These days an overwhelming majority of parents try hard to establish good communication with their kids. Nonetheless, some people still have nostalgia for good old days when mean fathers ruled over their terrified children. Which approach is better? Let’s ask someone with an in-depth knowledge of biochemistry.
Donna Jackson Nakazawa is a science journalist whose latest book Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology almost instantly became a bestseller. In the very first pages of her work, the author contradicts a popular quotation from Nietzsche.
She writes: ‘…what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger.’ Adverse childhood experiences leave their marks in your brain and immune system: mental pain and suffering experienced in your childhood almost inevitably lead to problems with physical health.
To sum up a 300-page book, when a child is under a lot of stress (a situation that is common to families where parents continually scream abuse at each other or indulge in heavy drinking), her body releases special hormones that affect the development of hippocampus. Not only does this brain damage eventually cause either over-reactivity or under-reactivity of the nervous system, it might also alter the way the genes are decoded.
As a result, an adult who has been through a lot of traumatic experiences in her childhood might suffer from a vast array of health conditions that range from chronic depression to cardiac myopathy and degenerative disc disease.
Both scientists and the general public have long known that Adverse Childhood Events (ACE, the term coined by the author) can lead to mental health problems, addiction, anxiety or rage. The author uses overwhelming statistical evidence that they might also elevate risks of a stroke, autoimmune and heart diseases, and even cancer. The higher your ACE score, the more often you need medical help and your chance of being hospitalized with cancer or an autoimmune disorder also increases.
There is another factor that greatly influences the level of emotional trauma and subsequent damage to health. If the child cannot talk about her problems and harrowing experiences, she is likely to suffer more both mentally and physically.
Good news is that different people have different genes, and some of us are less susceptible to ACE. However, it is little consolation to kids who are suffering from improper parenting at this exact moment and are going to suffer from its after-effects all their lives. What makes the situation even worse, it that ACE have unpredictable effects on your health: the stress hormones in your system are continually looking for weak spots where they can attack you.
Part II of the book contains some advice on how to deal with ACE. You might try meditation, journaling, massage or yoga. It also turns out that your ability to forgive as well as a healthy, loving relationship might help you to overcome ACE. Last but not least, healing your gut microbiome can sometimes do wonders for both your nervous system and general health. Still, laughter is the best medicine: no one is ever allowed to deprive their children of it.