When having all the ACEs is the worst hand in the game.

Before I stepped into the world of counselling and coaching, I used to work in the child protection industry.  I talked to a LOT of families about trauma.  I often wondered why people didn’t seem to understand what I meant when I talked to them about trauma.  But one day, one day I finally got it, and when I got it, I realized how many people have no idea what trauma CAN be.  Many people don’t realise that they’ve experienced traumatic incidents, nor do they understand how they impact them long term.

I had been working with one family for over a year.  The carers were really struggling to understand what was going on for the children they were caring for.  I thought I’d explained so well that the children had been traumatised by their upbringing.  Yet, they still didn’t seem to get it.  Then one day, the male carer said to me “but what do you mean trauma?  These kids haven’t had any big or horrible traumatic events happen to them!”  Then I knew, I knew that these carers heard the word trauma and thought I meant BIG trauma.  Think Nine-Eleven, Unabomber, Christchurch Mosque shootings, BIG trauma.  These traumas cause massive changes in our societies, they change the landscape in which we live and impact everyone.  What these carers didn’t know was that there are traumas that happen in the lives of children that have far more impact than any big trauma might have. 

In that [1] moment, I realized that every time that I’d said the word trauma, talking to these carers, they didn’t understand what I meant.  So [2] I used a list I have that helped identify a few things for the carers, and let me tell you, they were blown away.  You see, the list shows events that are called Adverse Childhood Experiences.  It sounds very spectacular and official, but it’s just a list of ten things that can happen to a kid that make it more likely that they’re going to have struggles in their life.  As I went through this list of adverse childhood experiences, or as they’re more commonly referred, the ACES, we discovered that, well[3]  truthfully, the carers discovered that the children they were looking after had been through eight of them, that these children had eight of them happen in their not that long lives.  The one that jumps out the top of my head that most people don’t realise can be very traumatic for[4]  a child is a separation of parents. I don’t mean that if your parents got divorced, you’re going to be a disaster, it’s just an acknowledgement that this an increased risk factor for children as they grow older.

As we worked through the list, the carers came to realise that these children had been through the proverbial wringer.  They started to see the links between the children’s behaviour and their understanding of children’s behaviour didn’t apply to these children.  They began to understand some of the responses that these kids had to things like normal punishment.  The realised that the children functioned differently because of their experiences.  You see, children who have had lots of trauma in their past, often also had parents that were unable to meet their emotional or physical needs. Sometimes the parents were so caught up in their own problems that they neglected the kids completely.  These kids don’t really know how to interact with other adults or children.  As adults, they become overwhelmed with trying to manage their lives because they don’t have self-worth like a kid who hasn’t been through this.   From the outside you can’t tell what anyone has been through, but it’s evident in the behaviour.  They grow up not trusting adults, not trusting others, and sometimes they use manipulation or violence to get their needs met.  They might even end up being quite manipulative and controlling in relationships as adults because they’ve learned that it’s the only way that they could get what they needed as a kid.

I hope you have now joined the dots to see that it’s important that we understand if we’ve had any of these ACES in our childhood, because they can impact us in unseen ways.  There are many health and wellbeing problems that can arise like a greater chance of heart disease and diabetes, homelessness, substance abuse, and mental health concerns.  We know that having an early life with a higher number of ACES makes adulting way harder.  We end up in abusive relationships, we become abusers, we get addicted, all sorts of things can go wrong, all because of stuff that happened to us we maybe don’t even remember.  Society is often quick to blame the victim for their problems, and I use the term victim quite purposefully, because these children are victims.  They didn’t choose this for themselves.  They have absolutely no say over what goes on around them and what their parents do and don’t do.

At this point, you can ask yourself, have I been through these things in my childhood.  Or worse, you’re worried about what you might have done to your own children.  You can’t necessarily avoid them happening to you, or them happening to your children.  For example, I’m not a proponent for staying in a crappy marriage just because it might damage your kids.  You see, we know that staying in a crappy marriage might damage your children just as much as leaving will.  It’s more about how things are handled in life.  We can learn how to navigate our own life knowing if we are carrying an increased risk because of our childhood.  We get to be proactive about this, rather than having these things control your life and take away your choices.  You can ask yourself  “are these things from my past influencing me?”  Learn how your past can hurt you, find out if it has or is, and then make plans to achieve your goals despite your past. 

When you collaborate with me, we spend time looking for your family patterns of trauma.  Learning about your past illuminates what is causing your problems.  We can see if your childhood is making it more difficult for you to do things because we know the ACE’s can hold you back.  My clients no longer ask themselves “Why am I doing this? Why am I so stupid? Why do I keep sabotaging everything?”  They know what’s sitting underneath their behaviours and they have addressed this to move forward with reprogramming their lives.  They are living the life that they designed for themselves, rather than struggling through someone else’s idea of what they should be doing or living someone else’s life.  My clients find this experience empowering.

Knowing how to work through the pain the ACEs are causing you isn’t easy.  Making plans to overcome them and design your own life is something you need a guide for, and that’s exactly what I do with my clients.  Think the ACE’s might be playing you the wrong hand right now?  See if you are right by putting in your email and clicking on the GET MY COPY button to get the ACE’s right now.

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