I recently read an article that could save your life. Over the past 18 years, Dr. Vincent Felitti and his professional partner, Dr. Robert Anda, have been researching the effects of adverse childhood experience (ACE) on long-term physical health.
Childhood trauma leads to serious illnesses as adults
Here are some of their conclusions: “People with ACE scores of four or higher [meaning, there were four or more adverse childhood experiences] were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer, twice as likely to have heart disease, four times as likely to suffer from emphysema or chronic bronchitis, and twelve times as likely to have committed suicide than those with an ACE score of zero. “… a high ACE score was associated with certain lethal diseases even when a so-called risky behavior [like smoking or drinking] was not involved.” (“Can Childhood Trauma Shorten Your Life?”, http://www.alternet.org/personal-health/can-childhood-trauma-shorten-your-life)
Examples of adverse childhood experiences
“For the purposes of the ACE Study, adverse childhood experiences were defined as emotional, physical, or sexual abuse, emotional or physical neglect, and growing up in a household where someone was an alcoholic, a drug user, mentally ill, suicidal, where the mother was treated violently, or where a household member had been imprisoned during the patient’s childhood.” (From another article on the ACE study, http://acestudy.org/yahoo_site_admin/assets/docs/ARV1N1.127150541.pdf.)
An important distinction the researchers did not make
It is important to make a distinction that the researchers did not make. The interactions with your parents when you were a child do not have an impact on your behavior and your health as an adult. The meaning you give those interactions has a profound impact, as this study indicates.
I’ve been making the point for years that the beliefs we form in childhood are responsible for most of our behavior and feelings later in life. As a result of this study we see that certain types of beliefs also are responsible for serious illnesses later in life, which I’ll explain in this article. The ACE research connects ACE and illness, with stress being the connecting link. Now we know that one of the major causes of stress is ACE, or rather, the meaning given those ACE.
This is not to say that the ACE do not result in extreme stress at the time they are experienced in childhood. They clearly do. But childhood interactions with parents will not affect you years later; only the meaning you give those interactions will continue to affect you long after they are over.
What beliefs do the adverse childhood experiences lead to?
What beliefs are likely to be formed as a result of some of these ACE and how would each cause stress? Each of the events would probably result in a number of negative self-esteem beliefs, such as I’m not good enough, I’m not deserving, I’m not loveable, I’m not worthy, I’m not capable, I’m not competent, and There’s something wrong with me.
Additional specific beliefs that probably would result from the major ACE include:
1. Substance abuse or mental illness in the household: If your parents act erratically and you are never sure of what to expect from them, you are likely to conclude I’m powerless, I can never be certain of anything, and I can’t count on people.
2. Parental divorce: Children frequently blame themselves for the breakup because they were unable to stop it. That failure is likely to lead to I’m powerless and Nothing I do is good enough.
3. Sexual molestation: This situation leads to I’m damaged goods, I’m bad, people can’t be trusted, life is dangerous, and I’m powerless.
4. Physical abuse: The first belief formed from this situation is I’m powerless; others include People can’t be trusted, People aren’t fair, Life isn’t fair, and I deserve to be punished.
5. Emotional neglect: A child can feel neglected if his parents aren’t actually around or if they are around physically, but not emotionally. In either case a child blames himself and concludes I’m not important. He might also conclude: I’m not worth loving, my feelings are not important, and I can’t count on people.
Take a moment and really imagine holding these beliefs. … Is it real how much stress beliefs such as these would necessarily lead to?
Imagine it happened to you
Here’s how to make it real for yourself that the stress is being caused by beliefs and not ACE. Imagine being a child and one of the ACEs listed by the researchers has happened to you. … You are clearly experiencing fear and extreme stress at the moment. Now imagine that right after the event you have a conversation with a friendly Uncle Morty. You tell him what happened to you and how scary it was. You tell him some of the meanings you have given the event.
Now imagine that he says to you: “The event could mean what you just said. But couldn’t it also mean that what your parents did has nothing to do with you; it was due to their own mental state? Could what happened also mean that there is no reason to assume anyone else in the world would ever do what your parents did? And couldn’t the event also mean that when you grow up and move away from home, you’ll be able to protect yourself from your parents or anyone else who tried to do what your parents just did?”
Is it real that if you gave other meanings to your ACE as a child and never formed any negative beliefs, the events would not be causing stress later in your life?
Two types of conditioning can also cause stress
It is important to note that the major source of stress in adults is beliefs, but different types of conditioning can also cause stress. Stimulus conditioning occurs when an event that does not inherently result in an emotion occurs repeatedly with another event that does cause an emotion. When that happens the first event gets conditioned to cause the same emotion.
So if every time you are criticized as a child your parents are angry and you feel fear, you can get conditioned to feel fear later in life when you are criticized, even though there is no real threat then. You also can be conditioned to feel fear when you don’t live up to the expectations of others and when you are rejected. You even can be conditioned to get angry when people don’t do what you want them to do.
The ACEs described in this study can easily result in a lot of stimulus conditioning, which, in turn, can result in you frequently feeling fear, anger, and other negative emotions, resulting in stress.
There is a second type of conditioning that is relevant here. Apart from beliefs you form, the ACEs also can cause you to experience a negative sense of yourself, people, and life. For example, a negative sense of life would be feeling scary, overwhelming, dark, threats from out of nowhere, can’t deal with it, can’t escape it, etc. That sense of life would clearly cause stress later in life.
For more details on how the Lefkoe Stimulus Process (LStimP) works, see https://www.mortylefkoe.com/032310/.
For the steps of the LStimP, check out http://www.decisionmaker.com/docs/LStimulusP_Steps.pdf.
For more details on how the Lefkoe Sense Process works, see https://www.mortylefkoe.com/rid-negative-senses/
To see the actual steps of the Lefkoe Sense Processes, please see https://www.mortylefkoe.com/get-rid-of-negative-senses-and-expectations/#
We do not have to live at the effect of childhood experiences
Here’s a final quote from the article: “The study makes it clear that time does not heal some of the adverse experiences we found so common in the childhoods of a large population of middle-aged, middle-class Americans,” Felitti wrote in his 2002 article, “The Relationship of Adverse Childhood Experiences to Adult Health: Turning Gold Into Lead.”
“One does not ‘just get over’ some things, not even 50 years later.”
Actually it is possible to “get over” the abuses of childhood. Because the stress later in life is not directly caused by the earlier events but by the meaning we give those events, by eliminating those meanings (unlearning those beliefs) and deconditioning the relevant conditionings we can totally escape the influence of our ACEs. We also can avoid the stress that is one of the major causes of serious illness later in life.
Thanks for reading my blog. Please post your questions or comments about how the beliefs formed in childhood are responsible for serious illnesses later in life. Your comments add value for thousands of readers. I love to read them all and I will respond to as many as I can.
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Copyright © 2014 Morty Lefkoe