What are the 10 ACEs of Trauma?

ACEs is an acronym that stands for “adverse childhood experiences”.

10 ACEs of trauma

Well, you know that you experienced some pretty difficult events during your childhood. However, you may have thought that as an adult you had moved past them. But deep down inside you know this isn’t true. That’s because early life stresses change you on the inside.

For instance, perhaps you can’t bear to think about the times when you suffered and no one helped. Maybe you told them, but your parents didn’t listen. Or, maybe you saw one of your parents handcuffed and arrested. These potentially traumatic experiences are referred to as ACEs, or adverse childhood experiences.

The term ACE was coined as part of a massive  (17,000 participants) study which was conducted by the Center for Disease Control and Kaiser Permanente.  One of the largest ever conducted in the area of child abuse and neglect, the study ran from 1995-1997.

Researchers found that there are 10 ACEs of trauma that impact the vast majority of sufferers. People who have experienced more than one of these issues may struggle with what’s called developmental trauma, or sometime complex trauma. They are also at higher risk for increased rates of both mental and physical illness.

Still, there is hope. Let’s consider the effects of adverse childhood experiences, and what you can do about them.

The 10 ACEs of Trauma

The 10 ACEs of trauma are forms of physical/emotional abuse, neglect and household dysfunction. They generally include the following:

  • Physical abuse
  • Sexual abuse
  • Emotional abuse
  • Physical neglect
  • Emotional neglect
  • Mental illness in a family member
  • Divorce
  • Substance abuse in the environment
  • Violence against your mother
  • Having a relative who has been sent to jail or prison

If you are struggling with complex trauma, then most likely you had several of these types of experiences happen in a layered or simultaneous manner. The ACEs create levels of toxic stress which shape your perspective on yourself and the safety of relationships. And they increase the risk of physical, emotional and social problems later in life.

Let’s explore further below:

Effects of Adverse Childhood Experiences

People who lived through the 10 ACES of trauma will often struggle as adults. For instance, ACEs increase the odds of

  • alcohol and drug abuse which also
  • increase the risk of smoking
  • depression
  • leading a more sedentary lifestyle which leads to obesity
  • employment difficulties
  • health issues such as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, g.i. problems, sleep disturbances and stroke.
  • being at higher risk of contracting an STD/STI.
  • attempting suicide.

Why do the ACEs cause these problems? The reason lies not with the present, but with the unresolved stress, anxiety, and beliefs that you still carry from your past.

Unresolved Trauma and Your ACEs

The reason why the ACEs create so much havoc in our lives is due to unresolved trauma. Trauma changes who you are on the inside. And it shapes and sculpts the functioning of your nervous system. So, when you live through these difficult experiences, they stick with you. They haunt you and make it difficult to ignore or push them away without causing mental, emotional and phsiological damage. You do this because, even though you are an adult, deep down inside you still carry the child who was scared and scarred.

When you have unresolved trauma your nervous system operates as if you are still in danger. But this in effect is a kind of unresolved body memory. Your body doesn’t want to let it’s guard down. This is how it tries to protect you. When I talk with clients, I often describe this as like having an alarm system in your home that is oversensitive. When that’s the case, the siren can blare, even if it’s only the cat walking on the deck, or a leaf hitting a window.

This hypervigilance and reactivity becomes so familiar that it  can continue in the background,  completely unnoticed. Then, when you see or hear something that reminds you of that time, those memories come back in the form of flashbacks, emotional flooding or anxiety.

Coping Any Way You Can With Trauma

Unresolved trauma is often reason why you “numb” yourself with alcohol,drugs or other addictions. It’s why you feel as if your life is out of control. Or, that you can never seem to “get your act together.” But keep in mind that this isn’t your fault. You a0r1e not to blame for being exposed to adverse childhood experiences. After all, you were a child. But the result is that the impact of those experiences still lingers after all of these years.

Adverse Childhood Experiences, What Can Be Done

It might be tempting to believe that your situation is hopeless. But it doesn’t have to be. Therapy offers a real opportunity for sorting out your complex trauma and resolving the issues stemming from these 10 ACEs of trauma. This can be sometimes be done through traditional talk therapy but usually it requires working with a therapist who provides trauma treatment or trauma informed care. More advanced treatment methods are available, such as EMDR therapy and neurofeedback therapy. With these tools and the caring support of your trauma therapist, you can overcome and resolve your trauma.

The 10 ACEs of trauma inform us as to which particular childhood experiences can be so damaging, even causing complex trauma. However, the effects of adverse childhood experiences don’t have to continue haunting you. Contact me today to learn more about therapy for trauma and PTSD.