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Adverse Childhood Experiences

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Dawn Walton

 Autumn 2018

Adverse Childhood Experiences


When you mention Cognitive Hypnotherapy, most people think of stopping smoking, getting over phobias, dealing with anxiety or even weight issues.

Few think of going to see a hypnotherapist to get over issues caused by adverse childhood experiences. And yet, all those issues that I’ve listed can be connected to childhood experiences. In fact, one of the key tools used by Quest Cognitive Hypnotherapists is a technique called Timeline, where we walk you through time until we find the starting point of your problem. This early significant event is used by your subconscious to learn how you might get hurt. From that moment, your subconscious will attempt to protect you from repeating the situation that led to the hurt. All well and good if you got hurt because you fell off your bike, but what about deep emotional hurt where you felt that something you did meant you were loved less? That’s a little hard to protect you from 30 years later!

A few years ago, a couple of doctors working in the US in different fields (one in cardiology and one in disease control) came across the idea that the issues their patients were facing were caused by more than just diet and exercise.

They started asking their patients about their childhood and discovered a disturbing trend in the prevalence of adverse childhood events in those with diabetes, asthma, heart disease and other ailments. They began a study where they asked all patients if they had experienced certain events in childhood. They referred to them as Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). You can read the original ACE study here. They distilled all the experiences down to ten that have a significant impact on health and wellbeing. These are known as ACEs.

  1. Physical abuse
  2. Emotional abuse
  3. Sexual abuse
  4. Physical neglect
  5. Emotional neglect
  6. Family member depressed or diagnosed with other mental illness
  7. Alcoholism or drugs in the family
  8. Family member in prison
  9. Witnessing a family member being abused
  10. Losing a parent to separation, divorce or other reason

They discovered that people with four or more of these ACEs have more physical issues and even a shorter life expectancy.

They now use this understanding to work with schools to offset the impact of ACEs as kids are growing up. But that’s no good for most of us. For the rest of us, that have experienced problems in childhood, we believe we are pretty much screwed for life. I am proof that this isn’t true.

When I was 18, I sat at the desk in my room at University on my first day there. In front of me was a bottle of tablets. It was a collection of my mother’s strong painkillers that I had been collecting for the past year. You see, I had been planning for a while to kill myself. It wasn’t a cry for help. I had decided that if the first 18 years of my life had gone so badly, I really didn’t want to see the next 18 years, or the years after that.

When I was about 6, my mother left. I am not sure of the entire story but what was clear was she took my brother and I with her to live in London with a new man. The man was abusive and so my father fetched us both back home and was awarded custody of us. There must be some truth to this story as it’s unusual for a father to be given custody in the 70’s. Some time, not long after, a new woman moved in who was the ex of the man my mother left with (scream plot-twist every now and then…it will help!). She hated us. Maybe because we reminded her of our mother. Or maybe because she had an alcohol problem.

Either way, we lived on site on a farm so my father was always off working and she was left to look after us. Which she didn’t. The first time I realised things were different was when I came home from school one day with a stain on my top and received a hard clout across my head as punishment. From that point, the beatings were frequent and for the smallest of things. My brother seemed to get it worse than me. I used to cry myself to sleep at night, but then I got hit for that. So I learnt to cry silently and eventually not to cry at all. We were left outside to play all day and were barely fed. We became skeletally thin.

School knew and social services were alerted. However, despite repeated warnings, nothing changed. One day, my mother came back into our lives. She had a problem with her back and, after a series of operations, was in pain all the time and had limited mobility. She had a new man and we went to stay with them occasionally.

One day, when I was around 8, a social worker visited to talk to my brother and I alone. We were told to tell her nothing and to say we wanted to continue living with my father. When she asked my brother where he wanted to live, he did as he was told. But when she asked me I said my mother. That set the path for our future. I recently learned that my brother felt guilty for that his whole life.

Anyway, not long after, my father and stepmother had a baby girl. She was much loved, unlike us. We went to stay with my mother for the summer holidays and at the end, she asked if we wanted to live with her permanently. We, of course, said yes. And because of what I’d said to the social worker (plot twist!) we were legally allowed to stay.

Life was wonderful for a year or so. We were fed, safe and not hit or shouted at. Then, one day, my brother had done something wrong. I wasn’t sure what, but my stepfather took a stick to his backside to punish him. I watched on, with my mother, in total shock. How could she let this happen?

Soon after, we moved back to North Wales, and it was like the light disappeared again. My stepfather was emotionally abusive. He treated us like his personal slaves. My mother was too ill to do very much. Then, one night, he came to say goodnight to me. Instead of a normal kiss, he forced his tongue deep into my mouth. From there it escalated, and the abuse continued for years. Until one day, I told my mother what was happening.

She went mad at me and told me never to talk about it again.

I did what I was told. I totally blanked out my life from 12 to 16 years old. I have no memories at all of that time. And so, there I was at 18 years old, ready to kill myself.  But I didn’t take the tablets. I got up and knocked on one of the other doors in the flat I lived in and introduced myself to the other girls. In many ways, I did kill myself when I realised no one knew anything about me. I could be anything. I lived my life as a pretence. I was very successful and seemed very happy with a great family and house, etc. But I was still the kid that wanted to die.

Until I came across Cognitive Hypnotherapy and Trevor Silvester. From the first session, everything changed. We went back to the 6-year-old me that was getting hit and showed her it was not about her. I couldn’t believe that it was possible for so much to change so easily. I didn’t have to talk through my whole life story and bare my soul.

I am happy now, and confident and love helping others.

So, you see, no matter what your childhood experiences, we can help you find happiness. After all, if it was possible for me, then it’s possible for anyone!