The Center for Disease Control, in conjunction with Kaiser Permanente Hospital conducted a decade-long study regarding the impact of adverse childhood experiences on the physical and emotional well-being of adults. Adverse childhood experiences were defined as incidences occurring in childhood that were the result of parental neglect, abuse, or domestic conflict. The study concluded that more than 60% of Americans have been affected by troubled childhood experiences.
These are startling findings, but are not surprising. As an author, I have chronicled case studies that underscore the magnitude of this social problem. Children are often trapped in family systems that foster survival-mode means of coping within a stress-filled environment.
Childhood coping strategies are often littered with interpretations and assumptions that did not lead to a healthy, productive adulthood experience. In fact, adults typically replicate ways of behaving that served them well during childhood, but unfortunately trigger problems in their current relationships.
Cognitive therapy is a beneficial treatment modality for addressing adverse childhood assumptions that get activated in adulthood. By collaboratively working with individuals to ferret out faulty interpretations, a connection can be established between past coping mannerisms and present behavior. Adults from troubled childhoods often embrace ways of thinking and behaving that fuel a pattern of emotional avoidance and detachment.
Adults may cling to childhood coping assumptions such as:
- “I must avoid conflict at all costs.”
- “I must appear to be strong at all times.”
- “If I get too close to people, they will hurt and disappoint me.”
- “If my parents are not involved in my life, I must have done something seriously wrong.”
Cognitive therapy can help individuals understand the utility of their assumptions during childhood, but demonstrate the folly of specific interpretations as guiding principles within adulthood. Faulty childhood assumptions need to be modified so that adults can move forward in developing more need-satisfying, intimate behavior. For example, the notion that "one must avoid conflict at all costs," can Be altered so that individuals understand that there are times when conflict is a necessary, healthy part of resolving relationship problems.
Learning to overcome the obstacles of ACE’S involves learning new ways of thinking and behaving by rationally responding to faulty thoughts, beliefs and behavior. Adults can learn that their past was never their fault, but if can take control and responsibility for changing their current thinking and behavior in search of a triumphant life.