Overcoming Childhood Adversity: From Surviving to Thriving

Overcoming Childhood Adversity: From Surviving to Thriving

The story of a happy childhood: Two individuals fall in love. They make a life-long commitment to each other, deciding to become parents and start a family.

Together, these two parents love and nurture their children, providing a safe and comfortable home environment, nutritious food, appropriate medical care, stimulating interaction and activities conducive to learning, as well as a solid education.

In addition, the parents provide appropriate role-modeling for both the future independence of their children and the formation of healthy, loving romantic relationships. This picture-perfect version of childhood has played out for decades in numerous prime-time television shows, including “Father Knows Best”, “The Brady Bunch”, “The Cosby Show”, “Modern Family”, and “Black-ish”.

But how closely does this depiction of family life match reality?

Sadly, for many children, childhood is a life of adversity.

Divorce, addiction, emotional/physical/sexual abuse, domestic violence, parental or caregiver neglect, and mental illness of parents or caregivers are among the challenges a child may face.

Unless the child has extended family, a caring neighbor, family friend, or teacher to intervene or act as a buffer, he or she may struggle in school, begin to use alcohol/drugs, experience early/unwanted pregnancy, or run afoul of the law.

And, the problems may persist into adulthood. Difficult or traumatic early experiences can impair a child’s stress response, creating hypersensitivity to all sorts of environmental and relationship cues, even in adulthood.

Neglect and abuse in childhood can lead to a diminished sense of self-worth in adulthood, as well as difficulty trusting others.

An extensive public health study, begun in the 1990s (The Adverse Childhood Experiences study) and consisting of more than 17,000 middle-class residents in San Diego, revealed strong associations between childhood adverse experiences and the health, relationship quality, economic outcomes, and longevity for adults. The individual may believe he or she will never experience true happiness and break free of the past.

But what if one could write a new story, healing old hurts, and exploring new options for the future? Is this even possible?

The answer is a resounding “yes”! I am a Licensed Professional Counselor in Illinois, and I have worked with many adults who experienced a difficult childhood, and who bravely took a leap of faith that their lives could change for the better.

If you are one of these adults and desire a brighter future, consider taking the following actions:

  1. Determine what it is you would like to see change. Are you seeking stronger relationships? More meaningful work? Improved health? A sense of peace and serenity?
  2. Research the resources available to you, which might include addiction specialists, physicians, weight loss clinics, and licensed professional counselors.
  3. Make an appointment. (And then keep that appointment.)
  4. Make yourself a priority!

If you choose to see a counselor, you can learn to deal with past hurts, develop new coping strategies and begin to choose healthier behaviors. You can learn to make meaning out of a painful past, and explore what you see as your purpose in the world, and how to fulfill that purpose. You can never erase the past, but it is possible to finally learn to thrive!

References:
Morgan, O.J. (2017, September). Coming to grips with childhood adversity. Counseling Today. (48-53.)
Pezzote, A. (2021, July 29). Adverse childhood events: Lifelong consequences and how to overcome them. [Webinar].Institute for Brain Potential.

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