May 9 2016

When Jake was a child, his parents would scream at him every day. They told him everything he did was wrong and he was worthless. One day when Jake was 4, his father threw him against the wall three times.

It was not until his mother found Jake talking to himself at age 12 that she saw he — and her family — needed help. When Jake entered therapy, he was hearing voices in his head and had a severe stutter. He never felt safe and found it hard to trust others.

Today, Jake, a 58-year-old Los Angeles resident, has generalized anxiety and panic disorder, and only stopped stuttering 15 years ago when he found an effective treatment. He also has diabetes.

Jake’s life illustrates what a decade of research has revealed: early childhood trauma sets a foundation for mental and physical health challenges as adults. Those who experience multiple incidents of extreme adversity or trauma as children, from physical abuse to living with a substance abuser, are more likely to experience health problems in adulthood.

The Center for Youth Wellness reported that 61 percent of California adults have had at least one adverse childhood experience such as emotional abuse. Almost 17 percent have had at least four adverse experiences as children, which can include parental separation or divorce and neglect.

What is the connection to adult health problems? Because 80 percent of brain development occurs by age three, the way we learn, think and grow is greatly influenced by positive or negative early childhood experiences. Stress from extreme, repeated trauma during this time of growth interferes with brain development and alters the immune and nervous systems. This affects the body’s response to pain and stress, as well as a child’s ability to manage emotions, trust and interact with others. Childhood trauma dramatically changes the way children see themselves and the world. Click here to continue reading the piece in its entirety on

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