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BOOK REVIEW: What Happened to You - From Accusation to Understanding Trauma

Image of the hardcover book What Happened to You

For my first book review, I am going to return to the beginning of my involvement with TDU – a book review panel via Zoom. Roughly two years ago, Gina told me about a book that she had been reading; one she felt passionately about, both for the impact it had on her and for the insight she believed it could give me. That book was What Happened to You by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Oprah Winfrey. I cannot help but feel as though we all know Oprah in some capacity – she has had such a lengthy and prolific career. She has hosted so many people and given them a platform to tell their stories, but she also has one of her own – one of trauma and adversity. Dr. Bruce Perry is a child psychiatrist and neuroscientist; a leading expert on childhood trauma. The book is set up in a conversational format, and it's a great listen on Audible. What Happened to You alternates between Oprah’s voice and Dr. Perry’s; asking questions, sharing experiences, and finding answers.

I think anyone who has ever experienced trauma can easily agree that they are not the same person after as they were before the trauma. To an outside observer, one who may not be privy to the trauma, these changes can appear abrupt and unexplained. This may lead to the accusatory question: "what happened to you?" As this book illustrates; however, it is truly an essential question to answer and understand in order to heal. As I was initially reading this book during a very raw and early part of my own healing process, I found the exercise of identifying the scientific reasons for my behaviors incredibly validating and comforting. Dr. Perry explains, in clear terms with diagrams, how our brains work to process information and interpret stimuli. He discusses how our brains and our bodies are physically changed by trauma.

As we come to understand our trauma, we can then start to recognize the ways in which it affects us. The book references Aha! Moments – when a connection is made. For the other women on the book discussion panel and me, we had them around being over-achievers, being people pleasers, and walking on eggshells. Dr. Perry and Oprah share their own insights, both from personal experiences and from others’ stories. Trauma responses manifest in a wide range of ways – from mild behavioral changes to drug use, alcoholism, violence, and self-harm. These are all ways individuals may seek to regulate themselves. One of the keys to healing is finding healthy methods of regulation.

The book wraps up with a call for connection and trauma informed communities. When we are able to connect with others, it allows us to begin to heal. By telling our stories, we help to break silence and stigma around our traumatic experiences abuse, neglect, violence, loss. On the Zoom session, the other

panelists and I talked about our worries of perpetuating generational trauma, but we are active participants in our own healing so that we are more fully able to help our children in theirs.

For me, What Happened to You has been a valuable tool. It provides a solid blend of scientific basis and anecdotal explanation to paint a clear picture of trauma and its effects, as well as a path forward. It reads like having a conversation with a good friend and a trusted teacher or mentor. What Happened to You is an emotional read, with many examples mirroring my own experiences, but well worth it.


Want to learn more about how trauma impacts the brain and manifests itself into the body? We have a class for that: Navigating Trauma. Check it out for FREE on our website.

Feel free to contact us and let us know what you need... we are striving to improve our services every day so that we can provide you with the best support possible. Shoot an email to Professor Gina:

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