Friday, June 3, 2022

Trauma, ACES, and violence

 by Susanne Johnson

This past year I’ve been delving into trauma studies, which potentially offers a different lens through which to comprehend the inscrutably heinous behavior of violent people such as the 18 year old Uvalde gunman. Trauma is associated with ACEs -- “adverse childhood experiences” and "adverse community environments" -- which are potentially traumatic experiences/conditions occurring in childhood, such as experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect; witnessing violence in the home or neighborhood; parental divorce; maternal depression; discrimination; poverty and deprivation; and a host of others (see chart). Toxic stress from ACEs can impair the brain, and research shows a link between ACEs and chronic health problems; mental illness; substance use; anti-social behavior; and violence. One particular study found that “for every point increase in ACEs, there was a 24% increase in the odds of violent behavior;” i.e., damaged people damage people.

Within a trauma-informed paradigm, when a person perpetrates violence, the question to be asked isn’t, “What the hell is wrong with you [mentally, morally]?” But rather, “What **happened** to you?”
Through research we know that ACEs are preventable, and that healing from trauma associated with them is possible when there’s timely and appropriate intervention. Fortunately around the country, institutions and entities -- all the way from healthcare providers to juvenile justice officials to public schools to houses of worship – are becoming trauma-informed. We need to keep the research and conversation going on this matter.

Graphic illustration from LeBonheur Hospital, illustrating ACEs, categories of abuse (physical, emotional, sexual), neglect (physical, emotional), household (mental illness, history of violence, divorce, incarceration, substance abuse) on one side, ono the other, a tree whose roots are poverty, discrimination, community disruptions, lack of opportunity, poor housing, violence) and whose growth is depression, neglect, abuse, divorce, mental illness, substance abuse, incarcertation, homelessness)
Susanne Johnson is professor of practical theology at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University. This article was originally posted to Facebook and is copied here with permission. 

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