Resilience and adverse childhood experiences

“Look at children. Of course they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do. Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside? Children don’’t usually act in such a manner. If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished. They can still play with that person the following day.” H.H. The Dalai Lama.

“Autoimmune disease. Heart disease. Chronic bowel disorders. Migraines. Persistent depression. Even today, doctors puzzle over these very conditions: why are they so prevalent; why are some patients more prone to them than others; and why are they so difficulty to treat?”

Sound like some outcomes of bottled up rage? Yeah, I thought so too.

Childhood, disrupted

This is a long read but well worth it, and it offers hope to adults whose “adverse childhood experiences”, or ACEs, may be affecting their physical and mental health decades later. The good news is that an ACE score can be partially offset by resilience factors, such as having other caring adults in a child’s life or the knowledge that even a flawed parent did love the child. You can test yourself for both ACEs and resilience here:

Got Your ACE Score?

Sad and Mad

I was raised in a household where children were never allowed to express anger. Not that all anger was forbidden or unexpressed — just children’s anger. A child’s anger was wrong — and bad. So I spent many years not admitting even to myself when I felt mad, and instead feeling sad and bad. And when I had children of my own, I wanted to teach them to know their emotions: to name them, acknowledge them and cope with them. Sort of like mindfulness for toddlers.

So I did a few things. I always told (and still tell) my kids clearly that I love them, every day if possible, even if it’s just a text now that my oldest is away at college. And when they did something that upset a member of the family, including me, I would say something like: “You did ___. That makes me sad. And mad. I am sad because (fill in the blank: you broke something I liked; you said something hurtful; you pushed your sister). I am mad because (fill in that blank: you know better; you hurt someone; what you did was wrong and here’s why).”

Then I would work with the child to address the situation: offer an explanation, clean up the mess, apologize to the sibling, take some time out to think about what just happened, reflect on why the kid did it, think of better ways to proceed next time. The idea was to model that we can be sad and mad, but those feelings don’t make us bad. It’s how we choose to respond to those feelings that can turn a situation bad.

I was reminded of this, reading another blogger’s eloquent post about Pagliacci, and anxiety and sadness, and how those can look like anger: Pagliacci Is In Town Tonight. I would add that not allowing yourself to feel mad can make you feel really, really sad.  And THAT’S bad.

Illustration: Sad and Mad; found on