Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry discuss their new book What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Dr. Perry explains how childhood trauma impacts our adult lives, health and behavior. He also offers a path toward healing.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
I'm Oprah Winfrey welcome to supersede conversations the podcast I believe that one of the most valuable gives you can give yourself is time taking time to be more fully present. Your journey to become more inspired and connected to the deeper world around us starts right now. For more than thirty years, Doktor Bruce Perry has been a. Maybe now, professor clinical researcher practising psychologists and pioneer in the study of childhood trauma, the brains of really stability neglected showed tend to be smaller than the brains of children, who have not been neglected as a leader in his feel. Doktor Perry is worth victims of America's highest profile, traumatic event, including the stability and siege and Waco the September the terrorist attacks and the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting. I first
Doktor, Bruce Berry and nineteen. Eighty nine, he appeared Many times on, the Oprah show to talk about his research on trauma healing and how overcome the wounds of our past, Bruce, and I have co authored a book. I'm so excited right now, because have you seen the book that we did together? What happened to you conversations on trauma, resilience and healing the experiences you have when you're growing up both good and bad shape, the biology of your brain, where we discuss s, this one fundamental question: what happened to you is a revolutionary new way to understand our relationships and behaviour.
So I welcome this Super Sol, Doktor, Bruce Perry of here in my garden, you join me from Nashville Tennessee MILES dumping ground, hi hi. How are you I'm so good? You know. The truth is that you and I have been thinking about talking about for a long time, working together on it is surrounding what makes people behave where they do specifically childhood trauma, and I'm so excited right now, because have you seen the book that we did together? What happened to you? This is such a critical question and the reason why I wanted you to do a book about it is because several years ago I was a story for sixty minutes on childhood trauma based on this place in the walkie call say days, and I interviewed you for that, and although I've been talking to you for over thirty two years about these,
active trauma on children's brains, it was in that moment that I had the biggest aha ever it actually changed the way I see people it changed the way I see myself. It The way I operate in business image in the way I operate my school because the question of that what's wrong with you But what happened to you allows us to look at a person from not a place of judgment. The place of trying to understand what went on. Or that is causing that behaviour so that's a long intro into. Why does that shift matter? Where it's one of the most important things about that? shifting frame of reference is that we know that in the experiences
You have when you're growing up both good and bad shape. The biology of your brain, and so is early experienced literally have a major impact on your physical health, your mental health care, social, health and and really every aspect of. Our society is impacted by developmental experiences and in particularly development experiences that are toxic okay, so the bottom line is it's what happened to you as a child shaped the way you act? View the world and you're world view determined a personal view of yourself and that that's why you either grow up with a sense of worthiness are not based on
what you're surroundings. That's what I hear you saying exactly and in I think people intuitively understand that your life experiences influence where you are, but what I don't think they connect with. Is that those experiences literally each change the biology of your body, particularly the biology of your brain. That's what we did not realise until you came along to tell us so start with the word trauma, because I know the term that thrown away EL the lot nowadays, and you like to be very specific, so How do you define trauma? Oh everybody uses that term right and we'll talk about it. Oh, my god, I was traumatized by something that somebody said to me at lunch. You know and when we are talking about trauma in this book, and when I talk about trauma in my work, I am actually referring to inexperience
Can literally influence the way your stress response systems work and resolve have long term impact on the person so in this is an important thing, because the experience itself is not necessarily the trauma to people can go to the same event and one will be completely overwhelmed and have long term problems with sleep, anxiety, impulsivity The person being example. Wellbeing Double a car accident exile is most people. Think of traumas is major. Disasters in your life crises using two people can go into the same event and come out completely deaf, exactly cause well in part, because both of them are going to have a slightly different ability to manage that event that they bring into it yeah. So
maybe somebody who has a history of inconsistent, unpredictable life experiences and their more fragile. So when they're in a school fire, for example, they're going to have a much time than a child who has come from a stable, consistent, predictable background and they'll both have some initial response, but the child, who has that stable background is going to have a higher probability of getting back to a healthy baseline, the other child more vulnerable. I mean one of the classic. Examples is if you look at people that go into the military and then experience combat while they're in the military, so If you take the people that joined the military and they have a history of domestic violence, alcoholism in their family, sexual abuse, physical abuse and then they go into combat veiled, develop, post, traumatic stress disorder at a rate, that's about three times higher than individuals who join that the milk
and don't have that background, but experience the same level of combat so interesting, also interesting that most people associate the word trauma. Big, dramatic events like we're talking about fires or hurricanes, or you know, maybe disasters, but there are so silent problems. I think you call them that have lasting impact throughout equally lasting impact exactly, and I think that this is an area that I hope the book will help people understand better. You know one of them is that where we ve been talking about Nelson last year as in our society, is racism right and One of the things that we know is that the stress response systems in our body that our housed in the brain predominantly these systems are very very much
valuable. They change in response to the pattern of stress or that you experience and if your experiences with stress are unpredictable and inconsistent and you have no control over them. You can have changes in the biology of that stress response system that look just like a big capital. Trauma, even though you never had any big event and examples of that are let's say. You are a minority child in a majority, community you're continually getting these little little doses of like. Why are you here and and do you belong here, microaggression people can micro, aggress people label the microaggressions, but when those happen, your stress response, activates and because it's unpredictable these little activations all day long
on slowly transform your stress response system be to becoming what we refer to as sensitized its overly active tuned up and then its overly reactive and so what will happen is somebody who has a stress response system like that he's gotta have a predisposition for having hypertension for having diabetes for having asthma and, of course, if you look at children of color and youth of color in our society, their rates of asthma, heart disease, diabetes, are higher than the general population I believe, a lot of that. It all goes back to that question of what happened to you exactly what your early childhood development was like exactly so here's the thing that really is. If I can get this message to the world, I will be, so satisfied people may be surprised, or shocked to learn that our brain development and
decision making patterns- are shaped by the first few years of our life experiences- and you know when I started. Talking to you, thirty years ago, we were always we were taught about we're doing a around zero to six. What happens in the zero six years? What I Learn from our discussions. Is that it's not even it is zero to six, but those first two months, which makes sense because anybody who ever is ever had a baby been around the baby knows anything about. Babies knows in those first couple of months that baby babies is taking in everything there the spider circles and you're saying in this in this book that if in the first two months go ahead, explain it This is it. This is the being being being moment attention every hour. So, first of all, I think you know, there's a lot of work that shown that adverse experiences are traumatic experiences dirt.
Development change you your biology and make you at increased risk for heart disease in our health health problems, substance abuse all kinds of bad things, but if you actually start to look at when those adverse experiences take place, it turns out that the most important time appears to be this first. The first start in life. The first couple of and so, when we look at kids who have lots of adversity and few relational supports in the first two months of life,. And then they get into a healthy environment. After only two bad months, they have worse outcomes than kids that have a good two months and then something happens were all kinds of bad things happen: lots of trauma, lots of it, so does that mean that if you were zero to two months, horrible things are, in chaos. People are cursing around you all kinds of
manifestations of darkness or are showing up around you and you don't have the Lange to explain it it's more damaging than if it happens to you older and you at least. I can prove Does it through language? You have more tools, the older you get them our tools. You have to understand and makes sense out of what's happening to you, but a in infant doesn't have the their brain has not developed yet. Point where they can really understand what is happening, and so, if those stress response systems, experience, chaos, threat and all kinds of extreme they'll literally be these genetic changes in the way those systems organise and they'll literally view the world as a threatening place, and so what that means is
if even in a safe environment, if your brain is primed to respond to that everything, as if it's a threat, a teacher who comes up to everything and tries to be kind, your brain and go. What do you want from me as opposed to? Let me listen to you, and it literally leads to this this sort of vicious such negative cycle of misunderstanding and then actions on the part of the adult world that further traumatize the child subjects blame this. You want us to imagine the brain as afore layer, cake right, and I I think that the Mai, everybody understands a little bit about how the brain works and how the brain changes the better off we're gonna be we'll be better. Parents will be better. Teachers will be better law enforcement enforcement in one of the simple fundamental tools we do to to. Teach people these things is have them envision. The brain is this upside down triangle and down, and
are these regulatory systems that control heart rate, blood pressure and so forth and as you get higher and higher in the brain you get to the cortex, the top part of your brain, that's the most uniquely human part of our brain. Those capabilities are the things that trying to basically encourage and build into the brain of a child when we teach them right from wrong. When we teach them language, we teach them geography when we teach them the story of our people. All of those things go into the cortex, but the dilemma. Is down here in the lower part of the brain. We ve got these regulatory networks involved in the stress response, and when their activated and when you feel under threat the first.
it happens as you shut down the top party, your brain, all the things were trying to do, and education parenting therapy that are intended to reach the top part of the brain. There never gonna get there. If we don't first deal with the trauma, altered, stress response systems that originate in the lower part of the brain So it's why use also say you can never in an argument if so, if you're, in an argument when someone- and this goes for Whether arguing with a child or child is really angry and upset. If someone is angry, you can now reach them through more anger. That's just not philosophical or social. That's action, the way your brain were biology, exact, oh you're, saying you can't coat. You can't reason you can't teach you can't get some, We do agree with you when they are in the midst of their anger, exaggerate exactly. It does not actually has to get
through this lower can a reactor part of our brain and then it has to go through the emotional part of our brain, and then it filing gets up to the reasoning part of our brain. If you really want to get too somebody's cortex, first of all, they have to be regulated and. And then you have to connect with them as a person, you keep using the term regulated and I don't think a lot of people are familiar with the term. So explain what that means. What is being regulated being were, broadly speaking, it means big imbalance You know you, your body has all the systems. Oh, your lungs. The help you sort of manage and keep in balance the your oxygen levels, and so, if you're oxygen level, slow, because you're working really hard by walking up steps, you'll take deep breaths, and so we have these all the systems that we have the systems that have to do with sleep and wake the systems we have to do with you now oxygen and
sugar in our blood. For example, there always trying to keep us imbalance and- and so these stress response systems that kind of talk about that are in the lower part of the brain, their continually getting information from the outside world and from the insight world, and so, if you're getting signals from the people in your classroom, for example, that you belong, you feel safe. We feel regulated, but going back to these micro aggressions that I talked about earlier, if you're getting signals that you don't quite belong not one of us, you literally feel DIS, regulated and it it's a stress or, and so anything that makes you feel marginalized, minimize degraded, not heard activates. Your stress response, yeah. What I learned this I mean, I think, that's fascinating, because so many p oh who live in it,
I believe that marginalized them- and I mean people of color- I don't understand why everybody is it just stone crazy having to deal with on a regular basis and how stressful those by crow aggressions are, and actually it was an x donation that you gave about the brain. Looking at that for layers that help me understand racism differently, sure so useful you're born with a brain, that's undeveloped. You know when it's that you, you know that top party, your brain, the cortex, is not yet fully organise. Other parts of the brain are fully organised and the way your brain makes sense out of the world. Is it takes patterns of activity things you here and things you see and it connects them, and that
your brain- can make sense out of your world when your little and if your world is filled with people who are all white, your brain basically makes sense out of human beings as being white and when it sees something that doesn't fit your pattern, it activates stress response and that's because the brains default responds to novelty to anything new or anything unfamiliar. The default response is what is this yet and so everybody. Builds this internal catalogue, that's their version of the way the world works, and so, There was a woman whose daughter was a basically apiece corn nurse and she was going into villages and in Africa and immunize in children, and some of these were very
very rural and in a lot of these children had never seen anybody who was white. She goes into the village and some of the little kids look at her and run some of them just break out and start crying in part. That's just because, for those during this was so unfamiliar and so like different, that at activated and heightened them. So we happened. Was this initial sort of implicit bias that they had was based on lack of experience with anybody that looked like that? But over time they over aim, that implicit bias by building in a new catalogue of experience with a white person, and so the next white person they would meet their brain, would go
you're in the same class as this nice kind white person that helped us in our village and the key opera is that first experiences are a powerful cause, they're setting rests experiences that are set out the template for the way your brain views the world. So if the first white person you meet turns out to be okay and that's based on real experience, your brain, I d fall to the next white person. Is There are good and also me, I say if you grow up, let's start with this, and you know no other person of color exactly so you're only experience with people.
Color is through what you see in the media and the media exactly and or translated through the people around you. You know you don't talk about ass much, but a lot of the toxic beliefs about others comes through the people we think are important. Our cultures, our teachers are parents, and so, if they have come from an hour biased and are racist that percolates into us, even though we may claim that there is no of a racist border, my body it gets into your brain and I think it is a combination of loudly gets into your brain. Exactly literally gets into your own and what I'm? What I'm trying to clarify here? Is it doesn't matter if you grew up hearing the inward or not or negative things spoken about black and brown people not it's the way you saw your parents treat other people holler it's the way teachers spoke of, or did its everything,
or is the master, is going into the right or the passivity of watching your adult parent. Not not call somebody I'm making a racist joke. You see them laugh at a racist joke. That's endorsement right that, That's ok, even though they never did have explicit overt racist teachings in the home that you pick it up as a child, and so, if you grow up with all kinds of bum barred meant of through the media through these sort of filtered experiences in your home in a community that
But who are black are other and not good as good as or have other attributes that somehow get assigned to them. That gets into your brain and so the let's say. You then have a real experience with somebody who is a person of color, and that can be great and you can actually be pals and big have be teammates and in sports or whatever and you can have lots of positive experiences, but to undo that original negative bias takes thousands and thousands and thousands of real experiences with multiple people and very few. Very few people are willing to put themselves in a situation to continue to be open and what has been referred to. Now's antiracist, You literally have two intentionally put yourself in a position where your maid to be uncomfortable with your own by us, but you have to do it again and again and again, and that can make a change, but it takes a special person is willing to do that.
Beyond the answers at every family has its patterns and pathologies of thought. I believe in behaviour that are passed on from one generation to another, and when I think of the Africa, american community, I think about the hundreds of years so trauma that we experience. Dating all the way back to you, know the first slave ship and sixteen nineteen, so What does science say about that? How does the trauma of our end sisters actually affect us. Well, you know one of the things about human beings, and this is a quality of the human brain. That human beings, unlike any other species on the planet, have the ability to absorb more information per second than any other species, and what that means is you can take the accumulated experiences, the distilled experiences of previous generations,
An internalize them in a way, little change, your brain, that the best example that everybody can kind of connect with is learning to read. I mean ten thousand years ago there was a single human being on the planet who could read because we had not invented the written word. So reading is an invention that we pass on to the next generation and in the way we pass it on is by rip additive, intentional exposure to all of the things that go with learning, how to read. We send kids to school and we practice and we practice and in practice in the brain changes repetition. The same thing is true:
for the systems in our brain that are involved in the stress response and in how we manage stress oars, remember that human beings are contagious to the emotions of others, and so the child will literally feel fearful in a way that the adult feels fearful and if that is repeated enough enough enough pretty soon the child. The biology of that child's brain will mirror the biology of the parents, brain and vat, can get transmitted from generation to generation to generation? Let's talk about resilience because our book is call when up until you conversation trauma, resilience and healing- and I know you have lot to say about resilience than I you the to share with folks today, because good. So in potent understand the difference between resilience and being malleable. Take it away so
and resilience is one of those words that we use a lot, and I just want to clarify that resilience is something that is not a permanent trait. Like you know, some just born resilient and they're, going to be the same level of resilience, their whole life resilience? Is this capability to respond to a challenge and a stress or an and manage it and get back to your previous level of functioning but the reality is the way human beings hours were a little bit more like the way we change in response to a stress, or is that it's a bending, a hanger you can bend a hanger to kind of Europe, we have to open a card or something but if you been the hair and try to put it back to where it was before you can get a kind of there, but it's not exact, the same way. It was it'll function as,
anger, but it's got a week, plaice, and sole. That's more typical of the way human neurobiology is it, even somebody who is able to demonstrate resilience at the beginning of the pandemic may not be able to manage the same level of challenge a year into the pandemic. For example, when I mentioned like that, your ability to be resilient with is what we say so many times about girls at my school over there so resilient. Are we selling? It also depends upon when the trauma happened at what what age the trauma happen so I just want to re emphasise that if you have a traumatic event or are in a series of dramatic silent events occurring as a young child, you're gonna be less able to cope. Then, if those of the happened, later in your life? Exactly that's exactly right. Yeah ass, a teenager Riah as a teenage right
and so you don't have any equality are important but boots. I gotta say this because over the years I've done so many shows had so many conversation with grown women, a relationships who say yes I know, he's he's a to me. It's terrible as soon as the kids are older, I'm gonna move out when in fact you are doing the most damage, the young, or even infant children Are receiving damage that may never be able to be repaired if you say, in a chaotic, traumatizing, violent relationship exactly That's one of the major kind of misconceptions of the aid world in general, about young children and trauma and the I think you can get over it right exactly. I think the kids are resilient. Do you know? I can't tell I hear that all the time kids are resilient and
what we do know is that children are were we're all malleable and children are very valuable. That's what then, that basically means that your changeable you can change, and the Good NEWS about this malleability is that the ability to demonstrate resilience is changeable. So there are things you can do to make somebody more resilient and there's things you can do to make somebody less resilient. How does understanding what happened to a child bring clarity to why a child purposely acts out a lot of when a teacher has a child who acts out in the class they feel as if its personalized as if the Miss Behaviour is directed towards them. And in fact it very rarely is if a child has a history of trauma. It's because this is the.
Behavior is kind of a manifestation that times of the fight or flight response, you know whether it's physical proximity becomes an evocative q every time any other adult got close to me and came up behind me. They were going to hurt me so when the teacher comes over my shoulder to try to help me and they blow up and say get away from me, that's basically a completely predictable defensive behavior by the child, but a come they confusing aggressive behaviour. To the teacher and again, one of the things that we ve been able to do with educators is, if we teach them about tat, In about these responses, they begin to shift the way they understand the child. They no longer take it personally. They they ask what happened to you. Sometimes it they may not know what happened, but they realized something did happen, something happened, and so they can then change the way they treat them over over the
Children have been punished, they've been ostracized, they've been condescended to been made to feel shamed by the behave which only makes it worse. I think one of the best examples you give what happened to you is the story of sand. Can you share that? So I was working at a residential treatment centre and, This was a place where all of the children where they're they're all boys and they had all come from the foster CARE child welfare system. So SAM had been there for a couple of years and he was doing pretty well. In fact, he was kind of a model student in school until he progressed into a math class where there was a male laugh teacher and he started having all these this behaviour.
Where he was aggressive and hostile and hostile, and sometimes we just leave the class observed. I observed I couldn't figure What was going on? I didn't see the teacher doing anything inappropriate, but every time the teacher kind of got close to SAM you know SAM, would like push his desk or he's throw a book on the floor. Do something sort of disruptive, so the changes is getting more and more frustrated. Heaters frustrated just gave one where forest doesn't know. What's going, SAM doesn't know why he acts that way. So SAM was actually said. To have a visit from his father, who had been his abuser, and so I'm comes into this room is sitting at a table with waiting for his father to come, and I'm sitting in a corner just distorted daydreaming. The father comes in and they start playing checkers or chasse. I can remember, but that, instead of playing
some came and I'm just sort of daydream. I started I started thinking about my dad and I started thinking about you know fishing in Canada and all of a sudden find myself having memories of certain deodorant. The combination of a cigar smell in deodorant that my dad had that He always had when he wore his hunting shirt and then- or maybe you know what I mean we smelling that smell. And so I went over to the father and sure enough that same sand from his deodorant was was sort of permeating the air it is clear that he had actually use that to cover the smell of alcohol because he was supposed to come to these visitations sober,
and so I thought I wonder whether or not there was a scent that was an evocative q for the teacher. So I don't go to the teacher and I said: listen, it is there any. You know what order to use any name. The deodorant order, the very same deodorant my dad used the very same deodorant that SAM's father was using and I realize that, every day and that class every time the teacher got close enough for SAM's bread brain to smell that send it wasn't evocative q. It was It was triggering a trauma memory and resulting in these disrupt the behaviour in the classroom, and once I asked the teacher to change that the oder it and I sat them down and explain what I thought was happening there. Started over. It was a reset and they became like really good friends and in it was a really really positive experience. You work with traumatized children after some of them must, horrific events in our modern history that-
stability and siege in I recall Columbine and sandy hook, schools shootings one of the key factors but are necessary to help children heels from huge. Does asters you don't? After all these years and lots of research from our group and other groups, it turns out that the most important factor is What we refer to a kind of as your relational health. How connected? Are you in a healthy way to family community culture? And if you have these connections, you can buffer present stress oars and it also provides the healing environment to tee. To recover pass trauma? So what we find is children who have got this relational wealth actually do pretty well, but children who have relational poverty are really very, very vulnerable and its also, if you ve, had a traumatic event
recovering stories, were kids were kidnapped or horrible? things have happened and then the child was returned and I was surprised at the parents. Hadn't spoken to the children about what had happened, and they were saying we're waiting on her to tell in our own time. Well, if remember our conversation about activating the stress response system in unpredictable and chaotic or extreme ways that leads to vulnerability but if you activate your stress response in moderate, predictable, controllable ways, tiny little doses of positive activation that you control the kind of thing that can happen. If you do
sports or if you are involved in drama or performing arts of any sort. You know the even conversation you know it with somebody about a topic. That's kind of hot there's a little bit of activation, but it's controllable, and if you got you so you have this pattern of activation that can take these sensitize systems and make them more normal and that's healing. And so what real is a major determinant of whether or not you get these little doses of healing experience is the density of healthy people in your life. If you got somebody, you can engage with you, you're gonna be able to he'll. Tell me this is you know, traumatic things that happen to you from zero to two months are embedded there in the brain if those first years, Hers have a major impact on how you see the world in view the world and in the formation
maybe a personality. How, then, can you even begin to change things that happen to you at a time when you had no control over it. Well, that's very important, big big question and the big big day. Sir, is that we begin to answer in one anxiety. You do not have enough time here. Mr scientists explain going. I will explain it, give it a shot of Ilusha so sickly. What we know is that all parts of the brain are valuable changeable. The key is actually reaching the parts of the brain with sufficient repetition, cause change, and so children who have these early life insults that result in these profound abnormalities during development. If you end up getting opportunities for consistent, predictable
stable relationships overtime, you will overtime get better. Even if you had a bad start, you can get better. It just takes time. Yes, and it takes people takes relationships. One profound thing I realize: after listening ten thousand, people like sure their stories with me over the years- is that all pain is the same In that we have no reason to judge another person's, paying and for everyone watching. I think, if you take nothing, else away from this experience is conversation I think what you and want people. People to know from this book is that no matter what happened to you, it's not too late. Do you have a chance to rewrite the script, and you talk about then call post, traumatic wisdom using all of the things experiences go the end bad in your life. To allow you to have post traumatic wisdom
instead of stress about it? What does that mean? We are basically that's referring to the experience. Where are you ve been able to kind of get through adversity and you are now at a safer place in your life and you can look back and reflect and take what you ve learned and you Is that to see the world differently, you use your pain and transform it to power and help other people. I think of the most transformative people. I've ever known, every single one of them had personal pain and traumatic experience that was a core element of who they became and it didn't write it didn't crush them. It. Is they learn how to carry the burden in a way
so I think it goes away. Its I mean you know it's not like your free of distress, Sir depression or anxiety is just that it didn't destroy them and it gives those people tend to have tremendous empathy. For others who are struggling and they also tend to have wisdom in other wise about yeah ability live with pain and not have so much fear from pain. You know it's not like you're going back and then doing your moving forward. I mean that's the thing: that's the nature of human, the human body a system, we always are moving forward, we're changing. We may think the same look the same, but we're always changing forward. Okay, thank you. So much Dr Bruce Perry, my pleasure. Writing this book. What happened to you for enlightening me, and hopefully now we will be able to bring that in life
to a lot of other people to understand themselves in particularly understanding how what happened to you shaped the way you see the world and what you can do now. If you want to change that view of the world, what happened to you is available wherever books or solve beginning April. Twenty seven excited outweigh very excited Varick. So thank you I'm over Winfrey and you've been listening to supersede conversations the podcast you can hello, supersonic on Instagram, twitter and Facebook. If you haven't yet go to apple podcast, unsubscribe rate and review this podcast joy mean exe, for another supersede conversation. Thank you for listening.
Transcript generated on 2021-05-21.