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My Book World
Perry, Bruce D. and Oprah Winfrey. What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. New York: Flatiron, 2021.
As the subtitle suggests, Perry and Winfrey exchange ideas concerning childhood trauma. Her words are represented by a pale blue font, and his are in black, making the dialogue more obvious. I’ve read other books about how childhood trauma affects adults in later life, if the trauma is not dealt with in a satisfactory way. I know from my own life that this is true. But this book takes my understanding a bit farther. I now come to realize that the child is both vulnerable to trauma but, under the right circumstances (therapeutic), also resilient.
Dr. Perry’s expertise in neuroscience helps expand our understanding of how the brain works. Therapy can help a traumatized child or adult, but the therapist must meet the child at his or her level of brain development. Perry tells the story of one boy whose brain is still functioning at the brainstem level, but he’s older than that chronologically. Oprah courageously shares with readers her lifelong struggle to come to terms with abuse she suffered as a young child. Both writers brought me to tears at several times throughout the book. Oprah tells a story of when she is on a movie set, and the director shoots a scene in which she must tuck in a child at night. They must do the take several times, because Oprah keeps going at the situation as if she’s making the bed. The director must finally demonstrate what he means, and Oprah realizes no one ever tucked her in as a child. She had no idea how to do it.
The book’s closure involves Oprah sharing with readers how she finally forgives her mother and also resolves other issues on the woman’s deathbed. We all feel the sense of relief and catharsis that Winfrey feels. She had actually been on her way back to California, when she realized she must return to her mother and end things properly. A real act of courage, which, in reading this book, may help others to do the same. When we stop asking “What’s wrong with you?” and instead ask, “What happened to you?” we, as a society, may be in a better position to help our children and adult children to cope with their lives. I don’t say this often: a must read.
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My Book World
Nakazawa, Donna Jackson. Childhood Disrupted: How Your Biography Becomes Your Biology, and How You Can Heal. New York: Simon, 2015.
This important book states its expressed purpose early in the introduction:
“Cutting-edge research tells us that what doesn’t kill you doesn’t necessarily make you stronger. Far more often, the opposite is true: the early chronic unpredictable stressors, losses, and adversities we face as children shape our biology in ways that predetermine our adult health” (xiii)
Author Nakazawa spends the entire book demonstrating how Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) can and often do, depending on the individual, have detrimental effects on a child’s physiology—not just his or her emotional or psychological well-being. In fact, the research she sites shows that such havoc can also damage one’s DNA. And in so doing, that broken DNA can be passed along to one’s children—setting up a chain of continuing abuse by which one damaged adult injures his or her own children and so on. The author makes clear that while ACEs are similar to PTSD, they are not exactly the same. Adverse events happening to the adult brain have a different effect than the ones that happen to the child’s brain, particularly if very young.
There are a number of compelling aspects to Nakazawa’s book. One, she brings to light a large number of case studies to make her point and follows them throughout. You begin to hear about “Kat” in the beginning and you learn in the end how her life improves. Two, the author cites a great deal of cutting-edge research on the topic. For example, studies show that women, by a significant percentage, who consult a doctor concerning their history of ailments are dismissed by male doctors as being flaky or hysterical (common treatment throughout history). And finally, the author devotes an entire section of the book to treatments, because with appropriate care and therapy, the brain, which is plastic, can be retrained. Individuals can and do recover from Adverse Childhood Experiences. I highly recommend this book to be your first if you are exploring the topic.
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Richard Jespers is a writer living in Lubbock, Texas, USA.
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