Overview:

A long-term study has revealed that childhood traumas and bad experiences can linger with us for our entire lives. Since we talk a lot around here about being raised in authoritarian religious households, I thought this study would be relevant to our interests. Today, let's check out this study -- and see if these researchers found any way to undo the damage so many of us experienced in our long-ago pasts.

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Hi and welcome back! Today’s story might not be all that surprising, but it definitely bears mention. A long-term study (link) has revealed that childhood traumas and bad experiences can linger with us for our entire lives. Since we talk a lot around here about being raised in authoritarian religious households, I thought this study would be relevant to our interests. Today, let’s check out this study — and see if these researchers found any way to undo the damage so many of us experienced in our long-ago pasts.

and yet we bloom
and yet we bloom (Urel Landetne.) Credit: Urel Landetne / unsplash

(Related posts: The Lessons Authoritarians Learn; A False Sales Pitch of Family Happiness; The Happiness Hucksters; The Ease of Fake Sincerity in Christianity; The Daughters of Men; A Thief in the Night: Traumatizing Children for Fun and Profit.)

Childhood Study Sitrep.

Way back in the late 1990s, we learn from Knowable, some researchers began a long-term study to examine how childhood trauma can affect adults later in life.

As the study’s 1998 writeup reveals, they enrolled over 9500 adults in the study. Most of the adults were white, middle-class folks from around San Diego.

Once they had their study group, the researchers asked them questions about all kinds of adverse childhood experiences (ACEs). These questions touched on different kinds of abuse and/or neglect, witnessing domestic violence, living with family members who were violent, imprisoned, or living with untreated mental illnesses, and living in poverty or with separated/divorced parents.

Then, once the researchers had these questionnaires for reference, they asked these adults about their current situations and health. About two-thirds of their study group had experienced some physical or psychological ACE. As the Knowable writeup reveals, 12% of the enrolled adults had experienced four or more ACEs.

And then, the researchers correlated these adults’ experiences with their childhood ones.

Childhood Wounds Cause More Than Emotional Problems.

Nobody will be surprised to hear that people who’d experienced a lot of ACEs had a lot of emotional problems later in life. Researchers have been talking about that link for years now. For example, this 2016 meta-study about spanking made the rounds extensively some years ago. So sure, wee know that ACEs can cause depression, anxiety, and a host of other emotional problems later in life.

However, this study also discovered that when people endure more ACEs, they also experience more physical health problems. The researchers were able to show a link between ACEs and asthma, cognitive delays, Type 2 diabetes, autoimmune disorders, obesity, frequent infections, heart disease, cancer, skeletal fractures, liver disease, and more.

Right now, it looks like ACEs can bring about the release of stress hormones, cause inflammation, disrupt gene regulation, and more. And inflammation in particular is one of those things that we’re just now figuring out has huge, huge, huge impacts on a person’s body. (For example, chronic inflammation may contribute to cancer, autism, and even dementia.) The Knowable writeup (relink) also talks about genetic changes and oxidative stress, as well.

This study is big, in my opinion. It’s about as big as that 2016 spanking meta-study.

And it can help us adults make a little more sense out of the stuff we dealt with in childhood.

Yes, Once Grown We Can Depart From It.

This study doesn’t seem like it touched on religious-tinged abuse, but a lot of us can probably see where a really strict authoritarian religious upbringing could easily result in an ACE. Many such parents think that their god commanded them to hurt their children as punishment, withhold affection or kindness, and enforce a very rigid set of behavioral demands.

Blog projects like Homeschoolers Anonymous (now vanished from the web, but archived at least partially here) and No Longer Quivering reveal the truth behind all those ear-to-ear Jesus Smiles we see out of families following such parenting advice. Their writers reveal endless stories of trauma and torment (like this one, and be aware it’s rough) that they suffered growing up like that — and how hard it is for them to untangle all those experiences in adulthood.

This study also seeks to understand how to heal these childhood wounds. Careful treatment seems able to reverse some of the negative effects of ACEs. And I’ve no doubt we’ll find more treatment methods as time goes on.

So there is hope for those of us who were wounded as children. Our childhood wounds have causes that can be named and brought into the light and examined as they wriwggle in our palms.

Most of all, those wounds can be healed — somehow. We’re not just a big mess that’ll always be just a big mess.

The more we find out about how we got here — wherever here is — the easier it is to map a path out again and find healing.

NEXT UP: Why Christian contemporary music and hard exercise likely made Chris Pratt feel all better during his rotten no-good awful terrible unfun week. See you soon!


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Also: I saw this video the other day and liked it:

“Shelter,” Porter Robinson & Madeon (2016). 

ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...