What Happened To You? | Reflections & Notes

Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph. D. Oprah Winfrey. What Happened To You? Conversations On Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. Flatiron Books, 2021. (301 pages)


In true Western-minded form, it would be easy to categorize this book—and the subject—as about “trauma,” and “resilience.” I opine that this is wrong. Books like this are truly about what it means to be human and what kind of humanity we want to be and cultivate. Once again, our frailties and brokenness are our greatest teachers, and we would do well to listen carefully to what those experiences and our body’s response says about us, and what kind of life we wish to enliven.

My favorite takeaways:

Your brain is doing exactly what you would expect it to do considering what you lived through. (p. 28)

I cannot tell you how healing and helpful this is. In a world of shaming and blaming, knowing that there are mechanisms of which we may not have much control which affect us so deeply is a critically enlightening perspective. In a somewhat odd way, while we need “free will” to function, the appeal to “determinism” can be quite healing.

we feel better with the certainty of misery than the misery of uncertainty. (p. 180)

If you’ve ever questioned why some people (perhaps yourself) simply cannot give up certain beliefs or situations, this is a really helpful explanation. When there are painful, traumatizing, and threatening events in someone’s life, the double-tragedy is that we cannot take any more uncertainty; we need some anchor of security. And so we must hold on to whatever familiarity we have, for our own sanity.

…children are not born ‘resilient,’ they are born malleable. (p. 190)

I so appreciated this section for it elucidated a much needed nuance. When we dismiss a child’s experience of trauma because we believe they are “resilient,” we miss the truth of the painful damage that can be done, even if it is also true that their resiliency can grow. It also speaks to the critical importance of loving a child all the way through all of life’s experiences, for resiliency is not “innate” but “malleable,” shaped and formed by a child’s interactions and relationships with their parents and loved ones.

We heal best in community. (p. 199-200)

We are all healers. (p. 250)

It truly is not good for “humanity to be alone.” [Genesis 2:18] In many ways, healing comes in the form of embracing the truth about who we are, as social, communal creatures, who reflect and regulate with one another. When one part of the body suffers, we all suffer. When one part rejoices, we all rejoice. [1 Corinthians 12:26] This is no mere “religio-speak.” This is human truth.

As we WEIRD people continue to advance our civilization, may we hold on desperately to the primal and tribal roots of our psychology, recognizing our need to be fully integrated selves with an integrated group of people. Let us continue to sing together, pray together, eat together, and share life together. Let us hold space for one another, care for one another, embrace one another. As we do, we will build resilience, hope, healing, and peace with one another.

Thank you, Mel, for the recommendation. Your passion for kids and this work inspires me.



Chapter 1

Your brain is doing exactly what you would expect it to do considering what you lived through. But what was once adaptive has become maladaptive. (28)

“evocative cues”—basically any sensory input, like a sight, sound, smell, taste, or touch—can activate a traumatic memory. (28)

All experience is processed from the bottom up, meaning, to get to the top, “smart” part of our brain, we have to go through the lower, not-so-smart part. This sequential processing means that the most primitive, reactive part of our brain is the first part to interpret and act on the information coming in from our senses. Bottom line: Our brain is organized to act and feel before we think. This is also how our brain develops—sequentially, from the bottom up. (29)

During the first nine months development is explosive, at times reaching a rate of twenty thousand new neurons “born” each second. (30)

We also have sensory systems that tell us what is going on inside our body. This is called interoception, and it creates our sense of, for instance, being thirsty, hungry, or short of breath. (30)

…when you haven’t developed the words or ability to identify what you see or feel, you’re just operating on vibration. (32)

Each biological system in our body has some way to change in response to experience; in a sense, then, that change is a record of past experiences—or, basically, memory. (33)

Each brain area has the capacity to create memory—to change in response to experience and to store those changes in its particular neural networks. (34)

in children younger than three, the neural networks are not mature enough to create what’s called linear narrative memory (in other words, a who, what, when, and where memory). However, in lower areas of the brain, other neural networks are processing—and changing as a result of—our earliest experiences. (34)

…because there is no firmly embedded cognitive recollection—no linear narrative memory—the panic is often experienced and interpreted as random, independent of any previous experience. (34)

Fear shuts down thinking and amps up feeling. (37)

The point is that our body’s core regulatory systems can be altered by traumatic experiences. A child exposed to unpredictable or extreme stress will become what we call dysregulated. (37)

So many phenomena of everyday life are directly linked to this process of the brain making sense of the world by creating associations and making memories. This is why asking “What happened to you?” is so important in understanding what’s going on with you now. (41)

Chapter 2

Rhythm is essential to a healthy body and a healthy mind. (47)

Rhythm is regulating. (47)

Regulation is also about being in balance. We have many different systems that are continuously monitoring our body and the outside world to make sure we’re safe and in balance—that we have enough food, water, oxygen. When we’re regulated, these systems have what they need. (48)

| Stress is what occurs when a demand or challenge takes us out of balance—away from our regulated “set points.” (48)

Cargiving adults provide external regulation. Over time, these responsive adults help the child’s brain begin to build self-regulating capabilities. And as we’ve mentioned, one of the most powerful tools we use to help regulate a distressed infant is rhythm. (49)

The roots of health are rhythm and regulation. When you mix in attentive, responsive, (49) and nurturing caregiving, the roots and trunk of our brain’s Tree of Regulation are being organized (see Figure 2). (50)

Ultimately, as you grow up with this loving attention, what you describe as the Tree of Regulation grows—and these networks in your brain allow you to regulate yourself and connect to people in healthy relationships. (50)

Regulation, relationship, and reward. (50)

when you are an attentive, attuned, and responsive caregiver to these little ones, you’re literally weaving together this powerful three-part association—you’re building a healthy root system for the Tree of Regulation. (51)

…these bonding experiences create the infant’s worldview about humans. A consistent, nurturing caregiver builds an internal view that people are safe, predictable, and caring. (51)

If our view of the world is that people are good, then we will anticipate good things from people. We project that expectation in our interactions with others and thereby elicit good from them. Our internal view of the world becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy; we project what we expect, and that helps elicit what we expect. (51)

The Tree of Regulation is comprised of a set of neural networks our body uses to help us process and respond to stress. We tend to use the word stress in negative ways, but stress is merely a demand on one or more of our body’s many physiological systems. Hunger, thirst, cold, working out, a promotion at work: All are stressors, and stress is an essential and positive part of normal development; it’s a key element in learning, mastering new skills, and building resilience. The key factor in determining whether stress is positive or destructive is the pattern of stress, as shown in Figure 3.

CRN’s: Core Regulatory Networks.

dissociation. …fighting or fleeing won’t protect you, but “disappearing” might. You learn to escape into your inner world. (59)

…humans are emotionally “contagious”; we sense the distress of others. (61)

…the most powerful form of reward is relational. Positive interactions with people are rewarding and regulating. … Connectedness counters the pull of addictive behaviors. It is the key. (66)

Chapter 3

Our brains develop as a reflection of the world we grow up with. You love others the way you’ve been loved. (72)

One of the most remarkable properties of our brain is its capacity to change and adapt to our individual world. Neurons and neural networks actually make physical changes when stimulated; this is called neuroplasticity. The way they become stimulated is through our particular experiences: The brain changes in a “use dependent” way. … This aspect of neuroplasticity—repetition leads to change—is well known and is why practice in sports, arts, and academics can lead to improvement. (73)

A key principle of neuroplasticity is specificity. In order to change any part of the brain, that specific part of the brain must be activated. (73)

…one common denominator has never changed: All of us want to know that what we do, what we say, and who we are matters. (75)

…I know it boils down to this: how you were loved. (75)

But really, the key is how you were given care; how your specific needs were met. (75)

To the newborn, love is action;… (76)

In every single interaction, there is a moment when we all wonder, Do you see me? Do you hear me? (76)

Caring for the infant in this loving way also changes the brain of the caregiving adult. (77)

Relational glue keeps our species alive, and love is relational superglue. (77)

There are three types of “developmental adversity” that will predictably alter the CRNs and cause widespread problems. The first is disruption that happens before birth,… The second is some form of disruption of the early interactions between infant and caregiver;… The third is any sensitizing pattern of stress. (78)

Childhood experiences literally impact the biology of the brain. (80)

…that the most powerful and enduring human interactions are often very brief. (82)

One of the key principles of neuroplasticity is that the pattern of activation makes a big difference in how a neural network changes. (83)

the fight-or-flight response…was coined in 1915 by the pioneering stress researcher Walter B. Cannon. He used the phrase to describe the acute stress response to a perceived threat, and the physiological changes that go along with it. (84)

…our initial default behavior is to flock. (85)

So when there is an unexpected, confusing, or potentially threatening signal, we look to others to help determine what’s going on. We look to other people—especially to their facial expressions—for emotional clues about how to interpret the situation. (85)

Next, you might freeze. (85)

WHereas the physiology of the arousal response is to optimize fight or flight, the physiology of dissociation is to help us rest, replenish, survive injury, and tolerate pain. Where arousal increases heart rate, dissociation decreases it. Where arousal sends blood to the muscles, dissociation keeps blood in the trunk, to minimize blood loss in case of injury. Arousal releases adrenaline; dissociation releases the body’s own pain killers, enkephalins and endorphins. (87)

Chapter 4

In its essence, trauma is the lasting effects of emotional shock. (98)

…one of the key issues in understanding a potentially traumatic event: How does the individual experience the event? What is going on inside the person; is the stress response activated in extreme or prolonged ways? (101)

…because the internal experience of a given event varies from person to person, so does the long-term impact. (101)

…the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA)…came up with the “three E’s” definition of trauma…—the event, the experience, and the effects. (102)

For me, understanding trauma has always been linked to studying event-specific changes in the stress-response systems. These events can be major and obvious to all, as in the case of physical abuse by a parent. But I believe trauma can also arise from quieter, less obvious experiences, such as humiliation or shaming or other emotional abuse by parents, or the marginalization of a minority child in a majority community (growing up with “out-group” experiences can sensitize the stress-response systems [see Figure 3]). These can result in long-term post-traumatic effects in the brain and the rest of the body. (103)

If, in the first two months of life, a child experienced high adversity with minimal relational buffering but was then put into a healthier environment for the next twelve 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 twelve years with high adversity. (109)

This sounds discouraging. But we believe that poor outcomes are not inevitable; in fact, we believe that this is a perfect example of why we need developmentally informed, trauma-aware systems. (109)

Th neural networks involved in relational connection and regulation are very responsive to moments. This means that a meaningful dose of therapeutic interaction isn’t forty-five minutes once a week. When you’re dealing with an intense trauma, we’ve found that the “tolerable” dose is only seconds long. (112)

It is the therapeutic dosing that really leads to healing. Moments. Fully present, powerful but brief. (114)

What you’re really looking for is somebody to reinforce the idea that Hey, I’m not crazy. I’m thinking or (114) feeling this way because of something that happened to me, and I’m having a reasonable reaction. And that person validates that for you. (115)

A person diagnosed with PTSD has four main symptom clusters following a traumatic event or events (115)’

The first cluster is “intrusive” symptoms. These include recurring, unwanted images and thoughts of the traumatic event, and dreams or nightmares about it. …our mind is always working to preserve the worldview that was created early in our lives. People are good. Parents are here to protect us. Schools are safe. The mind wants to see what we believe, so it clings to things that support those beliefs—that worldview—and ignores things that don’t. But trauma shatters this inner landscape. Your worldviews are broken to pieces. People can’t be trusted. I’m terrified of my father, he hurts me. School is where my friend were shot. (116)

The second cluster is “avoidant” symptoms. (116)

…the third: changes in mood and thinking. This can include depressive symptoms—sadness, loss of pleasure from anything, a sense of guilt, an overfocus on negative things, and basically a feeling of emotional and physical exhaustion. (118)

| Finally, the fourth symptom cluster is an alteration in arousal and reactivity. (119)

The effects of trauma stretch far and wide across generations and across communities, and it’s important to always come back to our central question with compassion: What happened to you? (119)

Chapter 5

We absorb things from previous generations and pass them on to the next generation. Our genes, family, community, society, and culture are all part of this. So your question about fear being inherited is central to understanding trauma, especially “historical trauma.” (126)

transgenerational transmission (see Figure 9). (126)

emotional contagion,… (126)

Understanding what we “inherit” and how we “inherit” is necessary for the insight required to make intentional change—change at the individual level (such as healing after trauma) and change at the cultural level (such as identifying and changing destructive policies that embed racism, for example). (127)

From a biological perspective, can certain psychological traits, emotional characteristics, and behavior patterns be passed down from one family member to another over long spans of time? (127)

| Absolutely—generation after generation. … Strictly speaking, when you ask if we inherit a sense of fear, you’re asking if this trait is encoded in our genetics and passed to us from our parent, and the answer to that is a bit fuzzy. (127)

| But if we ask a slightly different question—Is fear transmissible from generation to generation? Can the fearfulness of a parent be transmitted to the child?—the answer is an emphatic yes. (127)

Children, especially, are very contagious to the emotions of the people around them. (129)

…once you understand more about neuroscience, and how our senses and brain translate experience into “biological” activity, the artificial distinctions disappear. If you understand the neurobiology of trauma, you know that a physical “abnormality” is causing the abdominal pain seen with sensitized dissociation. You begin to see that a person’s “worldview” can change their immune system, and that a positive conversation with a friend can influence how a patient’s heart or lungs function that day. The interconnectedness becomes clear. As you said, Oprah, everything matters. (137)

| Most important, you come to understand that belonging is biology, and that disconnection destroys our health. Trauma is disconnecting, and that impacts every system in our body. (137)

All sensory input (physical sensations, smells, tastes, sights, sounds) is first processed in the lower areas of the brain; the lower brain gets first dibs. (141)

The problem is that we don’t communicate directly from cortex to cortex. We have to go through the lower parts of the brain. All the rational thoughts from our cortex have to get through the emotional filters of the lower brain. (143)

Regulation is the key to creating a safe connection. And being connected is the most efficient and effective way to get information up to the cortex. (144)

We use the term sequence of engagement to describe the stages involved in getting to the cortex. (144)

…the power of social contagion (remember flocking?),… …this is the brain’s version of “any friend of yours is a friend of mine.” (145)

“Your whisper is heard as a shout.” (148)

When you’re on the top of a power differential, sometimes you don’t realize the power you have—or the impact your mere presence can have on others. (148)

In order to communicate rationally and successfully with anyone, you have to make sure they’re regulated, make sure they feel a relationship with you, and only then try to reason with them. (151)

Chapter 6

…a key aspect of What happened to you? is What didn’t happen for you? What attention, nurturing touch, reassurance—basically, what love—didn’t you get? I realized that neglect is as toxic as trauma. (159)

cf. “the girl in the window”:

…the Still-Face paradigm,… In brief, a parent (166) is instructed to not give any expression when interacting with their baby. They are asked to be disengaged, passive, and cool toward the child. The infant immediately tries to engage the parent and, within seconds of being unsuccessful, becomes significantly distressed. (167)

The Still-Face paradigm shows viscerally that within seconds of a child perceiving their parent to be disengaged and emotionally absent, they start to feel distress and attempt to reengage the parent. But when these efforts fail, the infant disengages and emotionally withdraws. (167)

Without dissociation, the more a person is threatened, the more fearful they become, and the more the cortex shuts down. Being able to partially dissociate, to disengage from parts of the external threatening world and focus on trained behaviors, is key to success in competitive sport or high-pressure performances in the arts. The terms “flow” and “in the zone” are used to describe some of these partial dissociative states. (170)

| In reality, everyone uses dissociation every day. That’s what daydreaming is, right? And it can be a healthy coping mechanism. (170)

| Exactly—mind-wandering. Reflective thinking and creativity required that we stop in the middle of a moment, reflect, and spend time “in our head.” We reflect on the past and imagine the future, making dissociative disengagement a key part of daily life. And it’s essential for relational interaction, as well. (170)

…there is a “terror of being alive.” (173)

…people-pleasing. (178)

Stay under the radar, do what’s asked of you, don’t give anyone reason to be angry—just give people what they want. (178)

Why is it that people who are victims of trauma are so often drawn to abusive relationships? (179)

| Let me broaden the question,… The key point is that all of us tend to gravitate to the familiar, even when the familiar is unhealthy or destructive. We are drawn to what were raised with. (179)

Here is the confusing part: James felt most comfortable when the world was in line with his worldview. Being rejected or treated poorly validated this view. The most destabilizing thing for anyone is to have their core beliefs challenged. (179) we feel better with the certainty of misery than the misery of uncertainty. Good or bad, we are attracted to things that are familiar. (180)

The good news is that the brain is malleable all through life. We can change. But we don’t randomly change. …we can intentionally change if we know what needs to be addressed. The key is to recognize the patterns. (181)

It’s interesting—most people think about therapy as something that involves going in and undoing what’s happened. (183)

Therapy is more about building new associations, making new, healthier default pathways. It is almost as if therapy is taking your two-lane dirt road and building a four-lane freeway alongside it. The old road stays, but you don’t use it much anymore. Therapy is building a better alternative, a new default. And that takes repetition, and time; honestly, it works best if someone understand how the brain changes. This is why understanding how trauma impacts our health is essential for everyone. (183)

Chapter 7

“Good thing children are resilient. They’ll be just fine.” (187)

We often use our belief in another person’s “resilience” as an emotional shield. We protect ourselves from the discomfort, confusion, and helplessness we feel in the face of their trauma. It’s a kind of looking away; it lets our worldview go unchallenged and lets our life continue with minimal disruption. (187)

“children are not born ‘resilient,’ they are born malleable.” (190)

If you take a Nerf ball and squeeze it, bend it, apply all kinds of force to it, it will, in the end, return to its original ball-like shape. That Nerf ball is resilient. This is the kind of resilience people are talking about when they talk about children being “resilient” in the wake of trauma. … But as we’ve spent this whole book discussing, that is simply not the way it works. We are always changing. We change from all of our experiences, good and bad. This is because our brain is changeable—malleable. It’s always changing. (190)

Think about a metal hanger. Let’s say you need to fish something out of a drain, and the hanger is your best tool. You apply force to bend it into the shape you want. The hanger is malleable. When the job is done, you can try to bend it back to the original shape, but even if you’re a champion hanger-bender, you won’t get it to exactly what it was. And there will be weaknesses in the places where you bent it. And if you were to keep bending and restoring it in the same places, the hanger would ultimately break. (190)

weathering. … The church was a big part of how we got through. We weathered together. (193)

You need moderate activation of your stress response. You can’t become a good athlete unless you stress and challenge your cardiovascular system and your muscles, but you have to do it in a way that’s predictable and moderate. Otherwise, you risk injury. (195)

reflective listening. You can’t talk someone out of feeling angry, sad, or frustrated, but you can be a sponge and absorb their emotional intensity. If you stay regulated, ultimately they will “catch” your calm. (197)

Healing takes place when there are dozens of therapeutic moments available each day for the person to control, revisiting and reworking their traumatic experience. (199)

We heal best in (199) community. (200)

The pillars of traditional healing were 1) connection to clan and the natural world; 2) regulating rhythm through dance, drumming, and song; 3) a set of beliefs, values, and stories that brought meaning to even senseless, random trauma; and 4) on occasion, natural hallucinogens or other plant-derived substances used to facilitate healing with the guidance of a healer or elder. (200)

| It is not surprising that today’s best practices in trauma treatment are basically versions of these four things. Unfortunately, few modern approaches use all four of the options well. The medical model overfocuses on psychopharmacology (4) and cognitive behavioral approaches (3). It greatly undervalues the power of connectedness (1) and rhythm (2). (200)

post-traumatic wisdom. (201)

A healthy community is a healing community, and a healing community is full of hope because it has seen its own people weather—survive and thrive. (203)

In a typical hunter-gatherer clan, for every child under six there were four developmentally more mature individuals who could model, discipline, nurture, and instruct the child. That is a 4:1 ratio:… We now think that one caregiver for four young children (1:4) is “enriched.” That is 1/16th of what our developing social brain is looking for. That is relational poverty. (206)

A strong connection to community is as important today as it was thousands of years ago. The tragedy of the modern world is that community like this is harder and harder to find. … There is a direct relationship between a person’s degree of social isolation and their risks for physical and mental health problems. (207)

When we have a community, we can do this kind of dosing to regulate any stressful or distressing experience. We can build and demonstrate resilience. (208)

Chapter 8

Your past is not an excuse. But it is an explanation—offering insight into the questions so many of us ask ourselves: Why do I behave the way I behave? Why do I feel the way I do? (216)

The more you learn about trauma and stress response, the easier it is to understand certain behaviors you encounter in a workplace, in a relationship, or at school. (225)

cf. Neurosequential Model in Education (NME)

We learn faster when we’re moving and interacting with others. We store new information, and retrieve previously stored information, most efficiently when engaged in some form of somatosensory activation during learning. (228)

traumatology… (229)

What that means is that an effective therapeutic approach has to follow the sequence of engagement; problems with regulating have to be addressed before you can get results with relational or cognitive therapies. (229)

cf. The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog

having access to a number of invested, caring people is actually a better predictor of good outcomes following trauma than having access to a therapist. The therapeutic web is the collection of positive relational-based opportunities you have throughout your day. A therapist can be an important part of healing, but isn’t required. This isn’t to suggest that therapy isn’t helpful, but therapy without “connectedness” is not very effective. Ideally, a child can have connectedness to family, community, and culture, along with a trauma-aware clinical team and its range of tools. (230)

The history of the “civilized” world, on the other hand, is filled with policies and practices that favored disconnection and marginalization—that destroyed family, (230) community, and culture. Colonization, slavery, the U.S. reservation system, Canada’s Residental Schools, Australia’s Stolen Generation—these were so destructive across so many generations because they intentionally destroyed the family and cultural bonds that keep a people connected. (231)

One of the hardest things to grasp about implicit bias and racism is that your beliefs and values do not always drive your behavior. These beliefs and values are stored in the highest, most complex part of your brain—the cortex. But other parts of your brain can make associations—distorted, inaccurate, racist associations. The same person can have very sincere anti-racist beliefs but still have implicit biases that result in racist comments or actions. (236)

Talk about a system that needs trauma training. Law enforcement should be at the top of the list. Training about trauma, the brain, stress, and distress is essential if you are going to be a first responder—especially a police officer. (238)

Implict bias suggests that the bias is present but not “plainly expressed”—sometimes even unintentionally expressed. Racism, on the other hand, is an actual overt set of beliefs about the superiority of one race over others. … You could say that racism is embedded in the top, “rational” part of your brain, whereas implicit bias involves the distorting “filters” created in lower parts of the brain. (239)

“I don’t have a racist bone in my body.” Well, the issue isn’t your bones. It’s your brain. (241)

The long-term solution is to minimize the development of implicit bias. We have to think about ways to raise our children with more opportunities to be exposed to the magnificence of human diversity earlier in their lives. And we have to change the inherently biased elements of so many of our systems. (242)

I’m hopeful that by teaching about trauma and the power of connectedness, things will improve. We could invest in building neighborhoods, building trauma-informed services, supporting artists, rebuilding the infrastructure, building spaces where people would create community. We could have a quantum leap in humanity. We could. We can. But first we need to understand the pervasive and complex effects of trauma. We have so much unexpected potential. (242)

Chapter 9

The elders were very patient with my curiosity, and gently amused at my Western medical-model formulations of “disease” when I asked how they handled depression, sleep problems, drug abuse, and trauma. They kept trying to help me understand that these problems were basically the “same thing.” The problems were all (248) interconnected. In Western psychiatry we like to separate them, but that misses the true essence of the problem. We are chasing symptoms, not healing people. (249)

| For my Māori hosts, pain, distress, and dysfunction would arise from some form of fragmentation, disconneciton, dyssynchrony. … The Māori concept of “disease” explained these differences better than my medical model did; colonization intentionally fragments families, community cohesion, and cultures, and that disconnection is at the heart of trauma. (249)

| A core element of all the traditional healing practices was something the Māori called whanaungatanga. The word refers to reciprocal relationships, kinship, and a sense of family connection. From shared experiences and challenges, a sense of connectedness and belonging emerges. Many of the healing practices and rituals involve “reconnection”—explicit articulation of the origins of connection. (249)

If connectedness—whanaungatanga—wasn’t addressed, the potential effectiveness of Western interventions was blunted. (250)

Now I understand that she was trying to tell me, once again, that the collective “we” of a community heals. We are all healers. (250)

Even though we live in an amazing country filled with good people, I believe that collectively we’re less resilient. Our ability as a people to tolerate stressors is diminishing because our connectedness is diminishing. (255)

| This relational poverty means less buffering capacity when we do experience stress. (255)

Our current challenge is that the rate of invention is now exceeding the rate at which we can problem-solve. … “The saddest aspect of life right now is that science gathers knowledge faster than society gathers wisdom.” [Isaac Asimov] (257)

At the same time, we’re in rebellion against nature. (258)

In 17909, 63 percent of our nation’s household shad five or more people; only (258) 10 percent had two or fewer. Today those numbers have basically flipped: In 2006, only 8 percent of households had five or more people; 60 percent had two or fewer. In a recent survey of selected urban communities in the U.S., Europe, and Japan, up to 60 percent of all households were just one person. (259)

…just as language fluency requires exposure to lots of conversation and verbal stimulation, “empathetic fluency” requires sufficient repetition with caring relational interactions. And our modern world is not providing these opportunities for our children. (259)

…you can’t give what you don’t get. If no one ever spoke to you, you can’t speak; if you have never been loved, you can’t be loving. (260)

Our society’s transgenerational social fabric is fraying. We’re disconnecting. I think that’s making us more vulnerable to adversity, and I think it’s a significant factor in the increases in anxiety, suicide, and depression we are seeing currently, even before the COVID-19 pandemic. (261)

…the brain is continually scanning the social environment for signals that tell you if you do or don’t belong. When a person gets the signals—many of which are subconscious—that they belong, their stress-response systems quiet down, telling them they’re safe. They feel regulated and rewarded. But when they get cues that they don’t belong, their stress-response systems are activated. And “don’t-belong” cues are our default response to anyone we don’t know, especially if they don’t have the attributes of our familiar group. We view this person as a potential threat. (263)

| As the “other.” (263)

So, part of the increase in anxiety in our modern world comes down to the constant bombardment of novelty—especially social novelty—and the absence of counterbalancing relational connection. (264)

I do think that in some situations, isolation and loneliness can create a sensitization of the stress-response systems. So in that way they can be traumatic. For example, putting someone in solitary confinement. (266)

“techno-hygiene.” (268)

Chapter 10

It’s important to clarify that most people who are abused don’t go on to abuse others in the same way. On the other hand, it is becoming clear that it’s the very rare person who has been abused who doesn’t have some form of adaptation that impacts how they deal with people. It doesn’t have to be a “pathology,” but it can influence the ways in which you form and maintain relationships. (278)

Focus on being present and regulate yourself when you start to feel frustrated, disrespected, or angry because they have not listened to you. If you step away and calm down, you will have access to your cortex to then remember ways to help regulate the child. Your relationship lives to teach another day. (282)

This is one of the most important principles of any trauma-informed approach: You have to help the frontline adults who will be working with the children and youth. (284)

Unfortunately, many people feel some guilt about taking care of themselves; they view self-care as selfish. It’s not selfish—it is essential. Remember, the major tool you have in helping others change—whether you are a parent, teacher, coach, therapist, or friend—is you. Relationships are the currency of change. (285)

I believe it’s hard to understand humankind unless you know a little bit about adversity. (285)


Forgiveness is giving up the hope that the past could have been any different. (298)

About VIA


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