The Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) Study that appeared in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine in 1998 was groundbreaking. Prior to it, there wasn’t much connection being made between childhood trauma and chronically sick adults. The ACE study only covered 10 types of childhood trauma and there are many more e.g. racism, bullying, seeing others being abused, grief, homelessness, loneliness, foster care etc. However, it succeeded in linking adverse childhood experiences to chronic stress, ill health and social problems in adulthood and opened the door to vital support for many more people.
Childhood trauma poster wins IFM award
I’ve just returned from attending the Institute for Functional Medicine Annual Conference in San Antonio, Texas, last weekend. The theme this year was Stress, Pain and Addiction, which is extremely topical globally, but particularly poignant in the US which is in the grip of an epidemic of opioid addiction. Given that many of the drivers for stress, pain and addiction are initiated by adverse events in childhood, this article is centred around the winner of the Delegate’s Choice Poster award.
IFM award winner, Leonie Ash (left) and Meleni Aldridge (right)
Leonie Ash is a UK-based Registered Nutritional Therapist. Her interactive poster, entitled, Childhood Trauma and Ill Health - a journey into ways to break this vicious cycle, is as informative as it is brave. She starts by sharing that it’s been inspired by her own personal journey through an abusive and challenging childhood and confesses to have had an ACE score of 5-6. You can click on the link at the end to check your own score, but on a scale ranging from 0-10, the higher your score, the higher your risk of future health and social consequences. But what Leonie does so brilliantly is map the vicious cycle of chronic stress arising out of childhood trauma, take a deep dive into the ensuing health impacts and then share some of the ways in which she’s been able to heal herself and return to well-function.
Leonie outlines her systems-based, functional approach to healing from the core, rather than just providing new, and often inadequate, coping mechanisms. Whilst written for practitioners, I’m sure the information will inspire that all-important 'aha' moment for many others affected in a similar way. If nothing else, Leonie’s words inspire hope because she demonstrates that change is possible, even from the darkest of places.
View Leonie Ash's interactive childhood trauma poster, including her video introduction and explanation. The image below is also linked (click on it to enlarge).
Pattern matching prolongs pain
Leonie explains how trauma and emotional memories, from our early years (and even trauma later in life), can create a 'pattern recognition response' (PRR) which results in the individual living with chronic anxiety, depression and associated physical illness as seen in the ACE study. This is further underlined by a 2017 systematic review in The Lancet which confirms that multiple ACEs are a major risk factor for many health conditions and are also strongly associated with outcomes such as violence, mental illness, and substance use.
“I believe one needs to be able to access our deep subconscious to change the perception of the events through soul connection where forgiveness and release can take place and/or to reprogram the emotional memory response, so that it no longer associates the memory with the emotional feeling. Depending on the client’s needs the important thing to understand is why emotional pain continues through pattern matching. From an early age we learn everything through observation, memory and pattern recognition, as this helps us move safely through life. We record everything so we are familiar and can decide if it is friend or foe. When we have been through difficult or traumatic events, we have recorded some devastating images, feelings and suffered from other emotional difficulties and beliefs about ourselves and others. The pattern match response can initiate severe feelings of hurt, anger and fear from a non-associated and benign situation, leading to further life complications, pain and unresolved health problems.” Leonie Ash, 2019
Leonie's healing journey
As we are all so individual, the first step to any healing journey is to find what resonates with you in the place you find yourself. Like Leonie, my own healing journey was anchored by the core work I undertook to understand myself at a deep level. It involved similar work through my subconscious, albeit with different modalities. This method of deep inner engagement enables us to better understand the mechanisms driving our pain, as well as finding recognition and acceptance of self. From here, the use of targeted, often multi-modality, approaches to address the dysfunction in the system, including nutrition and lifestyle changes, has a greater chance of success.
In order to better know herself and have awareness of her personality traits — both positive and negative — Leonie studied with a teacher of the Enneagram. The Enneagram is an ancient wisdom about the human journey of growth through personality and emotional needs. There are 9 distinct and fundamentally different patterns of perceiving and rationalising the world around us that provides the platform to build, react and form our own personality/reality.
Leonie explained that in order to cope with our world as small children, we develop coping strategies that arise from the inherent qualities of our personality type. These coping strategies become our habituated responses to the world in adult life - some will be positive and serve us well; some will be negative and cause us problems and pain. The Enneagram is particularly helpful because we remain the same personality type throughout our life, but where we sit, within the spectrum of personal growth and spiritual enlightenment, is able to change as we grow through our experiences.
She also used a technique called Soul Freedom, which is a guided therapy based on, and evolved from, Brandon Bays’ ‘The Journey’. This formed the core of Leonie’s healing from her own childhood trauma. She describes it as a deep therapy which connects with 'soul' and it can, when the deep subconscious is ready, unlock the trauma-related memory so that it can be healed through forgiveness.
Apart from a very dedicated nutrition and lifestyle protocol, another powerful plank in Leonie’s healing bridge was the Trauma Rewind technique originating from the Human Givens Institute in the UK. Human Givens unifies effective elements of psychotherapy, counselling and other therapeutic techniques to re-establish psycho-social balance. The framework encompasses the latest scientific understandings from neurobiology and psychology, melding ancient wisdom with new and original insights. It’s a powerful support in the treatment of trauma, addiction, PTSD and general emotional health. You can read more about the Human Givens approach in an article I wrote last October, entitled Emotional imbalance: the unspoken ticking time-bomb.