In the late ‘90s, the HMO Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control teamed up for a huge study called the Adverse Childhood Experiences study (ACEs)* to explore how childhood trauma impacts people’s health as adults. The survey asks which of 10 traumas the person experienced before age 18:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Physical neglect
- Emotional neglect
- Mental illness in the household
- Mother treated violently
- Divorce or separation
- Relative incarcerated
- Substance abuse
Childhood trauma is common
The 17,000+ people studied all had health insurance. About 75% were college-educated. Yet the researches were shocked to find that about half had experienced at least one ACE, 40% had experienced two, and one in eight had experienced four or more.
Next the researchers checked the scores against various health problems. They found that the more ACEs, the more likely the adult is to suffer from addiction, obesity, diabetes, depression, heart disease, cancer, stroke, COPD, or broken bones. A person with 7 or 8 ACEs, for example, is three times as likely to experience heart disease as a person with none. On average, people with 6 ACEs die 20 years younger than people with none.
So, if I have several ACEs, am I doomed? Far from it. Even people who “ace” the test with a perfect 10 have overcome their adversity to enjoy healthy marriages, successful careers, and joyful lives. But, contrary to the proverb, time alone does not heal all wounds.
Path to healing
Psalm 147:3 says, “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds” (NIV). How can we cooperate with God in this healing process?
- Name my wounds. Sometimes we bury our wounds, either because facing them is too painful or we want to “protect” those who hurt us.
- Tell my story. Telling my story in a safe small group or to a pastor or trusted friend is essential to healing.
- Talk with a counselor. Enlisting the help of a counselor is not a sign of weakness but of strength.
- Follow God with my whole heart. As I confess my sins, my fears, my bitterness, and resolve to follow God wholeheartedly, God can set me free.
Better than healing
Here’s the best part. God doesn’t “make our wounds go away.” He does something even better: he transforms them. He “comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God” (2 Cor. 1:4 NIV).
When my first marriage ended in divorce, I feared it might end my ministry. But when a friend observed, “Eddy preaches out of his pain and it helps us grow,” I understood. My wounds, now transformed, are no longer a liability, but have become a blessing both to me and to those around me.
- Do you need to seek more healing for childhood wounds?
- Does knowing about ACEs help you better understand challenges others face?
* The ACE test is free and can be found easily online.