1 Jun

If you follow my Toxic Mom Toolkit Facebook page you know that I have finished the first draft of my book and that I’m editing chapters. I was thinking how valuable this chapter is and thought I’d put it up here. I hope this is helpful to you.


        ACES – Adverse Childhood Experiences


I’m not a scientist, nor will I ever play one on T.V.

In fact, I am SO not a scientist for many reasons including extreme medical squeamishness and an empty folder in my brain where my multiplication tables should reside. But I’ve long thought I should have some scientific perspective to help illuminate the fallout from toxic mothering or some really smart analysis of how children are negatively affected.

How do people sort out how much their toxic mothers negatively affect their adult lives?

Ask the universe and it will come to you.

I met a new friend for coffee. This man happens to be a saintly sort, the director of a very interesting and progressive homeless shelter in the town where I live. A former attorney, he comes across as part professor, part priest, all compassionate caring. Which, couldn’t be more different than my first impression of “looks good on the outside” but “emotionally limping” on the inside.

I decided not to hold his brains and confidence against him. Maybe I could learn something.

He’s the one that introduced me to the exact information I sought in the form of a Kaiser Hospital study in which patients were asked a series of questions for a project that focused on Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACES.

In a nutshell, the study focuses on how the number of ACES one experiences in youth can be a point of calibration to predict emotional problems that could be serious in adulthood. My friend values the study as a way to look at the causes of homelessness, which is often the result of emotional turmoil or hopelessness. Sessions for homeless clients that utilize this measuring tool are taking place at my local shelter and the feedback has been positive.

I, on the other hand, immediately valued the scientific study of taking a person’s life story and pulling out the ACES as a way of exploring what daughters of toxic mother’s experience. I like that by clicking off a page of questions a person could really see objectively that damage was indeed inflicted.

I ran straight home and found the study online and the questionnaire and found that I scored 5 on this test. I knew from my coffee chat that anything over a four ACES was considered the tipping point for bad things including a high risk for becoming homeless.

You can find even more information about this study at:


Prior to your 18th birthday:

1. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often

Swear at you, insult you, put you down, or humiliate you?


Act in a way that made you afraid that you might be physically hurt?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

2. Did a parent or other adult in the household often or very often

Push, grab, slap, or throw something at you?


Ever hit you so hard that you had marks or were injured?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

3. Did an adult or person at least 5 years older than you ever

Touch or fondle you or have you touch their body in a sexual way?


Attempt or actually have oral, anal, or vaginal intercourse with you?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

4. Did you often or very often feel that …

No one in your family loved you or thought you were important or special?


Your family didn’t look out for each other, feel close to each other, or support each other?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

5. Did you often or very often feel that …

You didn’t have enough to eat, had to wear dirty clothes, and had no one to protect you?


Your parents were too drunk or high to take care of you or take you to the doctor if you needed it?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

6. Was a biological parent ever lost to you through divorced, abandonment, or other reason ?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________


7. Was your mother or stepmother:
            Often or very often pushed, grabbed, slapped, or had something thrown at her?


Sometimes, often, or very often kicked, bitten, hit with a fist, or hit with something hard?


Ever repeatedly hit over at least a few minutes or threatened with a gun or knife?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

8. Did you live with anyone who was a problem drinker or alcoholic or who used street drugs?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

9. Was a household member depressed or mentally ill or did a household member attempt suicide?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

10. Did a household member go to prison?

Yes   No

If yes enter 1     ________

             Now add up your “Yes” answers:   _______   This is your ACE Score

Someone who scored an 8 on this quiz filled out one of my questionnaires. Her story is included in my book Toxic Mom Toolkit.


  1. Emily June 1, 2012 at 7:49 am #

    It’s hard for me to even read the questionnaire. I scored a 7. I like to block those things from my memory, and it’s easy because no one else knew or believed what happened. Ugh.

    • collectingjourneys June 1, 2012 at 8:36 am #

      In my book I follow this ACES chapter with a VOICES chapter about a lady who scored an 8 on the ACES questionnaire. The value to me is in validating the experience. How finite counting numbers is. You may not ever want to tell anyone what happened to you, but you can say you scored a 7 on an ACES test and I know my eyes will widen in empathy. I’m sorry that happened to you. I hope Toxic Mom Toolkit is helpful to you. – Rayne

  2. anastasia June 5, 2012 at 7:27 am #

    I scored a 7, too. My mother’s dead, so I kind of feel she got away with it. I guess that’s not very rational, but I wasn’t raised in a rational environment. I sort of scored 7.5, because question number 7 was true until my father left when I was 3 years old.

    • collectingjourneys June 5, 2012 at 7:43 am #

      I’m so sorry that you scored a 7. And I totally get what you’re saying about your mom. Just leaving your comments helps other people. It helps them to see that you were brave enough to take the test and to post your results. Thank you!

  3. Amy June 7, 2012 at 12:01 am #

    Six was my number. It’s amazing how many memories flood back that I had somehow forgotten when asked those questions. I’ve been dealing all year with a lot of things, and I’ve struggled with many things; although I know my struggles could always be worse. The question I keep asking myself – the one that I just really get hung up on – is how on earth did I make it through all of that ending up wise enough to know that I could be better than the childhood I had? My only answer is that a higher being gave me the wisdom needed to help myself, and the wisdom to ask for help when I need it, the ability to survive.

    • collectingjourneys June 7, 2012 at 12:59 am #

      Amy, I think that’s a good answer. They say children survive these things because they have no perspective – so little experiences to compare the bad ones to. You are resilient and that is a good thing. Thanks for posting!

  4. Lisa July 19, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Another 7 here. Where do you start? I have chosen to cut my toxic mom out of my life. It has been 3 years since I have seen her, two years since the last text message. That is, until yesterday. She claims “we both said things and we just need to forget it all and move on.” She doesn’t get it, never will. I replied that I wish her all the best, but I have tried to ‘forget and move on’ many times. It never lasts. I was sick to my stomach about the text I sent her, I still am. I have a feeling she’s planning an attack. When does it ever end?

    • collectingjourneys July 19, 2012 at 1:40 pm #

      Wow! Really? She figured that out for you? Well, isn’t she clever? I’m so glad you posted this because it is very common. And we want to believe our mothers. Sit down with a clean sheet of paper and a pencil. Write down three wonderful things your mother has done for you. Giving birth to you and/or throwing you a nice wedding don’t count. Look at that list, if you can create one. Are there sufficient positive past acts to build a relationship on? If not, ignore her messages. Don’t give her any energy. She’ll only use it against you. Stick to your guns Lisa.

      • Lisa July 28, 2012 at 4:37 am #

        Thank you for your response! It has helped me greatly. It is difficult for me to talk to others about my mom. I fear that they will judge me for treating my mom “harshly”. I would like to start a discussion on your fb page, but am not brave enough for my “friends” to see the post. My concern is this, I feel that cutting off contact with my mom is best for me, Actually, I know it is.( I also have cut off contact with my alcoholic father.My parents divorced after 32 years of a horrible marriage.) I wonder…how will I feel when they die? I am 49, they are both 70. How have other daughters of Tm’s handled this? My fear is that I will have such tremendous guilt that it will affect my ability to be a good wife, mother, friend, teacher. I saw your post about some books you have recommended. I plan on getting a few of those! Have you talked to others about how to handle the death of toxic moms?
        Thanks for all your help and your work on the web site!

  5. collectingjourneys July 28, 2012 at 8:47 am #

    Lisa, If you want to participate on Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook but you’re not ready to go public, create a second Facebook personna like SUPER Lisa, or Love, Lisa or anything you want with any image that reflects where you are on this topic. I totally understand that you may not be ready for the whole world to know about your struggle with a Toxic Mother. It is a very challenging thing to start looking at your own mother as just another woman. But try. Ask yourself: If any other person treated me this way, spoke to me this way, went behind my back this way, what would I do? Then do it. You don’t have to explain your choices to anyone except those people in your life who love you and you love back. When my mother died after no face-to-face contact for nearly 20 years what did I feel? I felt like someone removed an anvil from my shoulders. And I prayed that she found her peace. I certainly couldn’t give it to her.

  6. odango atama June 20, 2013 at 7:58 pm #

    I got an 8. What does that mean?

    • collectingjourneys June 21, 2013 at 1:33 am #

      An 8 is a very high score. I would consider finding a good therapist and start doing the work you’ll need to do. But just remember. This is all stuff that happened to you. It doesn’t define who you are. You define who you are.

  7. Jess November 22, 2013 at 1:36 pm #

    I got a 7. It is upsetting, as previous posters said, to acknowledge these things, seeing them in black and white. It’s interesting, because as I’ve grown older, the abuse I endured from my toxic mother becomes more and more vague, despite it still having very real effects (and having no contact). It’s only when my sister and I delve into it, which inevitably happens every time we talk on the phone, that I begin to revisit some of the specific, horrible things she did. Actually, I tried to start writing my memoirs about her earlier this month, because I feel that it will be freeing, and as a journalist, I have always wanted to publish a book. But with the holidays approaching, I had to stop. I feel myself getting more and more fragile about this stuff lately, and it’s so painful. I am married now, but his family also has issues, and because of my TM, my sister, niece and nephews have been pulled from my life. No matter how long it’s been, it’s still hard to deal with the holidays each year, and it’s hard to talk to others about it, when most people can’t begin to fathom what it would be like to have no contact with family, have no mother at their wedding (let alone one who would send them a vicious, berating text on their wedding day), etc. I, like a previous poster, am a little hesitant to have people see my interactions with Toxic Mom Toolkit on Facebook. But today, a friend posted a meme about how mothers are always with us, “they’re the whispers in the grass against our bare feet, they catch us when we fall,” or some such BS that apparently rings true for most. I typically wouldn’t have commented, but I wrote, “Wish my mother had been those things.” My friend “liked” the comment, but others wrote subtle things clearly meant toward me about growing older and getting more perspective about our mothers. It really pissed me off. I wanted to tell them this is a woman who repeatedly told me she’d wished I was never born, and beat me, among a million other things. But I came here instead. Thanks for being here. ❤

    • collectingjourneys November 22, 2013 at 2:06 pm #

      As fellow journalists we share that impulse to “write it out,” which I think is healthy. But on this topic, it is really hard. You think you’re ready but then you feel it pulling you down. You are smart to be cautious AND to be kind to yourself. Write when you can but I’d suggest… don’t assign yourself the story; just gather string. Write when you feel strong and don’t beat yourself up for putting it down when you need to. I originally left my job to write my memoir for myself. What I gained in creating the Toxic Mom Toolkit platform and Facebook page was allowing myself to see and to show others that there are many, many others who have slogged through awful stuff and rebuilt themselves some pretty incredible lives. When I started collecting other women’s stories it was empowering to me and they told me it was liberating for them. There were many times that I kept going to not let others down. I questioned my motives often. I did a ton of pure research on my life as if it was any other story. I cried a lot. I spent a lot of time in my therapist’s office. I came to understand why some writers drink. My writing effort took every day of 3 years and 6 months. I quit many times. I just didn’t tell anyone. And I started again. I hope that you will continue to use Toxic Mom Toolkit as a resource. If you ever need to talk you can reach me at Don’t let a little number throw you for a loop.

      • Jess November 26, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

        Gosh, you are so right about the whole writing thing. It takes time. In the beginning, I was super gung-ho, because there’s so much fodder and I wanted to get it all out, but then it caught up with me. Thank you so much for the words of wisdom, and for being an inspiration. I really appreciate your being here and being brave enough to put yourself out there and fill the void in this so often misunderstood and unaddressed area that so many people just don’t get, because they can’t fathom it. It’s wonderful to have Toxic Mom Toolkit to go to and relate. You are really doing a beautiful, important thing for so many of us, and I know you will be blessed because of it. ❤

  8. collectingjourneys November 27, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    Thank you Jess. I will remember our e-convo – so please keep me posted.

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