Too many people had hard things happen in childhood that leave their mark in adult life. Let me give a potential scenario: you are working – your boss shows up late for your meeting or tells you to do something with no discussion. You feel that once again you are not being heard. And too often you feel like people are being dismissive of you. This is not small for you – and these feelings happen over and over.
If you think about your reactions, you may ask yourself, “Why do I get treated this way? Why do others tell me I’m inadequate? Or, “Perhaps I shouldn’t even have these feelings!” Your body gives you signals, but they may stay confusing with no words, nor do you figure it out by once again thinking about it.
Adverse Childhood Experiences – Your Resilience Quotient
THE ACE report is a groundbreaking public health study co-authored by Dr. Vincent Felitti and Dr. Robert Anda in 1998. It used a ten-question screen on over 17,000 patients at Kaiser Permanente, a large health maintenance organization in San Diego, California.
Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) are events that occur in the home and include household dysfunction, substance abuse, parental separation and divorce or early death of a parent. Also identified as ACE are: mental illness, spousal or partner violence, and criminal behavior resulting in incarceration of a household member. This type of prolonged exposure to stress often develops into adverse reactions in adulthood, also called complex post-traumatic stress, or C-PTSD.
If you had mediating influences around you, such as a caring adult or even supportive peers, you may escape the legacy of a difficult childhood. Most often, however, we wind up living with an impaired nervous system which limits our ability to relate positively and to regulate our emotions. Your resilience quotient, posted here can give you an idea of the factors which might account for your own reactions as an adult. Pediatrician Nadine Burke Harris explains in this 2014 Ted Talk that the repeated stress of abuse, neglect and parents struggling with mental health or substance abuse issues has real, tangible effects on the development of the brain. You can watch the Ted Talk below.
Our childhood experiences build our automatic reactions as adults
Often, similar events happened to you as a child. For example, within your own family you may have carried a feeling of being invisible and that your feelings didn’t matter. In retrospect, it was both painful and confusing. It may be difficult to even describe. But today, you still experience that there is no one in your corner.
Challenges from our past create automatic stress reactions. It’s what I call a fear-based emotion, and it can hit you hard. Why does this happen? Your neural pathways have been developed and have been reinforced to hold this reaction because your brain decided early on in life that you needed to be alerted to stay safe. Stress reactions are natural and happen when we perceive a threat to our well-being.
Today, when you have a stress reaction, you may wish someone would tell you, “Wow, that’s tough! Let me be with you – let’s walk or sit here until you’re feeling better!” But if you learned from your past that you won’t get help like that, then you can become resigned to being on your own. Let me say it another way: if you didn’t receive the support as a child, from caregivers, to regulate your nervous system and your fear response, it will be much more difficult as an adult to overcome your reactions. This is triggering. When a fear response gets activated, it goes through the roof because you’re experiencing it the way you did when you were a little kid: you don’t have the tools to regulate and calm yourself.
Emotions can be overpowering. When you have a situation, like that boss example, where you face something that is unfair, it can hit you powerfully. You may get angry, and it could be your adult self is actually trying to protect your “kid self” unknowingly. Or your emotion is something else where you don’t recover well.
You may wonder, I’m an adult so how is this possible? After all, you know how to take care of yourself. You have a roof over your head, you prepare meals, you do the basics like laundry. But if you don’t have the skill to regulate your emotions, when it comes on really strong, you can be hard on yourself. And I see too many people who have not had the support to develop this needed skill!
If you didn’t get the emotional support you needed as a child, you are going to have more difficulty regulating your emotions as an adult.
If I have described anything close to your situation (or someone you know), I imagine you are seeking to get past this kind of emotional reactivity. You may appreciate that our past creates scars and conditions that make us react with harsh, intense, or overwhelming emotions. And no one wants to react in such a full-force way.
Our brain can learn to erase the fear-based emotions from trauma or PTSD
You can learn to change your reactions. There’s so much more today that we know about the brain and neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity is the capacity for our brain to make new connections and learn a new response to old emotions of fear and pain. There are many types of methods out there that help you overcome trauma as a child; from building new experiences, getting ongoing support, meditation, journaling, neurofeedback, EMDR, and others. I’m very familiar with all of these methods. The one that I have learned to use and seen as giving the best success is called Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART).
I specialize in trauma-focused therapy here in Portland, Oregon. Currently I am offering this therapy via telehealth and I continue to experience remarkable results. I invite you to contact me to learn how my treatment approach, that frequently includes Accelerated Resolution Therapy, can help you heal. Or, please feel free to contact me for your first appointment. Together we can change your life.