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Why we are who we are

In their new book, 'What Happened To You?', Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry explain how childhood influences shape us

When it comes to dealing with trauma, simple things like community and sharing experiences can offer healing. (iStock)

Why does a woman who was physically abused as a child still feel uncomfortable saying “no”? Why does a man, who grew up watching his father beat his mother, hate being served food in a restaurant by a man with light-brown hair? The answers may lie in their childhoods.

In their latest book, What Happened To You? Conversations On Trauma, Resilience, And Healing, talk show host Oprah Winfrey and psychiatrist Bruce D. Perry attempt to explain, in simple terms, how our experiences in early childhood—good and bad—influence the people we become. The 301-page book tackles grief, trauma and resilience, using scientific papers, studies and examples of the way people respond emotionally to life events. Learning about the intense trauma people have lived through can be hard and painful. But it’s worth it.

'What Happened to You?' provides powerful scientific and emotional insights into the behavioral patterns so many of us struggle to understand.
'What Happened to You?' provides powerful scientific and emotional insights into the behavioral patterns so many of us struggle to understand. (Courtesy Flatiron Books)

Also read: What your therapist is really thinking

Presented in Winfrey’s signature interview format, the book moves between case studies and deeply personal conversations between her and Dr Perry, which explain how seemingly simple things like community and sharing experiences can offer healing. In the process, Winfrey shares stories of her own harrowing childhood and how she made peace with her past. She describes loneliness as the “most pervasive feeling” of her childhood and talks at length about how she was born nine months after an encounter—the only one—between her mother and father. “Most of the struggles I endured as a child resulted in trauma that would define many relationships, interactions, and decisions in my life. It took decades of work, conversations, and healing to break those cycles....”

What Happened To You? is not a self-help book that offers tools on recovery, though, simply because there is no one-size-fits-all solution. Two people can experience the same trauma and respond very differently. The attempt is to nudge the reader, and the mental health industry, to move from “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” The book is a reminder that by understanding the past, we may clear a path to our future, opening the door to resilience and healing.

A guide to a better you at work, home and life.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    24.07.2021 | 11:00 AM IST

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