Counseling Center

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Adversity can take many different forms for people. The word is sometimes interchangeably used with trauma with adversity often being easier for people to identify with openly. In general, if an experience is difficult for you to process emotionally, threatens your safety, or frightens you extremely, then that experience is a trauma. SAMSHA defines trauma as an event, series of events or set of circumstances experienced by an individual as harmful or threatening with lasting adverse effects on a person's functioning and well-being. Toxic stress is seen in people who have experienced a series of trauma that causes their fight or flight response to be consistently activated and is often damaging when this occurs in childhood.

A commonly explored topic connected with adversity is Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs). ACEs are defined as Emotional Abuse, Physical Abuse, Sexual Abuse, Emotional Neglect, Physical Neglect, Substance Misuse in the Home, Witness Violence in the home or community, Mental Illness/Suicide Attempt in the Home, Household Member Incarcerated, and Parental Divorce/Separation prior to the age of 18. Some research also adds the experience of losing a parent or important figure and/or the experience of discrimination based on an aspect of identity prior to 18 to the list of impact childhood events. Many ACEs are experienced as a series of events that lead to toxic stress in children. Discrimination based on an aspect of identity can also lead to biological changes over time and trauma-like symptoms in a person. 

The impact of ACEs can be devastating to children and have lifelong impacts on health. Please note that every experience with ACEs is different meaning that the impact is also different with their being no exact science stating how a childhood experience will impact a life. There is evidence showing the definite relationship between adversity prior to 18 and the impact on health such as increased risk for suicidal ideation, mental health concerns and difficulties within relationships. Trauma may cause you to have very strong emotional reactions that vary as each individual is unique in the way we view the world. Understanding typical reactions to adversity can help you cope effectively with your feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in order to process the trauma in the healthiest way possible. Research regarding neuroplasticity and resilience is encouraging with the potential for people to rewire brain paths that may have been impacted by ACEs by learning/engaging in mindfulness, movement, healthy sleep, healthy relationships, therapy, and healthy eating. More resources on the impact of adversity and changes we can make can be found below. 

Handouts/Websites 

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