The topic of early childhood experience as it relates to long-term health is rather personal for me and has been my chosen topic of research for many years. In some ways, it has been a search for meaning. Having been raised in a very scary environment fraught with intermittent bouts of rage, alcohol, and domestic violence, my sense of safety and security were fleeting at best.
I really get it, why my father was so abusive and tormented or why my mother was unable to formulate a plan to protect us. I’ve come to understand that part of my experience as a piece of a puzzle in the all too common multi-generational transmission of interpersonal trauma.
What I have struggled with is understanding my enduring response to adverse childhood experience and how it has impacted my sense of self, my beliefs, and my general health and well-being.
Last century, fundamental advances were made in medicine, both in studying the disease process and in developing methods and treatments to overcome disease which have led to the present model of the adult onset of disease and chronic illness. In this model, once you hit 50, all kinds of things start to go wrong in the body.
As a health care practitioner, I find this perspective somewhat limiting since more recent research is now exploring the link between adult health status and early childhood experience. In fact, in 1999, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) invited scientists and researchers specializing in early childhood experience to form the Early Experience, Stress Neurobiology & Prevention Science network. Their task has been to correlate data from animal studies of early life experience with data from human psychosocial research in the study of emotional and stress-related disorders. Their findings suggest that the effects of early life stress are cumulative and far-reaching, giving us insight into the role of early life experience in long-term health. This series will explore this fascinating and relevant topic in more detail so stay tuned!
Have your ever thought of stress as cumulative? Do you think that early childhood experience, positive or negative, can impact adult health?