Childhood Disrupted

Join in conversations inspired by Donna Jackson Nakazawa's book, Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. We'll chat about the latest research on how ACEs can affect our health, happiness, and relationships; vent a little; and brainstorm our best ideas for resiliency and healing.

Recent Blog Posts

What You and Your Family Need to Know About Maternal Depression []

For the first time, a national health panel has recommended a way to prevent depression during and after pregnancy. This condition, known as perinatal depression, affects up to one in seven women and is considered the most common complication of pregnancy. The panel, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, said two types of counseling can help keep symptoms at bay. Its recommendation means that under the Affordable Care Act, such counseling must be covered by insurance with no co-payment.

Here’s a guide to what to look for and how to get help.

[For more on this story by Pam Belluck, go to]

Immigrant teens, parents explore ACEs, resilience in 5-week course with family doc

                                                Photo of art from class courtesy of Dr. Bymaster

Dr. Angela Bymaster, a family doctor in San Jose, Calif., was determined to find a way to teach ACEs science to her patients. Teens would come to the Washington Neighborhood Clinic clearly depressed by a range of problems at home that were contributing to risky sexual behavior and marijuana use, as well as preventable health problems like extreme obesity and polycystic ovarian syndrome. The clinic is part of a non-profit called the School Health Clinics of Santa Clara County,

Dr. Angela Bymaster

And their parents, who are also Bymaster’s patients, had their own concerns: “A lot of parents were telling me ‘I’m really worried about my child,’ because they suspect or know that some of these behaviors are happening. They see that the person’s depressed and they want to help and they don’t know how,” she says.

Bymaster did some research and couldn't find educational materials that were suitable for her patients. So, she began reaching out to parents, students, community leaders and local academics for ideas and feedback. She wanted to develop a curriculum about ACEs, health and resilience that would resonate for the Latino immigrant families with first generation children, and for whom Catholicism is central.

ACEs refer to adverse childhood experiences and the CDC-Kaiser Permanente ACE Study, which links the toxic stress of childhood trauma with chronic disease, mental illness, substance use and being a victim of violence. The epidemiology of ACEs — along with the other parts of ACEs science that include how toxic stress damages young brains, its effect on short and long-term health, how it’s passed on from generation to generation, and how resilience research shows that brains and bodies can heal — is changing physicians’ approach to helping people heal and to stop passing ACEs from generation to generation.

“Because he’d seen a lot of the same things,” says Bymaster, one key source was a Honduran pastor of a Spanish-speaking neighborhood church who had been a psychologist in Honduras. He’d seen “a lot of domestic violence that’s not really talked about, a lot of unhealthy relationships between parents and kids and parents and parents, and kids and kids. And we talked about what would be topics that would be helpful to bring up in the curriculum.”

Bymaster also received a wealth of input from her teen patients and their parents; from Barbara Burns, a professor at Santa Clara University who leads a parenting class, and from Bymaster’s partners on the pilot, the San Jose Bridge program. The result was a five-week pilot that explores such topics as parents’ childhood stories; ACEs, resilience and health; negative interactions and how to flip them; the cultural differences between immigrant parents and their first-generation teens, and a session on forgiveness. After the first hour of each two-hour class, the 20 participants — 10 parents and 10 teens from the same neighborhood — participated in an art project led by Santa Clara County-based visual artist Elizabeth Jimenez Montelongo. Bymaster, who borrowed the idea from Burns, says it was a way to end the sessions with some levity and calm.

Families making art together

The first session, says Bymaster, allowed parents to reflect on what happened in their own childhoods, to talk about where they grew up and who raised them, and, based on the advice of her pastor friend, to explore what it meant to be a parent or a child.

“He said, ‘You know, in some places, you turn 12, you get your school certificate and they tell you to go get married and start a family,’” explains Bymaster. In that session, they also talked about what was difficult and what they were grateful for during their childhoods. They were encouraged to point to fitting adjectives that described their parents, such as absent, unpredictable, kind, loving, and encouraging.

By far, the most challenging session, says Bymaster, was the one that included ACEs. In it, she described what each ACE is from the original ACE Study.  “A couple of people said that it was very, very painful. I don’t think it’s helpful to have them remember things from their past, but I also want them to know what ACEs are.” Those who wanted to were invited to count up their own ACEs.

“One lady was triggered and we talked to her and gave her a resource that she could go to for free,” says Bymaster. However, after they spoke, the woman said she had felt better, and ended up not seeking further help.

There was another pressing reason that Bymaster thought it was critical to talk about ACEs: ”Some people in my practice, I’m finding, are being told that ACEs are normal. I had one patient who had experienced sexual trauma and she said her mom said to her ‘All of us go through that. Just get over it! It’s a normal part of life.’ So, I tried to explain to her this is not normal as a child. We try to normalize everything that happens to us. But it’s not normal. Children are supposed to feel loved, they’re supposed to feel safe, have everything they need – food, clothing and warmth. They’re not supposed to go through abuse and neglect.”  Reflecting on the reactions to the segment, Bymaster says, “It wasn’t very fun for them to go through, so I'm trying to figure out how to do that better.”

During the same session, Bymaster also described techniques that parents could use to build resilience and their relationships with the teens, including eating meals together, laughing together, looking each other in the eyes, and supporting each other when they’re going through difficulties. “All of those things could build positive relationships in the family and can break cycles of emotional abuse,” she says. And Bymaster invited participants to choose one positive action they’ll put into practice — such as telling their family member that they love them or forgiving them.


And part of the resilience-building segment also focused on other nuances that she said played out in the families she served, which one of her teen patients had confirmed was significant. Bymaster asked the student how often she had heard a parent apologize when they’ve made a mistake. “She said, ‘Well, that just never happens in my family and it would just mean so much to me if it did.’” Bymaster realized that It was an obvious choice to include in the curriculum, a simple way to build trust.

And because religion is so much a part of their lives, a lot of faith-based language filtered through the workshop. In the third session on human relationships, for example, the group was invited by Bymaster to talk about negative words that people have used when interacting with them. “We talked about how those weren’t God’s words, and using those words is a sin committed against you,” says Bymaster. In turn, they were guided to think of beautiful words to use with others and loved ones, and to have gratitude for the families that they have been fortunate to have.

The fourth session was an attempt to bridge the cultural divide between immigrant parents and their children raised in the United States. “It was about feeling empathy for the parent from the perspective of an adolescent and the other way around. ‘I understand why you want to be independent like your friends, but here’s why family is so important to me,’” she says, giving example of how participants were guided through an exercise in empathy.

The final class, later this week, will focus on the meaning of forgiveness, says Bymaster. “I’ve seen a lot of resentment that can hurt families.” To offer an antidote for them to consider, she explained, “I’ll ask them to think about someone they need to forgive or to forgive themselves.”

While the pilot included some uncomfortable discussions, says Bymaster, it has also had lighter moments: “We have been laughing a lot and the art was really lovely.”

The group will meet one more time for a potluck and celebration. Bymaster says she intends to fine-tune the curriculum with feedback from the group. She was hoping to hand it over to the San Jose Bridge program, but she may not be able to do that just yet.

“One of the moms has been chatting about [the group] with other people. Now they’re all mad that they’re not in the group,” laughs Bymaster. “So now I have to get another grant or raise some money. They were all like, ‘What is this group, Dr. Angie?!’”

Latest ACEs science research from PubMed, February 12, 2019

Hair cortisol in the perinatal period mediates associations between maternal adversity and disrupted maternal interaction in early infancy.
Nyström-Hansen M, Andersen MS, Khoury JE, Davidsen K, Gumley A, Lyons-Ruth K, MacBeth A, Harder S.
Dev Psychobiol. 2019 Feb 12. doi: 10.1002/dev.21833. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 30747450

Child maltreatment is mediating long-term consequences of household dysfunction in a population representative sample.
Clemens V, Berthold O, Witt A, Sachser C, Brähler E, Plener PL, Strauß B, Fegert JM.
Eur Psychiatry. 2019 Feb 8;58:10-18. doi: 10.1016/j.eurpsy.2019.01.018. [Epub ahead of print]
PMID: 30743239
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The co-occurrence of diabetes and adverse childhood experiences and its impact on mortality in US adults.
Campbell JA, Mosley-Johnson E, Garacci E, Walker RJ, Egede LE.
J Affect Disord. 2019 Feb 6;249:20-25. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2019.02.016. [Epub ahead of print]
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Fusion of heart rate variability and salivary cortisol for stress response identification based on adverse childhood experience.
Aimie-Salleh N, Malarvili MB, Whittaker AC.
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Associations between adverse childhood experiences and health outcomes in adults aged 18-59 years.
Chang X, Jiang X, Mkandarwire T, Shen M.
PLoS One. 2019 Feb 7;14(2):e0211850. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0211850. eCollection 2019.
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Free Article
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Adverse childhood experiences, self-care, and compassion outcomes in mental health providers working with trauma.
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J Clin Psychol. 2019 Feb 5. doi: 10.1002/jclp.22752. [Epub ahead of print]
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New Intervention Fact Sheet: Parent-Child Care []

A 7-page fact sheet describing Parent-Child Care (PC-CARE) is now available. A dyadic psychotherapeutic intervention for enhancing the caregiver-child relationship and making behavior management more effective, PC-CARE combines teaching and coaching on how trauma exposure affects children’s mental health. Caregivers can be biological parents, relative caregivers, resource parents, grandparents, nannies, or anyone caring for a child. While caregivers play with the child, therapists coach them, pointing out their most effective strategies. The child is involved in the treatment process (teaching and coaching) as much as possible and appropriate. Siblings or foster siblings who are not participating in the intervention can be present during sessions. Multiple caregivers and/or multiple children can participate in the intervention using an adapted protocol.

[To download this resource, go to]


I am baffled and frustrated at the lack of trauma understanding among therapist especially those who work with couples and adults. Does anyone else find this troubling? My partner attends 12 step program and sees a therapist--but very little of it is addressing his ACES. I encourage the work he is doing but have to bite my tongue on the missing pieces, lest I trigger him. A previous newly trained, couples counselor spent alot of time on "communication" all the while ignoring the ACES related symptoms that were in the room. Does one have to seek out trauma therapists specifically? Any thoughts or perspectives.

Hello friends

   I need help and want to be more interactive in this goup. i have purchased the book. Childhood disrupted by Donna Nakazawa. i am a ADULT TRAUMA VICTIM  and feel like a WOUNDED CHILD.  I JUST STARTED COUNSELING WITH a EMDR Therapist for about 3 weeks now. it hurts. My mother was a  female batterer. Can this group help me to learn WHY do we not want our biograpy to become our biology. i guesss i am finding my voice have the questions now in life to ask why. As a kid i got beat up alot by my impatient mother and my absent father.  Can this group help me to get connected i feel alone and isoloated. I am involved in the 12 step groups as well. Both of my parents were Untreated adult children of alcoholics. I am 58 years old phyiically or i have 58 years chronically years but biological i feel like a wounded lil boy still, please connecwith  me so i can fell aprt of and learn to heal too.




Rick friday 02/17/17 central Fla.

Greetings, All!  Dwayne, here!  

First... TRIGGER ALERT!  TRIGGER ALERT!  This Blog-Post may cause some readers to TRIGGER into a TRAUMATIZED STATE!  Of course, that is never my intent; but, I thought it would be polite to warn anyone who needed such warning.  Now... 

I am not entirely sure how/where to start.  During my daily inner-dialogues, I hardly ever have this discussion -- there is just too much pain and shame involved.  I even end up feeling ashamed about those rare positive accomplishments I had; because they stand in such contrast to the abuses I endured.  

First, the good news... or, was it?    I was a genius, during my childhood and adolescent years -- with an I.Q. that was off the scale and a strong, vibrant Creative Muse... I was a wunderkind!  But, socially and emotionally, I was retarded -- in the truest sense of that word.  The de-evolution... Was it bred into me... and provided the gap through which all the abuses snuck in?  Or, did it come about, as a coping mechanism, from the abuses?  Hard to say, now that I am in my mid-50s.  Such questions keep me eternally, constantly frustrated with myself.     

The first incidence of sexual abuse happened when I was 5-years-old... I was gang-raped by older school peers in the boys washroom, at school.  It was a lunch-hour... I was stripped completely naked, punched and kicked and warned not to talk about anything that they did to me.  They gang-raped me, repeatedly -- anally and orally... Even the boys that weren't young enough to ejaculate took their turns.  After they'd finished their "fun", they warned me again not to mention a word; and they left me in the cold, stainless steel trough of the sink... naked, aching and trembling, covered in urine and semen and feces and some blood, and several clumps of paper towel thrown in around me... and told I'd better hurry up and clean up and get dressed, or I'd be late for class.  

I did as I was told -- cleaned myself as best I could... got dressed... tried to comb my hair with my fingers, in one of the mirrors... wove and wobbled my way back to class, stumbling to my seat, while the teacher wasn't looking... and carrying my great shame of that first-time sexual-encounter.  It gave me an erection; so I "knew" I had enjoyed it.      What kind of person was I!?!      

Similar gang-rapes happened a couple more times over that first two-weeks.  I got better and quicker, at cleaning myself up.  I'd be getting more of it, the other kids would tease me in the halls, seeing as how I loved it so much.  I decided they were being reasonable; so I should too.  I mean, at home, my father was physically abusive -- disappointed in his day-dreaming son -- and my mother kept me clean and fed, and gave out as many hugs as father would allow her... She couldn't really stop Dad's beatings -- THAT  was his job!  And, they both told me they "loved" me... So, at least I was able to take some gut-deep, visceral pleasure from the sexual abuses.  I certainly didn't get much pleasure at home... And, so, I never mentioned the rapings to anyone.  

Dad being military, we moved around a bit.  The sexual abuses continued -- I felt like I must have a "mark" on me, that the same type of people would find me wherever we lived.  By age 11-12, my abusers shifted towards men -- specifically, men "in authority"... 2 priests, an in-law, my dope dealers (trading my body for drugs)... and some of their friends... 

Oh, yes!  I started abusing drugs at age-10, to help me cloak myself in oblivion, as -- what seemed to me at the time to be -- a "reasonable" coping mechanism.  I continued active addiction from ages 10-31 -- long after the abuses stopped -- because... Reality was not my friend.  The sexual abuses by others stopped sometime after my 17th birthday.  From those years, to this day, I remember the taste of human semen, urine, feces, and blood... I remember what dog semen tastes and feels like, as well as goat, donkey, and horse semen... And I still have nightmares (and daymares, when triggered), of the time I was raped with a baseball bat, trading that for one more line of coke.  I had to lay in the dealer's tub for over 3-hours, before my anus would shut enough to stop voiding my bowels... Yeah, good times... Not.  

And, that is just a nutshell version of the sexual abuses I let others put me through... from ages 5-17.  From ages 17-25, I got into a chronic rhythm of genital self-mutilation... so that: a) I could still feel some pleasure, and b) to punish myself for making myself "gay".  And then there were the physical abuses... 

From age-5 onward, my father was extremely physically abusive.  The beatings were in the form of extreme-spankings from ages 5-12, leaving me criss-crossed and layered with welts from his hand, his belt, a wooden spoon, a hair-brush, a wooden switch, electrical cords... from halfway up my back, down to just above the back of my knees; and often the implements would pop partly out of his hands and wrap around my body.  I had the buckle of his belt come loose, whip around my hips, and snap against my boyish genitals on more than one occasion.  He would "spank" me until my bladder would let go; and then he'd get angry and spank me even harder, for pissing all over myself and the floor.  I would just barely be able to crawl up the stairs to my room.  As soon as possible, after, my mother would hurry up and wash off blood and urine, in a stinging bath of Epsom salts... dry me off as tenderly as she could... dress me in my pyjamas, and lay me in my bed -- where I would pass-out shivering.  After age-12, Dad decided I was too old for spankings... So his disappointments in me registered with fists to the head, instead.  Other physical abuses came from bullies, at school.  That continued until I was 15.  When I came back from summer vacation, I had developed a new attitude... and some major fighting skills.  The first bully who tried to intimidate me in front of the class, got laid-out unconscious.  I declared "hunting season" on ALL bullies.  I spent 3 months sending one after another home or to hospital.  None of them dared to confess that they were afraid of the scrawny little kid in their grade or lower.  So i got away with it.     ... I was vicious with them...   I ... enjoyed it.     And so, it is another great shame that I carry with me.  

And that is the shortest version possible, of "my" disrupted childhood... a lot of details have been left out, mainly in the interest of brevity.  What helped me get through all of it?  Well... Time... a 12-Step Recovery Fellowship that helped me to take a really honest look at myself... more Time... There were still mistakes made along the way; but I worked hard to find the lesson in each one, and put it to use in the next stages of my life... Giving back/Reaching out, to those who I found (or who found me) along the way... Sharing -- openly and honestly -- whenever anyone was willing and courageous enough to ask me.  There has never been any single-set, perfect solution.  I'm just not willing to go back there.  

Thank you for letting me Share with you!     I hope this is the correct venue for this -- or, wow!  You are all scratching your heads, out there, thinking, "Whhhaaaaaatttt?!?"      (LOL)  

Peace & Blessings, All!  

Rev. L. Dwayne Decker (ULC) 

I found this book through a side door.  I have been looking for information to suppress inflammation,since my knees have been hurting more and less for twenty years.   During an exam, my doctor said I had considerable crepitus (clicking and popping when flexing the knee joints).  I asked him if he could prescribe an anti-inflammatory regimen or medicine?  He asked me what the problem was and I described the continuing knee pain.  His response was to take ibuprofen as needed.
I wanted to stop/prevent/suppress the inflammation altogether and he wanted to treat the symptoms.  True, it was a non steroidal anti-inflammatory an NSAID, unfortunately we had just been concerned with my liver function tests being off due to using ibuprofen...  Sigh!!!

I started searching for whatever anti-inflammatory practices I could find.
I found numerous items that were anti-inflammatory through a book, "The Gene Smart Diet" by Floyd Chilton. After reading it and getting some help through implementing what I could, I continued looking for other ways to take care of inflammation and found that many places talk about their supplement's antioxidant properties, not their anti-inflammatory properties.

I have put together a few items and have suppressed the inflammation as long as I remember to keep drinking this and eating that.
I keep looking for info and references on anti-inflammatories and in the search found this book.

This brings me to "Childhood Disrupted" by Nakazawa.
Our biography can influence our biology through a process known as epigenetics.  This resonates with me and several of my friends.  My ACEs score is 6 to 8 depending on how I interpret the questions.  My main abuse (emotional, sexual, extreme neglect, emotional incest, etc) occurred between the ages of 6-16, I had some good fatherly influence early on.  I had a strong sense of who had the problems when bad things were happening and didn't internalize most of the negative self talk.  I still had plenty of problems with relationships, authority figures, self reliance, being more successful than others in my family and inflammation issues.

The above is necessarily a bare bones description.

I eagerly read Nakazawa's book and am in the process of learning to implement the strategies she writes about to reset the brain pathways that were misaligned during the abusive periods in my life.

Does anyone have any data on what works the best?

Many times we can get 80% of the improvement with just 20% of our effort. I would like to focus first on the most promising intervention and go from there.
So far it looks like Mindful Meditation is my first stop.  I found an app (it is wonderful to live in this age isn't it?) Headspace that will give me 10 days free to try it out.
Does anyone have any clinically verified interventions and how useful they are?
I'll also try any anecdotal suggestions as well, when many people find something helpful research later verifies what others were doing...