce
The reason why ACEs are now being studied so intently is because of how it directly impacts how children grow and develop. When children are traumatized and are not treated for their trauma, they grow into traumatized adults. This impacts the health of our society as a whole as these people go on to have children of their own, and often the cycle perpetuates. This is why there is now a distinction to further help researchers understand how to treat these distinct forms of trauma. By being specific, they can now ask the right questions to help our society recover.
How Trauma Can Differ From Adverse Childhood Experiences
The main difference between discussing trauma as a whole compared to ACEs is how it affects us developmentally.
Trauma still affects us and affects many people each year from all walks of life. However, a trauma that is experienced late in life tends to affect a brain that has mostly finished growing. Our brains tend to finish maturing around the mid to late 20s, with 25 being the average. The last part of our brains to fullydevelope is called the prefrontal cortex. This part of the brain is responsible for how we make decisions, moderate our social behavior, plan complex behavior, and express our personalities. It’s extremely important to how we function both mentally and socially.
In children, this part of the brain is far from being finished in its development. It’s why children respond very differently to trauma compared to an adult with a fully grown prefrontal cortex. When we treat trauma, we have to not only look at the source but the physical and mental development of the person who experienced them.
Healing From Trauma for All Ages
Finding the right treatment is important for anyone to overcome their trauma. This involves finding a specialized therapist. Some therapists only treat adults, and others may only treat children. Children are especially complicated as they are still growing, and they may need to unlearn negative behaviors and thoughts that have become deeply rooted in themselves. This takes a person who understands how children develop to help them recover safely. If you are a guardian of a child that needs therapy, you will need to look for such specialized therapists.
Adults, even those that have experienced ACEs, should contact their local mental healthcare facility. Psychotherapy will be important in helping someone learn how to cope with and move on from their trauma. Sometimes a person may even use other types of therapy, such as neurofeedback therapy, to help them learn how to calm their nervous system. Medication is sometimes, but not always, prescribed to help with the physical symptoms of anxiety that often come from trauma.
If you or someone you love is living with trauma, reach out for help. Contact your local mental healthcare facility to schedule an appointment. A mental health professional will never belittle or judge you for needing help. You can also look for a support group. Support groups help by connecting you to others with similar life experiences, so you can support each other in a group that truly understands what you are going through.
Remember that needing help is not a measure of someone’s strength. Knowing when you need help and gathering up the courage to ask for it is.
Adverse childhood experiences are the trauma that affects how a child develops mentally, physically, and socially. When we treat trauma, one must consider not just the source of the trauma but how developed the person who experienced it is. Trauma can cause a myriad of symptoms that affect our physical selves as well as our mental health. At Acera Health in Costa Mesa, California, we offer several treatment options for those who are struggling with trauma. It doesn’t make one weak to have experienced trauma; it just means you need help, which everyone deserves. If you or someone you love is struggling with trauma, call (949) 647-4090 to speak with one of our mental health professionals today.
Melody is a highly skilled proactive clinical administrator, with more than 17 years of experience serving the community in the behavioral health field.
Her clinical management career started in 2011 as a compliance manager and program director. In 2018, she became an executive as chief clinical officer (CCO). She is a seasoned licensed marriage & family therapist.