Did you have a rough childhood? Have you ever wondered exactly how your early years may have shaped your current thoughts or behaviors?
You probably know that problems in childhood can undoubtedly affect your well-being in your adult years. But can these issues make you more susceptible to problems like narcissistic abuse?
Your ACE score ranks various types of childhood neglect, abandonment, and other adverse experiences. Research shows that higher scores tend to correlate with more mental health and physical problems during your adult years.
Understanding The Impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences
Children enter this world entirely helpless and dependent on their caretakers. They’re fragile and needy- they require round-the-clock nurturing. Without this attentiveness, they will not survive.
But in addition to basic needs, like food, water, and shelter, children also need stability and safety to thrive. They need to know they can rely on their caregivers to provide for them. This isn’t just essential for infants- it’s a fundamental need throughout childhood.
Adverse childhood experiences create disruption and can challenge a child’s sense of protection. ACEs range in severity, but they include instances of:
- Physical abuse (hitting, pushing, and intentionally inflicting pain)
- Emotional abuse (threatening, criticizing, cursing, withholding affection)
- Sexual abuse
- Neglect or abandonment
- Witnessing abuse happening to other people
Unfortunately, these experiences are relatively common, with the CDC indicating that about 61% of US adults report having had them (and 1 in 6 reporting having four or more types).
Some people are more prone to ACE’s than others. Risk factors include:
- Poverty or other financial distress.
- Having a parent with a mental illness or substance use disorder.
- Undergoing serious life circumstances like a divorce or family death.
- Chronic stress within the household.
ACEs affect everyone differently. Although people are resilient, research shows that trauma can fundamentally impact brain chemistry. Similarly, trauma represents a key risk factor in almost all emotional and behavioral disorders. In other words, the impact of ACEs can range from causing mild distress to severe dysfunction.
ACEs and Attachment Problems
When children have healthy role modeling and plenty of love, they tend to develop a secure attachment. A secure attachment refers to feeling generally understood and secure in the world.
When someone has a secure attachment, they tend to:
- Have higher levels of confidence.
- Trust that their needs will be met.
- Enjoy healthy and meaningful relationships with others.
- Value their own independence.
- Feel safe being vulnerable with others.
Secure attachment in childhood can pave the way for secure attachments in adulthood. The opposite, however, is also true. If a child develops an insecure attachment, which can often happen in response to ACEs, they may:
- Struggle to ask for help because they assume nobody can help them.
- Have low self-esteem.
- Seek attention in inappropriate ways.
- Fear abandonment and find it hard to trust others.
- Seek intense independence because others seem unreliable.
Subsequently, ACEs can trigger low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. This pattern can lead to people-pleasing or problems with vulnerability. After all, if you inherently believe the world is unsafe, you will do what you can to protect yourself. Often, you will carry these survival mechanisms well into adulthood.
The Link Between ACEs and Narcissistic Abuse
Narcissistic abuse can certainly resemble the same trauma you may have endured in childhood.
Unfortunately, it’s easy to become trapped. Narcissists gravitate towards people who will validate and enable their toxic behavior. If you’re already used to dysfunctional relationships, you might not know the red flags to avoid.
Even if you do know these red flags, the narcissist may initially trick you with their constant love bombing. They convince you that they love you unconditionally, that they can heal you from the dark wounds from your past. They promise you that they’re different from everyone else and that this relationship will be unlike any other.
By the time you start questioning their motives, you may already be entirely entrenched in the chaos. Then, they start convincing you that you need them, that nobody else will put up with you the way they can. This manipulation can wear you down, especially if they have already isolated you from other friends or family.
Additionally, the narcissist will use trauma bonding to keep you hooked into the relationship. They take advantage of the closeness you two have and use it against you, aiming to pursue you that it’s the two of you against the world.
To make matters worse, they will alternate between treating you badly and treating you incredibly well. This occasional positive reinforcement is powerful and destructive- it can genuinely make you believe that if you just tried a little harder, they would treat you better more often.
Do Narcissists Also Have High ACE Scores?
They can. It’s not uncommon for narcissists to have histories of abuse themselves. In fact, some research suggests that narcissism can stem from trauma. It makes sense- narcissism itself is a shield against an extremely fragile ego and low self-esteem.
With that in mind, many people have ACEs and do not grow up to become narcissists!
It’s essential to avoid falling victim to the trap of wanting to rescue the narcissist. They are ultimately responsible for their behavior. It’s unfair to blame their current actions on their childhood story.
They will try to lure you into their drama by pinning their problems onto their childhood. They will blame their mother for being disconnected. They will blame their father for failing to provide enough praise. They will try to convince you to feel sorry for them.
And even if these sentiments are true, even if they had the worst childhood, the narcissist will latch onto other people or situations to avoid taking any real accountability.
What Should You Do If You Have a High ACE Score?
First things first, your score is just a number. This number does not define your future, and it does not mean you are doomed. It simply can provide a general framework about what happened to you when you were younger. And even if you had a rough childhood, healing is possible.
Who validates your feelings when you’re struggling? Who helps you feel understood and loved when you doubt yourself?
Those are the people you need in your life- that’s where you need to focus your attention. If people don’t have your best interest in mind, they don’t deserve your energy.
If you don’t have that support in your life, try to make a conscious effort to look for it. Invest the time and energy. Whether you find it through therapy, peers, or mentors, the guidance is out there. You just need to keep searching for it.
Practice Healthy Coping Skills
If you have a high ACE score, it’s easy to become triggered by certain people, places, or feelings. These triggers may cause you to react inappropriately. For example, you might abuse alcohol or binge on sweets instead of taking care of your emotions. You may depend on external validation to feel loved and secure.
Healthy coping skills can help you manage life’s inevitable difficulties. It’s a good idea to have several skills on hand- different ones will work at different times, and you may need to try several before you start feeling better.
Set Boundaries (Including No-Contact Relationships)
Do not allow people to mistreat or disrespect you. At first, this suggestion may seem impossible, particularly if you’ve spent most of your life taking care of others. But recovering from ACEs requires rebuilding trust and safety in your relationships. It also requires honoring your integrity and self-worth.
Your boundaries will depend on the nature of each relationship. If people cannot accept your limits, you may need to consider reevaluating them or embracing a no-contact approach.
For example, a narcissist won’t truly respect boundaries. They will convince you that you’re overreacting or being cruel. They may try to pretend like they’re respecting your needs, only to manipulate your feelings later. A no-contact approach is the best way to avoid getting roped back into their abuse.
Work Towards Acceptance
Although most of us wish it was possible, we can’t change our pasts. What’s done is done. Moving towards acceptance doesn’t mean condoning or liking what happened to you. It just means you no longer let it have immense power over you.
Acceptance is a lifelong journey, but some of the best tips for letting go of past wounds include:
- Creating positive affirmations to counteract negative memories.
- Letting go of expectations for apologies or changed behavior.
- Practicing mindfulness when you feel overwhelmed or angry.
- Practicing self-compassion.
- Talking about what happened to you with people who will support your growth.
- Seeking trauma-based therapy.
Acceptance is not the same as forgiveness. Unless you feel the need to do so, you are not obligated to forgive people who hurt you.
If you are struggling with narcissistic abuse, it doesn’t mean you are weak-minded. Absolutely nothing is wrong with you. However, if you want to heal, you are responsible for making the necessary changes in your life.
If you’re ready to break free and get started on the stages of healing after narcissistic abuse NOW, there’s only ONE way to do it: Let me show you how to forget the narcissist and move on.
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