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231 – Dr. Bruce D. Perry, “What Happened To You?”

When a child is in need of support to help navigate the traumatic experiences in their lives. Renowned psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and leading authority on childhood trauma Dr. Bruce D. Perry is the man to call.

Dr. Perry has researched childhood trauma and its impact on brain development and behavior throughout his decades, long distinguished career. Perry’s dedication to understanding and addressing the effects of trauma on individuals, families, and communities has played a pivotal role In advancing our understanding of trauma informed care and resilience, building strategies.

Dr. Perry is the co-author of the New York Times #1 best seller. “What Happened To You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing,” co-authored with none other than Oprah Winfrey. You’re about to hear Dr. Perry delve into the transformative power of understanding trauma, our ability to reprogram our brains, and a wonderful explanation of a theory a lot of adoptees have relied on for healing.

It is my pleasure to present to you my conversation with Dr. Bruce D. Perry.

Who Am I Really?

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[00:00:02] Damon: Hey, it's Damon. Do you remember a while back when we all participated in that national adoptee survey? Well, the results are out. I'm happy to report that the survey had over 1200 adoptee responses. So I want to thank all of you for showing up to share your experiences At a high level, the report provides both quantitative and qualitative analysis to allow the reports readers To hear from adoptees on issues like receiving post-adoption services. Adoption and life satisfaction. , connection with birth family and genetic testing in much more. I don't want to tell you too much because I'm going to have Ryan Hanlin back on the show to discuss the report soon. You can find a link to the full slash profiles. Okay.

Are you ready? Let's go.

[00:00:51] Dr. Perry: Damon, one of the things I do a lot in our therapeutic work is teach.

We actually think that if people [00:01:00] understand a little bit about how the engine works, They'll be a little bit more forgiving to themselves, right? Cause a lot of these people beat themselves up, there's something wrong with me, blah, blah, blah. And they want to pat, what do I have?

And I keep saying, it's called, what do you expect disorder?

[00:01:14] Damon: I'm Damon Davis and I have a special guest today. When a child is in need of support to help navigate the traumatic experiences in their lives. Renounced psychiatrist, neuroscientist, and leading authority on childhood drama. Dr. Bruce D. Perry is the man to call.

Dr. Perry has researched [00:02:00] childhood trauma and its impact On brain development and behavior throughout his decades, long distinguished career. Perry's dedication to understanding and addressing the effects of trauma on individuals, families, and communities has played a pivotal role In advancing our understanding of trauma informed care and resilience, building strategies. Dr.

Perry is the co-author Of several influential books, including the boy who was raised as a dog and other stories from a childhood psychiatrist, snowplow book. Born for love, why empathy is essential and endangered. And of course the New York times, number one, best seller. What happened to you?

Conversations on trauma, resilience, and healing. Co-authored with none other than Oprah Winfrey. You're about to hear Dr. Perry delve into the transformative power of understanding trauma, our ability to Reprogram our brains and a wonderful explanation of a theory, a lot of adoptees have relied on for healing. It is my [00:03:00] pleasure to present to you my conversation with Dr. Bruce D. Perry.

Dr. Perry. Welcome. It's so good to meet you, man.

It's nice to meet you, Damon.

Thank you very much for being here. This is really cool. I was so happy when you accepted the invitation to join me. So I appreciate it very much.

[00:03:16] Dr. Perry: Well, I am I'm honored to be on your podcast and look forward to the conversation.

[00:03:21] Damon: Thank you so much. I guess the first thing that I would love to do for anybody who doesn't really know who you are, dr. Perry, do you mind just taking us back a little bit? Tell me about. The trajectory of your career, what even got you started in psychiatry in general, and then how did you get to a place of focusing on trauma?

[00:03:40] Dr. Perry: I'm glad you asked that because it really helps. I think people understand why I talk about the brain, why I talk about development. Because I really started my academic journey, really, when I was in middle school, I grew up [00:04:00] in North Dakota. And In our family and in our community we did a lot of Fishing and hunting and we were interested camping.

And so I had a significant interest in biology and big part of that is Understanding kind of the life cycle of these different fish that we were fishing or the birds we were following and I was just interested in development. And I was also very interested in history. So I read history like voraciously and I really, from the moment, I think I was able to think about the way the world worked, I was always aware of the fact.

That the present moment was only understandable if you understand all of the elements that led to this moment. So just that kind of appreciation that to understand any issue, you have to Understand where everybody came from, whether you're looking at, like, how did these two [00:05:00] countries end up in conflict?

Or how did these two families end up like the Hatfields and McCoys? What's that all about? Where'd that come from?

[00:05:07] Damon: Yeah.

[00:05:07] Dr. Perry: And so I just had this appreciation that the more I understood the past, the better I would understand the present. And then I went to college and I just serendipitously was.

assigned to a freshman seminar class at Stanford where I went to college. They took freshmen and they had them meet once a week with 12 other freshmen and then some senior academic faculty member. And the person that led my group was a guy named Seymour Levine, which means nothing to probably anybody listening, but he was the first person to really show that if you take a newborn.

Animal, whether it's a primate or a little rat pup, and you give them a tiny little stressor. Nothing really big, just a tiny little stressor at the right time, early in life. And [00:06:00] then watch them grow up. When they're adults, their brain is different. And their stress response system is different.

And I, when I, learned that. I was like, wow, you're telling me that a five minute experience controlling for everything else leads to a profound difference in the way this animal responds to stress when they're an adult. And I just thought, wow, that is fascinating. So from that point forward, I've been interested in factors that influence the stress response systems in our body and how experiences, both good experiences and bad experiences shape that.

And of course, as I got older and studied this a little bit more, it was pretty clear that was relevant for just about every aspect of life. If you're going to be a physician, It was helpful to understand the stress response. If you're going to be an attorney, it's helpful to understand the stress response.

If you're going to be a police officer, the stress response is sort of part of the [00:07:00] bread and butter of that work, right? When you interact with people that are in high stress situations, they're going to be different than when they're, Feel safe. And so the work that we were doing ended up being very relevant for a lot of different areas, professional areas.

And I picked psychiatry because My mentors, who were neuroscientists, were working with some, a tiny handful of psychiatrists who were studying the brain. And, now most psychiatrists at that time were not very brain focused. And even today, they're not that brain focused. What do you

[00:07:35] Damon: mean? What are they focused on if they're not brain focused?

[00:07:39] Dr. Perry: Well, that's a great question. So, the history of mental health, Research and mental health practice came out of people trying to understand others But they didn't have a lot of tools to do that. So they would they made up constructs, right? so like [00:08:00] freud made up the construct of the ego and the id and You know all of that language and these are not bad things But they were there they were efforts to understand how people work That just didn't have the an understanding of what's under the hood.

It's a little bit like you and me trying to figure out how cars work and not understanding how engines work. Right. So we would come up with all kinds of explanations and, Oh, this little keyhole thing is really important, and the reality is that keyhole thing is not that important if you know how to hotwire a car, right?

[00:08:32] Damon: So what's really

[00:08:33] Dr. Perry: important is how those wires are connected to the engine. So. Neuroscience is understanding what's under the hood. And so prior to bringing the brain into these conversations, we were trying to understand human behavior, like the blind man at the elephant. If you really focused in on the trunk, you'd think the trunk was like the most important part of this whole narrative.

And so people, everybody's heard [00:09:00] different formulations. I think everybody grows up being like a junior psychologist, right? You're trying to figure out why did she do that? Why did he do that? I think they did that because blah, blah, blah.

[00:09:09] Damon: That's a good point. We all do it.

[00:09:11] Dr. Perry: Anyway, so I was lucky enough to have people who were trained in the dominant model of thinking about human behavior that created all of these explanations that some of which were pretty useful and some of which were just ridiculous, right?

Human beings throughout history have always made up stuff and passed it forward. And Because human beings always like an explanation with no, you want to have some explanation. A lot of stuff we've invented is really terrible, right? Misogyny, racism, marginalizing and minimizing others who aren't like us.

That's all. That's not biological reality. That's just made up and carried forward in time by people who have, power, basically. So the people who don't have [00:10:00] power, their formulations don't get passed forward as much as people who have power. That's a whole different discussion, Damon, but you know.

[00:10:06] Damon: Yeah, but you know I can't help interrupting for a moment because, so, bearing in mind, I'm adopted and my podcast, who am I really is very focused on the adoptee community. And as you're talking about this, I'm thinking of how the narrative across adoption has changed over time because only recently has there been this democratization of information and this capability for adoptees to come out and tell our own story.

I tie that back to what you said by pointing out that previously the adoptive parents and sometimes the biological parents, obviously the adults in any adoptee situation are the ones who control the information. They're the ones who control the story and the narrative. And so for a long time it was thought that an infant who was going to be adopted was a blank slate.

That they would just take [00:11:00] on an adaptation of the adults who adopted them and that basically a child was going to be moldable, but what you're outlining here, and this was one of the things that I wanted to get to is this notion that a child is thought to be malleable or in some way is a blank slate and so.

Let me just continue for one more quick moment.

Yeah. The book that you wrote with Oprah Winfrey, What Happened to You, has this wonderful opening that starts with this presentation that a child is not necessarily brought into this world with any of the biases that you just talked about. we're innately whole in that we haven't learned any kind of bias yet.

and so we start from a healthy baseline. There's nothing to challenge what we believe because we come into this world with a very easygoing thought about what we receive. And then you go on to explore this concept of time and timing, which is what you talked about with the rat [00:12:00] experiment, the idea that.

It's really important for formative things to happen at a formative time. And if trauma is introduced at a formative time, it can be completely disruptive. Do you mind talking a little bit about just that piece there, the notion of time and timing and adoptees?

[00:12:16] Dr. Perry: Absolutely. but to your point, and this will become relevant, I think, to the rest of our conversation.

the narrative of the people in power about adoption. Has definitely changed. And I think in many ways, it's so important that it has because

dominant narrative was, oh, what a lucky person you're adopted. And the reality is, it's way more complex than that.

[00:12:44] Damon: There's

[00:12:45] Dr. Perry: so many more variables. And I think a lot of times an adoptee grows up.

And as they're getting this dominant narrative that, Oh, you're lucky to be here. there's the beginning of a conflict that like, [00:13:00] wait a minute. Am I like, what about all these questions I have? What about these feelings I have these identifications that I'm making that are different than the dominant perspective that I'm being.

Presented and I think that there's a whole area of adoption that the mainstream public isn't getting exposed to, I think, and I think that's why I like your podcast. I think what you're doing is so important. I think there has to be, I actually am a tremendous fan of ambiguity, a tremendous fan of complexity.

And I think if we don't sit in ambiguity and confront the complexities of life, we will continually retreat back into these oversimplistic perspectives that keep us from the truth. And. I just thought it was important to acknowledge what you're talking about. No, I

[00:13:57] Damon: appreciate that


Thank you.

[00:13:59] Dr. Perry: .

Yeah. [00:14:00] So, The thing about the brain and this is part of the biology part of like what's under the hood. How does that engine work? The human brain, how does that thing work? One of the most important capabilities, and it's not just the human brain really all nervous tissue, all brains of all species.

Very simple to very complex. One of the properties of those systems is that they are exquisitely sensitive to micro environmental signals like they're intended to be changeable. And flexible, right? So neurons are flexible cells, just like stem cells are. You've probably, people probably heard about stem cells.

These are cells that if they get the right signal, they become, this going one direction, they get a different signal, they go a different direction. Like the white blood cells you have. If they get certain exposure to a protein that's from a bacteria, [00:15:00] adapt and they'll change.

And so this changeability, this flexibility that we have in our body, particularly in nervous tissue allows us to cope with a whole range of environments, a whole range of environmental circumstances that are social, climate related, diet related, all kinds of things in the external world. That our human species has to adapt to.

And our brain is designed to help us do that very well. Now, the problem is you can't build a sophisticated system that's got lots of moving parts, billions and billions of moving parts and have it universally flexible, so when you're first starting to build a house. you have a lot of flexibility because you haven't picked the kind of plumbing, the kind of wiring, the kind of insulation, the kind of wood, what kind of beams you want metal, wood, whatever.

So you have a lot of choices early on, but [00:16:00] once you start to make the choice, you start to narrow the range of how flexible you can be as a house. And all of those early decisions about building the house happen early in life in utero and in the first Year of life really probably even the first months of life

so there are things that happen to in utero that send powerful signals to our brain Helping it figure out what kind of world are you going to live in?

Are you going to be living in a world that has very consistent patterns of ebbs and flows of stress response hormones? You That, that, that are matching the diurnal rhythms of the day and minor moderate challenges of a person's life with predictable calories. Are you going to be in an environment where it's like, Hey, this is awesome.

So if that's the case, then you pick wood beams and then you put in the kind of plumbing you need. And literally you've got the infrastructure built by the time you're born. And so even a child who is adopted [00:17:00] has had intrauterine signals. about the world of the biological parent that might be very different from the world of the adoptive parent.

And the longer you are in that biological parent environment and that world that they bring you into, the more parts of the house you've built And then if the world changes, you've got a house. It's prepared for one way of living and you are all of a sudden put into a different environment,

which, again, there's incredible malleability and we can adapt.

It's just that at some point the kid goes, I got steel beams. Everybody else here has got wood beams. What's going

[00:17:43] Damon: on? It, this, I love this house analogy because you can tie it to your more clinical discussion of the brain. It's re it's a great analogy to think about to continue that analogy, a house that may be really well suited for [00:18:00] say a hot environment, like the Caribbean is not going to be very well suited for a Northern environment in Canada.

Similarly, brain that has been developed in a woman who is not under stress of Parents trying to push her to get rid of this child and never ever talk about it again. The brain of a woman who is not under stress because the birth father that she thought she loved so much has completely abandoned her and now she finds herself making a relinquishment decision.

Any other, you name any other challenge, if the family has suddenly dissolved. That child was born and the family was in turmoil and trauma and the family has dissolved. And now that child has to move on. If the child was in your utero during that challenging time, that brain will have, it sounds like the infrastructure that is poorly adapted for what will end up being the adoptive environment, which is intended to be more supportive.

And then similarly, if the adoptive [00:19:00] environment is not supportive, if that is a traumatic environment, That's also going to play into this notion of time and timing with the adopted child, how, where they get nurturing at different points along the way. And just one more quick thing, I've interviewed over 200 people.

I've had a couple of adoptees tell me that. their birth mother kept them for a while, days, weeks, months before the relinquishment decision. And more than one of them has told me that they felt that was very grounding for the person that they ended up becoming. not so challenged by adoption, but more comfortable with the fact that they had been supported and they couldn't have explained it until they learned they were retained after birth is really fascinating.

So I appreciate that analogy.

[00:19:49] Dr. Perry: Yeah. Damon, I think, the way you have been talking about this is spot on and I do think that those observations are very powerful and I think important for us to listen [00:20:00] to.

So the mechanism by which the brain begins to figure out what kind of world I need to be in involves getting input from the world, right?

So sensory input, what you hear, what you smell, what you taste in that environment These signals come in and the brain begins to process those signals when certain signals co occur, when they happen together, like what a sound and a smell again and again and again, your brain pretty much starts to make what we refer to as your worldview.

Right? You're creating an understanding of the world. And then one of the most important parts of that is right after birth and in the first couple months when your brain is beginning to make sense out of the relational world because you start out in connection with another person. And you're there are these sensory inputs.

You hear voices. You hear music, you feel as you feel the rhythm

[00:20:58] Damon: of life outside of [00:21:00] the womb.

[00:21:00] Dr. Perry: Absolutely, exactly. And then after you're born, then there's this kind of quantum leap your brain is ready for it as long as you are full term. If you're born really early, you're not quite ready for it.

But if you're full term, And you're born for it. Your brain is primed to be exquisitely sensitive to visual input, like what somebody looks like, what somebody smells like, what their voice is, and then you begin to make your understanding of what human beings are. And so if you've got. a young parent who's been conflicted about this, but they are present and they're feeding you and they're caring for you.

the bedrock of your capacity to form and maintain relationships is being created. And that anchor that those folks felt, comes from those earliest developmental interactions with their biological parent, which builds this framework that can then be filled out later on by other people.

And I think one of the biggest [00:22:00] challenges and we see this again and again, and obviously there's so much more work that we need to do in others, but. We find that the kids that struggle the most are people who had multiple relational shifts, changes early in life. So they might be born and a day later they go to a transitional nursery for four or five days.

And then they go to a a foster home for six weeks. And then they go to a pre adoptive home. And so you've had five shifts in this primary relational experience that makes you essentially create a worldview that listen, y'all keep changing. I don't know if I can trust you. I don't know who is like, I don't know what the hell's going on.

So until one of you is completely consistent. All the time, then I'll trust you. Yes. But I'm not gonna trust all y'all.

[00:22:56] Damon: Yeah you're bringing home something really interesting that's personal for me actually. So I'm [00:23:00] also an adoptive parent. We adopted my niece and nephew on my wife's side of the family, and they came into our lives after a lot of transition between places.

So to cut a long story short, their father took his own life and their mother left the country. So they were sent to live with relatives and friends and other things and it gets to what you just talked about. This constant level of transition left them with the feeling of very little permanency. I won't be here long.

I'm about to roll out of here. I don't know when. And so therefore I don't need to get that attached to you. People they definitely had attachment disorder issues. And I remember specifically a confrontation that I had with my son, where after a fight with my wife, I went in and, the way I was raised in a black family out of the seventies was there were punishments for disrespect and other things.

And while we didn't do anything physical. I went in there and I had a very harsh, stern conversation with him and he's young. He's maybe nine or 10. And [00:24:00] he said to me, I don't need any of you. And it showed me what his experience had been in life, that having moved from place to place, this young man knew that he had to only depend on himself.

Because no other relationship was going to be solid enough for him to rely on it. And so this goes back to what you just talked about. And I'd love to talk a little bit about two of the boys that you brought up in the book. They're Thomas and James. And they had two different kinds of traumas. adoptees because occasionally in adoption, An individual will grow up very quote unquote well adjusted.

They've got loving parents. These people are engaged with them emotionally, taking them to the soccer games and to all kinds of artistic expression, endeavors. And then there's the folks that are not engaged with the child. The child, perhaps to go back to the [00:25:00] connection of being a very young person who was connected to their birth mother now is suddenly in a different family with a mother that they don't recognize.

They don't know the voice. They don't recognize the smells. None of it fits. And so they're not bonding with the mother, and therefore there's a disconnect in that family with the mother and the child. And then third, there are Adoptive situations where unfortunately a child is placed in a position that brings them trauma and so with all of those different kinds of parental engagements, I would love for you to just chat a little bit about Thomas and James, these two boys who had different kinds of trauma.

One was tally, harassed in his family and the other young man. Basically was not engaged at all. He wasn't harassed. He wasn't beaten. He wasn't yelled at. He just was not engaged emotionally. Can you talk about Thomas and James and how that plays out for the brain of a child in development?

[00:25:52] Dr. Perry: Yeah, in the book, these two kids are a mix of different kids that I've worked with, but the original [00:26:00] observation that I made about that was with two kids I was working with who are at the same residential treatment center. This was a place in Chicago where kids had been in the system, in the child welfare system, and they'd failed at multiple placements, multiple foster homes, most of them had been psychiatrically hospitalized, and then, because they were just struggling.

And then, because they could not, live anywhere successfully, nobody really knew how to help them, and they went to this residential center. In the beginning of my work, and I think in the beginning of a lot of people's work, and I think to this day, many people think this, that When there's this readily observable like, oh yeah, he was in a house fire or he saw his parent get beat up or he's he got shot or this big T trauma.

You go, Oh, that makes sense. Wow. Of course you'd have post traumatic stress disorder. And of course you'd be inattentive and impulsive and sleep problems and all of that stuff. Cause it makes sense. [00:27:00] We put two and two together. But there were some kids there who didn't have any of these observable things.

And there was one kid in particular who was probably one of the more challenging kids in this place. he had minimal adversity. So one child had literally had his dad beat the hell out of him all the time. Just his dad had struggles himself, a long history of transgenerational and historical trauma in his family.

He would get fired, he'd get drunk, he'd come home and beat the hell out of the mom, the boy would try to intervene, and he'd get the hell beat out of them. And ultimately that, he came to school all beaten up, CPS gets involved, and removed him, which is probably not the right thing to do. But anyway, he ended up.

Doing poorly in a lot of these places that ended up in our in this residential setting. And then the other boy [00:28:00] was someone who had a parent who probably had her own issues. I suspect although it's not documented, I suspected that the child actually was a product of rape.

[00:28:13] Damon: And

[00:28:13] Dr. Perry: so she just was met his basic needs, changed his diaper, fed him, but didn't You know, it didn't have that loving, engaging touch, that kind of stuff that helps build healthy attachment capabilities. So he was kept alive, but he was just not in an environment where there was attentive, attuned, loving interactions from anybody, because this was an isolated mom on her own.

And anyway, that

[00:28:43] Damon: things happen. When you said they're kept alive, that sounds so basic and minimal. Go ahead.

[00:28:49] Dr. Perry: Yeah. And that's what happens. So you just. It was kept alive. And then at some point, because of other circumstances to another child in the home. They all those kids got removed and [00:29:00] then split up.

[00:29:02] Damon: The whole thing

[00:29:02] Dr. Perry: was a nightmare for everybody. But anyway, he ended up in this setting, but he, everything we did therapeutically, nothing, he didn't respond to anything. he was not able to benefit from the therapeutic approach because the therapeutic approach depended upon relationships.

[00:29:17] Damon: And if you had and couldn't, didn't know how to build.

[00:29:20] Dr. Perry: Exactly. That's it. It's a little bit like saying, I don't know why this kid doesn't learn history. We put them in the best history classes in the world and best history teachers in the world, the best history books. And then, Oh, that's right.

He doesn't read English. He reads Russian. We're not communicating to him in his language. And so that's one of the problems with a lot of therapeutic approaches is that they're fundamentally. Relational, which I think is good. But if you don't have the relational raw material, you have to figure out a different route to help build in some of those relational capabilities, which takes a lot of, you can do it, but it takes a lot of patience.

[00:29:58] Damon: This is an interesting point [00:30:00] too, because this is something else that comes up with the adoptees I've spoken to. They're all adults. I don't deal with any youth. I haven't yet. And one of that they will, they will is that they have a hard time building relationships. They'll say that they struggle in adult relationships.

They will tell you that as soon as someone gets close to them, they attempt to sabotage the relationship because they don't want to be abandoned. They don't want to be left neglected.

[00:30:24] Dr. Perry: They want control. They'd rather leave somebody before they leave me.

[00:30:27] Damon: That's exactly right. And that's a really fascinating challenge.

How, so how, if you could talk to an adult adoptee about this specific issue, the notion that They didn't grow up learning how to build relationships, and now is the time for them to start building this skill. What would you even say to an adult adoptee in that situation?

[00:30:48] Dr. Perry: So, Damon, one of the things I do a lot in our therapeutic work is teach.

We actually think that if people understand a little bit about how the engine works, They'll be a little bit more forgiving [00:31:00] to themselves, right? Cause a lot of these people beat themselves up, there's something wrong with me, blah, blah, blah. And they want to pat, what do I have?

And I keep saying, well, it's, it's called, what do you expect disorder? In with mom, dad, grandma, whoever these loving characters are. But at some point you get the ability to crawl. Right. And the truth is, no matter how wonderful you are as a parent, at some point you're boring, I've already seen you, I've heard you.

You're boring. I want to see what's out there. Yeah. It's over there. And now that I can crawl, I'm going over there. And so what they do is as you explore the world and get introduced to new things. It activates your stress response. So your stress response is basically gets more activated.

And then you get to a certain level of, wow, I'm right on the edge of this is a little bit too much. And then you go back and you get a hug from grandma, right? And so you go out and explore again and you go to the next room. Wow. Can I go to the next room? And then you get a little bit scared and go, and you hoot, you go, Oh, and then somebody, what's [00:32:00] going on?

You hear grandma and you go okay. I'm good.

[00:32:02] Damon: The child that falls down on the ground. The first thing they do get up and run back to the parent.

[00:32:06] Dr. Perry: Yeah. Or, and look at them. Like, am I supposed to cry with them? Yeah, right, right. Am I hurt? Did this hurt? And if grandpa goes, no, it's no problem. And then you'll have some parents who go, Oh, and then it starts crying.

but the point is you start from a point of safety in connection. So the normal process of healthy development is learning how to be comfortable, not in connection, right? How to be comfortable in connection. With when you are a little bit away and to carry the connection in your head, right? So you could, even though you're in a different room, you know that mom or grandma or dad, they're there.

And that allows you to stay in that level a little bit longer, explore a little bit more, and then you go back. And so this process is called rapprochement. now here's what happens, I think, for a lot of people who have had [00:33:00] kind of relational disruptions early in life, there's this powerful pull to be in connection.

Human beings, it just we belong with each other. That's just, there's just a huge part of us that pulls us to others. But if being intimate, being close, Was characterized by unpredictability or abandonment or pain or loss. What happens is we feel safest and more comfortable disconnected.

[00:33:33] Damon: Oh,

[00:33:34] Dr. Perry: and then what we do is we wanna be connected.

And so we go and we, we try on intimacy, and if intimacy gets too overwhelming, we push away. We retreat, we say nasty words, we blow up that connection unless we can control it. If we play the game, I want to play. We're fine. If I, if we change the rules when I'm losing, that's fine.

So [00:34:00] you'll see the way this manifests in younger kids is they want to play with you and they want to be with you, but you have to do exactly what they want or they have a huge meltdown.

[00:34:11] Damon: Yeah. Yeah.

[00:34:12] Dr. Perry: And in adults, what happens is you get, you want to be, Oh, you go, Oh, I like this guy. Let's, I'd like to spend some time with him.

You have coffee and you get to know him. And all of a sudden this relationship gets the point of intimacy and it scares the hell out of you. So intimacy for you has been associated with loss, hurt. Pain and you literally you disconnect and then of course, this is confusing to this person because they're like, well, I thought we had a nice night, what happened?

I thought that was good that we're gonna do and you yourself usually don't understand it. So you come up with excuses.

Your brain hates a vacuum. So you go, Oh maybe I don't like the way he slurped his soup, or maybe I didn't, you just make stuff up,

[00:34:57] Damon: but it's about intimacy.

[00:34:59] Dr. Perry: You can't. This is one [00:35:00] of the things that

[00:35:00] Damon: people will tell you about your relationships is you're too critical, like you're too hard on this person just because the shirt was plaid and you don't like that.

It doesn't mean that it's a terrible relationship, but what I noticed as you were speaking and for anybody listening, you can't actually see Dr. Perry's hands. What I noticed that you did was you talked about the parent being on one side and the child moving away, exploring in the opposite direction, but that the comfort was with the parent.

And when that discomfort happens away on the right side, they run back to the parent. And what you then described was with the adult, in this case, adoptee who doesn't have good attachments. It was the opposite that there had been no good attachment on the parent side. So comfort was over here on the opposite side, in which case when they started to get into relationships that crept toward more and more towards intimacy, the comfort was over here, way far away from intimacy.

So it's interesting to juxtapose those, those hand motions in terms of the [00:36:00] actual outcome of a person's inability to make a connection. That's really fascinating.

[00:36:04] Dr. Perry: Damon we talk about this, we refer to this kind of as the intimacy barrier

and everybody has an intimacy barrier, right?

Everybody has a certain level of you're close enough to me that this feels uncomfortable, right? And we sometimes, Jerry Seinfeld even made an episode about the close talker. The person that gets too close when they talk to you, it makes you feel a little creepy.

So you back up and try to maintain a comfortable distance. And the intimacy barrier for kids that have had relational struggles Is much bigger, the distance, the physical distance in which they begin to feel discomfort with proximity and the emotional distance is much bigger.

So like, I, my neighbor can come over and ask how my kids are doing and that doesn't feel like that's violating my intimacy barrier. Right. But if he asks about my sex life, I'm like, Whoa, they do. That's [00:37:00] not, open for business. Right. And so here's an example of how this happens.

The kid will be new to a school and they'll go out at lunch. And one of the kids who's been in the class for the whole year comes over and says, where are you from? you'd think that's a nice attempt to engage the kid, but to the child who's new, where he's from is this is my fourth fucking foster home.

And I'm your damn business. And so that's a violation of his intimacy barrier. So he says to that kid, screw you. And the kid's like, what the hell? I mean, and so this is the kind of little things that happen all the time with these folks that kind of sabotage further opportunities to practice.


they blow up relationships. And what happens is it keeps them at this developmental level. That's very immature. And so the only way to get better, Damon is practice.

[00:37:58] Damon: So this is why

[00:37:58] Dr. Perry: we talk to people [00:38:00] about it's so important to be present because a lot of these people are also sensitive to abandonment.


[00:38:07] Damon: So be

[00:38:07] Dr. Perry: present. But the parallel,

Give the child or the adult the opportunity to actually close the intimacy distance. They control it. As long as they can control it, then it's fine.

That's why I refer to this as either fishing therapy or dances with wolves therapy.

I don't know if any of you, I mean, some of you may remember the movie dances with wolves where there was a wild wolf that. Wanted to get close to Kevin Costner, the main character, because he had food and he was curious, and so what would happen is if Kevin Costner stayed in the same place and let the wolf wander in slowly every time Kevin tried to go over and, be close to him or stand up or give him food that the wolf would leave.

But if he stayed where he was and let the wolf control the proximity. [00:39:00] and practice and get closer and closer. Ultimately, he was able to form a relationship with that wolf and give it some food. And, And I think when you have somebody in your life who's struggling like that.

It's really important to learn how to be present and parallel patient and persistent. We call these like the four P's and with, when you give people that opportunity, then they get more comfortable with, Oh, three feet and then two feet and then I'm comfortable being right next to

[00:39:31] Damon: you

[00:39:31] Dr. Perry: you just have to give the repetitions.

And that's the beautiful thing about the brain. It changes. It'll change. But you need to have the repetitions.

[00:39:38] Damon: That was exactly what I was thinking right before you said the word repetitions. I was thinking that it's like a workout, right? I can't go in the gym and lift a whole bunch of weights on day one.

I got to start with a little weights, do as many reps as I can. And then over the course of the next two weeks, I'll probably find that I can add five, 10 pounds and do a couple of more reps. And this is what you're talking [00:40:00] about in this relationship, right? It's these little teeny steps to get used to what it feels like that much closer.

And then let's try it a little bit more. That's, that's really interesting. Yeah. I'd love to ask you a different question because something that's been on my mind is the notion. So there's a mantra in the adoptee community. The lot of adoptees will tell you straight up adoption is trauma.

And this is despite the fact that we may have had a wonderful adoption, but the notion that a child is born to one set of parents, at least the mother. And then is transitioned to an entirely different life, a different woman, a different, maybe part of the city, part of the state, different part of the world for an international adoptee.

And there's a lot of discussion in the adoptee community about adoption being trauma, but there's also this notion that we generally have that children are resilient. This goes back to the trauma that you were talking about before that when there's [00:41:00] trauma with a big T. You can understand there's a date on the calendar when that trauma happened.

I can see why this child is traumatized because of that moment, but the people can't really conceptualize how adoption is trauma. The notion that you grow up and you don't necessarily know who your biological parents are. For me, my first biological relative was my son when he was born from my wife.

We had to make my first biological relative I ever knew. And so this idea that people think children are resilient and the notion that we're ignoring the trauma that child may have gone through is a real problem. can you say a few words? Because there was a quote that stuck out to me in the book you said, Children are not born resilient.

They are born malleable.

What does that mean?

[00:41:52] Dr. Perry: Well, it basically means that the ability to demonstrate resilience in any given moment, in other words, [00:42:00] the ability to take whatever is thrown at you And have the appropriate responses to keep you to adapted to survive that event and then get back to a baseline where you're still functional.

That capability is exactly, Damon, like you were talking about earlier. It's like building muscle, right? You build resilience by having moderate, predictable, controllable stress worries. Stress is good for people, but only if it is present in the right pattern. If it's present in right pattern, it can heal people who have had stress related changes in their stress response system who are overactive and overly reactive.

That can help them heal. But also, if you have a neurotypical regulated stress response and you have opportunities for moderate predictable activation of the stress response. You build resilience. So can you just explain real

[00:42:58] Damon: quick before you go on? Can you just [00:43:00] explain for me what is neurotypical? What do you mean by that?

[00:43:03] Dr. Perry: Well, I mean, basically that there is an internal physiological activation that would be proportional to the external stimulus, right? So here's an easy one for baby, right? If a baby gets hungry, it starts to get the signals. that I don't have enough calories and I feel a little discomfort that they would have a moderate activation of the stress response that would lead them to cry and that somebody will come and meet their needs.

If that child had an overly reactive stress response, if they got a little hungry, it would be extremely distressed and unconsolable even after they were fed.

[00:43:42] Damon: I

[00:43:42] Dr. Perry: see. So that over reactivity is something that can lead to a whole cascade of problem. But if you have a neurotypically regulated stress response capability, there's proportionality, right?

Little challenge, little activation, moderate challenge, moderate [00:44:00] activation, big challenge, big activation.

Now, if it starts to get abnormal, you end up in a situation where you have little stress or major response.

[00:44:12] Damon: And

[00:44:12] Dr. Perry: this happens with a lot of kids who've had trauma and a lot of adults, right?

they have to have a transition from, lunchtime to first period or fifth period

[00:44:23] Damon: and they

[00:44:23] Dr. Perry: have a meltdown or you have to transition to get them ready for school and they just completely, it's like impossible. They act like you're trying to murder them because

[00:44:32] Damon: you want

[00:44:32] Dr. Perry: them to make their bed, brush their teeth and get their backpack together.

This is like, shouldn't be a huge fight every day. And so that's disproportionate to the challenge. So

this is an evolving appreciation about trauma, I think, is that people are beginning to understand that trauma isn't the event, really. you can have an activation of the stress response system. that is chronic and that is unpredictable and [00:45:00] uncontrollable. That results in trauma like changes in the physiology of the body.

[00:45:08] Damon: So

[00:45:08] Dr. Perry: if you are, for example, this is where the issue around power and race and misogyny and marginalization comes in. If you are the only Cree child in a Caucasian classroom in Edmonton, Canada, Alberta you're going to have all kinds of nasty looks people treating you as if you're invisible and all kinds of little unpredictable stressors that will lead to trauma related changes in your stress response system.

So that's a form of trauma that people would look at from a distance and go, why are they bitching? He's not traumatized.

[00:45:45] Damon: Yeah, there's no the microaggressions are not recognizable easily by others.

[00:45:49] Dr. Perry: Exactly. That's exactly right. And it can be something as simple as like a logistic gaze as like a kid will answer a question and look at somebody will look at you like, who are you to know that that [00:46:00] is enough to activate the stress response system in a kid where they're getting this signal from others that you don't belong here.

[00:46:06] Damon: Yeah.

[00:46:07] Dr. Perry: And so am only imagining the experience of someone who's been adopted. But I would suspect that there are many moments where there are these tiny sort of unpredictable activations where there's this recognition that I'm not quite fitting in or where are my people or where did I come from that can create a trauma like change in your physiology so that in that regard, I really do believe that even though there's no big sort of signal event.

I do believe that there's so many times when you return to that and the ambiguity and the confusion and then one of the things that happens, Damon, and I'm sure is the gaslighting that happens is like everybody's telling you that, hey, you're the luckiest kid around, look who adopted you, and you're like,

[00:46:59] Damon: Yeah, I'll give you, [00:47:00] I'll give you some examples. Things that come to mind for me are one, a transracially adopted child is a child of one race or ethnicity who's adopted by a family of a different race or ethnicity. And I've often joked when you walk down the hallway in the house and you see the family photo on the wall, you are always reminded that you look different than they do, let alone when you go out in public.

Another thing that comes to mind for me is more simple. Let's say you're in a homogenous family, everybody's white, black, asian, hispanic, latino, but 4 and everybody else is 52. You stand out like a sore thumb, right? You're a white person who's a redhead in a family full of blondes and brunettes. Mhm. Or whatever the things are, you tend to be a little thicker and everybody's a string bean So there's all of these things that happen for adoptees that most people who are not adopted don't actually recognize as the gaslighting thing that you've alluded to, right? If an adoptee does not know [00:48:00] they're adopted, sometimes they will ask, Hey, do you want to tell me about our family?

And parents will say things like, Oh, nobody wants to talk about the history. Right. They're trying to brush it aside if they don't feel like discussing it or folks will say things like it when they ask about whether they're adopted, they will make up stories about why the person is so tall.

Oh, your uncle joe was really tall. You know what I mean? So they there's these creations of story that

[00:48:24] Dr. Perry: Damon every time that there are so many examples of somebody coming and going, Oh, you have your father's eyes and you're like, Maybe not.

[00:48:33] Damon: It happens to me with my dad so many times and I've often joked that I think what people were actually seeing was our ability to engage them.

We're both gregarious guys, very easy to talk to and, big bright smiles like we had a similar energy and I think that was what people were saying because My dad was a dark skinned black man and my mom was a light skinned black woman and I'm in the middle in terms of color. So when we [00:49:00] were together, we looked like we could have been related, but if we were standing independent.

not with each other. You could easily discern that I wasn't necessarily biologically related to them. So, it's really interesting to think about what adoptees do endure in terms of their family and their community. But can you do me a favor? Dr Perry, just go back for a moment. Will you talk about the difference between resilience in malleability.

You gave a great example in the book of a tennis ball or a Nerf ball. Tell me what does that mean for an individual?

[00:49:34] Dr. Perry: So the good news is that your brain is always changeable. You can change it. That's malleability. It's capable of being changed. And malleability is a little bit like, if you have some play doh, you can move it and change it into lots of different shapes and you squeeze it and it'll stay that way.

resilience is the ability to basically bounce back to a previous capability or [00:50:00] confirmation. So if you, if you're like Pretty, capable of paying attention in class and pretty capable of forming and maintaining relationships. And then there's some catastrophic thing that happens in your life.

[00:50:13] Dr. Perry: And you have sleep problems and attention problems and temporarily you can't concentrate in school. but three weeks later, that's gone. And your body and your mind have been able to demonstrate resilience. You're now able to get back to. Relationships in the way that you used to have relationships, and you're able to concentrate again in school, that's the capacity to demonstrate resilience The good news is you can build that capability, but the bad news is like weightlifting, Damon, back to your example, you can get stronger, but you can also, if you don't exercising that capability fades and erodes and if you have too big of a [00:51:00] challenge, you can actually tear muscles and really be out of it for a long time.

And so that's what happens with your ability to manage stress

[00:51:08] Damon: is

[00:51:09] Dr. Perry: that it's, you can improve it and you can get more capable with, if you have moderate, predictable, controllable stressors. practice, right? You practice basketball, you practice, you have 10 games and then you have the tournament.

You have 30 games and then you have the tournament. You're going to be more capable of performing well if you've had 30 games instead of 10. you build capabilities through challenges

[00:51:35] Damon: and

[00:51:35] Dr. Perry: the ability to demonstrate this to build resilience and create resilience is because your brain is malleable.

And it's responsive to environmental cues and it will change in response to those cues. The issue is really the balance between unpredictable, uncontrollable, and controllable moderate.

[00:51:57] Damon: And

[00:51:57] Dr. Perry: that's where we spend a lot of time trying to [00:52:00] help people figure out those things in their lives.

Like what, how much bandwidth do you want to spend on things

[00:52:06] Damon: that you

[00:52:06] Dr. Perry: have what can you control? Well, you can control when you go to bed, what you eat, when you exercise, who you talk with. Believe it or not. I know that sounds crazy, but those simple things, if you do that, you will feel healthier.

You will feel less anxious, less distressed. And if you need a prescription for them, I'll write your prescription for them, but that's going to be more effective than taking a pill.

[00:52:31] Damon: Yeah.

[00:52:31] Dr. Perry: Yeah. So that's what we try to help people learn about is that they have a lot more capability to understand what's under the hood.

And then actually the, change your own oil and, put in new spark plugs, there's little things you can do to maintain your own engine.

[00:52:49] Damon: Right. Those marinette tires and all that other stuff to make the car run efficiently, right? Yeah,

[00:52:54] Dr. Perry: exactly. Exactly.

[00:52:56] Damon: I want to change topics a little bit because one of the things I [00:53:00] want to make sure we get to is some healing.

And I've been super curious, but have never really taken time to dive into EMDR. Can you tell me what is EMDR and how is it beneficial for folks?

[00:53:14] Dr. Perry: EMDR is it's eye movement desensitization and reprocessing. And that's the abbreviation, but basically what it is. is a collection of therapeutic techniques where you ask an individual who's had a traumatic experience to think about that activity, think about that event.

And usually when they do, they feel distressed, right? When you ask, think about Whatever it is, it's been giving you trouble. And then while you're thinking about that you have bilateral rhythmic sensory stimulation could be tracking your eyes, moving them right to left in a certain pattern could be auditory, could be [00:54:00] bilateral tapping, the point is that when you have a traumatic experience, you create a complex.

Network of trauma memory and some of the network is up in the cognitive part of your brain. The top part of your brain that remembers, when I was 10 years old, blah, blah, blah. And then part of it's in the emotional part of the brain that when you think about what happened to your 10 years old, blah, blah, blah, you actually feel anxious and bad again.

And then part of it's down in the brainstem, the lowest part of your brain. That you're, you literally controls your heart, your lung, your gut, and all of a sudden your heart rate goes up when you think about it. So there's this interconnected chain of memory. that's, many things can stimulate that chain.

And when that memory is really deeply embedded in your brain. It can interfere with normal life, right? So you can have all kinds of things that will remind your brain of that thing that happened when you were 10 and it might be a sound, it might be a smell.

It might [00:55:00] be glance. It might be all kinds of things. And that, that literally can make you feel distressed and distracted and overwhelmed and disrupt sleep and all kinds of stuff. And that's it's

[00:55:10] Damon: Like how music takes us back to a memory from our teenage years.

[00:55:13] Dr. Perry: Absolutely. It's exactly the same thing.

And so now keep that in one part of your head. Here's a new thing. Remember, we were talking about how the brain makes associations between things that co occur, right? The brain takes two sensory input that's coming in. So in utero, In the womb, you're continually hearing

you are also getting signals from your little fetal body that say, I'm not hungry. I'm not thirsty. I'm not cold. I'm regulated. So your brain connects pattern, repetitive, rhythmic somatosensory input with the feeling of being regulated. So that's like when you chew gum, when you go for a [00:56:00] walk, when you listen to music, when you rock yourself, all of those things regulate you because they activate a deeply ingrained memory.

[00:56:10] Dr. Perry: In the lower part of your brain.

[00:56:12] Damon: Like how my wife falls asleep when she puts her head on my chest and she hears my heartbeat, she's out immediately.

[00:56:18] Dr. Perry: There you go. So here's what you do. EMDR, and let me just be clear about this. This same approach is used in every single healing ritual from indigenous healers all over the planet.

Pattern, repetitive, rhythmic activity, dancing, drumming, davening, all of that stuff has been incorporated in every culture. Because they figured out that, wow, when we do this, we feel better when somebody dies. We feel better when the village got burned down. We feel better when we're gonna go on a hunt or a raid.

We feel better when we come back from the raid and somebody got hurt. this has been discovered [00:57:00] all around the world for centuries as a healing approach. And so what happens is You ask the person to activate that trauma memory, which includes brainstem memories. includes a component that's done in the lower part of the brain.

But then at the same time, you activate that deeply ingrained, much more powerful memory of being regulated. And so what happens is you short circuit reprogram. Yeah. You reprogram. And so what happens is you can remember the event. But you immediately don't default to the bad part of it.

You can remember the cognitive part of it. Now you have it connected to this neutral or even positive regulatory memory. And the eye movement part of this then. So when you move your eyes back and forth, basically that the nerves that control eye movement are done in the brainstem, they're done in the lower part of the brain, right next to the part of the [00:58:00] brain involved in the stress response.

And so what you do is that part of the brain is getting pattern repetitive rhythmic activity. And so, Damon, if you don't do this in the right rhythm, it doesn't work.

[00:58:11] Damon: Oh, that's fascinating. Really?

[00:58:13] Dr. Perry: How do you figure out what

[00:58:14] Damon: the right rhythm is?

[00:58:16] Dr. Perry: The right rhythm is basically. 80 beats per minute or a sub multiple of that.

And that's the basic resting heart rate of a human being of mom, while you were in utero.

[00:58:28] Damon: I was going to ask you if it was related to heartbeat. That's really interesting. Huh? Wow. I appreciate that explanation. I've been so curious about it. And as I expected, you absolutely nailed what I was hoping to get out of you with regard to that therapy.

Cause I just didn't, I didn't get it.

[00:58:45] Dr. Perry: I first heard about it, all the people I was running this trauma recovery program at the VA and all of my colleagues said, Oh, this is bullshit. And I said no, it makes complete sense. Yeah, it does sound crazy.

[00:58:57] Damon: It reminded me, when I [00:59:00] first heard the word, I was like, you mean like, hypnotized?

You know what I mean? That's the thing to think of with eye therapy. And now that you've explained this attachment of the eyes to the brainstem and the rhythmic healing processes that we go through in life, it totally makes sense now. That's brilliant. Wow. Really fascinating. Well, Dr. Perry, this has been absolutely amazing.

I would love to know just one more thing. If you're able to share, what are you working on these days? What's got you busy right now?

[00:59:28] Dr. Perry: Oh gosh, we're working on a couple of things. Then one of the, one of the most fun things is using sport as a vehicle to provide healthy, culturally appropriate opportunities for moderate predictable activation of the stress response, right?

So we're trying to help coaches, youth coaches, professional athletes, people that use sport helping them understand what's under their hood so that we can be more intentional about using sport and drama and [01:00:00] music to create culturally appropriate. Opportunities for healing because we do not have enough mental health professionals on the planet to meet the need, if you think we do a lot of work on these international disasters and if we use the conventional one hour a week mental health approach you'd have to take every single clinician on the planet and have them work 100%.

To just meet the needs of what's happening right now in the Middle East. And that's just not going to happen. So we really need to recognize how our cultures historically have been able to create rituals, routines, ways of living that are both trauma protective and trauma healing, and that's a lot of what we're doing.

So that's amazing. Yeah.

[01:00:47] Damon: Well, who better to learn from than you, Dr. Perry, this has been absolutely incredible. I truly appreciate your time for anybody who wants to get in touch with your work or understand more. What do you recommend?

How do folks get in touch with you and the things [01:01:00] that you're doing?

[01:01:01] Dr. Perry: I think probably the best thing is we YouTube channel. It's got a lot of content that is interesting. And it's info N M N. Or if you just go into YouTube and type in neuro sequential you'll find it.

neuro sequential dot com.

I think that's my website. I should probably know this. And people are going to go, you may want to know

[01:01:25] Damon: that Dr. Bayer.

[01:01:27] Dr. Perry: You don't even know your own website. Yeah, right. You can find me to search around. You'll find us.

[01:01:32] Damon: I'm quite sure you've got such a breadth of work. It is really impressive. And I gotta say, I'm so thankful that you coauthored this book with Oprah Winfrey.

It was really enlightening. I'll tell you. And you probably know this, that it has circulated through the adoptee community and I tout it very often because even the title alone. and the premise that is behind it. It's not what's wrong with you. It's what happened to you [01:02:00] that is making you respond in the ways that you do.

I mean, the title itself is resonant, but the content inside was just absolutely eye opening. So I really appreciate everything that you're doing. And and I'm hopeful that the adoptee community will appreciate what you've shared here today. So thanks for being here with me.

[01:02:17] Dr. Perry: My pleasure, Damon. Keep up the good work.

[01:02:19] Damon: Thank you, man. I appreciate it.

[01:02:26] Damon: Hey, it's me. Dr. Perry's work to understand the impacts of trauma on human development has been enlightening for how so many of us view the adoptee experience He has explored how the time and timing of a trauma is important for how a child develops Their stress reactions And how the first few months after birth are so developmentally important as the brain lays the blueprint for the world around us. I really appreciated Dr.

Perry's explanation of EMDR or eye movement, decentralization and reprocessing. As a tool for [01:03:00] patterned repetitive rhythmic activity To heal ourselves from From past trauma associations stored deep in our brainstem. Finally, I verified some of the places you can connect to Dr.

Bruce D Perry's work online. His website is B D And you can dig deeper to learn more about the neuro sequential model. Dr. Perry's developmentally sensitive neurobiology and forms, approach to clinical problem solving for children, families, and Last, but certainly not least You should check out his book called what happened to you?

Conversations on trauma, resilience and healing. If you're trying to find your way through how your adoption as a child has impacted your life as an adult, I highly recommend You pick up a copy. I'm Damon Davis, and I hope you found something in Dr. Perry's work that enlightened you about your trauma. Validates your feelings about what happened to you and motivates [01:04:00] you to have this strength along your journey to learn who am I really. You can follow me on Instagram at Damon L Davis. And to follow the show, check out at w AI.

Really, if you like the show, please take a moment to leave a five star review in your podcast app or wherever you get your podcasts, because believe me your ratings really do help others to find the podcast too.

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