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Working with adverse childhood experiences (ACEs)

They say our school days are our best days. A time where we can be carefree, without the burden of work, bills and the stresses of daily life. But I am sure, no matter how enjoyable your childhood was, that each of us has memories of things we would rather forget. Whether that was being bullied at school, falling out with our best friend, or being dumped by the ‘love of our life.’ 

The truth is, as children, our worlds are very small. Many of the decisions are made for us by our parents, teachers or other adults in our lives. We are restricted by where we go, who we can see and when we can see them. Our life experiences are limited to less than two decades. And so, whatever happened to us at that time, felt so big. For many of us, through the benefit of hindsight, we can now put those things into perspective as something that was actually not such a big deal after all. 

But adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs as they are often referred to, are not about the bad memories we have of falling out with our friends. They are, instead, a specific list of potential events that have been identified to have an ongoing and lasting impact on a person’s future life and choices. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention state, “adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) have a tremendous impact on future violence victimisation and perpetration, and lifelong health and opportunity.” 

What is an adverse childhood experience? 

Well, it is a potentially traumatic event that occurs before the age of 18. Historically, there have been 10 ACEs identified which are split into three different categories:

Abuse

  • physical
  • emotional 
  • sexual

Neglect

  • physical
  • emotional

Household dysfunction

  • mental illness
  • domestic violence
  • divorce
  • incarcerated relative
  • substance abuse

A questionnaire (available on Stop Abuse Campaign) can be completed that will give you a score out of 10 on how many of the recognised ACEs you have been exposed to. 

Today, researchers are looking at some additional factors which have been identified to have the same biological changes as the original 10. These include racism, bullying and community violence. 

Having an ACE score of one or more puts the person at a higher risk of experiencing negative outcomes later in life. ACEs have been associated with the following:

  • Injury: Traumatic brain injury, fractures and burns.
  • Mental health: Depression, anxiety, suicide and PTSD.
  • Maternal health: Unintended pregnancy, pregnancy complications and foetal death.
  • Infectious disease: HIV and STDs.
  • Chronic disease: Cancer and diabetes.
  • Risky behaviours: Alcohol and drug abuse and unsafe sex.
  • Opportunities: Poor education, occupation and income.

Not everyone who has been exposed to one or more ACE factors will experience these outcomes later in life. There are a number of risk factors that can increase your chances, such as, if your family was on a low income or if there were high unemployment rates in your community growing up. But there are also protective factors that would have helped build your emotional resilience and make you less likely to be impacted by one of these negative outcomes later in life. Things like, if you do well at school or if your family engages in fun activities together. 


Each and every day we make choices that influence the direction our lives take. But what this does highlight, is a significantly increased risk of someone experiencing one or more of these long-lasting, negative outcomes. 

I’m sure that anybody reading this who can relate to any of the ACEs discussed may be feeling disheartened by this article. While it offers some information about why a person may be predisposed to certain outcomes in life, I’m sure that offers no consolation to the person who is living it. 

The good news is that your past does not need to determine your future. We can, at any point, change the direction our life is going in. Of course, that’s easier said than done. We don’t want to underestimate how hard it is to change, but you don’t need to do it on your own. There are lots of therapeutic interventions that can help you. And hypnotherapy can have a powerful impact. 

Hypnotherapy for adverse childhood experiences

In its simplest form, hypnotherapy can be used to help you visualise your future self: working on what it is you want to achieve and what that looks like once you have achieved it. It can help you to find solutions to potential challenges that you may face and crank up the rewards your brain experiences when you reach a milestone. 

Another effective treatment option, which helps you to process past trauma, is to do inner child work. This is a recognised treatment option in other talking therapies but is particularly effective in hypnotherapy for its ability to regress you back to your past self while offering you a safe place you can retreat to if it all becomes too much. 

When something has hurt us, the thought of revisiting that time is probably not top of your to-do list. But unfortunately, it is a part of you and as much as we may try, we are not able to escape ourselves. And so, sometimes the best treatment is to go back and process what happened from an adult perspective. 

That is why it is so important that the hypnotherapist will work with you to create a safe place. This may be somewhere that you have been to before, or it could be completely made up. It is wherever your brain conjures up to take you away from any painful memories. 

The hypnotherapist will then monitor you during the session and if at any point they feel it’s getting too much, they will take you back to this place, reminding you that you are safe and no harm can come to you. 

Remember, you set the pace. 

During the session, you will face the inner child within you, AKA your past self. And it is about telling him or her, all the things that you want them to know. You may offer them a fresh perspective to explain what is happening, or maybe you want to tell them how their life has turned around; about all the things that you have achieved. 

Most importantly, it is about giving that child all the positive messages they need. That they are loved, that everything is going to be OK and that you will keep them safe.

Often, you will be given the choice of whether you leave them there in the past with the benefit of foresight to keep them going, or you can pick them up and take them with you. Although, that’s a choice that you don’t need to make right now. 

Inner child hypnotherapy offers you an opportunity to heal old wounds and move on from painful memories instead of trying to run and escape from them. It supports you in making a choice about your future that is no longer driven by your past. And it provides the child within you the love and nurture they had potentially been lacking.


For more information on inner child therapy and ACEs, read How inner child healing hypnosis can help with anxiety and trauma and Inner child healing – healing the past with hypnotherapy and NLP.

If you’re ready to connect with a hypnotherapist, we have over 1,000 therapists working online and across the UK. Simply browse profiles until you find a person you resonate with, and send them an email.

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Written by Melanie Peak

Melanie Peak is a trained hypnotherapist and freelance writer for Hypnotherapy Directory. She is also a mental health blogger at The Balanced Mind (www.thebalancedmind.co.uk).

Written by Melanie Peak

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