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If my parents tell me I am stupid and ugly, I believe them. But if they tell me I can fly-I will grow wings.

The major finding in the Center for Disease Control’s ACE [Adverse Childhood Experiences] study wasn’t so much enlightening, as it was confirming. Although our intuition isn’t always accurate, in this case the longitudinal study confirmed what most of us suspect that a person’s adverse childhood experiences can make him/her more susceptible to the negative consequences of stress and more prone to having mental health struggles. ACEs are abuses children experience and they fall into the following categories:

  • Emotional Abuse
  • Physical Abuse
  • Verbal Abuse
  • Sexual Abuse
  • Neglect

Children are born perfectly loving, playful, and genuine. However, the parents teach their children what Carl Rogers called conditions of worth. These are standards of behavior that children must follow in order to receive love and avoid criticism. Eventually these standards become internalized into what Eric Berne called a life script. A life script reflects an unconscious set of instructions for living life. These unconscious beliefs, or guidelines, can be completely arbitrary or even downright false. Many of them are irrational and unnecessarily limiting. The key to freedom is to become aware of our irrational and limiting thoughts. This awareness is being able to replace them with healthy thoughts.

Ruiz argues that children do not know any better than to agree with the adult realities into which they are indoctrinated. Children do not argue with the meanings of words or grammar as they are learning language. If my parents tell me I am smart and handsome, I believe them. If they tell me I am stupid and ugly, I believe them. Children have no choice, but to agree.

In Plato’s Allegory of the Cave dwellers, they are shackled, unable to see anything but the shadows playing on the walls. The cave dwellers perceive the shadows as reality. In a similar manner, children are prisoners of their parents’ reality, seeing only what their parents’ project. Their parents’ projections are often mere shadows of reality. As we mature, though, we can break free of the shackles resulting from the agreements our parents imposed upon us. We can rid ourselves of those false ideas our parents implanted into our minds. We can accept healthier agreements that help us build a more resilient mind and protect us from mental health struggles.

But this takes awareness. It requires effortful action to discover and then discard those falsehoods and replace them with truths.

If our childhood has ACEs in it, it can be difficult in developing the awareness of how they have shaped our realities and our perceptions. They can make it appear as if change is impossible. However, the good news is that the simple act of becoming aware of the existence of these ACEs greatly diminishes their power over us.

Much like how surgeons have been able to improve their ability to heal physical ailments, the development of advanced treatments to overcome mental health struggle has been progressing. Compared to the past, they are showing significantly higher success rates today. The challenge is that for many who suffer, they have come to accept their mental health struggles as a life sentence. This challenge is compounded by the fact that they have virtually no access to these advanced forms of treatments. They remain victims of the artificial realities that their parents created for them, firmly believing that those realities are true. What’s more real, what is truer, is that people can break free from the shackles of the agreements our parents imposed upon us when we were children. We can discard those false ideas that have shaped our lives and decisions. We can learn how to build healthier psychological functions if an advanced and comprehensive multi-strategy approach is used. To learn more visit viclebouthillier.com or aliveforwellness.com