determining how an individual develops.
Contrary to what many think, our genes arenot set in stone. “Some kids seem to be veryresilient to ACEs, so something in theirgenetic makeup seems to bea protective factor,” says Chartier.
But communities that foster a child’slevelness — through healthy environmentsand parent supports — alsocontribute 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 rebuildher life, but it took time.
At the age of 20, when her mother died,she felt lost without the woman whohad essentially been her life. She enteredinto an emotionally unstable 12-yearrelationship with a woman much like
Both were sexually abused throughchildhood and adolescence, by malerelatives, and Virginia also by a schoolprincipal. Virginia says journalling andgenograms (family trees with healthinformation) were the therapies thathelped her the most. Health practitionersuse genograms to assess risk factors, andVirginia, now a life skills coach who infact coached Anderson, uses genogramsextensively in her practice.
Of journalling, she says, “The pen ismightier than the analyst; you’ll discoverthings in your writing that you won’tdiscover any other way.”
ve more behavioural and academic problemssociety. Some children’s brains develop onlevel floors, meaning they’d had healthy,supportive relationships,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 sistersVirginia and Rusti Lehay also used toovercome the effects of their ACEs.