If you are reading this, you have probably scrolled through our post on facebook or instagram and might have done the Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE) questionnaire. Many people have experienced ACEs, it is quite common in our Asian society. How many of you have been beaten by your parents before? How many of you have been yelled at by your parents before? How many of your parents have threatened death before? These are things that parents here do but don’t realise the effects on their children. When I was a teenager and had online friends from U.S, I had people tell me that caning was abuse. However, tell that to an Asian parent, they’d get furious and defensive saying “If we don’t cane our children, they will not be disciplined”. I am not a believer in physical punishment, however, I don’t blame our parents. It’s what society has taught them and what they have experienced. Most of them came from abusive families but are in very strong denial and try to rationalise their way out of it.
We were born into this world not being able to choose our parents, our environments, our starting lives. We were born as helpless toddlers, relying on the support and care of the adults around us.
Some people were born into environments where they were luckier, where they had little to no exposure to any adverse childhood experiences . Life was happy for them, their parents were supportive, they had good friends, lived in a safe neighbourhood, went to a good school, and had food and shelter provided for them. However, not everyone is so lucky. Based on a study done in Singapore by Subramaniam, M, and colleagues (2020), 63.9% of their participants have experienced ACEs, of which the odds of ACE were higher among those 65 years old and above, and those without university education. They also found that individuals who have experienced ACE are more likely to experience anxiety, mood disorders, or substance abuse.
I am actually not surprised by this numbers. Many of us probably heard the saying of 打是疼骂是爱, beating is a sign of affection and scolding shows love. However, this old saying has a bigger impact on us as humans than we know. Many people here in Singapore experience anxiety, burnout, are in fight-or-flight mode a lot of the time. We just don’t know it.
So.. what is ACE?
ACE are potentially traumatic childhood experiences that happen between the ages of 0-17.
Some examples of ACEs are:
- Physical, emotional, verbal, sexual abuse or neglect,
- Witnessing abuse (any types) or violence
- Losing someone to suicide or having a loved one attempt suicide
- Experiencing instability or lack of safety in environment (e.g. Substance abuse in the household, mental health problems, parents going to jail, separation/divorce)
These are just examples but there are many more.
As I write this, I’d like to invite you to reflect back on your own life. When you were younger…
- Were you beaten until it left a mark or injury? Or grab, slap, or throw things at you?
- Did you have to witness violence (death, someone else being beaten?) that made you feel scared?
- Did anyone touch you or make you touch them in ways that made you feel uncomfortable?
- Did your parent or any other adult in the household swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?
- Did you have anyone around you threaten, attempt, or commit suicide?
- Did you feel safe in your own home?
- Did your parents argue and fight in front of you to a degree that made you felt scared?
- Did your parents get a divorce or separate when you were younger?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might have experienced ACEs. However, experiencing ACE doesn’t mean that you’ll turn out poorly. It’s just something that is important to be aware of and for you to recognise that it might have an impact on you. Usually experiencing 4 or more adversities will lead to poorer health.
Why am I writing this? Some people reading this might get defensive, or some might start blaming their parents or families. That’s not why I’m writing this. I’m writing this for us to learn to be more aware. If you have read my other blog articles, I talk a lot about self-awareness because awareness is the first step.
Many of us are in denial, but we just don’t know it 😉
So how do we become aware of the impacts of ACEs? Firstly, I’d like to share that it is not easy to isolate a cause and effect of 1 experience to how we are today, but what we can do is start looking at our lives now.
One of the impacts of ACE is toxic stress, where we are constantly feeling in a high state of stress. It’s like where we’re revving the care engine over and over again. This leads to wear and tear of the body and poorer health conditions.
- Do you notice yourself avoiding certain people or situations?
- Do you notice an increase in your heart rate or stomach feeling queasy?
- Do you get irritable easily?
- Do you prevent yourself from trying new things?
- Do you worry excessively?
- Do you avoid stressful situations or stress eat/drink/sleep/watch tv?
- Do you get into relationships that are toxic to yourself?
These are just somethings that we might do to ourselves or experience if we are impacted by ACEs.
What can we do?
Counselling in Singapore for Adverse Childhood Experiences
I believe that it’s important to seek counselling to talk about the things that have happened to you in the past. Sometimes we have buried difficult memories so well that we do not know that we need to face them. Talking to a trauma-informed counsellor or psychologist can help you with processing past traumatic experiences in a safe space, learn about how it is affecting you, and create a new narrative for your life.
It’s important to see how your life is affected by your past because learning and accepting our past is the way to living more presently and having hope for the future.