The English word ‘trauma’ is the Greek word for ‘wound.’ The Merriam Webster dictionary defines trauma (noun), as a deeply distressing or disturbing experience. Peter Levine describes trauma as a highly activated, incomplete biological response to threat, frozen in time. What we are learning is that traumatic experiences have profound impacts on how our body functions on a cellular level.
ACEs (Adverse Childhood Experiences)
A powerful example of the impact of trauma comes in the form of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). The original ACE study was done from 1995-1997 and screened over 17,000 people. This study identified ten adverse childhood events including: physical, emotional, sexual abuse, physical or emotional neglect, domestic violence in household, parent with a mental illness, divorce, incarcerated relative, and substance abuse in the household. They found that ACEs are extremely common – 67% of adults have at least one, and 13% have four or more. And, the higher your ACE score, the worse your health outcomes are.
Specifically, a person with four or more ACES, has a COPD risk that is 2.5x more than a person with zero ACEs. Their risk of hepatitis? 2.5x. Depression? 4.5x. Suicidality? 12x.
This knowledge is power – and it asks us to shift our medical systems and interventions to recognize that life experiences have profound impact on our physiology. We know, both physically, scientifically, and spiritually that our experiences matter and influence our patterns of behavior. Trauma patterns are observable; ACE screenings and other trauma informed care practices are access points. When we (medical professionals, family, friends, individuals) pay attention to the effects of trauma, a doorway opens and we are offered a choice – we can continue to move through the world with the conditioned results of our trauma, or we can move forward understanding that what happened has profound effects but that we have the power to change the story.