A few months’ back, I wrote about the study done more than half a century ago, showing a direct correlation between serious illnesses and problematic relationships with parents.
Bernie Siegel’s book, particularly Love, Medicine and Miracles are also chock-full of scientific studies pointing up the connections between difficult, abusive childhood experiences and physical illness.
Then there’s Bessel Van Der Kolk’s excellent book, The Body Keeps the Score, which explores the issue from a different angle, namely how healing the body’s trauma is the key to healing their mental health and emotional issues, too. And again, his book is packed with literally hundreds of studies all showing that when people experience chronic trauma as children, normally as a result of abusive behavior by their main caregivers, it literally drives them insane, and causes them no-end of mental and physical health issues.
My latest ‘find’, if you can call it that, is something called the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) study, that took place around 20 years’ ago.
At that time, between 1995 and 1997, researchers from the Kaiser Permanente Medical Care Program and the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention in the US assessed the health of some 17,000 patients who underwent a complete check-up.
The researchers were trying to find out how experiencing the following things as a child:
- Emotional or physical neglect
- Recurrent physical abuse
- Recurrent emotional abuse
- Contact sexual abuse
They also explored whether ‘chaotic home environments’ – like having a parent with chronic depression or some other serious mental illness, drug abusing parents or divorced or bereaved parents, for example – could also impact the adult child’s physical health.
The people being assessed were solid ‘middle America’ types, not homeless folk, or people who lived in inner city projects. And the results were still stunning:
Two thirds of the people studied had experienced at least one category of ‘childhood adversity’ before turning 18; and one in six of the respondents had an ACE score of 4 or higher.
So, was there a connection between childhood adversity and the degree of illness experienced by the adult? When the study’s results were published in 1998, the correlation was so powerful that the researchers admitted to being ‘stunned’ by their findings.
In a nutshell, the higher the ACE score a person had, the more chronic and serious illness they were experiencing as an adult.
That study was published 18 years’ ago, already. In the two decades since, we’ve witnessed conventional medicine march proudly further down the path of ‘biology’ being the only answer to health, and drugs and surgery being the only solution to our physical illnesses.
Yet, study after study has been done showing that our EXPERIENCES as children have a much greater impact on our mental and physical health than our genes or biology.
One big reason why physical and mental illnesses appear to be genetic is because the same, dysfunctional, ill-making parenting behaviors are passed on to each new generation in turn, like some sort of twisted, sacred tradition. Whatever was done to you, you do to your children in turn – until you get the courage, insight and clarity to stop. And to think. And to try to change the pattern.
In the past week, I’ve had emails from a range of people suffering from serious illnesses. Most of them are keen to tell me that their childhoods were ‘great’, their parents are the most amazing people, and their terrible health issues are nothing to do with their ‘perfect’ family relationships.
But the science begs to differ. The science suggests that terrible, chronic illnesses, serious mental health problems and auto-immune conditions don’t just pop-up out of nowhere. Underneath the problem, you will always find some sort of terrible, traumatic experiences.
They could be horrible ‘one offs’ like being in a bad accident or experiencing a war on your doorstop. But more likely in our circles, it’s the more pernicious after-effects of having to live with people who don’t treat you like a human being, who treat you cruelly, and who continually put what’s best for them ahead of what’s best for you, regardless of how big a toll that takes.
It’s precisely when we can’t acknowledge or connect to our own pain that we get so terribly ill.
But who wants to look at this? Who wants to admit what’s really going on in our homes and families? It takes a brave person indeed to take the double-leap of breaking with the poisonous ‘norms’ of the past, and also to recognize that at least some of the time, they are also acting in that poisonous, abusive, ‘normal’ way with their own children.
The stakes are so high, aren’t they? Acknowledge the truth, and you’ll probably put yourself at odds with most of your family and friends (and feel very alone and lonely). Don’t acknowledge the truth, and you and your kids run a very high risk of being the next ones to come down with the serious illness, auto-immune condition, or emotional health problem.
I’ll come back to this subject more in subsequent posts, as there’s so much to say about it.
But for now, you can click on THIS LINK to take the ACE test on-line, and find your own ACE score.
Illness is not random, statistical or thanks to bad biology. Serious illness is a message from God that something – usually a whole bunch of big ‘somethings’ – need to change. That’s a hugely uncomfortable idea for most people, which is probably why this particular truth – and all the scientific studies out there backing it up – will continue to get buried and ignored, until more of us find the courage to stop pretending ‘everything’s OK’, and to admit what our bodies have been screaming at us for decades:
OUR FAMILY DYNAMICS ARE SERIOUSLY BROKEN, AND THEY NEED TO BE FIXED.