This weekend I devoured Dr. Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s book, “What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing.” The succinct case studies Perry described intersected with Winfrey’s poignant debrief questions created an expected rhythm in each chapter while incorporating digestible (and understandable) neuroscience facts (basically breaking down how the brain works and why it’s relevant for relationship-building).
I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It offers a paradigm shift in how we approach our understanding of why and how someone behaves is in direct relationship with their past experiences and worldview. It’s a matter of both correlation and causation. Three principles I’ve extracted from this read are: be present, be intentional, and be rhythmic in building and maintaining relationships.
We live in a distracted society. If we are not being fully present with someone, we are sending them the message: You aren’t important enough to hold my attention. Dismissiveness is creating both disconnection with and detachment from others. As a result, we are seeing more maladaptive behaviors such as people seeking forms of unhealthy attention-seeking, self-sabotaging, and self-destructive behavior. Oprah points out on page 258: “Isolation and loneliness are an epidemic.” Perry agrees and describes how social media connections are often “hollow.” Authentic connectedness is getting better at listening and reflecting; at having more interactions with people who are different from you. The challenge I walk away with is: Pay attention to, focus on, and learn about relationships. This is being present.
Questions to ask yourself about being present:
- What does active listening look like for me? For them?
- How do I practice reflective listening in my relationships?
- What does support look like to them (relationships)?
- How can I nurture them (relationships)?
Maya Angelou always said, “You teach people how to treat you.” Everyone’s life is busy. We have different challenges and demands. If we are intentional to understand our own patterns of routine and rhythm, we can in turn be intentional in the way we improve how we treat ourselves and others. It may be that we incorporate more rest, exercise, and entertainment to regulate better; or it could be that we cut down on these things. Intentionally engaging in regulating and relating ways with others can be profoundly healing to them; to know that someone is invested and cares to be present and to play witness.
Questions to ask yourself about your intentionality:
- How is my schedule impacting how I am intentional with others?
- What is my intention in doing this?
- What does safety look like to them?
- How can I make them feel seen? Heard?
The power of rhythm is undervalued in our understanding of resilience, regulation, and relating to others. Perry points out that there is significant research and history that showcases how regulating one’s rhythm through dancing, shooting hoops, doing needlepoint, walking, drumming, etc. is a significant way to have control over how to create space to recover and process. The power of rhythm comes into play when we want to connect with others in their ongoing stress, distress, and trauma. Perry writes, “Instead of saying, ‘Hey, tell me what you’re thinking about,’ you need to let them control when and how much they’re going to talk.” (Page 198). Be present and be intentional in how you engage others in their routine and rhythms.
Questions to ask yourself about rhythms:
- How do I self-regulate?
- What about my routine grounds me, centers me, calms me?
- What are some other activities I can explore to incorporate into my regulating routine?
- What are some activities that work well for me that I can suggest others try for themselves?
Ultimately the claim posited by Perry and Winfrey is that if we shift our approach to asking others, “What happened to you” instead of “What’s wrong with you,” we have the ability to create spaces for understanding, resilience-building, and growth in community.
In my forthcoming book, “Belonging Beyond Borders,” I explore these concepts more deeply. In each chapter I offer a self-guided reflection exercise and debrief questions to consider how to belong more holistically not only to self but also to others. Perry writes on page 203, “Most healing happens in community… a healing community is full of hope because it has seen its own people weather – survive and thrive.”
I love this quote because I offer in one of my chapters, “Hope is not passive. It’s active. When you’re hoping, you don’t wish for something; you work and do your part in expectation that things will work out for your good and well-being. We can foster hope and nurture it, but it also involves other people, places, and even possessions—all external forces outside of our internal hoping. Hope takes a willful commitment to be uncomfortable and to seek discomfort. Hope will get you to speak when others say be quiet, to stand when others say sit down.”
Relational wealth and health involves being present, being intentional, and being rhythmic. If you would like to be aware of when my book is released, please connect with me at adultthirdculturekid.com.