How bad experiences in childhood lead to adult illlness

Yet another article with the science showing what survivors of child abuse have always known. Abuse in childhood leads to significant physical, emotional and mental difficulties in adulthood. The good news is that more and more people are recognising this and that we can’t simply “get over it”.  Abuse changes the way a child reacts to stress and constant exposure leads to changes in the child’s DNA resulting in the ‘fight or flight’ system being always turned on. The ongoing, chronic stress unfortunately leads to inflammatory and immune responses that damage health as adults.

Joan Kaufman, director of the Child and Adolescent Research and Education (CARE) programme at the Yale School of Medicine, recently analysed DNA in the saliva of happy, healthy children, and of children who had been taken from abusive or neglectful parents. The children who’d experienced chronic childhood stress showed epigenetic changes in almost 3,000 sites on their DNA, and on all 23 chromosomes – altering how appropriately they would be able to respond to and rebound from future stressors.

Likewise, Seth Pollak, professor of psychology and director of the Child Emotion Research Laboratory at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, uncovered startling genetic changes in children with a history of adversity and trauma. Pollak identified damage to a gene responsible for calming the stress response. This particular gene wasn’t working properly; the kids’ bodies weren’t able to reign in their heightened stress response. ‘A crucial set of brakes are off,’ says Pollak.

It is great that science is catching up. They are also recognising that there are many ways to heal which can help survivor’s bodies relax and not be in ‘fight or flight’ all the time.

Science tells us that biology does not have to be destiny. ACEs can last a lifetime, but they don’t have to. Just as physical wounds and bruises heal, just as we can regain our muscle tone, we can recover function in underconnected areas of the brain. If anything, that’s the most important take-away from ACE research: the brain and body are never static; they are always in the process of becoming and changing.

Even if we have been set on high-reactive mode for decades or a lifetime, we can still dial it down. We can respond to life’s inevitable stressors more appropriately and shift away from an overactive inflammatory response. We can become neurobiologically resilient. We can turn bad epigenetics into good epigenetics and rescue ourselves. We have the capacity, within ourselves, to create better health. We might call this brave undertaking ‘the neurobiology of awakening’.

Today, scientists recognise a range of promising approaches to help create new neurons (known as neurogenesis), make new synaptic connections between those neurons (known as synaptogenesis), promote new patterns of thoughts and reactions, bring underconnected areas of the brain back online – and reset our stress response so that we decrease the inflammation that makes us ill.

In the article they specifically mention ‘Meditation, mindfulness, neurofeedback, cognitive therapy, EMDR (eye movement desensitisation and reprocessing) therapy’ as some of the tools that can help survivor’s to calm their bodies and reprogram their minds.

I have found a wide range of techniques helpful including:

  • Energy and body work, such as crystal bed sessions or reiki, to help the body unlock and relax;
  • Psych-K or Lifeline Technique to release trauma and reprogram the subconscious mind so you can change negative beliefs about life and the world into positive ones e.g. so you are not always expecting the worst and you can start to feel safe, so you believe that you do deserve good things and that people can treat you well;
  • Mindfulness and meditation techniques to still the mind and create space to witness what is occurring instead of reacting automatically;
  • Skill development including thought stopping, boundary setting, inner child, and self love skills, so that you no longer allow yourself to be abused by others or by yourself;
  • Family Constellations to heal the trauma in the family system and reconnect with love, thereby allowing greater lifeforce and harmony within.

There is lots that can be done. While adverse childhood trauma does have a massive impact on your life, it can be healed.

Article - bad experiences in childhood lead to adult illness

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