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Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES)

In the gamut of experiences we go through as children, it turns out that quite specific ones (mostly the ones that give us chronic, unpredictable stress) have measurable, detrimental effects on us as adults. This was proven in the seminal study done by Drs. Vincent Filletti and Robert Anda, called Relationship of Childhood Abuse and Household Dysfunction to Many of the Leading Causes of Death in Adults - also known as The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study. You can read the full study here.



ACES include things like:

In the family:

  • Being regularly verbally put down or humiliated
  • Emotional or physical neglect
  • Physical or sexual abuse
  • Having a depressed parent (or other mental illness)
  • A parent being chronically ill for a significant period
  • Having a parent who was addicted to alcohol or other substances
  • Witnessing mother/father/sibling being abused
  • Losing a parent to separation/divorce
  • Losing a parent to death
  • Disliked by a sibling/favoritism by parents
  • A forced, unwanted separation from family (e.g. boarding school)
  • A strained or cold relationship with either or both parents


  • Bullied by a classmate or teacher
  • Personal extended medical trauma
  • Violence in community
  • Growing up noticeably different from peers, e.g. poverty


  • other regular events/incidences in your childhood that caused you to feel anxiety, discomfort or fear on an ongoing basis

This is by no means a definitive list; new ACES are being added all the time, and each can have a different impact on different individuals – what severely affects one person may not be so detrimental to another. Surprisingly, being regularly verbally put down by a parent has a slightly higher correlation to adult disease than even sexual abuse – once again disproving the childhood adage of ‘sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me’.

Here are some frightening statistics that came out of the Felitti-Anda study: 18% of people with an ACE score of 1 had suffered from clinical depression. 30% of those with an ACE score of 3, and nearly 50% with an ACE score of 4 or more had suffered from chronic depression. Taking women alone, this rises to 24% of women with an ACE score of 1 and up to 60% of women with an ACE score of 4 or more.The loss of a parent in childhood triples the chances of depression in adulthood. Being raised by a mother with depression puts you at a higher risk of living with chronic pain as an adult.