Oprah Winfrey & Dr. Perry ON: Healing From Childhood Trauma & Becoming Self Aware, Confident Adults | Transcription
Transcription for the video titled "Oprah Winfrey & Dr. Perry ON: Healing From Childhood Trauma & Becoming Self Aware, Confident Adults".
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Hey everyone, welcome back to On Purpose, the number one health podcast in the world, thanks to each and every one of you that come back every week to listen, learn and grow. And I am just honored, humbled and grateful today because I have the honor of speaking with the one and only Oprah Winfrey, the person who's inspired me to start this podcast, to have the conversations that I get to have every single day and inspired me to believe that wisdom truly can be viral, it can be contagious, it can truly change people's lives. So I'm excited for you to hear more from her and Dr. Perry in a moment, but we got to chat to Oprah just before this wonderful book tour event we did. And so Oprah, welcome to On Purpose, thank you so much for this opportunity. I am excited, I did not know that I inspired you for this, I did not, I had no idea. I've always wanted to tell you and I'm glad I get to tell you in this way, I grew up watching you and you made me believe that conversations about consciousness and purpose could reach every person on the planet. And that gave me so much confidence as a young man that this was the work that was so deeply needed. And so thank you so much. Well, look at what I did, who knew that, who knew that? You know, my Andrew was said to me years ago when I'd come back from doing my school in South Africa, the opening of the school. And I was, she wasn't able to attend. So I came directly from South Africa to Maya's house, Jay, and I was sitting at the kitchen table and she was teaching how to make biscuits. And I said, Oh, Maya, the school's going to be so that school's going to be my legacy. It's going to be incredible. And she said, you have no idea what your legacy is going to be. Because your legacy is every life you touch, your legacy isn't one thing. Your legacy is everybody who was moved to who watched your show, who went back to school, who got out of a domestic violent relationship, who changed the way they saw things. And so now I'm looking at you, Jay Shetty, a part of my legacy. That's the most wonderful and beautiful thing to be a part of. I'm so humbled. And I meant every word. But, well, thank you. Well, we're here today to talk about a big part of your legacy, which I think is this beautiful book called What Happened to You That You've Co-authored with Dr. Bruce Perry, who we're speaking to in a moment. But I want to ask you, how did you meet Dr. Bruce Perry in the first place?
Understanding And Addressing Childhood Trauma
Meeting Dr. Bruce Perry and the journey towards understanding “What Happened to You” (02:24)
How did you connect? And where did that relationship start your learning and your journey towards understanding what happened to you? Well, years ago, in the late '80s, early '90s on The Oprah Show, we met talking about early childhood development and how what you do with children from zero to six was the most important years because you're really cooked by six. You are who you're going to be. That personality is set. And then I was working on a bill that would require child abusers, child molesters, to have a database. There would be a database for child molesters in the country. And so, I had, I called Dr. Bruce Perry in a bunch of authorities on child sexual violence to my house. There was a National Child Protection Act that was signed that I went to Washington, I think, with Bill Clinton. And because in the early '90s, there wasn't a database for all the child abusers. And you could just go across state-to-state lines. And so, I started working with him early when I opened my school in South Africa, Jay, taking girls from traumatized backgrounds who were just like I was growing up, who were smart, who were passionate, who wanted to succeed in their lives, but didn't have the means. So, I went from village to village to township, choosing these girls. I built this beautiful school. I chose every sheet, every towel. I made it a beautiful aesthetic for them. And I thought, they're going to just now have these magnificent lives. Well, the first three days, girls were having really strange behaviors. And like running out of the rooms and crying in the classrooms and having breakdowns, I call Bruce Perry, Dr. Perry, from South Africans that I don't know what is going on here. I, I, he said, I think your girls are suffering from PTSD. And I said, how can that be? Nobody's been to war. So, he explained to me the way the brain works, if you've been raised in an environment where every day you're just worried about, are you going to get food? Are you going to survive? Are your parents going to keep their jobs? You're literally constantly in the state of anxiety. And then you bring a child into an environment where there are not six people sleeping in the bed. It's just you in the room, you're alone. That now causes anxiety because your brain isn't accustomed to operating in calm, in discipline, in order. And so that's when I started working with Bruce at my school. So he's been a major influence for me. And then we did a story together for 60 minutes, where this question of what happened to you came up, where he said, people always ask the question, the wrong question, when they're dealing with children with behavioral issues, they say what's wrong with that child instead of what happened to them. And that was the biggest aha for me. It is the biggest aha. When I heard you frame it in this book, it's truly, as I'm going to talk about later on, it's truly the simplest and subtle, but most powerful reframing. I wonder, you share so many honest and open and vulnerable stories in this book. What do you think was something that you misunderstood or had an incomplete understanding of about trauma that has now become more complete or more deep?
Commonly misunderstood concept about trauma (05:57)
Oh, what a great question, Jay. I thought trauma prior to my conversations with Bruce in doing this book, I thought trauma had to be a big gigantic thing experience. You had to go through a tsunami, literally, if not literally a tsunami, a tsunami like crisis in your life, a fire, a hurricane, a tragedy, a car accident, a stabbing, somebody died. And it was through co-authoring this book with him that I understood that it was the consistent little things. It was the aggressions and microaggressions in a person's life that causes them to have their own worldview. Whatever that worldview is for you is different from me. So the biggest learning for me is that trauma doesn't have to have a great big old capital T on it. It's really how you were loved. And that neglect and trauma are hand in hand because both are equally as toxic. And so I'd always, just like you with your millions of listeners, over the years of interviewing people, it was my greatest classroom. I was always paying attention to what people were saying and paying attention to their lives. And what I understood and could articulate, not through science, but just through my own observation is that, oh, people are as dysfunctional as unhappy as disoriented in their lives based on how far they are from the center of themselves. And the center is where wholeness lies, as you know. And so where there is no center and there is no sense of wholeness and love for yourself, there's going to be a disarray, chaos, confusion, and dysfunction in your life. And I saw that over and over and over again, that people behave based on how they were loved and then how they were able to process that in a way to love other people. And so Bruce just gave me the science for that. What this book did is gave me the science for it. I love that. I think it's a brilliant distinction between what we think is trauma and what trauma can be for all of us. I have one last question I wanted to ask you before we dive in to the conversation with Dr. Bruce Perry. It's this idea that you've interviewed so many influential, successful people and people of all different backgrounds and walks of life. And so often their success is actually built on their trauma. And so their success doesn't often satisfy them. What have you seen has been that transition when they go beyond their success, they heal their trauma to actually find true success for themselves?
Going beyond success to heal your trauma (09:06)
That's deep layered complex question. So this is what I this is what is many layers to that. What I what I realize is that if you come into success and fame, in particularly fame, because fame is its own world and definition because it really is based upon what other people think of you. So because fame isn't what you think of yourself, it's what other people think of you. If you come into that and you don't have a grounded, centered self, you will be controlled by the outside instead of the inside. And if you come into that, not in the fullness of knowing who you are and what you're supposed to do with that fame, it whenever somebody likes you or doesn't like you, that determines whether or not you're having a good day or a bad day. And you are you have lost control of your own life. So I think what fame teaches you quickly is to grow the wholeness within yourself so that you're not controlled by others outside opinions of you. That is a beautiful answer. And I think it will resonate with so many because so many of us are on that journey to be successful or be famous or be rich or whatever it may be. But to hear it from that perspective is truly refreshing. And I was going to I was going to say this to you. And why I was so happy to see this book being released, what happened to you for anyone who's listening right now is because we have a mutual friend who I won't mention right now, but we have a mutual friend and he said to me that once he asked you a question and his question was Oprah, what do you know to be true out of everything you've heard? What do you know to be true? And he told me that the answer you said to him was that whatever a child experiences from zero to five is going to define how they live out the rest of their life.
The younger the children, the more influence you have on who they become (11:05)
And so he shared that with me a few years ago. And then when I saw this book, come I go finally, we actually have an answer to it. Like we I so believe that. And I just think that that is such a true, true statement. I'm not a parent yet. But when I am, I'll definitely be trying my best to practice. You'll know that those younger years, the younger, the younger the children are, the more influence you have, not only on who they become, but on what their brain becomes. Because if you were surrounded by chaos and dysfunction and loudness and disorder at zero to two months, it means the synapse in your brain doesn't form in the way that it does in children who have had that. And you are more likely for behavioral problems, health problems, all other problems in life, just because you didn't get what you needed from zero to two months. That is what is so amazing. It's crazy. Oprah, I'm going to ask you a fast five.
Oprah on Fast Five (12:24)
These questions have to be answered in one word or one sentence maximum. So they're super tight. Oprah Winfrey, these are your fast five. The first question is, what is the best advice you've ever received? When people show you who they are, believe them the first time for Maya Angelou. Beautiful. Okay. Second, what is the worst advice you've ever received? A lawyer told me not to purchase Hana. Hana was for sale. I mean, Hana, the city of Hana, 5,000 acres were for sale. And I had a lawyer who told me not to do it. Amazing. Okay. Question number, that's another day, another story. Okay. Another day, another story. Question number three, what is something that people value that you no longer value? Cars. I went through my car phase. I went through my car phase. I have had every kind of car. And now I don't care. Now I'm getting around on a scooter. I love that. Okay. Literally. Question number four, one lesson or breakthrough from this book, you really want people to understand it. I want people to understand most importantly that when you are arguing with a friend and they act like they can't hear you because they're arguing so strongly back at you, they really can't because of the way the brain is structured. So when you're in fear mode, anxiety mode, when you're really amped up, you just need to, both of you need to calm down, take a walk, take a break and come back. That's what I want to understand. And also, the thing that I just shared with you earlier is that you think you are protecting your children or you that you are being okay when you're doing destructive things around your young children when that is really when literally they don't have the language, but they're taking in the energy and the frequency and they're absorbing it all. And fifth and final question that I'm going to ask you, if you could create one law that everyone in the world had to follow, what would it be? It would be a law that allowed for at least 12 minutes of stillness every day just for people to calm to themselves. That's what it would be. Thank you so much. Oprah, I can't wait to meet you. I look forward to it. And I'm so grateful for this time with you. Thank you so much. I recently had the chance to host a virtual book tour stop with Oprah and Dr. Perry. And now I want to share it with all of you. This was an exclusive event that I was invited to host. And I'm getting to give our on purpose listeners exclusive access to listen to it right now. Thank you so much and make sure you leave a review makes a huge difference to on purpose. Hello everyone. Thank you so much for being here with us this evening. I am so excited to welcome you all to the first virtual book event for what happened to you. My name is Jay Shetty and I will be your host tonight along with our friends at books and magic bookstore out of Brooklyn and semicolon bookstore in Chicago. I feel extremely honored and grateful to have this opportunity to interview Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah. The book came out today. So I know none of you have read the book yet, but this conversation will prepare you to truly allow this book to enter into your hearts and minds and inspire you to take out some time for stillness to experience every single word when you read it. But I was fortunate enough to receive an early copy and I have to tell you it's phenomenal. The stories, the studies and the steps inside this book will truly help you heal, build resilience and help others that you love so much. I can't wait for you to read it. And without further ado, let me introduce you to the co-authors of this groundbreaking work. Dr. Bruce Perry is a renowned brain and former expert who spent the last 30 years researching children's mental health and of course Oprah Winfrey, the person whom I was fortunate enough to watch growing up. And what happened to me, Oprah, was I got to see you change lives every day. So you have led the way for so many of us to benefit from the work of scientists and thinkers like Dr. Perry, whose life-changing work is the reason we're here today. Welcome, Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah. Excited to be here, excited to be here and especially excited to be here for books or magic and semicolon in Chicago because I love going to my own local bookstores and love the support that bookstores bring to the community and love that we are all able to be supportive of our local bookstores. Jay, so excited that you're excited about the book. I'm excited that you're excited. I'm very excited and extremely excited and Dr. Perry, thank you so much for this opportunity. It's my pleasure. I'm happy to be here and I'm also excited that you like the book because as you probably know, when you work on a project for a long, long, long time, you lose perspective on how it's perceived. So it's, I think it'll be fun to see how people like it over the next week. Yeah, because it's stories and science, it's stories and science, stories and science. And that's what I loved about it, that this book was in fact a conversation or multiple conversations and today we get to have this first conversation. So I want to start off with a question that actually comes from one of these beautiful paragraphs that you both start the book with. And if you don't mind, I'd love to read from it. And this section says, do I have your permission, both of you? If I could please. Yes, you both say this book is for anyone with a mother, father, partner or child who may have experienced trauma. And if you've ever had labels like people pleaser, self sabotages, disruptive, argumentative, checked out, can't hold a job or bad at relationships used to describe you or your loved ones, this book is for you. Now, I don't know anyone who's never been told one of those things. I know I've heard some of them myself as well. And we've all heard those labels. And I want to ask you both this first question to start with is why is it so important to make this switch from us thinking what is wrong with you to what happened to you?
Switch from “What is wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” (19:05)
Well, let me answer that because I first came across this question of what's happened, what happened to you when I was doing an interview with Dr. Proustbury a couple of years ago for 60 minute story I was doing. Now, I've known Dr. Perry for over 30 years, I first started interviewing him in the early 90s, late 80s, early 90s on the Oprah show, when we were talking about raising children and how important it is those first zero to six years. So I've been hearing about what it means to nurture and support the brain early on. It wasn't until that conversation a couple of years ago. I don't know whether I think it's because of where I was in my life at the time. I opened a school in South Africa. I've had these wonderful brilliant girls who come from traumatic backgrounds grow up and have really serious mental health issues. And I was trying to at the time figure out what are we doing wrong at our school? Something's really wrong here. And in that interview with Dr. Perry, he said, you know, most people ask the question when kids are not behaving the way you want them to behave or what's wrong with them. We really should be asking about what's happened to you. And something went, ah, in my brain, it was like a major moment. Like, I got it in a way that I hadn't received it before. And I realized that it's not just for children that you ask that question, but it's really everybody. And that moment, Bruce, as I've said to you many times, Dr. Perry, changed the way I saw my relationships, how I saw my own life, how I interacted with people. And even in politics where it was so crazy in the past four years, and everybody's always talking about what's wrong, what's wrong, what's wrong, what's wrong. I would always say, I wonder what happened to that person. I wonder what happened to them younger that caused them to be this way. So all of the labels that you just gave, Jay, there's a world of labels. There is, you know, overachiever, there's, you know, obsessive, compulsive moms, soccer moms, there is the desire to, you know, please people all the time. There's a multiple, multiple, multiple, multiple labels that refer back to what happened to us. And so I will just say this. One of the things that Bruce says in the book, each of us comes into the world with our own worldview. And that worldview is actually shaped from the crib. And you get from the world what you project into the world, and you project into the world what you were raised with and what you were raised around. So that's why what happened to you is the essential question. So beautifully said, and I wish my brain had aha moments that sound like that opera too. So. I love that. And Dr. Perry, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Well, I come at this from a slightly different perspective because I have a long history of being a history fan and had studied history growing up and was very well aware of the relationship between the things that happened in the past, playing a major role in how things were functioning currently. And I think that that's, I think most people are able to kind of make that connection. But as I became a biologist and learned about the development of the human body and the human brain, it became clear that we have our own personal history and that the things that happened in our life shaped the systems in our brain that influence how we think about things, how we feel about things and how we behave. And it really, it leads to a completely different approach to getting to know somebody. You enter the interaction with a curious mindset. You're curious about like, what's going on? I mean, and it really, I think is, as Oprah says, it really opens up this new perspective on understanding a person. You can be much more empathic with them as opposed to being so judgmental. Yeah, for me, that reframing that you both have so beautifully illuminated in this book is so subtle, but it's so powerful because it removes that judgment, it removes that negative observation, that criticism, that fear that people feel on the receiving end of that as well. To me, just that switch of question is so powerful. So what I want to do now is I want to ask you both questions throughout the different chapters of the books as no one really has it till today. And I'd like to start with you, Dr. Perry, and ask you what, what happened to you?
Life-long study on child trauma and how it started (24:13)
What inspired you to study child trauma? Where did your journey start? And why did it become so important to you? Because obviously, this is something that you've done for decades. Tell us about the beginning of that, Jamie. Well, it started kind of randomly because when I went to college at Stanford, they have a freshman seminar process where they take incoming freshmen and they assign them to some eminent faculty member. And then for every week, for the whole year, you meet with that person, and you get to know their work and have conversations. It's a great experience. And I was randomly assigned to Seymour Levine, who was the grandfather and now great grandfather of almost all of the big stress researchers in our field. And he had just been doing a series of studies looking at how you could take a little rat pup and give it a tiny little bit of stress, handling stress, you just take it out of it, the litter, hold it and then put it back after a certain period of time, and then let the animal grow up. And then when they looked at those animals, their brain was very different than the brains of animals that didn't have that tiny little stress. And I thought that was stunning that you could have an experience that was literally minutes long, and it would influence in a lifelong way the functioning of this really critical set of systems in your brain that are involved in how every organ in your body functions. And from that point forward, I was studying the development of the stress response systems in animals and then got into clinical work. And it's interesting, going back to what Oprah said about labels, when you go into mental health and start to get trained, there is a manual that people use, the DSM, and it's full of labels, and it's based on the symptoms that somebody has. And basically, it's a big book that says, "What's wrong with you?" And it doesn't say what happened to you. And so I was a developmentalist, and I had been studying the brain, and I went into the field and I'm like, "Wait a minute. There's about 30 different ways that you can become inattentive. You can have attention problems from hyperthyroidism and developmental trauma, and lead toxicity, and all kinds of things. We need to get to know the people that were giving these labels. And if we did that, I think that we would stop giving them labels and start giving them some solutions. Absolutely. Absolutely. Thank you so much for sharing that. And Oprah, as you were saying earlier, the book is full of stories and the science. And when I was reading about your own childhood stories and traumas in this book, it's difficult at times, and it's challenging. But at the same time, your level of honesty and transparency is genuinely such an inspiration for myself and countless other people who are struggling as well. When I was diving into the book, there were moments where I just I was so grateful to you for what you shared. And you open up about a story about how your grandmother used to whip you over the smallest, most insignificant things, like spilling a glass of water. And this horse, right, exactly breaking a plate. And this harsh, this harsh behavior was normal for you as a kid. And you said something in the book that really stood out to me. You said that the long-term impact of being whipped turned you into a world-class people pleaser for most of your life. I want to know how did you become aware of that connection between that experience as a child and how it was being lived today?
The connection between childhood experience and adulthood (27:52)
And how did that start to help you on your journey? Well, thank you so much. I'm so moved that you were touched by that story because I until I was a full-grown adult, and I met my best friend, Gail. Gail was the first black person I ever met who wasn't whipped as a child. I mean, she was the first person I ever encountered. So it is a part of the black culture to not just spank your children. Almost everybody you run into of a certain age was whipped as a child. So that was such the norm for me, that writing about it for the first time is the first time I actually recognize, oh, this is not a normal thing. So to really, I was in a boardroom having to confront someone in my 40s, and I had so much anxiety about the fact that I was going to have to have this confrontation with somebody. Just the most normal disagreements would cause me a great sense of angst and worry, and oh my god, and what's going to happen. And I just said, where is this coming from? Why am I so afraid when I am the one in the power seat? I am Oprah Winfrey running the Harpo Studios. My name's Vell backwards. I'm the person in charge, and in order to have a disagreement with somebody, I go through so much angst. And I realized, Jay, that even though I had the power, I still felt that every confrontation I was going to get a whipping, that a whipping was going to result. That thing that used to come up inside me when I had to walk to get my own switch, oh, where is this feeling coming? I'm feeling like in every confrontation, I'm going to get a whipping, and at the end of it, that person's going to be mad at me, and at the end of it, that person's going to say, you better not act like you're mad. All the things that happened to me as a kid. So it wasn't until I was a full grown adult in my own seat of perceived power, feeling those feelings of anxiety and anxiousness having to have the slightest bit of confrontation. So what I say in what happened to me is that being beaten as a child, having to be subservient to other people's ideals of what it means to be a child, meaning you are seen and not heard. So I've grown up to have this big personality, but being raised in an environment where children are seen and not heard and your opinions do not matter. So what happened to me taught me that my opinions do not matter, keep your opinions to yourself, and do whatever you can to please other people so that other people will like you so that other people will not be upset with you. And I will have to tell you, it is also for me, not for everybody else, but for me, one of the reasons why I was so susceptible to sexual abuse because I had been taught and trained not to speak up for myself that whatever somebody wanted to do who was older than me or in a position of authority that they had rights that I did not. So that what happened to me was ingrained in a way that, you know, literally caused me to be a major people pleaser for a great deal of my life. Thank you for sharing that full journey. And just I really gravitate towards that statement you said around how we when we normalize something, we don't actually even recognize the trauma in it. We don't even realize that it's that there's anything it was just normal to you. You just expected it. And I think that really brings us nicely. Dr. Perry to this this thought about what something you talk about how we're loved in the book. And you know, you say that a common phrase people use whenever a child acts out is that he or she must not have been loved as a child, right? And in the book, you go on to explain that how it isn't a matter of how many hugs and kisses you received as a kid. So for the parents watching, and I'm sure there are many parents watching, and for those of you who are watching right now and enjoying this conversation, I highly recommend to make sure that you go and order yourself a copy of the book. But for those of you that are watching, and Dr. Perry, when you think about this, what should parents be thinking about differently or doing differently that many of them may be missing today and the idea of wanting to give love and often our perspective on what love is or our definition of what love is feels like hugs and kisses? Well, first of all, to clarify, hugs and kisses are nice things.
What should parents do differently to express love to their children? (32:53)
And they can be part of a really positive loving environment. But one of the things about the brain is that these systems in our brain that allow us to form relationships and maintain them in a healthy way, the systems that allow us to love and be in path, they can become ultimately humane. These systems develop like any other system in the brain that require repetition, repetition, repetition, that when you want to get better at piano, you have to practice your piano and you want to get better at reading, you need to read and read and read. And if you want to develop the capacity to form a healthy loving relationship, you need lots of tiny little doses of attentive, attuned, responsive, nurturing interaction with people around you. And a lot of people grow up, and again, this is language that's not uncommon in our world, is that it's the quality and not the quantity. So if you give your child a little quality time, then that is somehow supposed to overcome the fact that you're gone for five days in a week. And it just doesn't do that. Children need your presence, even if it's your neutral presence, and they come over and they give you a hug and they wander away, they come over and they ask a question, they wander away, and they need lots of tiny little doses of positive interaction. And now one of the challenges in our modern world is that we have so many isolated single caregivers, parents, who may have multiple children who need that. And since in the modern world, we've moved away from having aunties and grandparents and neighbors playing a role in this sort of community caregiving model. We've got tons of exhausted, overwhelmed caregivers who are trying to do their very best. But there's just no physical way possible that they can meet all of these needs of these children. And so I think that that's a burden that our society needs to address and think about how to create more relationally enriched environments to support our young parents, because the vast majority of them would do the right things, they'd just be drawn to do the right things if they weren't exhausted, worn out, worried about housing, worried about food. We structurally contribute to the inability of these caregivers to provide those loving environments. Yeah, one of the things Dr. Perry says in the book, Jay, is that we're the only country in the world that does this, that we're the only country that expects a single mother to be everything and all things to children. Whereas other countries, there is, number one, a greater respect for the elders and the elders involvement in the child's development and aunties and cousins and family members. And so when you don't have that, these moms, which I feel so deeply for, moms who are trying to do it all, it's impossible to be able to do it all. Right. It is. And the thing for an infant and a child growing up, love isn't the feeling the parent has for the child. Love is an action, right? Love is sort of night after night after night after night getting up and meeting their fundamental needs when they're hungry, thirsty, cold, and over time as they build in these neurobiological capabilities to mature, then you can move to more emotional variations of that equivalent of love. So now that we're adults, we can actually say, you know what, there's somebody in my past who was present, attentive, and I love that person. And if you, you know, that's, that is love, but your ability to sort of build that much more advanced neurobiological capability emerged from thousands and thousands and thousands of repetitions of these loving, nurturing relation relational interactions. I think that's such a great point because as I grew older, and it wasn't just my grandmother whipping me, but other people, I remember getting a whipping once and having, you know, one of my relatives say, I'm whipping you because I love you. Well, it certainly didn't feel like love, certainly didn't feel like love. But I know that for that generation, the idea of I'm going to keep you in line and I'm going to make sure you're disciplined and that you're going to obey and do the right thing in their minds might have felt like love, but certainly did not feel like or was interpreted by me to mean love. I mean, I think for anybody who's listening to us or watching right now, and I know if you are culturally raised the way I was, you have a lot of, of pain behind those whippings. And I remember doing a show on the Oprah Show years later, talking about should children be spanked and a black woman sit up and said, well, I got beat every day and my father, I was in the choir and my father beat me in front of the whole congregation in church. And I turned out okay. And I'm like, did you really? Because nobody, anybody who's ever been hit, realizes the humiliation of that what you feel more than anything, even as a little kid, is the humiliation of it. And what you are being told in that moment is that you have no value, that you are worth nothing, that you are so worthless that I get now to lay my hands on you and physically beat you. So it takes a lot. And I would have to say that it was a lot for me to overcome to begin to understand that my life was of value. And as I say, and what happened to you, what did that for me were relationships with my teachers. I could cry right now thinking about the teachers who stood in the gap for me and made me feel valued, made me feel important. So it was only at school or speaking in church that I felt a sense of I mattered, that there was some meaning and purpose for me in life. And so, you know, as when I was talking to Bruce on 60 Minutes, I said, Bruce, please explain to me why I'm not crazy, because I grew up in the circumstances where I should have no self values, no self worth. But Bruce, as he explains in what happened to you, you don't have to have it come from your family. Other relationships with people who are nurturing, supporting, caring, and actually just see you. So the reason why I loved school so much is because that's the place that I felt seen. Yeah, it makes me so happy to hear you both give people the permission to realize that they don't have to have it all figured out and that they can't have it all figured out and that it's we're all trying to be the perfect parent, the perfect person, the perfect professional, the perfect partner and perfection is impossible as it is. But even that striving for it, you're giving it around the permission to realize and also I love that point I was just made around how this is not just what's happening at home. It can be heightened or amplified by what happens at school or it can be nurtured and nourished and improved as well by what happens. And Oprah, one of the things you talk about in the book, when we're talking about the need for rhythm and balance, and that's what I think this book does so beautifully is what this book allowed me to do was feel vulnerably, but then project that onto a framework of how to think about it. And I think that that is such a refreshing thing because often we're told to be vulnerable and be open and then you let it all out and then you're like, "Oh, well, this is just a mess. I don't know where to put it all." And then this book allows you to kind of go, "Okay, well, that makes sense and this is how I place this." How do you recommend for people to find the time to create rhythms? I know you say you block out the Sunday to be with yourself and spend time walking in nature, trying not to be distracted.
Finding the time to create a rhythm and balance (41:27)
For anyone right now who's saying, "I recognize from hearing both of you that I must have some trauma, where do I find the time to unpack it? How do I make time for that? And where do I start?" Well, you start with understanding that your cup being full is how you allow yourself to give to other people. You can't give what you don't have. You can't love if you haven't been loved. You don't even know how to begin to do that. So I think it begins with fundamentally understanding that you are worthy enough, you are valuable enough, you matter enough to give yourself the love that you deserve. And that starts by taking out time for yourself. So I have my own rhythm and pattern. I know that if I go six days and then on the seventh by the seventh or eighth, don't give myself a break, that lots of other things give, that I'm not as alert. I'm not as attuned. I'm not as centered. I'm not as focused. So I know that that is my limit. I cannot go beyond a certain amount of days. And for me, walking in nature is my solace. It is where I feel that I am one with all and all being, you know, all creation and connected. For other people, it may be dancing. It may be music. It may be knitting. It may be whatever it is that brings some kind of rhythmic pattern into your life. Actually, it was Bruce and I were walking on my campus in South Africa. And there are a group of girls dancing literally on the lawn because Lord knows they love to dance. And Bruce says, oh, that's not just, I said, oh, they're just having fun. And Bruce said, oh, they're not just having fun. They actually are healing themselves because the rhythmic pattern, that's why when you have been in an argument with someone or you in the middle of an argument with somebody, if you just go and take a walk or you go and turn on some music and you start dancing, if you just have some form of movement, you feel better. That's number one. Number two, one of the most important things, most important takeaways from what happened to you, I believe, is understanding how the brain works and that diagram that's on page 26 or 27 about the inverted brain being like a triangle. So you see that beginning with the brain stem, that's the lower part of the brain, all the way to the cortex and through the limbic area, you understand that, we're looking at it right there, you understand that when you're upset or in fear or angry or are in an antagonized state and you're trying to reason with a person, a child, your spouse, your boss, your friend, they literally cannot hear you because the reasoning part of the brain is in the cortex and what you're saying is only reaching the brain stem. So whenever somebody is dysregulated, which is what that is, being anxious and fearful and yelling and screaming, the thing to do is to calm yourself first, then you will be able to help that other person get calm and regulated. That's how you get to reason. But if you both are just yelling at each other, literally, and you're going, you don't hear me and you don't hear me either and you're literally, they actually cannot hear you. That's what I thought was so fascinating. I think I explained it well, right? Yes, I'm just sitting here smiling. Dr. Perry, do you concur? I just want to make sure because Oprah is actually a lot of fun. Oprah's just become a neuroscientist. So we're going to expect you to now tell a story to trade places. But I'm so, it's so amazing to hear you explain that. And that's exactly what I meant by giving a framework to really look at it in such a clear way, in a way that we're often not encouraged to see it because it sounds too difficult or too complicated, but to simplify that idea is that here's what you think's going on, and here's what's happening inside your brain. And Dr. Perry, when you dive into the science, you quote a study and a survey that said that almost 50% of children in the United States have had at least one significant traumatic experience. But a lot of people will still deny however having experienced trauma, a lot of people will feel uncomfortable admitting and accepting that they have experienced some trauma. What are some of our misconceptions around what trauma is and how it affects us?
Misconceptions about the stress response system that leads to trauma (46:24)
And would you mind explaining what sort of experiences are defined as traumatic to help us expand our definition? So most of us first heard the concept of sort of trauma as we're talking about it now in context of post-traumatic stress disorder and combat veterans. And so even within our field in psychiatry, the majority of people who studied trauma and looked at trauma, we're looking at the effects of these horrific events, exposure to combat, death of a soldier next to you, as the thing to understand around trauma. But over time, people like me who were studying the stress response systems in animal models were very well aware that it's not necessarily these big traumatic events that are easily identified by everybody as a trauma that will lead to the changes in the brain that cause the problems. And so certainly if you do have these events, that can be a problem. So natural disaster, house fire, car accident, you know, abuse of all sorts. That's certainly traumatic. But probably the most important thing, and I think the thing that's impacting more children and adults than anything else are experiences that are patterns of stress activation, where you have no control over the experience. It's not predictable and it's prolonged. It's ongoing. And I think to some degree, the experiences of the last year are an example for many people of a prolonged set of uncontrollable and unpredictable stressors. And we've all felt sort of our baseline level of tolerance is going down. We're a little bit more tired. We can handle situations a little bit less. And so what we've been studying is the combination of these experiences where you are not in control of your life. And it may be a child who's living in a domestic violence environment where he or she is not the direct target of all of this stuff. But there's so much unpredictability about when the fighting is going to happen. And there's so much unpredictability about whether mom is going to be in a good mood today or a bad mood or dad's going to be angry or not angry. And that can lead to these physiological changes that increase your risk for physical health problems, mental health problems, and learning problems. And so that's kind of where we're moving in the field is this recognition that you don't just have to have some sort of capital T trauma in your life to be impacted by trauma. And in fact, if you are a minority in a majority culture, you're going to get all kinds of experiences where you're getting these relational interactions that are not are sending the signal that you don't belong, which will activate your stress response, which can over time accumulate and influence your physical and mental health. Yeah, thank you, Dr. Perry, for illuminating on that point, because I think for so many of us, as you rightly just said, that we feel that trauma only means trauma with a capital T. And so we often disregard, we often let these things just fade away and put them under the carpet and just just not really give them enough emphasis and focus because we don't see them as being significant. And so yes, Oprah, I wanted to say that one of the one of the most important points I think Dr. Perry makes in what happened to you is that neglect is as toxic as trauma.
Neglect is as toxic as trauma (50:14)
And so even though you might not have had a trauma with a big T that it boils down to, did you get what you needed? And I have done so many interviews, as I know you have to, Jay, with people who are raised in the same family. And everybody in that family has a different experience. And sometimes siblings are arguing about a thing that happened because from their point of view, it felt like one thing and from the other person's point of view, it felt like another thing. Well, that is the reality of life that you can have two children, four children, six children raised in the same household. And they experienced the love of their parents differently. And not all the kids could have gotten what they needed. And some of the kids got what they needed. So neglect is you not getting what you needed for your worldview, for your personal approach to life, your sense of self values, your sense of self esteem. And so I have seen in the thousands of interviews that I've done over the years that the level of dysfunction in a person's life is almost directionally directionally, directly proportional to how they were loved, what happened to them, and how they were able to receive or not receive that love. So the what happened to you isn't, you know, just for people who had the big tea traumas. But it literally is what happened to you? Were you loved, were you not? How were you loved? How was that love applied in your life? And were you able then to apply it in the rest of the world? So I know many people are listening who didn't get what they needed. And I say this to my girls in South Africa all the time, because so many of them were born during the year of during the decade where so many of their parents died of AIDS, and they have this sense of abandonment, literally going from one family to the next family member, and then that family member dying and that family member dying. And when you grow up feeling abandoned, and certainly abandoned from an early age, you your worldview is that people are going to abandon you in their relationships. And so you either go into those relationships being very needy and afraid that this person is going to leave me, or you go into those relationships being very jealous and, you know, holding on and having to know where you've been and looking at people's cell phones and all of that, because you're afraid that you're going to leave me. And so what happened to you, no matter who you are, is important in understanding why you have the worldview that you do. Yeah, and it applies to each and every single one of us. Everybody. Seeing a question, I'm seeing a question coming in from one of our viewers tonight, G saying, how do you reach an understanding so the anger and sadness inside can calm down? I think what I'm what I'm hearing here and I had a question too, which I think relates is around this idea of, you know, when you've connected the dots and you you start to notice that someone's caused you pain, often that can be quite uncomfortable.
Processing Emotional Pain And Anger
Reaching an understanding so can process your pain and anger (53:26)
And you start to now have resentment or anger or sadness as G is saying. And G's question really is, you know, how do you come to an understanding so that you're not feeling that anymore? Either of you would love for you to answer that. I'll let the psychiatrist answer that. Rock, paper, scissors. All right. So first of all, that question is, in many ways, a central question to almost all people who are seeking mental health help, right? And it's, and I wish I had a perfect answer, but it kind of relates to what happened to that person. So the place at which you want to try to help somebody repair and redevelop a capability or a connection has to kind of match where they had the loss. So the way you would do therapeutic work, for example, with somebody who had the loss of a parent at age three and all kinds of transitions after that would be very different than someone who had a comparable experience at age 17. And so not to sound like a politician, but it kind of depends. The treatment approach broadly depends upon where you are developmentally and when all this stuff happened. But in general, no matter what happened, no matter when it happened, the vehicle for providing the therapeutic experiences that will help you is the relationship. And so it really always is relationships. And the beauty of it is most therapeutic change takes place outside of conventional therapy. It takes place in these little present, caring moments with friends, with family, with coaches, with teachers, the other people. And this is why your relational density matters. If you live in an environment where there's a lot of people, you're connected to a church home like we read about in the book, if you're connected to a sports team, if you're connected to your classmates, and there's some duration to the other relationships you have in your life, you have this built in therapeutic web where you can go through a healing process that is not necessarily traditional therapy. And I think Oprah, part of what you talk about in this book is that you've had these healing moments over the course of your life. And, you know, Gail's been one of the people who's been involved in that, but other people as well, right? Yeah, I've never had a day of therapy. I had all my therapy in front of the audience during all those years, the Oprah show. And I realized in writing this book with Dr. Perry that actually Gail was my regulation that I would come home after a show, get on the phone with Gail, talk about my day. That's how I regulated and calmed and released. And then get in the tub, go to sleep, start the whole process all over again. So having somebody who fully sees you, who cares about you, makes a world of difference no matter who you are. And so, like, as I say, I never had therapy. But I had a lot of people who I was in relationship with, who saw me for who I was, for that little girl in the fourth grade, my first, you know, experience with my fourth grade teacher was the first time I ever felt like, "Wow, she gets me." And I could not wait every day to get to school just to be in front of Mrs. Duncan, who really got me, you know? And one of the things I think that I learned from the writing of this book with Bruce is what he says on page 109. First 108 and 109. The timing of adversity makes a huge difference in determining overall risk, which is what he was just saying. The difference between being 17 and being 3 when something happens, and also this thing struck me so much, Jay, that if in the first two months of life, a child experienced high adversity with minimal relational buffering, but was then put into a healthy environment for the next 12 years, their outcomes were worse than the outcomes of children who had low adversity and healthy relational connection in the first two months, but then spent the next 12 years with high adversity, which is to say the child who is only two months of really bad experiences does worse than the child with almost 12 years of bad experiences all because of the timing of the experience. That's so huge. Isn't it? That's so huge. The reason that's so huge is because people do terrible things, terrible things in front of their young children. They say horrible things in front of their young children. They fight in front of their young children. I've talked to so many women who were involved in domestic violent relationships, who were waiting for their kids to get older before they moved, and not realizing that most of the damage will already have been done because that same part of the brain that allows you to recognize mama versus daddy and colors and all of that that's being formed in the early, early, early, earliest months of your life, that that same part is taking in vibrationally, socially, not having the language, but taking all of that in and the synapse either forms in a certain way that protects you for the rest of your life or does not. That's why if nobody gets anything else from this book, that's what I hope the world understands, that what you're saying in front of your youngest, youngest, youngest, youngest children causes life long issues. To sort of take off on that, Jay, this is one of the reasons that high quality home visitation programs that really help take care of young vulnerable families so that when they're at this crucial period in life, in the first year of life, that they've got some of supports and they're getting the parents getting regulated. So he or she can be present in the lives of these children in ways that will be likely to improve development and lead the resilience as opposed to struggle and struggle and struggle and result in increased vulnerability. And it's such a small investment compared to the way we spend money now on these kids that struggle as they get older and older and older. And that's why I'm active in organizations that do home visiting like healthy families, America and Prevent Child Abuse America. They for years have been putting these high quality programs in place to really help support young parents. I'm so happy that in what happened to you, you're both magnifying and simplifying such deep research and work into the simplicity of what your children see at this time, what they experience, what they hear, what they feel is going to impact them. And it's that simple for all of us to learn, to understand, to digest. And using that example of an extreme story, I mean, you know, one of my most inspiring stories in the book is about a four year old girl called Ali, Dr. Perry, who you worked with. And she witnessed, if I'm not mistaken, the death of a mother by the hands of her father, who then committed suicide. And, you know, she went through so many different experiences after that. I wanted to ask you, actually, where is she now? Have you kept in touch with it? Do you know how she's evolved through that journey? She is actually a very healthy young adult woman who is giving back to her community. She's caring and compassionate. I mean, it really is one of those stories that you're like, wow, this is a young woman who through the love and support of her extended family and community, which really, that's how she helped was able to heal ended up with what we end up, we talk about post traumatic wisdom in the book that, that, you know, a lot of people, when they think about trauma and the effects of trauma, they focus on all the negative things, which definitely can happen. There's definitely risk. But you can actually learn from these experiences, from these experiences. And you figure out ways to carry the pain that don't interfere with your ability to be loving, to be productive, to be creative. And in fact, in many cases, I think that that pain becomes fuel for the productivity and the creativity. So there's so much hope. I say that to Gia, who just asked the question about processing that anger, first of all, understand where it comes from. And a lot of times people are doing what I did, you know, in the boardroom, you know, having anxiety about confronting somebody because that's triggering pain from the past. Yes. And a lot of people in their everyday interactions aren't even mad at what they think they're mad about. They're just being triggered by something from the past that is going on with so, so, so, so many people. So being able to understand that is, is really crucial. What I love about the Ali story, there's the extreme that there is so much hope that if there's anyone who's watching and thinking, I've seen too much, or my children have seen too much or experienced too much, there is still so much hope, right? That's what I'm hearing from both of you into this book. Well, I say that for my own life. I say, first of all, the ability to be honest about it, I think that the in the many cases where I've seen where people suffer is when they are in denial about what happened to them in the past, or they want to create a facade around what happened to them in the past. The thing that has been the most freeing to me is being able to be truthful about it, to own it, and to not only own it, but to use it as leverage for growth for myself, you know, the thing that I didn't get in growing up is what I most wanted to give as an adult. And so there's a beautiful spiritual that we sing in the Black Church, I wouldn't take nothing for my journey now, for my journey now, for my journey now. And I think Maya Angelou even wrote a book called Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now based upon that hymn. And that's how I feel about my life and I want everybody else to embrace that for their own, that everything that has happened to you can also be a strength builder for you if you allow it. And you take that pain once you have acknowledged what it is and where it came from and the people who did whatever they did to you, that is the past. And how you're willing to now take that pain and use it as your own personal power is what post-traumatic wisdom is all about. So you don't have to continually live in the past. You can step up and out of your history, Jay, and let that be your platform to begin to build strength over strength over strength, which in the end equals power for yourself. That was beautiful. That was so wonderful to hear you say that what has happened to you once you've processed it and actually understood it and unpacked it, that it can actually transform into being for you and become your strength. That pain can actually become your purpose and your service as we see in Ali's case, Dr. Perry, where she was actually able to turn that into service and support and care for others. I mean, that's truly, truly phenomenal. And of course, Oprah, and you're okay, so that's what we're hearing as well. What I'm hearing there, and you talk about this in a chapter, is the difference between coping and healing.
Coping Vs Healing
The difference between coping and healing (01:06:39)
I think a lot of us right now are trying to cope. We're trying to cope, cope, cope. It's something we always say, like I'm coping with it, I'm dealing with it. We always say coping and dealing. Really, do we have a shift? I'm healing it, right? I'm working through it. Tell us about that difference. Dr. Perry in the brain and what's happening and Oprah, through your experience, maybe stories of times when you felt you were just coping with it to when you actually started healing it. Yeah, it's interesting. I had a conversation. I've been having a lot of conversations with people in education about transition back to the new normal. One of the things that's very apparent is what we talked about early, that everybody is kind of worn out. And the needs of some of these children have increased and some of the families are struggling more. And the people who used to step in and help them are now worn out. And so, what I've been trying to encourage people to do is actually think of this period of time as treading water. You just need to learn how to tread water. Sometimes when you just, you don't know exactly which direction sure is. So don't just swim aimlessly, just tread water and get yourself sort of your bearings again, kind of refresh. Oprah talked about it. One of the things is this upside down brain. The more distressed you get, the more you shut down the top part of the brain. And so, you're not thinking very well. You're not really reasoning in a way that will lead to a good set of solutions. So, you need to learn how to cope, which is basically treading water, get yourself regulated, get yourself refreshed, get yourself reconnected to people who can help you. And then you'll carefully look around and you'll see the horizon and you go, I'm swimming in this this direction. Then you can start the healing process. But all too often, we spend a lot of time swimming in frantically in circles and we're not connected and regulated the way that we should be. Well, I will say this also. We were talking about how rhythm is so important. However, you bring rhythm into your life, whether it's taking a walk or whether it's dancing or one of the most important things I have learned with coping is to accept this moment for what it is. Do not spend your energy pushing again. And that's whether you are late in traffic or whether you are late on your bills and you don't know where the next paycheck is coming from to do it. Don't spend your energy resisting what is. The five stages of grief begin with shock and denial and end with acceptance. I have found that to be a great formula for operating in any crisis or challenging circumstance. Get to acceptance as quickly as you can and that will allow you to cope better with this present moment. Because when you are pushing against, I wish it wasn't this way. I mean, I've seen so many people during this pandemic last March. I can't wait until this is over. That was last March. Now we're a year later and they've spent the year in resistance instead of, ah, this is where we are. Not so sure when we're going to get to shore. I just better learn how to tread stronger. Oh, my legs are getting stronger in the tread. So being able to accept the treading moment for what it is and and having the wisdom, the faith, the understanding, the knowing that you're not going to be in this moment forever because if life does anything, it consistently, consistently changes. So for however long we're in this pandemic moment, it is not going to be forever. But how do I make the adjustment to accept the moment for what it is and stop pushing against it using all of my energy, wanting it to be something that it's not. It's that whole adage of accepting the things you can change and being willing to live with the things you cannot. So that has been the most helpful for me. I don't have a problem coping because I immediately go to, this is what it is. Now what must I do to be fully present in this moment, not resisting and pushing against it? I love that so much. As all the wisdom traditions tell us, like holding on to our normal causes us more pain than letting go and accepting where we are today. And I want, I just want to thank everyone who's been listening and watching today to our first virtual book tour event for what happened to you. I know that there's at least one person in your life that needs to read this book that one person is you in case you're wondering. And there will be so many others that you can gift it to as well. And this time together has been just so enlightening and empowering. I want to thank you Dr. Perry and thank you Oprah for inviting me to host this kickoff event for what happened to you. It's out in stores today if anyone's wondering and we want to thank all the bookstores, books of magic in Brooklyn and semicolon bookstore in Chicago for hosting this conversation. And of course, this couldn't be possible without all the incredible research by Dr. Perry that you've been doing over decades and Oprah for sharing this with us with so much compassion, so much empathy and so much vulnerability that synergy between the stories and science that you both have created in this masterpiece is just exactly what we need right now. So thank you so much to everyone who's been listening and watching. Thank you to our incredible co-authors and really, really grateful to all of you for all of your time and energy. I really hope that at least one thing would have changed your life in the way you think today. Thank you so much. Thank you Jay. Hey Jay this was fun. This was so much fun. I could have gone on and on and on. This was absolutely beautiful. I felt like I felt like I was in the room with both of you. It was absolutely beautiful. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. All the tech people who made this possible terrific. Exactly. Thank you everyone. Thank you for the tech people that made me look partially reasonable. I have earrings on. Oh my god. All right Bruce, I'll see you on the next one. Okay. Thank you Bruce. Thanks Oprah and thank you. Thank you. All right, congratulations to you guys. Thank you. If you want even more videos just like this one make sure you subscribe and click on the boxes over here. I'm also excited to let you know that you can now get my book Think Like A Monk from ThinkLikeA MonkBook.com. Check below in the description to make sure you order today.