determining how an individual develops.
Contrary to what many think, our genes are
not set in stone. “Some kids seem to be very
resilient to ACEs, so something in their
genetic makeup seems to be
a protective factor,” says Chartier.
But communities that foster a child’s
levelness — through healthy environments
and parent supports — also
contribute to resilience.
“I think that one of the core symptoms
of early life trauma is a problem with the
sense of self,” says Ruth Lanius, professor
of psychiatry at Western University in
London, Ontario. One of the problems is
dramatic memories and grieve losses
related to their ACEs. In the final stage,
they reconnect with the world, people,
their jobs… with the goal of building new
lives for themselves.
Gereen Anderson was able to rebuild
her life, but it took time.
At the age of 20, when her mother died,
she felt lost without the woman who
had essentially been her life. She entered
into an emotionally unstable 12-year
relationship with a woman much like
Both were sexually abused through
childhood and adolescence, by male
relatives, and Virginia also by a school
principal. Virginia says journalling and
genograms (family trees with health
information) were the therapies that
helped her the most. Health practitioners
use genograms to assess risk factors, and
Virginia, now a life skills coach who in
fact coached Anderson, uses genograms
extensively in her practice.
Of journalling, she says, “The pen is
mightier than the analyst; you’ll discover
things in your writing that you won’t
discover any other way.”
ve more behavioural and academic problems
society. Some children’s brains develop on
level floors, meaning they’d had healthy,
and good nutrition and health care.
For other children, their brains develop on
more sloped floors, meaning they’ve been
exposed to abuse and violence, have had
unreliable or unsupportive relationships,
and lacked access to key programs and
resources. Like a table,
a child can’t make herself level —
they need help. As well, the field of
epigenetics indicates that genetic makeup
and environment work together in
the ACEs can result in a fragmented sense
of self or intense self-hatred. Either way, it
creates a barrier to emotional healing, and
even to seeking medical help for physical
ailments, because the individual feels
unworthy of treatment or therapy, Lanius
Returning to levelness often requires
attention from mental health professionals.
Lanius encourages a staged treatment
approach to help individuals develop
self-identity. In stage one, individuals
learn how to feel safe, in control and trust
others. In the second stage, they process
her mother. But she also started what she
calls “a spiritual journey to find my place.”
She attributes where she is today—
recently graduated from the Correctional
Services program at MacEwan University,
and now working with offenders — to
a series of healthy relationships that
eventually led her to life skills coaching.
She acknowledges that her journey isn’t
over. “You’re always processing your past,”
Processing the past is something sisters
Virginia and Rusti Lehay also used to
overcome the effects of their ACEs.