What Happened To You? Book Review

What Happened To You? is a 2021 book written by Dr. Bruce D. Perry, a neuroscientist and child psychiatrist and talk-show host Oprah Winfrey. Dr. Perry and Oprah take a closer look at how childhood trauma can shape a person’s behavior as an adult.

What Happened To You Book Review

In this review, we’ll give you a brief summary of the book, to help you understand what this book intends to teach you. Then we’ll examine three of the lessons that we took away from the book, and a few bits of info about the authors.

What Happened To You? A Summary

What Happened To You? is a non-fiction book that talks about how your earliest experiences can shape your life(see also: The Brief Wondrous Life Of Oscar Wao Book Review). It provides scientific and emotional insight into different behavioral patterns you might struggle with understanding. 

Told through personal conversations between Oprah and Dr. Bruce Perry, this book will change you from asking what is wrong with someone to what happened to them.

To do that, Oprah shares stories from her childhood, sharing stories of her own trauma and adversity that she experienced at a young age. Throughout the book, she and Dr. Perry work together to identify the behavior behind our own actions.

It provides a shift from the usual approach to trauma and allows you a chance to understand how the past can shape your future. What Happened To You? provides an insightful look into how you can change the way you think and help you heal.

The Lessons You Learn From What Happened To You?

Three insightful lessons included are how experiences during your childhood can have a profound effect on you as an adult.

The second lesson is how you can learn positive regulation strategies that can help you deal with your trauma as you grow older. Lastly, how you can overcome trauma with the right kind of support. 

Childhood Experiences Will Shape Your Brain

Oprah had a lonely childhood, born to a teen mother who didn’t have the resources to provide adequate care.

Due to that, she was raised in other family members’ homes. While she spent time in these homes, she was both neglected and physically abused. 

Oprah’s own experiences shaped how she viewed the world because these kinds of experiences will shape a child’s brain. 

That’s because a baby’s brain will develop at a rate of 20,000 new neurons a second. Each experience they endure will be found in a personal codebook in their brain.

Then, these experiences manifest, but they can’t be rationalized. 

Another example is used by Dr. Perry when he talks about a child who was physically abused by his father. After he was removed and sent to a group home, he started to get better.

However, at one point, he got a new teacher in school, and he would act out in school. That was because his teacher wore the same Old Spice cologne that the child’s father wore.

The child’s behavior returned to normal as soon as the teacher stopped wearing the cologne. 

That’s because the memories of these events were locked into the child’s brain. He associated the teacher with his abuse. Once they identified what the issue was, the situation could be successfully remedied. 

Regulation Strategies To Heal

In the early days of her career, Oprah worked 100 hours a week. Even when she was exhausted, she would ignore all the signals her body told her and carry on.

That’s because she learned how to be a people-pleaser to prevent abuse in her past. Due to that, she could never set boundaries and would do everything for everyone else instead. So, she would turn to food as a form of comfort.

Usually, stress is a sign of something being out of balance. However, if you endured childhood abuse, you would often avoid these signals. That’s why you need to learn regulation strategies to prevent stress from taking over your life.

Each brain has its own self-regulation system. The purpose of these is to keep everything balanced. If you were responded to consistently as a baby, these core regulatory systems will become resilient.

Therefore, a child can regulate themselves as they grow. 

This doesn’t work when a parent or guardian is neglectful or abusive. The core regulatory system becomes impaired, and a child’s stress responses are sensitized.

When stress responses are sensitized, the child will look out for threats and succumb to panic. In the case of neglectful caregivers, children will struggle to maintain relationships because they’ll associate people with disappointment.

As children grow, they won’t be able to find positive ways they can regulate, so they’ll be more vulnerable to addiction. Even though they serve as a temporary relief, they light up a reward circuit in the brain, and they will want to repeat this feeling.

In order to prevent this, you need to learn the stress signals in the body. Oprah learned this by creating boundaries and would learn how to say no. 

Overcoming Trauma With Support

The final lesson is that everyone can overcome trauma with the right sort of support. It’s known that 60% of people in the US have experienced at least one traumatic incident in their childhood.

What Happened To You Book Review

Considering how childhood trauma affects the brain, you would be able to guess how these could affect large communities. 

While most people assume that children will bounce back from trauma, they will continue to be affected. In some cases, that might mean they can’t focus, or their health deteriorates.

The best way to support these children, and adults, is to support them. Not only could they benefit from professional help, but communities too. 

A Review Of What Happened To You?

What Happened To You? provides an emotive look into Oprah’s childhood experiences. She is vulnerable but also motivational. With how this book is written, you can easily get a better understanding of how childhood trauma can shape your life. 

As a self-help book, it provides insight, but it doesn’t suggest ridiculously expensive programs to help. It gives three core lessons to help you understand and gives examples of how your childhood can affect you.

With that in mind, What Happened To You? doesn’t talk down to you. 

While some elements of this book might prove uncomfortable for some readers, these segments help to provide further insight into childhood PTSD.

It provides an in-depth look into how your childhood trauma can affect your behavior in the future.

With this in mind, What Happened To You? is a book that can provide some insight into those interested in psychology or currently struggling with the subject at hand.

What Happened To You? is one of those books that provides not only the self-help aspect but more so the psychological aspect. Dr. Bruce Perry provides a scientific understanding of childhood trauma.

However, if you’re looking for specific ways to get help as an adult, the information you gain might be lacking. But in terms of child psychology and development, What Happened To You? provides many answers to help understand the way children behave.

About The Author — Oprah Winfrey And Dr. Bruce Perry

Oprah Winfrey is one of the most famous women in America. She’s known for her renowned talk show: The Oprah Winfrey Show, which ran from 1986 until 2011.

Not only is she a talk show host, but a TV producer, actress, philanthropist, and author. Born to a teenage mother, she endured physical and sexual abuse in her youth.

She was sent to live with various relatives, where she endured abuse. While in high school, she started her career in media by working for local radio. Then, at age 19, she began a career in local evening news, where she became a co-anchor.

Dr. Bruce Perry is an American psychiatrist who specializes in neuroscience, mental health, and trauma.

From 1993 to 2001, he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and the chief of psychiatry at the Texas Children’s Hospital.

Nowadays, he serves as a senior consultant to the Minister of Children and Youth Services in Alberta. He is also a senior fellow at the Berry Street Childhood Institute in Melbourne.

He has worked as a consultant and as an expert witness for many high-profile incidents of which there were traumatized children, including events such as the Columbine Massacre, the Oklahoma City bombing, and the Waco Seige. 

Final Thoughts

Both Oprah and Dr. Perry provide a great deal of insight into the psychology of childhood trauma.

What Happened To You? helps its audience identify how their childhood experiences can impact them and how they can take steps to remedy the situation.

While it doesn’t provide much help to adults, it’s an insightful read for those interested in child psychology and development. Instead of being filled with scientific jargon, you’ll find case studies and Oprah’s own biographical statements that exemplify their cases.

Ultimately, it’s a recommended read for anyone who may want to understand the subject in a way that’s easy to understand.

Sophie Andrea