A Summary of What Happened to You?
In 2021 it seemed as if everyone interested in personal growth and psychology was discussing the book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Media attention and the authors’ fame were partly responsible for the significant attention. Dr. Bruce Perry is a renowned child psychiatrist and Oprah Winfrey rose from being abandoned by her parents, and beaten by her grandmother to become a wealthy TV personality, journalist, and recognized philanthropist.
But be forewarned, this is not a fluffy, easy to read self-help book. It is part memoir and part psycho-education structured by discussions in which Oprah and Dr. Perry share their experiences and Dr. Perry answers Oprah’s probing questions. They explore child abuse and neglect, and mental health issues, particularly trauma.
Oprah is candid about her childhood, her struggles with weight, and mental health while Perry offers insight. Back in the late 1980, and early 1990s, Perry and Oprah worked together to create and push for an American child protection act. In 1993, “The Oprah Bill” was passed.
Both are concerned with the abuse of children and with adults who now suffer from unresolved childhood trauma. They want the public to be trauma informed and for people to heal. So, they delve into how the brain becomes wired in infancy and the early years, what creates childhood trauma, builds resilience, and helps heal.
- Childhood experiences affect our adult perceptions of ourselves, others, and the world. They also shape our beliefs, values, and behaviors. Divorce, death, neglect, domestic violence, absent parents, parents’ use of substances, and what they see, hear, touch, and smell all affect children’s development.
- Emotional-regulation is developed in childhood when parents attend to and respond to children’s needs for regular sleep, nutrition, and care. Being attended to as a baby and growing in a family establishes a sense of positive expectation of the world.
- Children’s brain and nervous system development can be adversely disrupted by a pregnancy that involves severe distress, including exposure to drugs or alcohol, by an absent or aggressive caregiver, by a chaotic home that constantly stimulates stress hormones. Perry refers to the distress responses of flocking (being hyper-alert), freezing, flight (escape) and fight. He describes states of awareness from calm to alert, to alarm, to fear and then terror.
- The Adverse Childhood Experience study (ACEs) can easily be misunderstood. It is estimated that 60% of American adults have an adverse childhood experience.
- Fear and trauma can be transmitted from one generation to the next.
- Neglect and abuse of children create adverse effects, including people pleasing and self-harm.
- Children need safety and security. Participating in a caring community, including a safe school environment, provides protective factors and can help build resilience. As adults, becoming active in our communities can assist in our healing.
- Childhood trauma can be the root cause of later dysfunctional biases and beliefs.
- Trauma in children, youth and adults varies from minor to deeply layered.
- We become more resilient and empathetic when we are engaged in our communities. Making time for relationships and face-to-face interactions is crucial to our well-being.
- Those who live with trauma, struggle to establish healthy relationships. Therapy to resolve trauma is next to impossible if basic needs are not in place. However, once the need for food, shelter, physical safety, and routine are met, healing trauma, one person at a time, changes the world for the better.
Dr. Bruce Perry Quotes:
- “The title, What Happened to You? signifies a shift in perspective that honors the power of the past to shape our current functioning.”
- “They (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration) came up with the ‘three E’s’ definition . . . trauma has three key aspects—the event, the experience, and the effects.”
- “Rhythm is essential to a healthy body and healthy mind. Every person in the world can probably think of something rhythmic that makes them feel better; walking, swimming, music, dance, the sound of waves breaking on a beach . . .”
- “A person’s capacity to connect, to be regulating and regulated, to reward and be rewarded, is the glue that keeps families and communities together.”
- “. . . we have too many parents caring for children with inadequate supports. . . an overwhelmed, exhausted, dysregulated parent will have a hard time regulating a child consistently and predictably . . . this creates an inconsistent, prolonged, and unpredictable activation of the child’s stress-response systems.”
- “The language we speak, the beliefs we hold—both good and bad—are passed from generation to generation through experience.”
- “A healthy community is a healing community, and a healing community is full of hope because it has seen its own people weather—survive and thrive.”
- “Trauma can impact our genes, white blood cells, heart, gut, lungs, and brain, our thinking, feeling, behaving, parenting, teaching, coaching, consuming, creating, prescribing, arresting, sentencing.”
- “Remember that the cortex is the most malleable, the most changeable part of the brain. Beliefs and values can change.”
- “Conversation, for example, promotes resilience; discussions and argument over family dinners and mildly heated conversations with friends are—as long as there is repair—resilience building and empathy-growing experiences.”
- “We are now raising our children and youth in environments that are both relationally impoverished and sensory overloading from the proliferation of screen-based technologies.”
- “If we truly want to understand ourselves, we need to understand our history—our true history. Because the emotional residue of our past follows us.”
Oprah Winfrey Quotes:
- “Millions of people were treated just as I was as children and grew up believing their lives were of no value.”
- “. . . powerful, frightening, or isolating sensory experiences that last mere seconds or are endured for years can remain locked deep in the brain.”
- “Living in a traumatizing environment causes the child to be continually dysregulated.”
- “You can’t become a healthy being unless you’ve had some challenges that allow you to build resilience and empathy.”
- “Your past is not an excuse. But it is an explanation—offering insight into the questions so many of us ask ourselves. Why do I behave the way I behave? Why do I feel the way I feel?”
- “So often we use the word snapped when we don’t know where a burst of anger is coming from or why someone is having a violent reaction. Something has happened in the moment.”
- “. . . no matter what has happened, you get a chance to re-write the script.”
- “We must understand and heal the wounds of the past before we can move forward.”
- “She (Iyanla Vanzant) said that until you heal the wounds of your past, you will continue to bleed. The wounds will bleed through and stain your life, through alcohol, through drugs, through sex, through overworking.”
- “Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different.”
- “The acknowledgement of one human being by another is what bonds us. Asking ‘What happened to you?’ expands the human connection.”
- “What happened to you can be your power.”
From now on, when you are off the mark with your best self, please ask yourself, what happened to me?” If you don’t like the answer, seek healing to change the script.
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Patricia Morgan MA CCC helps her readers, clients, and audiences lighten their load, brighten their outlook, and strengthen their resilience. To go from woe to WOW call 403.242.7796 or email a request.