As we navigate the seas of life we will inevitably encounter rough seas. As an African proverb says: ‘Smooth seas do not make skilful sailors.’ It’s how we deal with the changing swirls and waves on our journey that determines how we reach each milestone towards our final destination.Though, how you start your journey can impact how you deal with the challenges that you will face later along the journey.
Life in the womb and throughout childhood has been shown to have a major influence on physical and mental health later in life. This has also been observed in a large-scale study by Vincent Felitti and Robert Anda at the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention along with other researchers, which probed the child and adolescent histories of 17,000 participants, comparing their childhood experiences to their later adult health records.
Nearly two-thirds of the subjects had encountered one or more what Felitti and Anda coined as adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These included growing up with a depressed or alcoholic parent; losing a parent to divorce or other causes; or enduring chronic humiliation, emotional neglect, or sexual or physical abuse.
What the results showed were:
- Individuals who had faced four or more categories of ACEs were twice as likely to be diagnosed with cancer as individuals who hadn’t experienced childhood adversity.
- For each ACE score a woman had, her risk of being hospitalised with an autoimmune disease rose by 20%.
- Someone with an ACE score of 4 was 460% more likely to suffer from depression than someone with an ACE Score of 0.
- An ACE score greater than or equal to 6, shortened an individual’s lifespan by almost 20 years.
It’s important to remember that the brain is constructed and continues to form during a process that begins before birth and continues into adulthood. So going through traumatic experiences while in the womb and/or during infancy and childhood can affect the quality of the brain by establishing either a strong or a fragile foundation for all of the learning, habits, and behaviours that will follow.
This means that those people can be more likely to overreact to the everyday stressors they meet in adult life, such as an unexpected bill, losing a job, an argument with a partner, or someone pulling out in front of them in traffic.
Statistics show that 60% of adults report experiencing abuse or other difficult family circumstances during childhood. Though here’s the beauty of life: Even if you started life under this kind of circumstance, you can change it.
With breakthroughs in neuroplasticity, there is now plenty of evidence to show that damaged brain circuitry as a result of early life trauma can be corrected. Not only is the brain capable of creating new pathways, it is designed to do so. The brain is highly resilient and desires flexibility.
But remember to make this kind of change in the brain whereby new neural pathways can be created requires awareness, mindfulness and acknowledgement of the present. Yet, with a good amount of patience and persistence, these new pathways will eclipse the old ones.
With interventions such as Eye Movement Desensitisation and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, Thought Field Therapy (TFT), and Trauma Release Exercises (TRE) you, can over time, let go of your past in order to create a better future.
Lastly, in order to heal from psychological and emotional trauma, you will have to effectively manage the unpleasant feelings and memories you have long avoided, discharge pent-up ‘fight-or-flight’ energy, learn to regulate strong emotions, and rebuild your ability to trust other people.
Dean Griffiths is the Founder and CEO of Energy Fusion, the first interactive online platform to subjectively assess employee physical and mental health for medium-sized companies and individuals.
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