When dealt ACEs

I, not a very skillful card player, minimally know that usually in card games an ACE, or even a pair of ACES is positive and significant to have in your playing hand. However, to be dealt with environmental ACEs while still significant, it is not usually positive.  

Adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) , if experienced prior to the age of 18 can put an individual at risk for enduring different life experiences influenced by stunted maturity of brain development, and even the changing of one’s DNA (“Preventing Adverse,” 2019). This biological change not only impacts how a child responds to stress, it can also impact how this child manages their stress throughout their adulthood. Experiencing ACEs can make an individual more vulnerable to struggling with substance misuse and dependence, incarceration, domestic violence, chronic mental and physical illness, premature death, and generational trauma. Research has began to shift incorporating positive protective factors one may experience that reduces the influence that ACEs can have on a child indicated by PACEs

The CDC has identified different adverse childhood experiences broken down into three categories of abuse, neglect and household dysfunction (“Centers for,” 2021).

  1. Abuse: physical, emotional, and sexual (“Social Care,” 2015),(“Types of ,” n.d.).

2. Neglect: physical and emotional

3.Household dysfunction: incarceration/criminal behavior of household/family members, substance use, mental illness,  domestic violence, and divorce. 

DISCUSSION/REFLECTION POINT: I encourage you at this point to reflect upon your developmental experiences.

  • Did you experience some of these hardships? 
  • If so, how have your experiences influenced your coping mechanisms in the past? 
  • How have these experiences impacted you today? 
  • What protective factors, if any, were in place that assisted you to get through some of these hardships? 

There are some of you reading who might say “I’ve experienced some ACEs growing up yet I don’t have these chronic difficulties you are speaking of.” There are a few reasons for your response: A) Every individual copes differently. B) You might not be aware of how your developmental experiences may have impacted you. There are some consequences such as substance dependence, and criminal behavior might be more easily identified. However, there are some more difficult consequences to identify such as conflict within your household or with those closest to you, a low sense of self-esteem, high levels of self-criticism, a lack of motivation, and more. C) There may have been protective factors in your life which assisted in creating a barrier between you and the impact that these potentially traumatic experiences may have had on you (“CDC: Center,” 2021). If you would like to gain more insight on your experiences, or if you are not sure if you have been impacted by ACEs growing up, see the provided link (https://acestoohigh.com/got-your-ace-score/). Taking this quiz can give you further understanding in your developmental experiences.

Studies have shown that there are protective factors that individuals may experience in their developmental environments that minimizes both the immediate and long term effects that ACEs may have on a child (“CDC: Center,” 2021). Some of these individual protective factors have been identified as: doing well in school, having positive friendships, families that are able to meet a child’s basic needs of food, shelter, and health care. There are also community factors that can serve as protective factors for those being influenced by ACEs in their life at home. Some of these protective factors are stable and safe housing, a lack of violence, and access to resources for financial and health care services. 

Studies assist readers in being able to identify what impacts and influences a identified general population at large, yet at times this can invalidate our personal experiences. I know for me, I believe that certain protective factors in my upbringing such as having family pets, having a twin sister were two strong protective factors in my life, yet these factors were not address as protective factors through the CDC. Other areas that assisted me were having interests as well as resources to assist me in finding these interests. One of my favorite memories is having a passion for science, specifically astrology and oceanography. I was able to dream about being an astronomer one day. As a child while I experienced some ACEs, I was provided the ability to focus on school, friends, sports and other interests. There are others who have not been as fortunate and have had to focus on what they were going to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, or where they were going to sleep that night. 

All of this to say is, it is likely that at some point in each of our childhood developments we may have experienced some type of chronic or short term hardship that we are likely carrying along with us through adulthood. I encourage each of you to identify what your protective factors were when growing up and re-engage in them in some sort. If you can not identify that you had any protective factors, that is okay, you might have not had any. For that I am sorry as this is not deserved by any person. Fortunately, if reading this you have some type of access to the internet and are able to create protective factors for yourself today. One way of doing this is gaining insight on how experienced ACEs impacted you. Do further research through the internet and reflect on what you find and how it is similar or different to your experiences, you can also take the quiz provided via a link above. Developing protective factors can also be done by getting involved in therapy. Therapy or not, we can engage in stress reduction techniques such as exercising, meditating, eating healthy and having healthy relationships (Vien, 2019). For me, managing how my childhood experiences with ACEs impact me as an adult, I continue to create a safe and stable home for myself, having a job that provides me with health care allowing me to have access to therapy, and other doctors appointments. It means watching shark week, having a pet of my own and gazing at the stars on clear nights. Protective factors while they can be helpful when growing up with ACEs, we do not have the ability to time travel with this information that we have and add protective factors into our past. However, we can more definitely incorporate them in our lives as adults, today.

Knowing how our upbringing has impacted us, can be healing for us as we rely on our resilience in adjusting to life post COVID-19. Furthermore, if you are a parent of your own, reflect upon your parental styles and how different environmental factors whether in your control or not can impact your children, and introduce protective factors where you can. This can be a substantial favor and profound influence for them as they grow into adulthood. 

 I decided upon this topic to discuss because more recently I find myself discussing this not only with my clients, but in conversations within my social group, and it has been a recurring topic of interest for me. So I hope that you too find this a topic of interest. However, if you do not. Please interact with me in the comment section and request different topics you would like me to address.


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Adverse Childhood Experiences Prevention Strategy. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021.

CDC: Center for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 5). Risk and Protective Factors |Violence Prevention|Injury Center|CDC. https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/riskprotectivefactors.html

Family Hui (Ed.). (2019, December 5). Adverse Childhood Experiences. https://www.pacesconnection.com/g/resource-center/blog/parent-handouts.

Preventing Adverse Childhood Experiences. (2019, November). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/aces/index.html

Social Care Institute for Excellence. (2015, January). Safeguarding adults: types and indicators of abuse. Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE). https://www.scie.org.uk/safeguarding/adults/introduction/types-and-indicators-of-abus

Types of Sexual Violence | RAINN. (n.d.).RAINN. Retrieved July 13, 2021, from https://www.rainn.org/types-sexual-violence

Vien, M. (2019, December 5). 3 Realms of ACEs Handout. PACEs Connection Resources Center. https://www.pacesconnection.com/g/resource-center/blog/3-realms-of-aces-handout

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