Adverse Childhood Experiences and Adult Disease.

This paper by Vincent Felitti describes the effect of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) on adult disease. The ACE study is a long-term in-depth analysis of over 17,000 adult Americans looking at their current health status and the relationship to adverse childhood experiences. 

There is a long list of publications which have detailed various associations between ACE and adult conditions like alcoholism, depression, headaches, liver disease, autoimmune disease, obesity, lung cancer and COPD. Felitti states that ‘much of what is recognised as common in adult medicine is the result of what is not recognised in childhood.’ Furthermore, the ACE study shows a powerful relationship between emotional experiences in childhood and mental and physical wellbeing as adults. It documents the conversion of traumatic emotional childhood experiences into organic disease in adult life.

This study and the multiple papers and outcomes produced from it give weight to the understanding that our biography becomes our biology. In other words, life experiences can and do influence health and wellbeing much more than we have previously realised. It also affirms that the emotions and emotional experiences have a significant role to play in the manifestation of illness and disease and this can occur over a long period of time. Childhood events that might be seemingly forgotten or dealt with are often still internal festering wounds wreaking havoc on the mental and physical welbeing of an individual over time.

Whilst the internal mechanisms have yet to be fully elucidated, the fields of psychoneuroimmunology(PNI)  and psychosomatic medicine and epigenetics are beginning to do just that. PNI shows how emotions/thoughts can affect the immune system, leading to inflammation and inflammation is a key process in the aetiology of many diseases, with a list that seems to be ever-increasing. In addition to the obvious inflammatory conditions like arthritis, colitis, cystitis, or any -itis, inflammation is also indicated in the aetiology of depression, cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Epigenetics is a field that looks at how the expression of genes can be affected by internal and external environmental factors and some preliminary work in prostate cancer by Dean Ornish has shown favourable epigenetic changes by altering diet and lifestyle. 

Esoterically and energetically, the emotions are known to be harming to one’s physical and mental wellbeing and these studies are providing the research evidence that supports this understanding. Medicine often looks at the external symptoms and disease and works backward to find out how it arose. The esoteric comes from a different perspective of knowing what the true nature of the body is energetically, (love) and then identifying what is not that that has resulted in the physical disease. The body lives all our experiences, it is with us in every moment of every day, eveything we do with and to the body affects the body energetically – there is no escape from that. When we are aggressive, rough, hard, angry, full of rage etc all of that is detrimental to the body and if persistent over time will lead to illness and disease or other forms of suffering. However, there is also a way to live that engenders true wellbeing and vitality, being self-caring and gentle with oneself and all others. The more we take true care of the body in every activity, from eating, sleeping, working, exercise etc then that will pay rewards in our physical health and wellbeing. 

So what is it that prevents us from taking care of ourselves? The ACE study looked at quite gross examples of abuse and neglect in their different categories. It looked at 8 categories of childhood abuse and household dysfunction. The abuse categories were recurrent physical and  recurrent emotional abuse and sexual abuse. The categories of household dysfunction were growing up in a household where someone was in prison; where the mother was treated violently; in presence of alcoholic or drug user; where someone was chronically depressed, mentally ill or suicidal and where one parent was lost to the child regardless of cause. The higher the number of ACE events the greater the impact on adult disease in later life. 

However, from an esoteric perspective, it is not just gross examples of abuse and neglect that are detrimental. When one realises and knows the stupendous love that we come from and which we are, it becomes obvious how much more seemingly minor events can still have significant detrimental consequences on one’s longterm physical health and wellbeing. It is part and parcel of the universal human condition that we do not get met and seen for the love that we are, that we all experience to one degree or another events that are not loving even if they are not what many would consider abusive. But perhaps we need to re-look at what we consider abusive? We are used to reserving that word for extremes of behaviour, that no-one would dispute are abusive. However, from an energetic perspective, anything that is not loving is harming energetically whether we realise it or not and perhaps we need to lower the bar on what is considered abusive so that we can call it out and say no, that behaviour is not acceptable. Ultimately it is a lack of love for oneself that prevents one from taking true care of oneself. As a consequence of ACE we develop misbeliefs about ourselves that we are not good enough, not worthy, not lovable etc etc and these feed a multitude of behaviours that can range from poisioning oneself with alcohol to striving to be the top in the field so as not to feel the inner emptiness, worthlessness and discontent. 

I use to be dismissive of people who undertook self-development work, with the arrogant attitude of ‘just get on with it and there’s no need for all that naval gazing.’ I would have dismissed out of hand the effect of emotions and childhood experiences on adult disease later in life – attributing it to the virus, the gene, the toxin or some external factor. And I would have guffawed loudly at the idea that illness and disease is in some way related to a lack of love for oneself – as I can imagine many in the medical profession would also do. However, life has taught me otherwise and humbled my arrogance. I have no doubt my own self-destructive behaviours arose out of the lack of love for myself following ACE, yet I don’t tick many of the boxes. Another way of expressing that is that they arose out of the deep self-loathing and disregard for myself following ACE. It is great to have the ACE study and the results it brings demonstrating the links between adverse emotional childhood experiences and adult disease in later life. However, for me there is much more to be uncovered in this field. As alluded to this does not just apply to gross examples of abuse, but to all kinds of what might be called every-day events that are not loving, that affect the being detrimentally. 

However, I have since come to know that despite any ACE, healing is possible by re-connecting to the love that lives within, where it is known that no trauma or abuse of any kind can impact, destroy or affect that love. By living from that love, I have become self-caring instead of self-destructive, self-loving instead of self-abusive. It continues to be a daily work in progress as I continue to deepen for myself what it really means to be self-caring. Of course in order to truly care for another, one must be able to care for oneself if any true care is to be provided. So the more I deepen the care for myself, the more I am able to care for others.

The re-introduction of love (which is not the same as emotional love) back into medicine has predictably a long road ahead of it. However, given the current health dilemmas around the world, with the rise in obesity, diabetes, mental ill health to name a few, despite all that modern medicine and science has to offer, must surely get people thinking – what is missing?? What is missing from our understanding of the human person with respect to illness and  disease, that were it not missing, everything would be seen and understood differently? That missing ingredient is Love – as the saying goes, ‘don’t knock it ’til you’ve tried it.’ Or perhaps to all those who would knock it, according to Einstein, “condemnation without investigation is the height of ignorance”. 

Feel free to share your experiences or how childhood events have impacted your wellbeing as an adult or anything else you feel to share. 

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  • Reply
    10th February 2013 at 10:10 pm

    This is beautiful. Thank you for sharing.

  • Reply
    10th February 2013 at 11:19 pm

    I can relate to what you have just described Eunice. I have an auto-immune disease and I really only have unhappy memories of my child hood. I have had ITP for 13 years now and have since also developed rheumatoid arthritis. During my quest over the years to manage my illness and in the hope of a cure one day I have tried many things, during the process I came to realize that it was emotionally issues that I had experienced during my child hood that played a big part in developing ITP at the age of 39. I have now found a way that can help me and feel a lot better about myself thanks to esoteric medicine.

  • Reply
    Beverley Brown
    11th February 2013 at 7:24 am

    It is refreshing to read that medicine is opening to the possibility of love playing a part in our well-being and that our past experiences can lay the foundations for our future. It is amazing how we carry what happens as a child and react as an adult in some situations but from the standpoint of the child and not the adult. This is very revealing. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  • Reply
    Michelle McWaters
    26th October 2014 at 5:57 pm

    I was never abused in the sense that we consider it to be but I grew up in a household where my parents were unhappy and where there was constant tension. In my primary school years, in the 1970s, where the ethos was very old school and strict, I was left in fear of being told off and not feeling very confident or worthy. I had buried many emotional issues, shrugging them off as not being important but all of this left me living in nervous tension, and hiding my lack of confidence through a false veneer of hardness and efficiency. I used to suffer from a lot of neck and shoulder pain with very tense muscles that I just thought was normal. I am pleased to say that after having built a more loving foundation for myself and after having dealt with the many buried emotional issues I had I have never felt more comfortable in my own skin or have the pain that I used to live with daily. I now have so much more easy, natural confidence and can pretty much handle any situation I find myself in. As you say Eunice the missing ingredient was love, and in starting to give this to myself I have turned my life around. I now live with much more vitality and true health.

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