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ACEs and Emotional Survival

After 17 years as a first responder I’ve seen and lived my fair share of traumatic events. The countdown is on to retirement too…in the single digits my friends! Many of you I’m sure can relate (to both the cumulative trauma you’ve experienced AND looking forward to retirement). If you’re not a first responder, that doesn’t mean you haven’t experienced your own fair share of trauma (or that you dream of retiring). Trauma does NOT discriminate! In fact, statistically speaking, the CDC (2001) reported that 61% of the population had an ACE score of 1 or higher! That’s JUST looking at childhood trauma and doesn’t even delve into any trauma you may have experienced as an adult!

Many of you might be saying, I have no clue what an ACE score even is! Are we talking about playing cards? Well, let me enlighten you because honestly, your knowledge about this topic could help to prolong your life! And come on…who doesn’t want to live a little longer to enjoy that retirement when it finally happens?

ACE stands for Adverse Childhood Experiences. It’s broken down into three areas of adverse experiences: abuse (physical, emotional, and sexual), neglect (physical and emotional), and household dysfunction (mental illness, incarceration, violence toward maternal figure, substance abuse, and divorce).

Looking at them you can imagine premature death occurring as a result of many of them simply on the violence factor involved. Research shows that the higher your ACE score, the higher your risk is for behavioral, physical, and mental health related problems later in life too. So, you not only have to worry that any of those adverse experiences might have you kicking the bucket early BUT if you survive past childhood you STILL might die from other health related risks that are more prevalent according to the studies!!!

“I’m DOOMED!” you may say. Don’t give up hope yet! Being more knowledgeable of the increased risks allows you to take counter measures to prevent those likelihoods from occurring. For instance, resilience can be built by just a single carrying, trusting relationship that has occurred in your life. Someone who encourages you. Ie. A coach, teacher, parent, etc. that encourages you to succeed or pushes you to do and be better. Even while other things in life might not be great (see those ACE types above). You are NOT your ACE score. Change the way you speak to yourself internally so it's reflected externally. A better way to build resilience is to first change the way we view it. It's not "what's wrong with me" but "what happened to you?"

According to ACE Interface (2015), there are 4 resilience factors that can be very impactful and when more than one is used, can have even more profound impact on building resilience. There are:

  • social/emotional support from friends and family

  • have 2+ people who you can ask/depend on for help

  • community engagement/trust (asking for favors, intervening in times of trouble, and watching out for each other)

  • social connections (having people you can connect with for help)


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