It’s hard to recover from trauma no matter when it happens. However, when adversity arises in childhood, it can be especially difficult to overcome. Unlike adults, children have very little control over their surroundings. When a child lives in an abusive home, their ability to move away from that environment is extremely limited, while an adult usually has more emotional and financial resources to escape.

Meanwhile, children are still learning what healthy relationships look like and how to deal with difficult situations. Growing up in a household where abusive behavior is the norm can skew their understanding of what is and is not acceptable in a relationship. Even if the trauma is inevitable, such as a death in the family or a serious illness of a family member, children develop their coping skills, which makes it difficult to process what they have experienced.

So how can adults who experienced adversity in their childhood process and process this trauma now that they are adults?

How to measure your childhood trauma

That Negative childhood experiences (ACE) Quiz, is a measure of childhood trauma. The test itself is short – just ten questions – and asks about family adversities growing up, including physical or sexual abuse, neglect, and about family members with mental health problems or substance abuse.

The higher the score, the more likely it is that a person will develop chronic health problems in adulthoodsuch as anxiety, depression, diabetes, asthma, cancer, obesity, coronary artery disease, and substance abuse. People with a score of 4 or higher are at significantly higher risk than those who have not experienced childhood adversity.

When you have high ACE, knowing that these early experiences can have a negative impact on your health and well-being as an adult can be quite daunting. However, it’s really important to remember that your ACE level is only an indicator of what you’ve been through, and not a guarantee of what your future will be.

“Just because a person has had multiple ACEs doesn’t necessarily mean that later problems are inevitable, it just predisposes them,” said Genevieve Rivera, managing director of the American SPCC, a non-profit organization dedicated to parenting education and child abuse prevention. “We have strategies, practices, tools, and routines that can help us rewire our brains and bodies.”

Start by looking for professional help

“If you have a traumatic history, if you experienced adversity in childhood, you can get in touch with support early on,” said Melissa Goldberg-Mintz, clinical psychologist and founder of Secure Base Psychology, PLLC. “You can do that preventively.”

People with high ACE levels have a high likelihood of developing problems such as PTSD, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, anger, and impulses for suicide. Because of this, it is important to proactively seek the psychiatric care that you need. “It’s really important to have a professional by your side to help you,” said Rivera.

Seeking help is often the first and most important step in dealing with the lingering effects of childhood adversity and can serve as a foundation for healthy, functioning lives.

Learn to recognize and develop healthy relationships

“Connection is the best medicine we have,” said Goldberg-Mintz. When a child experiencing adversity also has a warm, loving relationship – be it with a parent, grandparent, or caregiver – it often provides a protective buffer against problems that develop later in life. “We know best how to deal with emotional pain by connecting with people we feel securely connected to,” she said.

However, adults who did not experience a loving relationship as children can still work on building healthy relationships later in life, which can help avert some of these results. Man is a social being. We crave connection, and if we don’t get it, our mental and physical health can suffer. Developing an understanding of what healthy relationships look like and what the boundaries and expectations should be in those relationships is key.

Make your physical and emotional wellbeing a priority

Given that adversity in childhood can lead to a number of chronic health problems later in life, be it physical or psychological, it is important to focus on your physical and emotional wellbeing.

“You want to make sure that your basic needs are met,” said Goldberg-Mintz. This includes getting enough sleep, regular exercise, eating a healthy diet, and connecting with others. “When your basic needs are not met, you are more prone to these poor results.”

This can be challenging, especially because conditions like depression and anxiety make it particularly difficult to get enough sleep or exercise. The more you can focus on your own physical and mental wellbeing, the better.

Strengthen your resilience

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from adversity. Some children who face adversity may develop resilience, while others have a harder time. “Research shows that having a single supportive parenting figure in a child’s life goes a long way toward building that resilience,” said Rivera.

However, for those who struggled to build resilience in childhood, it is still possible to develop these skills as an adult – and that stems from seeking professional help and focusing on building those healthy relationships. Resilience naturally develops when we do these things.

“We all have resilience in us, but we have to work to build it,” said Rivera. “Research has actually shown that our bodies experience a positive biological response when we are surrounded by healthy relationships.”