ACESTooHigh is a nonpartisan traditional online news site that reports on research about positive and adverse childhood experiences, including developments in epidemiology, neurobiology, and the biomedical and epigenetic consequences of toxic stress. We also cover how people, organizations, agencies and communities are implementing practices and policies based on the research. This includes developments in education,  juvenile justice, criminal justice, public health, medicine, mental health, social services, and cities, counties and states.

Most of the content on ACEsTooHigh.com comprises news articles. News coverage decisions are made independent of any outside influence or cause other than providing information to the public and serving their communities. ACEsTooHigh posts some op-eds, both by invitation and by staff members. Donors and volunteers do not have input on what news is covered or how it is reported.

Jane Stevens is the editor of ACESTooHigh, and founder and publisher of PACEs Connection, which comprises ACEsTooHigh.com and its companion social journalism network, PACEsConnection.com. PACEs Connection is an independent social journalism organization. PACEs Connection has been generously funded by Seedlings Foundation, the Blue Shield of California Foundation, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, The California Endowment, the Lisa Stone Pritzker Family Fund, the George Sarlo Foundation, Genentech, and St. David’s Foundation. We are very grateful for this support. PACEs Connection  operates as a non-profit under the auspices of its fiscal sponsor, Third Sector New England (tsne.org).

In a nutshell, I’ve been a journalist for more than 40 years, and have focused on health, science and technology. My articles have appeared in the Boston Globe, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times and National Geographic. I began reporting about the ACE Study and related research in 2005. I’ve  lived and worked in Kenya and Indonesia, and have been to Antarctica – in the winter — three times on reporting fellowships.

If you want to contact me, do so at jstevens at paces connection dot com. I welcome your tips, contributions, corrections and ideas.

Before formally launching ACEsTooHigh and PACEsConnection in January 2012, I was director of media strategies at The World Company in Lawrence, KS, where we developed a local social journalism health news site called WellCommons. WellCommons is  a model site for the concept of social journalism, which combines a journalism platform with social networking platform. The World Company eventually sold the news site and reverted to traditional journalism by closing down WellCommons.

Dr. Lori Dorfman of Berkeley Media Studies Group and I directed the Reporting on Violence project, which has operated out of the BMSG offices since the mid 1990s. I’ve taught at UC Berkeley’s Graduate School of Journalism, where I helped found the multimedia reporting track and helped developed training programs for hundreds of mid-career journalists who wanted to transition to digital journalism.

My background includes TV reporting for WGBH-TV; positions as copy editor, assistant foreign-national editor, sci-tech reporter and columnist for newspapers (Boston Globe, the old San Francisco Examiner); and as a video journalist for New York Times TV. I founded a health/science/technology feature service with more than 20 client news organizations worldwide. I’ve done magazine writing (Science, Nature, National Geographic, Technology Review, Los Angeles Times Magazine); was a multimedia journalist, doing reporting for Discovery Channel; and led teams to create TOPP.org and the Great Turtle Race of 2007, hosted by Yahoo!. I’ve been fortunate to live in and report from Kenya and Bali, Indonesia; have been to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean on the deep-sea submersible Alvin, and to the “bottom of the world” in Antarctica three times on research icebreakers.

Fellowships awarded include two from the National Science Foundation and one from the Australia Antarctic Division for travel to Antarctica; a Reynolds Journalism Fellowship at the University of Missouri; and the Knight-McCormick Leadership Institute at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. All of them changed and enriched my life immensely, and I am grateful and so lucky to have received them.

I’m also writing a book about positive and adverse childhood experiences, and how people, organizations and communities are implementing healing-centered (trauma-informed) policies and practices based on the science of positive and adverse childhood experiences.

Comments are welcome, as long as the discussion is civil. No cyber-trauma allowed.

137 responses

  1. I want to understand why the question of sexual trauma is stated as only 5 years and older. What if you had adopted siblings who abused you who were nearer in age? I counted it in my score anyway, but it honestly made me feel like someone was belittling my experience, and I don’t really understand.


    • Keep in mind that the original ACE Study was the first to reveal the link between childhood adversity and adult onset of chronic disease, violence, being a victim of violence, mental illness, etc. The researchers did not know what the results would be. They devised the questions based on a previous study of 300 people, as well as what was available in previous research about the effects of individual types of adversity (sexual abuse, etc.). So when the links were revealed and later established by the neurobiological effects of toxic stress, that prompted other people to examine other types of abuse not included in the original ACE Study. Do not doubt that the adopted siblings who abused you caused you harm. You were correct to include it in your score.


  2. ACE score of 8. Recently diagnosed with Asperger’s and ADHD at age 68, not sure how that affected me with the very early chronic childhood incest (started at 2, maybe earlier) and constant family violence; now suspect father was a raging bipolar who grew up in large family with 5 brothers who were also incestuous with their daughters.
    Had thought after I retired, I might be calmer and be able to read my large collection of books, but am having great trouble focusing/retaining what I read. Very poor sleep since especially 1988 with bruxism, migraines, fibromyalgia, but all that has continued worsening. Now have pretty bad adrenal fatigue. Have been 100% free of men since 2002, no trust in relationships at all, including most friends. My birth family don’t speak to each other since our sweet mother died.
    Underwent benzodiazepine withdrawal starting December 2020 after taking Klonopin as prescribed for 28 years. When I requested to stop this drug, my doctor said “Yes, you can stop it,” no tapering was discussed or offered. Resultant severe anxiety, hyperventilation, severe heart pounding, severe confusion, crying, pacing, cramping, vomiting, nightmares when I was able to fall asleep, itching, twitching, ringing in ears, felt I was dying for five solid months before I started having occasional hour or so of lessening, then worse again. Wouldn’t leave my apartment, of course I couldn’t drive. Couldn’t make sense when I spoke, so avoided phone. Now about 19 months out, symptoms are chronic but lesser in severity for longer.
    Trying to get healthy, mentally, emotionally, physically. Trying to feel safe, especially when sleeping. I can only sleep 4-5 hours and am so tense all over when I wake, usually with migraines.
    I’ve never been a smoker, drinker, or addicted to anything except carbs and my children, who are now adult men. I’ve always been fiercely protective of them.
    Any thoughts to help get these murky negative thoughts out of my mind, especially when I try to sleep, would be so appreciated.


  3. Nice ACEs tree graphic! However, you need to add sexual violence/abuse to the community section. Because sexual violence & abuse doesn’t just happen in the household, think childhood sexual assault & rape by non-household members (i.e. daycare providers, priests/ministers, police/law enforcement, scout leaders, doctors, coaches, etc.)


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  5. I am curious about one of the “experiences” and how it specifically states “mother being abused/battered.” What about the father? I would think it would be equally detrimental to witness abuse of father. Is this criteria just outdated and ignoring that men can be victims of domestic violence as well? I should think a more appropriate “experience” would be witnessing regular abuse of a parent.


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  7. I have Childhood Emotional Neglect. But ACE’s score doesn’t work for me. I would have never said that my family doesn’t love me or they don’t support each other.

    If it doesn’t work for me, I wonder how many other people are slipping thru the cracks.

    I would have answered “Yes” to this: Did you have an emotional need that your family couldn’t help you with?


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  9. Is the questionnaire under section Got Your ACE Score? standardised or published somewhere like research article. Please let me know and if feasible, contact me via email as I am interested in standardising it in my country.


    • Join PACEsConnection.com (it’s free), and go to the Resource Center. Lots of info about ACE studies. Also, go to PubMed.com and search for “adverse childhood experiences” and you’ll find a plethora of research studies.


  10. Permission is requested to use the Got Your ACE Score? as a segment for an online continuing education training course (Independent Study) for Child Care Providers absent of limitation. Use is strictly limited to training and educational purposes. Is payment required for use? Please forward comments/responses to: sreneefloyd10@gmail.com Thanks!


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  16. Attorney Ryan Gatti took on my civil case against my childhood sexual abuser. What a brave and wonderful Christian lawyer. And because of of God’s grace, wisdom and mercy working through Ryan; I was able to write my book. The story about my case is in my book. I will be giving a percent of my book sales to Ryan’s missions work.🙏
    I had to do sexual favors for my childhood sexual abuser to have lunch $ for me and my two sisters; which was a deal I accepted so my sisters and I could eat.

    I was a whore at four—most definitely—and I had to consent on many occasions to protect my sisters.

    My mother pimped me out to her second husband from the ages of 4-18. This took place in Bossier City, Louisiana; which is the main reason Ryan took my case.

    There are over 60 million adult survivors of child sexual abuse in America today; in need of healing and complete closure through therapy. (FACT SHEET – National Association of Adult Survivors of Child Abuse)

    The sale of my book allows me to help Adult Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse.

    You can buy my book on Amazon entitled:

    I was a Whore at Four: the Redemptive story of a child sex slave—A Therapeutic Autobiography (2018)

    You can also buy my new companion workbook on Amazon if you know any adults who are still trying to heal and get complete closure.

    Grief Stages Plus Narrative Therapy (2019)

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  18. As an 8th grade English Language Arts teacher and graduate student, I’m proposing a mixed methods research study where, in addition to interviewing participants about their experiences with expressive writing (all are former students who, now as adults, continue to share their writing with me)–I want to collect their ACE Score. My professor has asked me to research the validity of the ACE survey. I’ve found numerous studies, some from this site, but the questions here are narrowed to 10, while the categories have expanded. Can you point me in the right direction to how you have revised the current study and the validity measurements?

    Novice Researcher


    • Different people and organizations have developed different ACE surveys. You can join ACEsConnection.com, the social network accompanying this site, and peruse the Resources Center for different types of ACE surveys.


    • Hi Shelly.
      First, congratulations on being willing to take on this research.
      Epidemiological studies like ACEs have their special validity issues.
      I think Anda and Felitti did their best to overcome them by obtaining responses from such a large sample (17000+).
      You might want to make your research qualitative or a mixed methodology study. (They tend to be more interesting and fun in my experience).
      Best wishes going forward,
      Mark Brady


  19. Hi Jane! I was looking for a place to email you. I’m considering setting up an interactive experience with ACES information for my foster and adoptive parent training coming up next month. I didn’t know if this is something that you’ve considered before and if you might have some fun/meaningful ideas on how I can make this information tangible for them.


    • My apologies to take so long to review comments. I’ve had some health issues that are now mostly resolved. I suggest you join ACEsConnection.com, the social network that accompanies this site, if you’re continuing to look for ideas. You can ask the 35,000+ members for ideas, and join the Parenting with ACEs community.


  20. Thanks for all you do. ACEs truly are one of the most important medical discoveries of our time. I have an ACE score of 9 and I want to help people like me—like us. I’m looking into MSW graduate programs but I’m not sure what specific direction I should go in, academically, to help with the ACEs movement. Can you please offer any guidance? Thanks!


  21. we need to ask the question” What happened?” not whats wrong. We need to be listing, and watching our children and there families, to help with tuama of children in their childhood.


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  24. I am trying to figure out how to introduce ACES to my stepson in prison. He’s got 2 more years and no programs that I can see available that give him any help or understanding of trauma. Is there a short summary out there or anything for this population?


  25. I’d like to use ACEs questions in an upcoming survey of child welfare workers for a publishable paper as part of my doctoral program. Do you know who I would ask for permission to use this? Thanks!


      • Hello,

        I am interested in offering my expertise to the community of ACEs professionals; I am a licensed cognitive educator for children and youth diagnosed with serious emotional and behavior disorders.

        This field of study has been my practice for the past 17 years especially in the class room setting where I have designed curriculum for students who suffer from abuse and neglect.

        I would like to further discuss the various opportunities that are available for someone of my expertise, passion and experience,

        Thank you for your work in the field of ACEs.

        Antione Johnson


      • You may be interested in joining ACEs Connection, a social network for people who are implementing trauma-informed and resilience-building practices based on ACEs. At the moment, the network has more than 21,500 members from all 50 U.S. states and more than 40 countries.


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  27. why haven’t you mentioned psychological abuse? Tens of thousands of survivors of abuse in childhood and/or domestic abuse as adults have been triggered by the psychological abuse of threats, insults, double binds (crazy-making), gaslighting, demands that people accept conflicting statements without question, and all the tactics to gain and maintain an unhealthy level of control that we’ve witnessed in recent months.
    To give one example–my mother was publically known for her passionate commitment to human rights, but at home she would go into violent rages for the tiniest problems and scream “You don’t deserve to be treated like a human being.” If I was overwhelmed with fear she would tell me I was pretending–trying to upset her–and misbehaving if I couldn’t hide it. I also witnessed how she abused my baby brother from the time he was born. I was fortunate that a counselor I had worked with recently told me about the poly-vagal nervous system that controls involuntary body function like breathing, heart beat, stress response and digestion because some of what my mother did was a direct, daily attack on my body functioning and affected self-regulation–such things such as eating. I would appreciate hearing back about this. I’ve been dealing with this alone for many years.


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  29. As an adult in my 40s undergoing trauma therapy for childhood emotional and physical abuse, the gender bias of question #7 about whether a mother/stepmother was hit, slapped, kicked, etc. was exclusionary and possibly biased to the point of affecting outvomes of your data. In my household my mother was the abuser, and she hit my father. I saw her punch him in the face and inflict violence on him, which he did not return on her. I think it would be a more inclusive question if gender was taken out of it. While I understand it is thought men are more often the perpetrators of violence against women, I believe the violence women perpetrate against men goes unreported out of embarrassment and shame.


    • Hi, Jennifer. What you experienced was an ACE. As these two paragraphs above the questions on Got Your ACE Score? explain:
      There are, of course, many other types of childhood trauma — watching a sibling being abused, losing a caregiver (grandmother, mother, grandfather, etc.), homelessness, surviving and recovering from a severe accident, witnessing a father being abused by a mother, witnessing a grandmother abusing a father, etc. The ACE Study included only those 10 childhood traumas because those were mentioned as most common by a group of about 300 Kaiser members; those traumas were also well studied individually in the research literature.

      The most important thing to remember is that the ACE score is meant as a guideline: If you experienced other types of toxic stress over months or years, then those would likely increase your risk of health consequences.


      • I wonder if there could be something included on the ACES questionnaire that would reassure those taking the inventory that there are other types of toxic stress. When I am in a room full of counselors taking this, I generally have the lowest score. I did not suffer this kind of stress. HOWEVER, I face stress every time I left the house. I was hyper vigilant. I often froze and flushed whenever I was near anyone laughing or whispering. Daily life was agony wondering what friend or stranger was going to try to “help” me with “advice.” Hopefully this article helps explain what I mean. My ACES were, indeed, too high. https://healthcareinamerica.us/on-tough-love-and-your-fat-friend-s-health-bec20b13af78


  30. Well, this is very misleading. Both my parents had long illnesses and were dead by the time I was 18. This counts for nothing according to you. Don’t set yourself up to be an expert when you clearly have missed the fundamentals.


    • Hi, Diane:

      Thanks for your comment.
      In Got Your ACE Score? on this site, there’s this explanation:
      There are, of course, many other types of childhood trauma — watching a sibling being abused, losing a caregiver (grandmother, mother, grandfather, etc.), homelessness, surviving and recovering from a severe accident, witnessing a father being abused by a mother, witnessing a grandmother abusing a father, etc. The ACE Study included only those 10 childhood traumas because those were mentioned as most common by a group of about 300 Kaiser members; those traumas were also well studied individually in the research literature.

      The most important thing to remember is that the ACE score is meant as a guideline: If you experienced other types of toxic stress over months or years, then those would likely increase your risk of health consequences.

      Liked by 1 person

  31. Thank you for your focus on this issue.

    I have a question about the ACE questionnaire: why doesn’t it take childhood emotional neglect into account? My siblings and I grew up in an emotional desert, literally born to service two narcissist parents (one of whom also had BPD). We were systematically trained to mistrust all our own preferences, judgements, wishes, and perceptions, gaslighted as a way of life, then tossed rudderless and bewildered into adulthood, crippled by our inability to know ourselves. Jonice Webb has written at length about the consequences of childhood emotional neglect (see Running On Empty), and I consider it to have been a legit adverse childhood experience. Yet the questionnaire doesn’t capture it. Perhaps it’s simply been under-studied?

    Also: spiritual abuse–the kind of household where you’re continually threatened with hellfire and so on, or where early marriage to a polygamist leader is considered your only way to save yourself. I didn’t experience that, but surely it is an adverse experience, too.


  32. I developed a couple of emotional clearing techniques for stress, anxiety, depression, ADHD, ACEs, etc… I created a couple of workbooks to help people to use my techniques to feel better. Feel Good Now: A Workbook Using THT and Feel Good Now: A Workbook Using EZDS. I hope they help a lot of people. They are available at amazon in two sizes, regular, and large print.


  33. I am glad you’re working to reduce childhood trauma.
    There is a kind of trauma I don’t see people talking about. It’s getting raised in a gender that’s not your own. Many transgender people have the effects of this trauma.


  34. I just wrote a long comment to Rob Waters post about a wonderful “ministry” in response to ACE. I could ditto it here.
    Journalists and journalism can help educate and spread the good news about the hope for children who suffer from this epidemic. But it’s been around since the beginning of time-but certainly not in these great numbers. We need to put resistance to our current hope behind us and know we are only modeling more ACE!
    I guess I need to write a post or two on this and will certainly help spread this blog around! It’s an important message!


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  36. Thanks for your work and for our ongoing connection. I had never read your bio. What a fascinating life you are living!

    I look forward to catching up again soon. Perhaps after I finally update my website.



  37. Thank you for all this wonderful work and information. I would like to know if in case of a child who was born with severe illnesss and has been in and out of hospitals can that leave a child trauma and if yes how can we parents prevent it.


    • Being in an out of hospitals certainly can cause trauma for a child, but if parents and medical staff understand that can be the case, then if they create environments that are as trauma-free as possible, listen to the child and respond to her/his needs, then I would think that that would go a long way to ameliorating the trauma. Dr. Claudia Gold has a book out called The Silenced Child, which isn’t exactly your situation, but some of the recommendations may be useful.


  38. I would like to learn more about ACE and trauma-informed care. I am a semi-retired Episcopal priest and serve a congregation that will likely host an after-school program for court-involved youth, working with the court system and using ther Annie B. Casey/JDAI model. I have also been appointed to our county’s juvenile justice board. Thank you for your most helpful website!


    • Hi — You can check out ACEs Science 101 on this site, and also join ACEsConnection.com, which is the companion social network to ACEsTooHigh. It has more than 12,300 members, many of whom are in the faith-based and juvenile justice communities.


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  40. Very good news – “By carefully tracking 5,000 people after they have experienced a traumatic event, a just-launched NIMH-funded study aims to provide a finely detailed map of the array of factors that play a role in the development of mental disorders that occur in the wake of trauma. Information coming out of the study should provide a much deeper understanding of the mechanisms that give rise to post-traumatic disorders as well as a clearer basis for predicting who will be affected and how best to target treatment.”


    Also, the NIMH is moving towards a more medical and biology-based approach over all as opposed to a social science/”neuro-” approach for the brain and behavior modeling – Hooray for Our Side!: NIMH Makes Understanding Complex Behaviors #1 Priority



  41. A question: what is recommended if one has a high ACEs score? I suggest counseling therapy, but are there other avenues being tried so one doesn’t go over the edge and be susceptible to the negative aspect? Doing ACEs and having a high score, is like telling someone you have an incurable disease and then that’s it. There must be something one can do. Therapy, yes, to deal with the negative aspects that occurred in one’s life is one avenue. What else?

    Liked by 1 person

  42. I love this stuff thank you guys so much for all the work you do to promote ACE’s. I am a student trying to write a paper on ACE’s. I have a huge amount of info on the good stuff on ACE’s but I am having a devil of a time finding opposing opinions. Can someone answer my question… Who is against the use of ACE’s in schools, whether it is Trauma informed care or other medium?


  43. There is an amazing 12 Step program for people with high ACE scores. It is called Adult Children of Acoholics and Dysfunctional Families. It is an amazing support group/program that allows one to heal and re- parent oneself in a clearly set path in love and gentleness.


    • Thank you!
      We will add these resources to the resource center on ACEsConnection.com the companion social network to ACEsTooHigh.
      We’re planning on also posting the ACE survey in several different languages, so this is terrific!
      Cheers, Jane


    • Thanks for this — we’ll post it in the resource center on ACEsConnection.com, the companion social network to this site.

      We’re planning on adding the ACE survey in several languages, too.

      This will be our first one!

      Cheers, Jane


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  45. Hi Jane – What a gem of a resource your AcesTooHigh web site is. Thank you so very much for all your efforts and sharing of information.

    I have a question, if it’s not too much trouble. I have a very high ACES score and a very high resilience score. I was taken into the Canadian Child Welfare system and eventually made a Crown Ward (but not adopted… I lived in several foster homes growing up) so my experiences throughout my childhood and adolescence were very mixed. I am struggling to complete my Masters of Social Work (6 courses left, practicums complete) and actually have a presentation on Trauma in Adolescents this week.

    I feel my resiliency protected me and served me well in my adolescence in young adulthood. Despite a many number of quite traumatic experiences (some static, some ongoing), I seemed able to achieve and persevere fairly easily (almost too easily and I often found myself wondering when I was going to have to “face” or “deal with” my trauma like everyone kept mentioning and all the required counselling seemed to be for). I was fortunate to do well in school and thus many educators were mentors and personally invested in my success. I managed to take care of myself through many adverse circumstances from age 16 and into adulthood. I made mostly good choices despite some consistent bouts of self-sabotage high-risk behaviour; I would always be able to pull myself away from the brink of the abyss, so to speak, before anything too permanently damaging occurred. I have always struggled with depression but I find myself too analytical to get much reprieve from therapy. I have an undergraduate degree in Physiology and Neuropsychology so, knowing what I know about the limitations of treating eco-systemic/psycho-socio-emotional issues with bio-medical antidotes, I don’t hold a lot of hope for the efficacy of SSRIs and the like, particularly taken in isolation from other treatments, when I don’t find other forms of counselling helpful. So, eventually, I learned to cope with my waves of depression unassisted too.

    I am fortunate to have found a partner who is really supportive. He outweighs me in every way when it comes to what he brings to our family versus what I do yet he never complains. He has tolerated a lot of my testing and destructive behaviours, particularly in the areas of fidelity/attachment but also in other ways, over our 13 years. We have three lovely sons, 7, 4, and almost 2. I feel selfish and a constant guilt for not being able to give him what he deserves yet I can’t seem to bring myself to leave him nor be the person he deserves me to be.

    I find myself – despite being at an unprecedented (in my lifetime) level of stability and typical (lower) middle-class white privilege – struggling now as a 34 year old more than I ever did at any other stage of my life. I still have most of the same resiliency factors present. I am under undue stress but that has been the story of my life. I doubt I would know how to respond in a peaceful existence. I don’t like to think I like Chaos – it gives me anxiety – but like a magnet we seemed drawn to each other so perhaps some unconscious part of me needs it. I am not able to connect emotionally or physically with my partner… I have no romantic feelings for him. I enjoy little about motherhood and avoid the day-to-day duties as much as possible. I have almost a traditional “father-from-the-’50s” role with my children rather than the nurturing helicopter mother of the new millenium I feel I should have. I feel guilt constantly from this but yet it doesn’t drive me to be a better parent… if anything it causes further pulling away. I crave time alone and often stay up late but even if I go to bed early I find mornings dreadful and find it extremely difficult to respond to the needs of my toddler. I am someone who could sleep through a hurricane so it is often my partner that wakes in the night or early morning for my toddler who so often wakens. I am often very affectionate with my children but I can see how inconsistent I am because they so often frustrate me as well so I will say snappy or sometimes even mean-spirited things unless I pull away from them and the daily stress of our home. I’m terrified of doing what my mother did so my response is to withdraw in order to regain control and, ironically, to protect them. I cry often at night after they go to sleep feeling that I am ruining them and their potential for the future. I wonder how I could ever be so arrogant as to believe I could actually manage to be a good parent after everything I had experienced before I had learned anything healthy or adaptive. I wanted to believe none of that mattered and I was capable of overcoming it and leaving it as unclaimed baggage on a long-abandoned carousel. I want to do and be so much more but I struggle to find the motivation to do it. I had always over-achieved but the last 5 or so years I am not even meeting most expectations of others or societal norms in my life. I have had to retake several of my MSW courses because I was unable to complete final assignments, whereas in my younger years despite always being a procrastinator , I always managed to draw on that extreme stress motivation to get things done. Now large assignments paralyze me and my own disappointment in myself exacerbates this until I just give up. I have withdrawn socially from almost everyone and see social obligations as more of another responsibility than something from which I derive pleasure. I know happiness is about attitude and this “comes from within” but I have no idea how to have a positive attitude when I feel so disappointed in myself. I am overweight and kind of disgusted in how I look, so that doesn’t help either. I feel like my partner is a broken man because of the impact of my many years of apathy, infidelity, disappointment, and ambivalence. It pains me to see how little joy he ever has either and even more what that is communicating to and the effect it has on our children. We have made poor financial choices and are in staggering debt..still somehow not completely drowning yet but this trajectory does not bode well for the not too distant future…for the first time in my life I am not working and we have a huge mortgage and quite a bit of overhead. I had only so much I could focus my interests on and teach myself as a younger person and, unfortunately, I am hopeless at both caring about or understanding business or finance. I can also be very self-indulgent – perhaps as a form of personal self-soothing for all the negativity I constantly feel… I find it difficult to cease buying food out for instance or getting less expensive options if I am set on something. Or, perhaps that is just the excuse I make and I am actually just selfish and self-indulgent.

    You’d think – given psychological statistics (many high risk behaviours associated with personality disorders tend to lessen in quantity and intensity as youth move out of adolescence and early 20s), what we know about resilience, etc that as I age – given most of the positive is still present and ongoing trauma is absent, that things would get better. I would realize that I am worthy and competent after I had some mastery and success under my belt and things got a little less chaotic. More time apart from my ACEs has the potential to heal along with other resiliency factors. But the fact that neither of my parents nor any of my 4 biological siblings know or would likely care if I am alive or dead affects me now more than ever. It pains me that my children don’t have as many people to love them and care about their interests as they deserve and I feel their loss as new personal disappointment in and affront from all the shortcomings, neglects, and abuses I experienced from my family of origin. It is tied to my sense of self-worth in ways it never was at any earlier phase of my life and I am now starting to either see or turn into the person not worth loving and responding to the efforts the old me constantly cheerfully and resiliently made to reach out to my family and invite them to care. If the successful fight in my adolescence and 20s was with the world, the fight of my 30s is all with myself…and one I’m losing. I always feel like I was extremely lucky to escape the grim statistical perils of my demographic as a younger person and some irrational part of me feels like I am paying the price now of not dealing with things when I was younger and receiving the karmic toll that was always due. But those irrational thoughts are just that: not reasonable or empirically supported ones.

    So my question, after too many details and wordiness (a terrible habit of mine) is this: what would be an empirically supported explanation to this? Why are things getting worse at a time where I should be in the best position to cope, feel some competence, and enjoy all my blessings? How does this speak to resiliency theory versus ACE long-term outcomes for health?

    I have never been formally diagnosed with any mental health diagnosis despite a private psychological assessment (2 years ago) other than being at risk for a lot of things or having “some characteristics” of BPD (having seen the incredibly broad and vague list of DSM criteria and working with a number of incredibly diverse people who all carry the label formally, yet seem to have nothing else in common, I often find myself wondering who DOESN’T fit that when they can’t be nicely ticked off into another diagnostic box and generally have no other explanation or cause for their behaviour). While I certainly feel I suffer from depression I can be quite functional most of the time so I think I often appear under threshold when I am actually doing quite poorly. But even depressed, does that fully explain the toxic cocktail of self-disgust, shame, low achievement, melancholy, irritability, apathy, hopelessness, etc of the last 5 years when I have learned to deal with it consistently, effectively, and alone up to that point – often under much worse circumstances than this? I am still getting out of bed in the mornings. I can still speak passionately about things, I am able to keep appointments, and apply myself most of the time. I just feel I am constantly underperforming and unsatisfied with my life; most of all, with myself. Every maladaptive thing my children do (several times a day!) triggers this barrage of feelings as I feel it is a manifestation of how I am failing them and I see all their wins and good behaviour and abilities as their beautiful young spirits and resilience that I am terrified I will extinguish with my negativity and firmly claimed baggage. I have tried therapy a few times with a few different therapists and, honestly, I felt like I was unloading and dumping for an hour but I didn’t ultimately ever feel any different or better. I didn’t leave with any tools to help me that I didn’t already have … I just can’t bring myself to use them or have any faith that they will work for me.

    What would be your advice?

    Again, apologies for its length. Just really hoping for some wisdom and thought some contextual information would help.

    Thank you.


    • Priceless123: Your story is very similar to many who leave their stories in the Got Your ACE Score? comments — things seem to go along well in the 20s and 30s, and then things start falling apart. I can only answer you from my point of view in that I, also, did not grapple with my past head-on until my 40s and 50s, and then only when things did fall apart. I think that being in a relationship and having children can trigger the past. It’s not entirely a bad thing, because it means that there are unresolved issues that need to be addressed. And if you address them, you’ll become healthier. My suggestion is to find some type of help that works for you, whether therapy or something else that can help you move from depression, self-disgust, etc., to feeling happy and able to handle your life. Also, to take some good parenting classes (something like Triple P) so that you can interact with your children in a healthy way and understand when their behavior is the result of stress, and not purposely aimed at you.


      • Thank you very much for your swift response… I will keep searching for something that works. I do very much want what’s best for my family. I just need help and it’s difficult to find.I should add that there is a lot I do right for my children too and I am often told that they are fun-loving, playful, polite, happy, smart, handsome, capable boys. They do well in school, are becoming fluent in a second language, and I still play board games with them, take them on outings, complete homework with, teach them skills, enrol them in a variety of extracurricular activities, ensure they have rich social connections regularly, even if not as often as I want to or should. I am just in a very low place – somewhere I seem to have been for a very very long time and seems to have no exit – and I am focussing a lot on the negative. The consistency and large contribution of my partner/their father is a buffer for when I can’t be what they need, thank goodness. I have some reasonable parenting skills I just find it extremely difficult to always remember them when triggered or feel able to use them in an effective or consistent way when I feel low. In good moments I think I fare no worse than the average mother, but I will definitely check out Triple P and see if that is possible in my area. I think, also, I need to take some courses on imaginative play/freeplay. I never really played as a child and don’t really know how. Thanks for the suggestions, truly. All the best to you.


    • Hi Priceless123. Your story is my story. I’m 51 and just now learning to reach through, over, behind, or under the walls I’ve built to protect myself. I held my son at arms length for years. I have little to offer except my love, support, and hope. And Adult Children from Alcoholic and other Dysfunctional Families. It’s helping immeasurably! It’s definitely not just for alcoholic families. It’s worth the fight. Love your body- I’m fat too but my body got me this far and gave me a child – that’s worth a lot (even if it doesn’t feel like it now). I have tried everything. All works a little. Gratitude and fakin git untiul I began (begginng to) feel it! Love Love Love to you.


    • A lot of your story is also my story. Most recently, I read and worked through the exercises in the book, “It Wasn’t Your Fault – Freeing Yourself from the Shame of Childhood Abuse with the Power of Self-Compassion” written by Beverly Engel.

      I feel a great weight lifted off me and am applying the principles in the book into my life. It is life-changing work and will free you to make better choices. You can even communicate with Beverly by email. Good luck. You are worth it.


  46. Pingback: How Childhood Trauma Affects Adult Health: Get Your ACE Score | Left Coast Magazine

  47. My step-son almost drowned when he was 18 months old, he was blue when his dad pulled him out of the pool after several minutes. This now grown man has been troubled his whole life. On one hand he is brilliant, but on the other he has spent his life self-sabotaging himself (he is currently incarcerated). Yet he refuses to believe his near death/drowning experience has anything to do with who and what he grew up to be. Do you have any words about this kind of childhood trauma?


    • Eleni,

      You and your son might benefit from reading Bob Scaer’s books, The Trauma Spectrum and The Body Bears the Burden. As a neurologist who’s worked with trauma for over 30 years (Bob), my personal sense is that he’s connected the dots between your son’s brilliance and self-sabotage. I just did a graphic book review of The Trauma Spectrum last week: http://www.slideshare.net/markbrady9279/the-enchanted-loom-robert-scaer?related=2


    • Eleni, your step-son and myself share similar backgrounds. I almost drowned when I was about that age, and struggled throughout adolescent and teenage years. I can say that it took quite some time and a lot of “hard love” and people that never gave up on me in order for me to make some improvement. But there is no “one size fits all” solution to issues of childhood adversity- there are only suggestions on how to “recover” from these experiences. Many of these suggestions include focusing on establishing strong connections with community, family, friends, etc…. Childhood adversity must be met “where it’s at.” In other words, friends, family members and community members should not impose ideas on people with adverse childhood experiences, but rather let those who have been affect speak about how they contextualize their experiences. Going to therapy and being in spaces where I could express my own viewpoints and history has been the biggest help I’ve received so far.

      All that said, there is no “one size fits all,” and perhaps for your son, what he needs is strict rules. But if that were the case, then perhaps prison would help him. However, I question the penal system and it’s attempts at “correcting” inmates. Please, feel free to reach out to me if you want to talk more!


  48. Dear Jane,
    I just discovered AcesTooHigh. Wow. What a great thing! Thank you so much for doing this.

    My question is: if one has had had early childhood surgery, how is that addressed by the questionnaire? This is my primary trauma and that of my brother. I have two nephews who had large surgical interventions at birth and it’s pretty obvious they have been affected adversely. Perhaps this is too “global” a category to include in the questionnaire but I have just read articles indicating that anesthetics are very bad for the developing brain. Of course surgery is unavoidable in some cases. But at least if there was acknowledgement that it can cause trauma, it might help many people. Interested in your thoughts.

    Thanks, Cristal


    • Early childhood surgery — and recovery from surgery — is certainly traumatic. I don’t know about how anesthesia affects developing brains. The questionnaire addresses only 10 of many ACEs. The study itself was partly about the type of ACE (mostly to point out that things we may not have regarded as particularly traumatic, such as living with a family member who’s alcoholic or losing a parent to divorce, is indeed very traumatic), but more that childhood trauma does have long-term health, social and economic consequences.


    • There is a beautiful healing approach for early traumas such as surgeries and near drownings. The problem needs to be treated at the source. EMDR therapy has Early Trauma protocols that accesses the memories through the body in various ways: one by tapping the knees while guiding the client. It requires advanced training of the EMDR therapist. I have seen it work wonders. One of my clients had life-long generalilzed anxiety. She also refused to see doctors and dentists. When we used the early trauma protocol, she began to feel the pain of having her gums lanced at about age 6 months — without anesthetic. It was an old-fashioned solution to teething! As we processed that truama with EMDR, it desensitized to zero. Shortly after that, she went to doctors and dentists. She even got a mammogram, and it required a biopsy. She said to me (paraphasing), “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I’m calm, I’m asking good questions about all the procedures. I’m not frantic like I’d expect myself to be.” This felt so out-of-character for her that it seemed like something was wrong. I had to let her know that this is a very healthy way to handle the challenge, to take one step at a time and find out what the reality actually is.

      If you would like to see an article about this healing approach, link here: http://comprehensivetherapyapproach.com/emdr-articles/emdr-therapy-early-trauma-protocol/

      Jane Ellen Stevens, I appreciate your great site and will add a link to it on my article about the ACES on ComprehensiveTherapyApproach.com.


  49. Dear Jane, thanks for your great serviceful site! I’m glad you are writing a book about this, the subject is so important. I’ve met Dr. Felitti at a conference of EMDR therapists in Austin, TX in 2013. It was amazing to me that though he has been invited to countless conferences by MDs, in 2013 he informed us that no one has informed him that they are now assessing clients routinely for their ACES score. I hope your book will help to educate the public to insist that that their doctor learn their ACE score and oversee their care accordingly. These people should be referred for effective therapy that helps people recover from stress or trauma (or PTSD). The two treatments approved by the World Health Organization for PTSD are Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR therapy). I had a site designed to educate about the advantages of EMDR therapy: http://www.comprehensivetherapyapproach.com Please feel free to visit it. The video page is designed to be educational. EMDR therapists have written their patients often report a lessening of chronic illness symptoms as they clear more of their distressing memories.


  50. Jane,

    I changed my email address in ACEconnections and I am receiving confirmation (do not reply) emails that it has changed, but I cannot log in! I cannot even log into Hoop.la to ask them how to fix the problem. If somehow my email address can be returned to my original email address, I would appreciate it.


  51. What about an initiative themed along the lines of “Resilient ACEs Improve Wellness E3” with E3 being the Economic Employment Engine for every regional community in the country?

    Regional community stewardship, impact investing, & catalytic philanthropy are great models to unify all sorts of actors who would sponsor educational services maybe starting with a virtual subscription service and then instructional led workshops at community venues. Maybe align with IFTF and Quantified Self to weave youth, the new healthcare executives into how regional community hospitals and physicians networks guide patient well being.

    I have also been reading how pervasive mobile device use increases the stressors of the brain’s neural networks.


  52. My friend and I are doing an art installation to show how trauma impacts the body. We’ll have a hopscotch and the test, 1 hopscotch square to signify each question. We’ll educate about the impact. However, for those of us with high scores, what can be done to mitigate the stress/health impact on physical and emotional health? Is research being done on this? I love this site and the work.


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  56. Pingback: The Fight for Black Men and Boys: What's trauma got to do with it? | Diana Aubourg Millner

  57. Pingback: WitnessLA.com » Blog Archive » The Cost of Trauma & Tales of Resiliance

  58. Pingback: Top U.S. health philanthropy – Robert Wood Johnson Foundation – awards ACEs Connection Network $384,000 « ACEs Too High

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  63. Pingback: Adverse Childhood Experiences = Aces too High | Healing Through Community

  64. I’ve been personally aware of ACE’s and the way they can adversely impact life for awhile now, like almost 70 years! In response I wrote a book that I give away for free: A Little Book of Parenting Skills (http://www.committedparent.com/ALBOPSforfreePDFpage.html)

    It’s a very small book because fewer and fewer parents are reading and because smaller has a better chance of being read. I wrote it in response to the poet Alice Walker’s claim that all family and institutional policy decisions should be made using one simple criterion: “Is it best for the children?” Feel free to download a free copy and distribute it far and wide.


  65. Jane: Thanks for your response. I think you are on to something: there is an “attention bandwidth” issue in modern society and it creates problems with supervision. People with addictions, high on drugs or alcohol are frequently mentioned in the articles I receive when their children drown or are found wandering. Then it goes poorly for the parent who is often arrested – inflicting more trauma into the family system. At least 1/3 of the daily news notices I receive involve child injury or death at the hands of (typically) a boyfriend or step-parent. I don’t usually post those or deal with those unless it involves an abused child wandering for help. Sometimes the mother will have been murdered and the survival instincts of the toddler are such that they will naturally wander for help.
    As the mother of 7 children, I have had an interest for many years regarding emotional abuse. This week at our local pool, I listened to a mother putting sunscreen on her children telling her son to “get your ass over here” so she could put sunscreen on him. He was only 3 feet away, and had been patiently waiting his turn. It broke my heart to see his face. It was so unnecessary – but she was in such a witchy mood to all her kids. So sad.
    I thought of writing a book called: The Tone in the Home.- Kind Ways to Make Simple Requests of Children. Just to stem the tide of vulgarity and brutality. Then there is the issue of those rare barbaric teachers, tenured, union-protected who are just cruel in their tone and treatment of children in the classroom. One year we had to pull our 12 year old son out of a class with a teacher who was known as a ‘screamer.’- due to retire in 2 years. That’s a whole other story but definitely a contributing factor to how children navigate the world. Best. Susan.


  66. Jane: I have started a new project, 12 years in the making, called The Toddler Awareness Project – Protocols for Parents. (find us for now on facebook. Blog is being updated.) The impetus for the project was my then 2 year old who would escape from us, at home, in public and then at the Smithsonian. When my husband suggested we buy a house with a pool in the backyard I researched not just pools safety, but pool safety failures, ie; news reports of child drownings. It led me to amass a collection, via google alerts, of thousands of stories of toddlers eloping, drowning, (doggie doors are big enablers), rolled over in driveways, climbing up to roofs, and getting hit in parking lots. “These things just happen,” people would say. Or, “People need to keep a better eye on their kids.” I saw patterns of how the situations unfolded and ways to subvert those dramas. Meanwhile, my husband was training military, law enforcement, pilots, doctors in urban survival using the principles of Situational Awareness. We compared notes and applied Situational Awareness to develop Protocols for Parents.
    I read about your site via Roy Peter Clark’s blog, and had to race over to see for myself. I’m very excited about your blog, and like many of the features. I’m trying now to configure a blog so that followers can have access to a steady stream of news stories focusing on child accidents, so their minds become trained to recognize the patterns.
    RE ACES: I’ve finished all my coursework for a MA in Counseling. I chose my internships in middle schools in our upper middle class suburban area. ACE’s would have been very useful to providing a deeper understand of the depth of the trauma. Love. Your. Project.

    Susan Reeve


    • Thanks for your kind words, Susan. And what a great project you’re developing. Maybe there’s an overlap — parents who neglect their children (intentionally or not) may be a significant group of those that have toddlers who have accidents. In other words, it’s probably difficult to have situational awareness if you’re depressed or traumatized by an event in your life. Just a thought.
      Cheers, Jane


  67. New National Data Just Released! For the first time, national data on the prevalence of ACES among US children is available. Findings from the 2011/12 National Survey of Children’s Health show that nearly a third of US youth age 12-17 have experienced two or more adverse childhood events (30.5%), with a range of 28.9% to 53.7% across US states. http://childhealthdata.org/browse/allstates?q=2614&g=448&a=4577

    Respond here or go to http://www.childhealthdata.org for more information!


  68. Pingback: Why it’s so important for parents to learn how to emotionally self-regulate. | Raising Smart Girls

  69. Pingback: Why it’s so important to learn how to emotionally self-regulate yourself first. | Raising Smart Girls

  70. Pingback: It’s the adults, stupid!; HBO child sex abuse doc; Philly gets $1.6m for trauma-informed care « ACEs Too High

  71. Hello, my name is Martin Vivek.

    I saw that you mentioned PTSD.VA.GOV along with a few other great resources
    on this page: [https://acestoohigh.com/2012/04/10/alexithymia-emotional-neglect-capitalism-how-are-they-related-2/]

    I wanted to recommend the addition of http://www.ptsdalliance.org/ which
    offers great information, has numerous resources, and also discusses
    substance abuse treatment. Something that many other organizations fail to
    recognize yet is a very common challenge people suffering from PTSD

    Let me know your thoughts and thank you for your time


  72. Jane, I’ve been on your mailing list since early June and find your posts more useful than any others I receive or go digging for. In my opinion, the ACE project is to Wellness Psychology what continental drift was to Geology — a unified field theory. It’s very exciting to watch it unfold and gain momentum. I run a non-profit (“social profit”) that believes youth voices can do a lot to heal the world. We write a column together that is published in several newspapers reaching about a million people a week. It’s can be read at http://www.straighttalkTnT.com. I plan to mention the ACE project in next week’s column. Thank you for your work, Lauren


    • Thanks, Lauren. LOVE the column you do with teens. You have an incredible history — and are obviously putting your past to work to benefit kids. I’ll put a link to the site on ACEsTooHigh.

      I hope you join this site’s social network, ACEsConnection. Nearly 500 people have joined so far, all by word of mouth. In the next few days, we’ll post a fairly extensive resource section and begin doing some outreach.

      Your analogy of ACEs being like the theory of continental drift is so very apropos.

      Cheers, Jane


      • Jane,
        Thank you for your kind words and for posting a link to Straight Talk TnT. Yes, I was very lucky to get involved with some great teachers and guides when I was in my early 20s, EST included. My brothers, too. We truly were blessed and guided.

        Your site has opened up so many realizations and I thought I’d share one with you. My maternal grandmother immigrated from Norway at age 9. Her parents sent for her and her 4-year-old sister. They had been in America for 2 years already, leaving the kids with an uncle. So she crosses the ocean alone to Ellis Island, 4-year-old sister in tow, speaking not a word of English, only to find them and then be immediately sent away to work in a doctor’s house as a live-in maid in Maryland. She never sees her parents or sister again — nor the doctor’s family after she turned 18, as they never adopted her and she moved to San Francisco.

        She was a very proper woman, worked her way through nursing school and became a nurse, eventually Director of the Bay Area Red Cross. Probably a workaholic, not a stay-at-home mom, anyway, and this is the 1930s. But, the point of this whole story is… I mean, can you imagine her ACE score?…. here’s this robust Norwegian woman who seems to come through everything, and then, in her sixties (now my grandma), becomes completely inflamed with arthritis all through her joints. Totally swollen and hospitalized for months unable to move.

        Big mystery to medicine right? Well, it’s solved now in my mind with toxic stress causing inflammation.

        Anyway, thought I’d share my revelation!! Thank you again for your work. I will join AcesConnection. — Lauren


      • Wow. That’s an amazing story….and makes so much sense. What an amazing woman, your grandmother!! Thanks for sharing it. I look forward to seeing you on ACEsConnection!
        — Jane


  73. Pingback: Diana Aubourg Millner: Dismantling the Cradle to Prison Pipeline « CrimeAlertBlog.Com

  74. Jane, this is fascinating stuff, I work with continuation junior high school students in West Sacramento and you are talking about 99% of them!


  75. Jane: You are obviously way out ahead on this issue and making a great contribution. We’re trying a little project in Mid-Michigan to try to answer the question we get from “millennials” — the 18-30 year old set who say: What can we do about this? Tough question, but there are lots of great organizations that are dedicated to reducing stress in the lives of children and families, and until we figure out how to do more, we’re simply trying to push interest in the direction of helping these organizations find more volunteers. You can find us at http://WWW.EveryChildIsYours.Org.


    • Love your site! When you publish the winning story, I’ll link to it from here so that we can spread the word about what millennials and others can do to make the world a safer place.


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