ACEs: How Adverse Childhood Experiences Might Affect Your Divorce

We are all products, in one way or another, of our experiences. Sometimes those experiences shape our worlds to such an extent that we don't realize that they've affected us; it's just "the way things were." In the past few decades, researchers have been studying Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) and their impact on health in adulthood. This blog post will discuss how adverse childhood experiences might affect your divorce.

What Are Adverse Childhood Experiences?

Adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, were the subject of research conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Centers for Disease Control. Researchers looked at seven categories of ACEs, including physical abuse; sexual abuse; psychological abuse; violence against a mother or stepmother; living with a substance abuser; living with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal; and having a household member who went to prison. Loss of a parent through divorce or abandonment is also considered an adverse childhood experience, as is physical or emotional neglect.

The study results suggested that exposure to ACEs is linked to a higher risk of depressive disorders, even decades after the traumatic events occurred. In general, the more ACEs experienced, the higher the risk of health issues in adulthood.

If you're wondering about how your childhood experiences might affect your adult health (including mental health), you can check your ACEs score here.

What Does Your ACEs Score Mean?

It's easy to think about our past or that of people we know and try to "connect the dots" with their current problems. But it would be simplistic (and wrong) to say that because someone had a lot of adverse childhood experiences, they are doomed to an adulthood filled with depression, health issues, and failed relationships.

It's important to remember a few things: the studies on ACEs speak in terms of increased risk, not guaranteed outcomes. Chain smokers have a higher risk of lung cancer than nonsmokers, but that doesn't mean that they are guaranteed to get it or that nonsmokers will not. Consider this information in the same way.

Another thing to remember is that the research talks about adverse experiences, but doesn't consider mitigating factors. Maybe you had parents who were neglectful, but you had wonderfully supportive teachers. You might have witnessed violence at home, but had friends with parents who welcomed you into their stable homes and provided you with good role models. Your past is not your destiny. But, if you are willing to unpack it, understanding your past can help you avoid problems in the future.

How Adverse Childhood Experiences Might Affect Your Divorce

If you had a lot of adverse childhood experiences, or even a few significant ones, and you are currently faced with the prospect of divorce, you might wonder if your ACEs brought you to this point. If you are not at the point of divorce, but worry about that your past experiences put you at higher risk of divorce, you may wonder what you can do to keep your marriage, and yourself, healthy.

While your ACEs won't, in and of themselves, cause you to divorce, they can put you at higher risk of problems that might put a strain on your marriage, including depression and other mental health issues and substance abuse. The responsible thing to do for yourself and your future is to find a therapist with whom you work well. A qualified therapist can help you understand how your childhood experiences are affecting you, and work with you to develop strategies to minimize ongoing harm from them.

As a child, you didn't have much control over what was happening to you. As an adult, you have the power to flip the script and make sure you receive the care you need and deserve.

Will Your Divorce Be an ACE for Your Child?

If you read carefully above, you noted that losing a parent to divorce is considered an adverse childhood experience. Will your child's future be negatively affected if you go through a divorce? Possibly; but remember that your child could also suffer from growing up in a house with two parents who are always angry and fighting.

Life isn't perfect, as you well know. You may not be able to spare your child the pain of a parental breakup, but you can help him or her develop the resiliency to recover from this experience. The answer, again, may to be sure your child has a trusted therapist with whom to process what is going on. There are also things that you can do directly: reassure your child that they are loved, that the divorce wasn't their fault, and that they will not lose their parent.

If you would like to discuss more ways that you can make a divorce easier on your children and yourself, we invite you to contact our law office.

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Categories: Minnesota Divorce

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