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How Your Childhood Effs Your Adulthood ( Adverse Childhood Experiences ( ACEs))

Uploaded 2/9/2024, approx. 29 minute read

They don't tell you in the self-help scam industry is that your childhood largely determines your adulthood.

There is actually very little you can do about it. For example, attachment styles are almost cast in stone.

Disregard all the self-styled, self-interested, self-enriching experts online who are laughing all the way to the bank based on nonsense, misinformation and outright con artistry.

The fact is, your adulthood is the almost direct outcome of whatever it is that has happened to you during your childhood. And if what you have experienced in your childhood was really, really bad, if you've gone through what is called ACEs, Adverse Childhood Experiences, then your adulthood wouldn't look as good as it could have been.

This is the topic of today's video, how your childhood Fs your adulthood.


And apropos, my name is Sam Vaknin and I'm the author of my Lingnan Self-Love Narcissism Revisited.

I'm a former visiting professor of psychology and currently on the faculty of CEHPS, Commonwealth Institute for Advanced Professional Studies.

And that aside, let us delve right in.

The Adverse Childhood Experiences, ACE study was a collaborative effort between Kaiser Permanente of San Diego, California and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CDC in Atlanta, Georgia.

The concept of adverse childhood experiences refers to various traumatic events or circumstances which affect children between the age of zero and 18.

These adverse childhood experiences cause both mental and physical impairment.

For example, people who have gone through more than four adverse childhood experiences are much less likely to be healthy later on in adulthood than I'm talking about the physical body.

The body keeps the score.

Now, the ten classical adverse childhood experiences include physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, physical neglect, psychological neglect, witnessing domestic abuse, witnessing drug or alcohol abuse, mental health problems of other family members and imprisonment of other family members, as well as, of course, the big D, divorce.

These are the classical adverse childhood experiences.

But of course, these are not the only ways to traumatize or abuse a child.

If you use a child as an instrument, as your servant, as someone who is rolling life, is to realize and actualize your unfulfilled wishes and dreams, if you instrumentalize the child, if you parentify the child, you impose on the child parental chores and tasks the child parents you rather than the other way around.

You know, all these, if you pedestalize the child, pedestalize, idolize, pamper and smother the child, spoil the child.

This is also a form of abuse because you are denying the child access to reality, friction with the world, the opportunity to grow via adversity and conflict.

And of course, the all important inclusion in a peer group.

So there are many ways to traumatize and abuse children.

They all lead to massive consequences later in adulthood.


Today, I'm going to focus on some, a few, just a few of the mental health consequences in adults who have had an unhappy childhood with parents who are bad or dead, not in the physical sense, but in the psychological sense, emotionally absent, depressed, uninterested, neglectful, abandoning, rejecting, sadistic, narcissistic and so on and so forth.

So the adulthood of such children doesn't look too good.

Start with Marxism.

In most of these children, there's a common need for validation.

Now, there are three developmental pathways to narcissism.

One is when the child is frustrated, rejected, sadistically abused, mistreated, ignored, neglected.

That's one pathway.

The second pathway is exactly the opposite when the child is idolized, idealized, pedestalized, smothered, instrumentalized, fused with a parent in a symbiotic relationship, parentified.

This is the second pathway.

So situation where there's no validation in childhood, a situation where there's too much validation in childhood.

And the third, third pathway, developmental pathway towards the psychopathology known as narcissism is when the child is exposed to intermittent reinforcement, but by the same source.

A mother who is hot and cold, hating and loving. A father who is withholding and then smothering, etc.

So when there is intermittent reinforcement emanating from the same source, a role model, an influential peer, a parental figure, a caregiver and so on and so forth, this could also lead to narcissism.

There's a constant need for external regulation and validation that is very common among the survivors of adverse childhood experiences.

Too little validation creates a strong need for external validation in adulthood, but too much validation leads to an addiction to validation and the very same outcome seeking narcissistic supply.

This is, of course, accompanied with anxiety and a kind of coercive behavior, a behavior that is imposing, that is unpleasant and generates in the narcissist environment, the uncanny value reaction, extreme discomfort, feeling that something is wrong.

That is the first and a very common outcome of adverse childhood experiences.

The second outcome is object inconstancy, separation insecurity, colloquially known as fear of abandonment.

Adults with fear of abandonment always are wary, always anticipate rejection.

And so they act in a variety of ways. They develop a series of strategies to ensure the constancy of the object in their lives.

They could preemptively abandon, they could push the other person away, thereby regaining or reasserting a sense of false or fake control.

They could cling, become needy and control from the bottom. They can become essentially codependent and so on and so forth, people pleases.

These are all ways to fend off and prevent or avoid abandonment.

And this has to do with the lack of object constancy.

Another feature of adults who have survived a very bad childhood is perfectionism.

Perfectionism is a serious issue, actually. It sounds like a good thing, especially in certain jobs where attention to detail is needed.

But it's debilitating. It causes procrastination, self-castigation, a harsh inner critic. It is a post-traumatic artifact.

High expectations in childhood or the conditioning of love on performance lead to unreasonably high standards in later life.

And setting yourself up for failure, it's a bad object. You always feel inadequate. You always feel that you failed. That is perfectionism.

Usually people who have survived the kind of childhood no one should survive are emotionally unstable, emotionally labile or in extreme cases emotionally dysregulated.

When these people grow up, they experience mood lability, mood swings, difficulty coping with stress, high levels of neuroticism. They're not kind to themselves and to others. They let emotions overwhelm them.

So they are in a constant state of falling apart, decompensating, disintegrating, acting out or forcing others to regulate them.

Something known as external regulation. They impose on others. They become other people's burden. They black male, emotionally black male other people to help them with their own internal conundrum and predicament.

These people usually have difficulty expressing emotions.

Winnicott said the children who have been abused seek hate, not love. They love to be hated and they hate to be loved because they're terrified of love. They associate love and intimacy with pain, hurt, abandonment and rejection.

So whenever they're loved, whenever they're truly loved, they become hypervigilant and paranoid. They ask themselves, what is the hidden agenda? What's behind this love attack? Why am I being loved? What does she want? What does he want from me?

Love is perceived as a combination of weakness, vulnerability and manipulation. And this makes it very difficult to express emotions.

I refer you to yesterday's interview with Davia Shukorska where I discuss the question of why can't narcissists love?

Healthy expressions of emotion in childhood are often punished or discouraged. If you express emotions when you're a child and your mother is a dead mother, not good enough mother or father, you're likely to be frowned upon, mocked, ridiculed, punished, shouted at, etc. etc.

It can be very difficult to begin to open up to other people later on in life.

These kind of people have an insecure attachment style.

They become fearful and avoidant of any emotional involvement.

They're unable to go through emotional investment known as cathaxis.

They bottle things up rather than confide or share them.

And this is a closely attached or close derivative, close cousin of hypervigilance, which sometimes escalates and reaches the level of paranoid ideation.

When you grow up in a dangerous, unsafe, unstable environment, when your mother is not a secure base, when the very people who should nurture and nourish you are the sources of your nightmares and daily terror, then of course you are more likely to be hypervigilant, to scan the environment constantly for signs of imminent danger.

You learn that this behavior, being a bit paranoid, being always suspicious of others, doubting appearances keeps you safe, and you maintain this throughout life.

But of course hypervigilance is closely attached to other phenomena which are pathological, such as anxiety, sleep issues, insomnia, control problems in adulthood, antagonism.

Paranoia is a disguised combination of narcissism and aggression.

All this has to do with low self-esteem, which is known in some schools of psychology as bed object interjection.

Within the child, the child who is grown up in a dysfunctional family environment or a dysfunctional unit, doesn't have to be a family, this kind of child internalizes and then identifies with, introjects and incorporates a bed object.

A bed object is another name for a constellation of voices that keep informing the child how ugly he is, how stupid she is, how inadequate, how unworthy, how bad, how deserving of punishment, etc.

This is the bed object. It never ceases. It never stops. It's always there like background noise. It drives the bed object container, the bed object recipient, to madness.

So the bed object, of course, is a source of low self-esteem or low sense of self-worth.

Self-worth is a combination of self-esteem, self-confidence and a few other cells.

So low self-esteem has to do with messages, negative messaging, by mainly parental figures about your worth, your capability, your ability to extract favorable outcomes from the environment, your self-efficacy, your personal autonomy, your agency, your independence.

This is all damaging to self-esteem and it carries over to childhood.

When your self-esteem is low, you're unable to love yourself. Loving oneself is the first experience of love. It is first mediated through the mother in what used to be called the symbiotic phase.

So the child loves an aggregate of himself and his mother. And then the child separates from mother, but still is in the process of self-loving.

It's a kind of rehearsal, kind of exercise. I'm going to love myself first. I'm going to make all the mistakes in the process of loving with myself. And then I'm going to be able to love other people much more efficiently and smoothly.

But if your self-esteem is low, if your sense of self-worth fluctuates all the time in response to environmental stimuli, messaging and cues, then you're not able to love yourself. What is there to love?

If all you are is a bad object, what is there to love?

And if you can't love yourself and if you've never experienced self-love, you've never experienced love, you are inexperienced in love.

So you're unable to love others.

When your self-esteem is low, you don't trust yourself, because you're not your own best friend.

If you identify with the bad object inside you as a survivor of adverse childhood, then you can't trust yourself. Your bad, you're corrupt. You're dysfunctional. You're stupid, you're ugly. You're inadequate, you're a failure.

Why would you trust yourself?

And if you distrust yourself, you're not likely to listen to yourself, to your authentic voice, to your intuition, to your gut instinct.

So a child who grew up in a really, really hostile family is a child who usually has been told that his thinking is wrong, his intuitions are stupid, his gut feelings are crazy.

Child is constantly invalidated.

And when the child grows up and becomes an adult, there is a distrust of one's intuition.

And this causes problems in decision-making, made selection and avoidance of risk and danger.

When you know that you can't trust yourself, and when you do not listen to your intuition, when you find yourself time and again in situations which you should have avoided, had you trusted yourself, something known as repetition compulsion, then of course you wouldn't want to be vulnerable, exposed, open, collaborative, sharing.

You would avoid other people.

Vulnerability in this case is dangerous.

It's a weakness.

And someone who distrusts himself or herself is very unlikely to agree to be vulnerable in any relationship.

Vulnerability is the precondition for intimacy.

Intimacy is about being mutually vulnerable, mutually trusting without fear, without apprehensive anticipation of consequences.

You trust each other in intimacy.

But if you can't trust yourself, and if you're terrified of being vulnerable, then of course you're not likely to trust anyone.

Your attachment style is likely to be insecure, and you're likely to engage in approach, avoidance, repetition, compulsion.

You're likely to approach a potential partner, potential friend, and so on, but then avoid them because they get too close, because they get to know you too well, because they're learning things about you.

It's hard to open up if emotions and vulnerabilities have been mocked or dismissed when you were a child.

You're likely to hide your emotions.

You're likely to put up barriers.

You're likely to fake invulnerability.

I call it invulnerability signaling.

You're likely to fend off potential harm and hurt, and rejection, and abandonment, and pain by simply not placing yourself in situations that could lead to these outcomes.

Isolating yourself.

Gradually, these kind of people, people who have been exposed to a bad childhood, end up lonely, end up alone.

They simply push away everyone in their lives because of the dynamics that I've just described.

Ironically, anger is an ambiguous issue in survivors of childhood adversity.

Anger is a healthy emotion.

Anger signals boundaries.

Anger is intended to modify the behaviors of people around us.

It's a form of communication.

If it is done, if anger is conducted within bounds, subject to rules and mores and norms, then anger is okay and should even be encouraged.

It's an indicator of boundary violation.

And a kind of message, please change your behavior before this escalates.

But in an adverse childhood, in a dysfunctional family, anger is a punitive tool.

Whenever the child expresses itself, even in a healthy way, whenever the child tries to separate, individuate, set boundaries, declare his or her own individuality and personhood, emerging personhood and self, the child is punished.

The child is punished for being assertive, gradually the child attempts aggression in lieu of assertiveness and the aggression is punished even doubly.

So any form of communication is punished, put down.

The child is chastised, criticized, denied, all kinds of needs or benefits or access.

And the child learns that expressing anger is frowned upon and has very bad outcomes and consequences.

So instead the child internalizes the anger, self directs the anger.

And this leads of course to depression and anxiety, similar phenomena, but also leads to passive aggression and to negative affectivity.

Negative effects include anger, envy and so on.

When aggression is bottled up, when aggression is not released, when it's not externalized in a socially acceptable way, when aggression is not sublimated, it poisons the individual, it's toxic.

And like a chimera, it metamorphosizes and shape shifts and this metamorphosis they are evident and they have a huge effect on adulthood functioning.

Sometimes this leads for example, to explosive rage attacks, example, narcissistic rage, other toxic behaviors, undermining, sabotaging other people, hurting animals or people, cruelty, sadism, they're all expressions of bottled up, essentially self destructive, self directed aggression.

The flip side of this coin is the inability to accept compliments.

As I told you, love, intimacy, kindness, empathy, compliments, offers to help, suggestion of advice, they're all perceived as intrusive, as humiliating.

So why would I need advice? I'm all knowing.

Why would I need help? I'm all powerful, I'm omnipotent, I don't need help.

Why would you give me a compliment? You want something, why would you love me? You're after my money, you're a gold digger.

Why would you, et cetera.

Everything positive is immediately interpreted in terms of ulterior motives, hidden agendas, conspiracy theories, there's a struggle to accept positivity, not only compliments, but positivity.

When you were never praised, when you were conditioned to reject yourself and anything positive said about you, it becomes a habit, a lifelong habit.

There's a feeling, a bad object, a sense of unworthiness, self-hatred and self-loathing, self-rejection, negative childhood experiences, disrupt the formation of an integrated, constellated self and many, many ego functions.

And so positivity is rejected because it is closely and intimately associated with pain.

Negativity, on the other hand, is perceived as instrumental.

Anger, envy, obtain results.

The more aggressive you are, the more likely you are to succeed.

People, survivors of HCE, survivors of adverse childhood experiences, they have difficulty in setting boundaries.

They can't tell where they end and the world begins.

In the more extreme end of the spectrum of pathology, narcissists cannot tell the difference between external objects, other people out there, and internal objects, the internal objects that represents these people out there.

Narcissists cannot tell the difference.

But even in cases where pathological narcissism has not developed, in cases where the child turned adult is technically mentally healthy, more or less.

Even then, these kind of children, when they grow up, have severe difficulty setting boundaries.

They are very likely to struggle with inadequate, unboundaried behavior, putting other people's needs before your own, pleasing people, sacrificing happiness, or on the very contrary, infringing and trampling on other people's rights, on social norms and mores, on unwritten contracts and scripts between people.

It's important to set healthy boundaries, to take care of yourself and your needs, but equally important for social functioning.

And these kind of children turned adults have difficulty with it.

And one of the reasons is, as I said, the need for external validation.

I mentioned that children who grew up in families that could not provide them, could not cater to the need to be seen, these children were not seen within the family. They were not truly noticed and perused and studied and catered to and held and contained and loved.

So these children learned that they are invisible. They've never been, they're never validated. They've never been praised. And so they lack an inherent sense of self worth and self esteem, and they seek it from others within a fantasy world.

And this is the essence of narcissism.

I mentioned all this, but this is to do with the fear or anticipation of rejection.

And this is where even narcissism has pronounced aspects of borderline personality disorder.

The fear of rejection, unhappy childhoods are essentially a rejection of the child. All the child is experienced is rejection. Other children have experienced unconditional love, then they've experienced separation from the mother, then they've experienced individuation, then they've experienced other people and the difficulties and harshness of reality, which is good. They grow up, then they started to experience conditional love. They learned that their actions have consequences and outcomes and affect how other people regard them and whether they are loved or not.

This is all healthy.

But the child who grew up in an ACE family is a child who has been rejected time and again on multiple levels, never allowed to separate, never allowed to individuate, never allowed to be assertive, never allowed to set up for his or her rights, never allowed to set boundaries, always punished, always mocked, always ridiculed, always humiliated and mortified, always injured and there's a learned sense.

I'm being rejected because I'm not good enough.

Mommy and daddy are perfect. They're God-like, they're infallible. They never make mistakes, they're never wrong.

So if they're rejecting me, it's because something's wrong with me. I'm not good enough. My mother is always a good enough mother. I'm not a good enough child.

There's a painful experience of rejection and abandonment.

You can't build self-confidence built on these shaky foundations.

Situations which involve potential rejection become triggering and re-traumatizing and these kind of children will tend to avoid them in adulthood.

The whole environment is a crazy making environment. It's chaotic, it's disorganized, it's unpredictable, it's arbitrary, it's capricious.

So the child needs to analyze it all the time.

In order to survive, the child needs to understand this crazy making environment.

So these kind of children overthink. Their cognition is much more developed than their emotional capacity. They become cognitive animals.

This tendency to overthink is rooted in traumatic childhood.

These events, the traumatic events, taught the child to anticipate negative experiences.

And so the child reacts with anxiety, with stress, with insomnia, with difficulties in decision-making, bedwetting, monomania, paranoia, of reactions.

And the child tries to get a hold of what's happening, to get to grips with this kaleidoscopic nightmarish environment that is embedded in.

It's overthinking seems to be the way one's cognition can make sense of the world.

And then once you have constructed a theory of the world and a theory of other people's minds, maybe you would be able to predict and avoid adverse consequences.

It's not easy to forgive oneself.

Children who grow up in hostile, hateful, rejecting, frustrating, and punitive families internalize the self-object, identify with it because the alternative is to vilify and criticize mother and father, which is unthinkable, it's taboo.

This process is known as splitting.

My parents are all good, I'm all bad.

So they can't forgive themselves.

They self-loathe, the self-aton, which lead to self-trashing and self-harming and self-defeat and self-destructiveness.

They struggle, they struggle, every mistake or perceived mistake, every shortcoming, every vulnerability, every weakness are catastrophized, exaggerated, taken out of proportion just in order to inflict maximum pain on oneself.

It's masochism in effect.

These kind of children are masochistic as adults.

And the scapegoat child was taught to believe that he can do no right.

While most other children were told that many of the things they do are right, this kind of child is informed that everything he does is wrong.

So even acts of self-destructiveness and self-harm and self-defeat and self-abuse and self-defeat are perceived as wrong.

There's no refuge, there's no sanctuary, there's no respite, there's no way out.

Whatever you do, if you conform to social expectations and norms, if you behave yourself, if you go through life, through the motions of life, as is expected, if you sublimate your aggression and urges and drives, if you're okay, if you're a pillar of society, you're still wrong.

If you self-destruct and self-harm and self-abuse and self-defeat, of course you're wrong.

You can never be right.

There's no winning strategy.

It's a lose-lose game.

And this subconscious or unconscious self-sabotage is the outcome of PTSD.

The child wants to destroy itself because the child perceives itself as the source of the frustration and the rejection, the cause, the reason.

These feelings of unworthiness and low self-esteem, they reflect a negation of the self.

And then when you grow up and you're an adult, the type of instruments at your disposal allow you to really self-destruct.

You weaponize your self-hatred and self-loathing.

And at the same time, as you're in the throes of rejecting yourself and hating yourself and loathing yourself, you seek to please all others.

Your behavior becomes more and more accommodating.

But at the same time, more penumbral, more dark, even as you transition to a dark personality type, even as you engage in emotional blackmail and Machiavellianism, you do this within the context of people pleasing.

You're terrified of rejection, of criticism.

You become overly attentive to the needs of others, self-sacrificial.

You come last and so on and so forth, but there's a lot of resentment, a lot of anger that you're like that.

So you take it out on people.

This is known as passive aggression.

It's a very common feature, for example, in covert narcissism.

This is a very partial overview of the mental health or mental illness outcomes of a bad childhood.

And you should realize that the childhood doesn't have to be really, really bad or egregiously bad.

Even small things can have massive consequences.

This is the butterfly effect.

This is the attractor in chaos theory.

Parents should be very, very, very careful.

The slightest misbehavior, misconduct, rejection are magnified and amplified infinitely, exponentially in the child's echo chamber of a mind.

The child is lost. He's trying to make sense of a new world.

You know, the child is two years old, three years old. He doesn't have experience. He cannot decipher and decode what's happening. His brain is working overtime. He's overthinking, overanalyzing, trying to make sense and predict and creating theories and discarding them and treating new ones is busy all the time, making sense of his world.

You as parents should help your children to make sense of the world.

And behaviors that are nonsensical, unreasonable, cannot be subject to any rigorous analysis because they're crazy.

These kind of behaviors drive your child to disintegrate later in life to extreme dysfunction.

And ultimately the child says, "I hate my life. I'd rather discard it." Something collectively called a rejection of life.

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