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About the guests

Oprah Winfrey

Through the power of media, Oprah Winfrey has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world. As host and supervising producer of the history-making The Oprah Winfrey Show, editorial director of O, The Oprah Magazine, and the CEO of OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network, she has entertained, enlightened, and uplifted millions of viewers for more than twenty-five years. Her accomplishments as a global media leader and philanthropist have established her as one of the most respected and admired public figures today.

Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The Child Trauma Academy and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University, Melbourne, Victoria Australia.  Over the last thirty years, Dr. Perry has been an active teacher, clinician and researcher in children’s mental health and the neurosciences holding a variety of academic positions. His work on the impact of abuse, neglect and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs and policy across the world. Dr. Perry is the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered.

Show notes

What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry book cover

What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing by Bruce D. Perry, M.D., Ph.D. and Oprah Winfrey

Through deeply personal conversations, Oprah Winfrey and renowned brain and trauma expert Dr. Bruce Perry offer a groundbreaking and profound shift from asking “What’s wrong with you?” to “What happened to you?” Here, Winfrey shares stories from her own past, understanding through experience the vulnerability that comes from facing trauma and adversity at a young age. In conversation throughout the book, she and Dr. Perry focus on understanding people, behavior, and ourselves. It’s a subtle but profound shift in our approach to trauma, and it’s one that allows us to understand our pasts in order to clear a path to our future―opening the door to resilience and healing in a proven, powerful way.

“I appreciate the magnificence of my life, “Amazing Grace” is the theme song for my life, and everything else that surrounds it is a part of that grace.”

“I like the rhythm and poetry of words, especially when applied to questions of justice and fairness and the journey to become better people. And . . . I have a little imp in me. I just have to tweak everybody a little bit.”


Brené Brown: Hi everyone. I’m Brené Brown. And this is Unlocking Us.


BB: In this episode, I’m talking to Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce Perry about a book that they just released together, called What happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. In this conversation, we talk about the huge, seismic shifts that occur when you ask, or you wonder, or you question, “What happened to you? What have you experienced, what have you lived through, what have you survived, what is your story,” over, “What’s wrong with you”, or, “How could you?” We talk about how that simple, trauma-informed question of, “What is it that you’ve survived, or lived through, or gone through?” can really help us transform not only our own lives, but also start to transform the lives of other people, and give us a better, deeper empathic connection with each other.

BB: We also define trauma. What is trauma? Big trauma, small trauma. And how trauma shapes our brain, how our stress response system is completely affected by what we’ve lived through. And how trauma has real emotional, physical, and social consequences. We also talk about the privileges of regulation, about vulnerability, and curiosity. What it means to create safety and security, which is something that is, as we’re learning more and more, not just a physical need, but a real neurobiological need for us. So glad you’re here for this conversation. An incredible book, an amazing career that Dr. Perry has had in doing this work. And Oprah, the great amplifier of not just answers, but really important questions.


BB: Thanks for being here. Before we get started in our conversation, let me tell you a little bit about our podcast guests, although, Oprah may not need a big introduction. She has created an unparalleled connection with people around the world. She is the host and Supervising Producer of the history-making The Oprah Winfrey Show. She’s Editorial Director of O, The Oprah Magazine, and CEO of OWN, The Oprah Winfrey Network. You know, she’s Oprah. She has entertained, enlightened, and uplifted millions of us for more than two decades. And she is a global media leader, a philanthropist, and someone who’s changed the world. And I have profound love and respect for her, so… So excited to get to talk to her today.

BB: Oprah and I are in conversation with Bruce Perry, who is an MD and a PhD. Dr. Perry is the Principal of The Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of the ChildTrauma Academy, and a professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine in Northwestern University in Chicago, and the School of Allied Health, College of Science, Health and Engineering, La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Over the last 30 years, Dr. Perry has been an active teacher, clinician, and researcher in children’s mental health, and the neurosciences, holding a variety of academic positions. His work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. Let’s jump to our conversation.


BB: So let me just start by saying a huge whole-hearted thank you for making the time and space to put this information, these experiences, on paper in a book, so we can hold them, and know them, and read them, and understand them. So let me start with thank you.

Oprah Winfrey: Well, thank you for having us to talk about it, because I believe that that question of, “What happened to you?” is one of the keys to literally unlocking you yourself, and it’s… If we ask it collectively of ourselves and other people in our relationships, then it becomes a key to unlocking us.

BB: There you have it, y’all.

OW: There you have it.

BB: This is it.

OW: This is the synergy.

BB: No one can do that as well as she can. So there you have it. Dr. Perry, thank you for your knowledge, for your experience, for doing something that we are starting to see a little bit more of, but not enough yet, which is weaving your humanity into your academic expertise.

Bruce Perry: Well, thank you very much. I would also like to thank you for having us on your podcast. It’s interesting because you’re in the academic world, and you know that in the academic currency, translating science into understandable, applicable content is actually something that’s disincentivized.

BB: Yes.

BP: So I appreciate you saying that, because we think that it doesn’t matter if you know the secret of life if it’s under a bushel basket and nobody sees it.

BB: No, it’s true. I was told very early, if your work is too accessible, it means you’re not smart enough.

OW: Ah.

BB: Yeah. So I really appreciate it. I often start this podcast asking the question, “Tell me your story.” I want to ask a different question, and would love to hear from both of you about this answer. Tell me the story of this collaboration. Tell me the story that brought us this book, and this work.

OW: Well, it’s a story that started over 30 years ago, when I first interviewed Dr. Perry for a show about Zero to Six. What it means to be a nurturing, caring, supportive parent, and how important those zero to six years were. And I think that was like late ’89, early ’90s. I was also working on a Child Protection Act that actually was signed by Bill Clinton, because back in the ’90s, like ’92-’93, there were no laws that required a database for child molesters. So I went before Congress and was working on that legislation, and Dr. Perry was a part of helping me with that. So we have been friends and cohorts for a long time. When I opened my school in South Africa in 2007, the third day of classes, I called Dr. Perry, because girls were behaving strangely in ways that were unexpected, running out of class, having breakdowns. And when I called Dr. Perry, and he said, “I believe your girls are suffering from PTSD,” that began this long journey to What happened to you? So Dr. Perry has been a part of counseling for my school since 2007, working with the staff and the teachers, and when we did the 60 Minutes interview a couple of years ago, talking about trauma-informed care regarding an organization called SaintA’s in Milwaukee that was using trauma-informed care for their orphaned children, for children with behavioral disorders and who other people had discarded and considered the other…

OW: Dr. Perry said something so phenomenal, it struck me in a phenomenal way, even though we’ve been talking for years about how to care for children, when he said, “People always say, What’s wrong with these kids? When the real question should be, What happened to these kids?” And something just opened up in me, I thought, “Wow.” I had the biggest aha, and I thought, “Oh, that’s true for the kids, it’s true for all of my girls at the school.” Because I’ve heard many teachers say, “We’re doing all of these things, and they have this great opportunity and to break the cycle of poverty. So what’s wrong with them, that they’re not responding?” So that question brought us to this moment with you and this moment of releasing this book into the world, because I wanted to have my name aligned with Dr. Perry’s, just to give it as much lift as possible, because I think that question can help us transform not only our lives, but begin to transform the lives of other people. That’s the story of us. Would you not say, Bruce?

BP: Pretty good. [laughter] Yeah. I feel a little bit like… They ask on the Newlywed Game, “Do you remember your first date?” [laughter] get two different stories. I’m like, “Really? Did we do that?” But it’s actually very synchronous with my recollection of all of this. I think one of the things that I run into all the time is we’ll work with a family, work with a child and you hear the story of what happened to them, and then our field wants to give them a DSM label, ADHD, conduct disorder, atypical bipolar disorder, and I basically say, “You know what, I want to give them the diagnosis of what-do-you-expect disorder.” What do you expect if you neglect a kid and you beat them and you humiliate them and you sexually abuse them, and now they’re having trouble with relationships? What do you expect? Why pathologize something that is a completely predictable outcome from a horrific background? And so I think it’s so important that rather than judging somebody in these pejorative ways, giving them labels that are inaccurate and don’t lead to good care, that we take the time to get to know each individual child and understand why they’re acting the way they are.

OW: I would imagine too… You just saying that, Bruce, just sparked this idea. I imagined if you went through the prison system and ask every single person in prison what happened to them, we would hear stories that would literally shock the world and we would probably respond, as you just said, “What do you expect? Having had that kind of background or those kinds of horrific things happen to you, what would you expect?”

BP: Exactly. And actually, people have done that, and when you go in and look at the terrible exposure to violence and the maltreatment of individuals who are now in prison, it’s in excess of 85%, 90% of them have just had these horrific histories. And interestingly enough, it’s no surprise then that the largest mental health institution in the United States is the prison system.

BB: Right. So I want to start with a really, maybe deceptively simple question, but a question that I think is really important. What is trauma? What is the best working definition that we have of trauma?

BP: Well, it’s interesting that you ask that because everybody uses that word, and frequently what it means for one person will be different than what it means for another person.

BB: Yeah.

BP: This is actually something that’s even seeped up into the academic world, and when colleagues of mine were trying to get the DSM committees to include a developmental trauma…

OW: Explain what DSM is. Explain to the audience what DSM is.

BP: The DSM is kind of the code book that lists the mental health disorders, and it’s basically used by clinicians to categorize and hopefully to understand people who present with issues that are sort of in the mental health area. And it was deficient in describing or understanding individuals who’d had bad backgrounds. And so there was a very narrow category of post-traumatic stress disorder, and that in and of itself is actually pretty new. It wasn’t even in that book until 1980. So when colleagues of mine tried to bring this into the new version of that book, they couldn’t come to consensus about how to define trauma, and that’s part of what kept it from being incorporated. And so really, I think over time, it’s evolved to a broad awareness that you really need to think about three different things when you’re talking about trauma.

BP: One is the event itself. And so if there’s a huge natural disaster, most people go, “Wow, people who went through that, that’s got to be overwhelming and stressful and traumatic,” but not everybody who goes through the natural disaster is going to have the same impact on how they feel and how they manage the situation. So the second really important part is what was the effect or the experience of the event on the person during that supposed traumatic event? And then the third thing to consider is, what are the effects? Did that extreme activation of your stress response system lead to any lingering or long-term effects? And so now people talk about the three Es: The event, the experience, and the effects. And now with all that set aside, being a neurobiologist, I think about trauma as any pattern of activating your stress response system that leads to an alteration in how that system is functioning, and that leads to an over-activity and an over-reactivity. And so the reason I think that’s an important distinction is that all kinds of people every day have experiences that are little, little, tiny little experiences where they get a glance that tells them they don’t belong here, or you’re stupid, or you’re invisible.

BP: And all of these things literally activate your stress response system in an unpredictable way. And that pattern, if it’s prolonged enough, leads to the very same changes in the brain as a big “T” trauma, and I think that that’s an underestimated and under-appreciated component of the trauma narrative. And so that’s why I kind of back into it from looking at it as a neuroscientist, and I think that when you do that, I think it makes it easier, for me at least, to communicate to my peers and other people I’m teaching that you can be somebody in an out group and have no big capital “T” trauma. You can actually have a loving family, no natural disasters and never be shot or raped or a victim of sexual abuse. But if you’re continually in a school where you’re feeling like you don’t belong, you’re not the right color, you’re not the right gender, you’re not the right religious beliefs, whatever it is, if you are continually in the outgroup, it leads to the same emotional, physical, and social consequences as capital “T” trauma.

OW: So those daily microaggressions that so many people of color experience, and so many children who feel like they are outcasts experience on a regular basis, add up to being in a big “T” trauma situation, a big accident or a tornado or some major thing happening in your family? That’s what you’re saying?

BP: Exactly. And the thing that’s important about that is that nobody really gets through life without some sort of significant stressor, some significant event. You lose somebody you love, you get sick yourself, things happen. But if you start the process of trying to manage that inevitable life event, already sensitized, you’re at a disadvantage. You’re already at greater risk for having problems. So for example, if you look at people who go into combat in Vietnam or the same thing happened in Afghanistan, the people who develop combat-related PTSD have a probability of an earlier life that’s permeated with chaos, threat, and neglected abuse than individuals who have the same combat exposure but don’t develop PTSD, and again, that’s a very important thing because that’s a reflection of a form of privilege. Privilege leads to a pattern of stress in your life that’s more predictable, it’s more controllable, it’s more moderate. And that leads to resilience.

BB: Is it more regulated?

BP: It is, exactly. Then your stress response system is more regulated, you’re more capable of dealing with challenges, you’re more capable of tolerating the test, you’re more capable of performing well in sport, and all of these things lead to a cascade of secondary and tertiary benefits that are very hard for people to get, if you enter the very same opportunity with a dysregulated stress response system.

BB: One of the things that from my research that I just keep coming back to is, as someone who studies vulnerability and the really human need for vulnerability in terms of love, belonging, joy, intimacy, trust, is one of the great casualties of trauma, is it renders many people unwilling or incapable in some situations of being vulnerable. And when I’m talking about that, that me keeping my armor on does not feel like a choice, it is how I believe I stay alive, and so when I work with the military, people get it. “Of course, I can’t be vulnerable. I’ve experienced these traumas.” But then when we talk about systemic racism, when we talk about poverty, when we talk about the non-event trauma, people go, “I don’t understand it.” And then what ends up happening is we end up saying to people, “Hey, you need to be more vulnerable,” and that person comes back and says, “I’m afraid every day to walk down the street.” Then we shame them for not being vulnerable, because when you say privilege, almost the privilege of regulation.

BP: It is a privilege.

BB: Right. The privilege. You can apply the same thing to vulnerability in some ways.

BP: Oh, absolutely. And the same thing to curiosity, right? Your ability to be curious and explore the world is directly related to your ability to feel safe and settled, and so kids that don’t feel safe don’t want to see new things. They want to go back to things that are safe and familiar. People who feel safe get bored with the safe and familiar and go out and explore the world. So if you come from an environment where there’s been a lot of predictability, there’s been a lot of moderate challenges, there’s been a lot of good things, you have a more open cortex that literally will allow you to take advantage of this sort of neurobiological quality of human beings to be curious about things. But if you are under threat, people under threat aren’t very curious. I’ll give you a really simple example.

BB: Wow.

BP: And we used to take my residents that I work with at Texas Children’s Hospital, and I’d say, “Here, I want to show you something.” I would go in and I would take kids that were in the hospital. Now, they’re sort of overwhelmed, they don’t know what’s going on, new people coming in and out, they don’t feel good. I’d bring a toy in that was brand new, and I’d bring a toy in that was from their home, and I’d say, “Which one of these do you want?” And they’d always take the toy from home. I would then go to their homes later on, and you go in their homes after they’re out of the hospital, and you come in and you say, “I’ve got two toys. Here’s an old toy that your mom gave us that’s your toy, and here’s a new toy. Which one do you want?” “New toy.” It’s the same thing. If you’re out on the road traveling and you see new stuff and new stuff, and you come back and you go home, and your partner says, “Let’s go out to eat.” You’re like, “Oh shit.”

BB: Oh shit is right. Yeah, I want home.

OW: I want home.

BP: I want home. And your partner who’s been at home is sitting there going, “I can’t wait to get out of here.” And so that whole thing, your ability to sort of enjoy the world and enjoy others is related to how regulated you are, which is directly related to what happened to you.

OW: Well, I also think that what you just said is a great explanation for people who resist the word privilege. You know, a lot of white people get super offended when you use the word privilege because people, rightfully so, say, “I’ve worked my whole life and I earned this. And nobody gave me anything and I wasn’t born with a silver spoon,” but I think that the way you just put it, Bruce, that the ability to feel safe and secure. I think people might be able to accept that in a way that they can’t accept, “Oh, I am privileged.” But the fact that you are safe and secure is in its own right, a privilege, because so many people in the world do not wake up everyday feeling the safety and security, that they’re going to be able to have food and the safety and security that they’re going to be able to keep their jobs. That was one of the issues with the girls at my school, that I didn’t understand. “How could you be suffering from PTSD?” I said to Bruce that third day that I opened the school, “How is anybody suffering PTSD? They haven’t been to war.”

OW: And he explained to me that if you’re in an environment, as all of my girls have come from, with at least scoring on average 6 on the ACE test, childhood adversities, and if you’re in a home where you are constantly surrounded by people dying, as was the case when I opened the school, like one out of four people in South Africa were dying of AIDS at my school every week somebody lost a parent to AIDS, and we’re bringing them into the office and saying, “Your mom or your dad has died.” If you’re in an environment where you don’t know from one day to the next if there’s going to be food on the table, if your parent’s going to keep their job, if you’re going to have to move to live with your grandmother, if your father is going to lose his job. This level of uncertainty, and you’ve had that since birth, when you come into a school where there’s order and there’s discipline and there’s expectations for behaving a certain way, those kids had a post-traumatic reaction. So learning that and being able to focus on a trauma-informed program that allowed the teachers to operate from understanding who these girls were and what had happened to them, actually changed my school.

BB: So Oprah, you mentioned the ACE. I’d love to explain to our listeners what that is and how that works. Because when you said most of the girls at your school in South Africa scored a 6, walk us through what the ACE is. And it’s everywhere right now. You see it being talked about in the media. Can you help us understand what it is and how it works and how it’s being used?

OW: I think Bruce is a better person to answer that than myself. Okay, Bruce, answer what the ACE is.

BP: The ACE is a simple epidemiological tool. And I use that term, and what that basically means is it’s a 50,000 foot fly over of somebody’s life. You’re not getting into the weeds, you’re not learning much about them. However, it started out as 10 questions, asking people who were adults, whether before the age of 18 you’d experienced any of these 10 bad things.

OW: Yeah.

BP: And the 10 bad things were conflict and divorce in your family, family member substance user, mental health problems, physical abuse, and there’s a list of 10 bad things which are unfortunately not that uncommon. In fact, 60% of the population has at least one of these things, and something like 30% of the population has about three or more of those things. Now, the interesting thing about that is that when you take those numbers and you correlate that, and this is an important distinction, when you correlate that with physical health, mental health, social health items, you find that the higher your score, the more risk there is for heart disease, lung disease, mental health problems, poor relationships. And now that’s a really important finding, and now here’s where I get a little bit nervous about the ACE survey is that…

BB: Yeah.

BP: People… And we write about this in the book, and I think we handle it in a pretty good way. It’s like anything, there’re good things, and then there’s over-enthusiastic application of this to everything. And so the disadvantage, in my mind, is that you don’t really get to know the person. You don’t get to know when that adversity happened. You don’t get to know other adversities that happened. It doesn’t address the stuff we talked about in terms of race or being in outgroup in culture. And so my fear is that when people shortcut to just using that as a way to understand somebody’s trauma history, you’re really not getting to know what happened to you. Because we found as Oprah… This is, I think, one of the most useful parts of what we talk about in the book, is that when your experiences happen, make a huge difference. So traumatic experiences early in life are going to have more impact on you than the same experience later in life.

BB: Define early.

BP: Well, it could happen in the first couple of months of life. And so, many people think that infants and very young children aren’t really paying attention to the fighting parents or the throwing of things and of the huge conflicts and all of the other turmoil that can happen in a bad relationship, or any other kind of early experience. But in fact, it’s the opposite of what people realize, that the infant is less capable of dealing with that and managing that well than the older child.

OW: I think that was my biggest learning, my biggest takeaway from this book, is that zero to 2 months, that time where babies are learning just who mama is and papa is and learning what colors are, at that time when the brain is so open and malleable, and the synapse in the brain that’s being formed, that is the time where actually the most learning and also the most damage can take place, and so people… I’ve interviewed thousands and thousands of people over the years, many of them involved in domestic violence situations, women who would say, “I’m going to leave once the kids get older,” not realizing that most of the damage has already been done. You have imprinted there in the synapse in the brain, you’ve been printed there in the brain stem, these violent actions, this way of being in the world that colors that child’s worldview forevermore. So that was one of the biggest takeaways. And also understanding that when you’re in a fight with somebody, arguing and it’s escalating escalating and nobody’s hearing each other, that you actually aren’t hearing the other person and they aren’t hearing you, because unless you can reach the cortex and be able to reason where… That’s where our brain does its reasoning, you need to regulate yourself, calm yourself, step away, allow that person to calm themselves so that you can actually be heard. So when you’re screaming, “You can’t hear me,” they really can’t.

BB: That makes sense to me. I’ll tell you COVID… Rough marriage season for me and for a lot… Steven and I have been together for 30 years, but it was rough. And I remember waking up one morning after I was so upset about something and I was like, “I think my prefrontal cortex was offline.” [laughter] I think I’d gone apeshit. Every executive functioning thing in me was like over. I have so many questions. So let me back up, Oprah, to something you said and then go back to ACE, too. When I was reading in the book, and I do think y’all do a very balanced job of talking about it, is it fair to say that just like with any tool, whether it’s the DSM, we talked about it in the beginning or ACE, there’s always a risk of something becoming too transactional when what we need is relational?

BP: Absolutely. And I think that’s the key. Part of the pressure in the current medical economic world for mental health providers is the pressure to do these high volume, low-touch interventions, which really are doing a disservice to everybody. And people feel it. It’s ego-dystonic for the clinician and it really doesn’t help the client that much. And so I think you’re absolutely spot on, that we can’t shortcut these important relational things. And the irony is, if you actually did take the time, in the end it would be more cost-effective than this continuous superficial engagement with people who are struggling.

BB: I think there’s no question.

OW: I think for you researcher scientists, yes, it feels more transactional and not relational enough, but it’s a beginning.

BP: Right.

OW: I think, just to be able to ask the question, and as is the case with my girls coming in, at least knowing something about what happened to you, even those 10 questions is a beginning. It’s a start.

BP: There’s no doubt about it, and I think, Oprah, that’s such an important point too, because when this came out and people got really enthusiastic about it, people in the mainstream academic world attacked it like crazy. And it’s like any new idea or concept, of course, that is somewhat at odds or tangential to the dominant body of thought in the field always gets attacked. Initially, it’s ignored. So the irony is the ACE study was done 22 years ago, and it was ignored. Rob Anda and Vince Felitti and I would talk about it everywhere we went, and nobody would pay any attention. We used to go to places and we’d ask how many people have heard of this, and it’d be a room full of physicians, there’d be nobody. So it was ignored and then it was attacked, and now people are trying to sort of figure out how to integrate it into practice in a better way. But I think the best thing about it is exactly what Oprah said. It has probably been the best public engagement tool that our field has had in a long time, so people can connect the dots about the relationship between, “Wow, the stuff that happened to me, maybe playing a role in the fact that I’m struggling with relationships or that I’m prone to depression, there may be some relationship there.” And I think that that’s a very important thing.

BB: For me, I thought the ACE was the beginning of a shift, a seismic shift, from your story matters as much as your diagnostics matter.

BP: Exactly.

BB: And now there’s narrative medicine, it’s gaining more popularity. But now there’s this idea that where I’m from, what I’ve experienced, who I am, are also variables that predict health outcomes. I mean, that is a serious finding. I mean, come on!

BP: The thing that’s, I think again, missing in the ACE narrative is that as powerful and probably more important part that’s very right up your academic arena is that it’s just as important, if not more important, your history of connectedness. Who’s been close to you, how you’ve been connected, that is protective in the presence of adversity, and I think that when medicine finally figures out how to do both, look at both, you’re going to get a better understanding of the person in front of you.

OW: Well, that’s why we have the ACE questions on Page 106 and ’07 of the book, because it’s just to give you an idea. It’s a beginning. It’s a beginning.

BB: Yeah, and I thought they were powerful. And I want to share this experience. I was at a conference, I want to know what both of you all think about this. For some reason, it just freaked me out a little bit. Shelley Uram, who’s a Harvard-trained psychiatrist, was doing a conference for mental health professionals on trauma, and someone said, “I still don’t understand exactly what trauma was.” And she invited one of her colleagues, not someone random from the audience, to the front of the room, and she had them sit down in a chair and she took a balloon and she popped it and everyone was like, “That’s trauma?” And she said, “That’s not trauma. But now what I’d like to ask you,” and she turns to the person in a chair, “I’m going to tie your arms and your legs to the chair. And I’m not going to do anything differently, but pop this balloon. Are you willing to do that?” And the person just started crying and said, “Absolutely not.” And so, Dr. Uram made this point that often part of trauma is a situation, an environment over which we have no control.

OW: No control.

BP: Yeah. Right.

BB: Is that part of trauma?

BP: Absolutely. We have a chart in our book that talks about activating your stress response in ways that are controllable, predictable, and moderate, leads to resilience. A stronger… Basically, it’s like weight-lifting for your stress response system, but any activation of your stress response, even little, that’s unpredictable and uncontrollable, or prolonged and extreme, leads to traumatic changes. And I think that’s a wonderful way to illustrate that.

BB: Yeah, it was so funny because at first I was like, “Oh my God, I’m so glad I didn’t get picked, because I couldn’t even do the balloon pop at all, like free to go.”

OW: That would be me too. That would be me too.

BB: Yeah, but then when they’re like, “Tie your arms and legs, but I’m going to do the exact same thing,” but you’ve lost control over yourself. And so much when I’ve worked in domestic violence and sexual assault, the behaviors that made those experiences survivable become pathologized. Does that make sense? It’s like…

BP: Absolutely.

BB: Everything I did… My parents had a very mercurial marriage and it was… When it was good, it was great. But when it was bad, duck. And even the things that I learned to do to maneuver through that became problematic as an adult. And the question was always like, “Why are you always so controlling? Why are you trying to predict people’s emotions and behavior? Why are you… ” And I’m like, “I don’t know, something must be wrong.” But the first time I thought about, “Damn, those were finely-honed skills… ”

BP: Exactly.

BB: And I saw that so much too, when I worked in child protection. I did an internship when I was becoming a social worker, that it was the parents that we were investigating, were relying on skills that kept them safe in the traumatic places they came from. But this is why this book is to me is so important, no one stopped to say, “What’s the story fueling the behaviors?”

BP: Oprah talks about it a lot in the book about her people-pleasing is essentially a carry forward of a highly adaptive behavior when she was a child, in a situation where she was in inescapable, threatening experience, led to very adaptive behaviors then, which as she got older and got into a different situation, they were no longer adaptive, they were things that… And she can talk about it.

OW: Well, yeah, my people-pleasing and also my fears, but also we speak in the book about post-traumatic wisdom, and I love that spiritual, “I Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now.” Because what I feel is that everything that has happened to me, I have been able to use it as turning it into something for me and has actually made me more compassionate, more understanding, more empathetic toward other people, and what I realize is, is that the sharing of my story, which I think we first talked about the first time you and I had a conversation, that all these years I’ve been vulnerable. I wasn’t calling it that, but the sharing of that story and my story and helping other people to share theirs is really what made me feel successful and more powerful in the world. And I think with this idea of using what has happened to you as your leverage, a power base for yourself, is one of the reasons why I wanted to be a part of this book. Because I believe everybody has had something happen to them in their lives that may feel overwhelming or traumatic. I love the fact that Dr. Perry says that neglect is as toxic as trauma, and so a lot of people who don’t have a big “T” trauma have come from not getting what they needed, feeling neglected, unsupported in many ways, and that you can use all of that to build strength for yourself and in the end, turn that into your own power base.


BB: Let me ask you this question, for both of you. I really believe you were the first person, Oprah, that I heard ask this question. And I ask myself this all the time, and I ask other people, I write about it. There’s this idea, when we talk about behaviors that protected us and saved us, that were adaptive, but then they become… They’re no longer adaptive, they get in the way of us becoming who we want to be. I’ve heard you say before, what no longer serves me.

OW: Right.

BB: And so I guess my question is… From your experience, because I think you’ve talked to a lot of people about that question over your career, and then I’d like to know neurobiologically, do you think it’s necessary to go back far enough and dig deep enough to understand why a behavior served you, in order to let it go and recognize that it no longer serves you?

OW: Yes, I definitely feel that. And I tell the story in the book about reading the newspaper and hearing about a school shooting in Chicago, and the principal saying he was not going to chain the doors when the parents were asking for the doors to be chained, and he said he wasn’t going to do that because it would send the message to the students that they were not safe, and I had a big, huge aha that, “Oh, that’s why I felt unsafe all of these years.” Even in my 58th floor apartment with security guards downstairs and cameras all around, still feeling unsafe, feeling like I had to do the thing that my grandmother did, is I tell the story of putting the chair under the door so that nobody would come into the door, and so my recognition of, “Oh, that’s where that comes from,” immediately released some of that fear. And my behavior of being paranoid about being alone at night. So to respond to your question, yes, I think there are things that serve us in the past, once you realize, “Oh, this is the reason why I behave that way.” “Oh, the reason why I feel like I can’t confront anybody is because I still feel like everybody’s going to give me a whipping, that I’m going to get rejected, that I’m going to be made to feel like, ‘Go sit in the corner, and you better not show that you’re upset about it.’” So once I recognize, “Ahhh, that’s where that’s coming from,” far easier to let it go. So I don’t know what that means neurologically or…

BP: Well…

OW: You can explain that, Bruce.

BP: I don’t know if I can. One of the things that we struggle with in this field, and I’m sure you ran into this in your work, Brené, is that a lot of people’s experiences that were negative, that really laid our worldview and are the foundation of our emotional and behavioral functioning, took place before we were able to create an autobiographical memory. And so the dilemma is often you don’t know parts of your own story, and we believe that despite that, you can still have healing experiences as you move forward. The interesting thing for me is that, again, we’ve worked with many, many, many, many kids. And this is just kind of based on our experience, but there’s a drive to organize or repair where you were stuck. And so what you’ll find in your repetitive behaviors and your style of interacting and where you struggle, that kind of gives you clues about what part of your brain and what time in development, something happened that made that system not develop in a way that would be healthy.

BP: And so part of our therapeutic approach is to make a reconstruction of somebody’s developmental history and make a reconstruction of how they’re currently organized, and then put together a set and sequence of experiences that are plausibly going to provide those reparative experiences with sufficient repetition. And when we started doing that, we had tremendous success with kids where we’d been stuck. We were using a lot of the traditional approaches, and we work with kids for three years, and they had great invested families and they tried hard and we just… We were doing the wrong thing for them. So when we figured out where the stuckedness is, where the problems were, we would go back and try to create these reparative opportunities, and we had much more success. So certainly, if you have an experience like Oprah, when you know, when you can kind of target and remember something, and connect the dots, that’s tremendously helpful in that process. But again, a lot of people had bad things happened before they are able to even have any cognitive recollection.

OW: But I was 34 before that happened. I think it was 1988, so I was 34 and all that time I had no idea where that was coming from. Yeah.

BB: Let me ask this question because this is a part of neurobiology that just kind of freaks me out. I was talking to Dr. David Eagleman at Stanford, who’s a neurobiologist, and we were talking about brains and we were talking about what’s under the hood up there and how it works. And he said, “Yeah, your brain will not be the same when we’re finished with this conversation, as it was when we started this conversation.”

BP: Exactly.

BB: And I felt very much like, “You don’t know me. Leave me alone. I don’t like the way this is sounding right now.” But it seems to me… This is the part of the book that was so hopeful to me. A lot of neural pathways can be formed that are damaging and that hold us back when we’re young, but the brain also seems to be able to have, at least y’all write about, a very powerful reparative function that in connection and in relationship, we can repair and build new pathways that did not exist. True or not true?

BP: Absolutely true. And the key is, and this is again at the heart of your work, is that the contractor for that reconstruction process is the relationship. If you’re not in relationship, and you want to build a new pathway to health, you no longer use the old default that’s getting you in trouble and you need to build new stuff, you need relationships. And this is why when we do our work and anybody else who does work like this, as well, we find that the best predictor of your current functioning is your current connection, independent of how bad things were when you’re growing up. If you are in connection, you’re in an environment where you have many, many, many opportunities for healing, little iterative moments all through the day. But if you have the best therapist in the world and you see them once a week, and you have nobody else in your life the rest of the week, you’re never going to get better. You may have the architectural plans to build that highway, but you don’t have the contractor and you don’t have the supplies coming in, and you’re not going to make it. So it’s all about relationships. Relationships are the agent of change.

OW: Mm-hmm.

BB: What does that mean, though? When I was doing research for Braving the Wilderness, I got really deep into John Cacioppo’s work on loneliness, and how there was this amazing meta-analysis that said loneliness is a better predictor of early death than smoking, obesity, cancer. So if you’re telling me that relationship and meaningful connection is the contractor for my brain and my mind and my sense of wholeness and my ability to recover from things in the past, what does loneliness do to us then?

BP: Well, the research is out there, and you know it. Social isolation makes you much more physiologically at risk across the board. And the interesting thing, and we read a little bit about this in the book, is that human beings are social creatures, we’re neurobiologically and physiologically intended to be in relationship. And when you are in the presence of people who give you signals, both physical and emotional social signals, that you belong, your stress response systems are better regulated, your reward systems get stimulated, which decreases the probability that you’ll seek maladaptive ways to get reward through drugs or other things, and that literally prolongs your… Whatever your genetic strengths or weaknesses are, it pushes that towards health, and it prolongs your life. It means that whatever your risk is, it’s going to be diminished. It’s good for you.

OW: Well, Maya Angelou wrote a poem years ago called “Nobody Makes it Out Here Alone,” and that is actually not just poetry, it’s a fact. And I think certainly for lots of people who grew up the way I did, not feeling loved and supported inside your home. For me it was teachers, it was community, it was church. I am who I am and where I am, because at 3 and 4 years old, I started speaking in the church and got validation from there. I felt seen, and that I mattered in church and in school, and so what I now know is that having relationship and being in connection with anybody who fully sees you and cares about you, makes a world of difference in your world and also in theirs. And that we all have the ability to be that for someone else. And however you can further and strengthen those connections, as Bruce and you are both saying, it deepens the you of you, and so we get stronger from each other. That really is not just a phrase, we are stronger together.

BB: Two more things then we’re going to go to the rapid fire. You know what I really hate? I’m going to tell you what I really struggle with, and I think we’ve talked about this before, Oprah. I really hate that sometimes out of the woundedness, we protect ourselves by being as unlikable as possible, so we beat people to the punch of hurting us. And then we ensure our demise, because the thing that we need to overcome our woundedness is relationship. But the risk of hurt and the risk of having the old tapes reactivated and the old messages like… Let me tell you something that you wrote. This is from the book. I’m reading, I’m on page 75, lot of post-its.


BB: So Oprah says, “Like clockwork, whether it’s the President of the United States, Beyoncé in all her Beyoncé-ness… ”

OW: Oh, yeah.

BB: “A mother sharing a painful secret or a convicted criminal in search of forgiveness, at the end of any interview, the person sitting across from me asks, ‘How did I do?’ As they scan my face for a reaction, ‘Was I okay?’ They always ask. The longing to be accepted and affirmed in their truth is the same for everyone. And beyond science, I know it boils down to this. ‘How were you loved?’” Dr. Perry says… This is conversation, and the way their book is written is just so smart and beautiful and easy to follow, and just you can’t stop reading. Dr. Perry responds this way, “Yes, belonging and being loved are core to the human experience. We are a social species, we are meant to be in community, emotionally, socially, and physically interconnected with others. If you look at the fundamental organization and functioning of the human body, including the brain, so much of it is intended to help us create, maintain, and manage social interactions. We are relational creatures, and the capacity to be connected and meaningful in healthy ways is shaped by our earliest relationships, love and loving, care-giving, the foundation of our development. What happened to you as an infant has a profound impact on this capacity to love and be loved.” Damn!

OW: Beautifully read. Thank you.

BB: Oh, thank you.


BB: Wow, that’s coming from the person… Any time she read a sentence from my book, I started crying. I could not keep my shit together on the show.


BB: This is important.

OW: Yes, it’s so important. And I have seen this over the years, no matter who I was talking to, first of all, that, “Was that okay?” I remember Barack Obama, when I finished my first interview with him. “That okay? That okay?” [chuckle] “Yeah, it was really fine.” But I have found that people in their dysfunction, and all of those thousands and thousands of interviews, is directly related to how they were loved. Now I understand that there’s a science behind that, and more importantly, what Bruce says at the end of the book is, “What happened to you is important, but equally important is what did not happen for you.” So being able to understand part of the reason why you carry the pain, the anger, the angst, is because of what didn’t happen for you and being able to offer that to yourself.

OW: And what I have learned is for me, what has been extremely healing is being able to give to other people what I did not get. That was part of the reason for opening a girl’s school, is literally going from village to township to township to find girls who were like me, who didn’t have the love and support and the caring, but had the will to want to do better. And that was a major healing experience in my life. I, at the time, thought I was doing it for them, but I literally… There’s a wholeness that formed inside of me by reaching out to offer to other girls what I had not received. And so I know that healing is possible, and the ability to use “What has happened to you?” as a strength to create a foundation for your own power base is possible for anybody who can see their way forward to do the work.

BB: Beautiful. Thank you.

OW: Thank you.

BB: Alright, y’all ready for the rapid fire?


OW: Okay.

BB: You’re ready.

BP: Alright.

OW: Let’s go.

BB: Do you want me to tell you a very quick, funny anecdote about when I finished my first interview with you? Do you remember what happened?

OW: No, tell me, remind me.

BB: I said, “Oh my God, was that okay?”


BB: I did, and I’m sure it’s on tape somewhere.

OW: I’m sure it is.

BB: You said, “Yeah, it was good.” And you said, “We should do another episode.”

OW: We did.

BB: And I said, “Oh my God. Do you think that’s okay?” And you just looked at me and like, “Who should we ask?” And you looked at me with one eyebrow up and one eyebrow down, and you said, “Who do you think we should ask?” [laughter] And wait. Let me just tell you the rest of the story. This was one of the biggest moments in my life. So I said, “Oh, I’m sorry. It’s you, right?” And then you said, “Yeah, go get changed.” And I said, “Oh my God, all I have is this one outfit.” And you said, “Oh, somebody get her a blouse, because it will look like a rerun. We need to change outfits.” And you had no idea that I worshiped, from the time I was 15, Maya Angelou. Posters in my room. And you said, “Hey, would you like to meet Dr. Angelou? She’s here in the green room.” And I said, “What? What?” I just kept saying, “What?” And you said, “Would you like to meet Dr. Angelou?” And then you said, “I don’t have to ask anybody’s permission or anything. I can walk you right back there.” And I was like, “Okay, Oprah’s got jokes.”


BB: And you walked me back there and she was sitting down and she took both of my hands, and she said, “I listened to your interview.” And I was like, “Oh my God, this is… ” And then she sang to me. She’s sang, “Like a tree planted by the river, I shall not be moved.” And then she said, “Don’t be moved, Brené Brown.”

OW: Wow.

BB: It was one of the most important moments in my life. But the first question I asked you was, “How did I do? Was that okay?”

OW: Yeah. You know, when I was telling that story, I was going to say, “And I’m sure you did the same thing, Brené, because everybody does it one way or another. They do.” Sometimes I will offer the, “That was good, that was good.” Before they even ask, because I know that that’s what you’re looking for. And sometimes during a commercial break when people were nervous, I would reassure them, “You’re really doing okay, you’re doing okay.”

BB: I just wanted to know really. I didn’t know it until I read this dang thing in the book, but I just wanted to know that I was good enough and that I belonged.

OW: That’s right. That’s what everybody is looking for. And I remember every major speech, especially when you were out of your comfort zone, as Bruce started saying here today, he was out of his comfort zone. So listen, I was so intimidated when I did the commencement speech at Harvard, and so when I finished, I’m looking for anybody just to say, “Okay, you did okay.” And I was talking about that whole question of people always wanting to be validated and knowing that, “Did you see me? Did you hear me? And did what I say matter to you?” So yeah, you did it. And I remember that Maya moment, that is…

BB: Oh, yeah.

OW: You know what? I feel so infused by her, though. I said everything I needed to say while she was alive, and now I feel the spirit of her is with me always, just abides with me, so…

BB: What a spirit to have abide with you. Of all the spirits, that would be the one.

OW: Yeah, abides with me.

BB: Alright, we’re going to go back and forth. Number 1. Oprah, you’re going to go first here. Fill in the blank for me. Vulnerability is…

OW: Being open to the truth of yourself.

BB: Dr. Perry, vulnerability is…

BP: I’m going to sound like Frankenstein. Vulnerability? Good.


BB: Okay. You can go first this time. Bruce, you are called to be very brave, but your fear is real, and you can feel it in your throat. What is the very first thing you do?

BP: I take a deep breath.

OW: Me too. Same answer, take a deep breath.

BB: Take a deep breath, same answer.

OW: Remind myself to breathe.

BB: Oprah, what’s something that people often get wrong about you?

OW: People don’t realize how funny I am.

BP: It’s true. She’s hilarious.

OW: I’m very funny.

BB: You are very funny.

BP: And she does incredible imitations.

OW: I’m hilarious.

BP: And when she tells stories and does the imitations, it’s like Frank Caliendo. It’s unbelievable.

OW: I’m funnier than people realize.

BB: I’ve never seen the imitation, but I’ve seen the humor, and sometimes it is like fast and wicked funny. Okay. What about you, Dr. Perry? What’s something people get wrong about you?

BP: I don’t know. I don’t get out much, so…


BP: I guess what people get wrong is that they think that I’m really comfortable in social situations, but I’m very shy. So they get that wrong.

BB: Got it. Okay, okay. This will be a good one. Oprah, what’s the last TV show that you binged and loved?

OW: Wasn’t “The Crown.” It was the girl who played chess. I can’t remember the name of the show.

BB: “Queen’s Gambit.”

OW: “Queen’s Gambit!” That was it.

BB: Oh, dang, that was good!

OW: Wasn’t it?

BB: Oh, so good! Whoo!

OW: Yeah.

BB: Dr. Perry?

BP: I just got done watching a really good Swedish detective thing with Kenneth Branagh. I can’t remember the name of it, but it’s really good. Is it “Wallander?”

BB: Oh, my God, that was good. It was dark, but it was good. I’m a big British mysteries person. Okay, I’ve seen it. Good. Favorite movie of all time, Oprah?

OW: “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest.” Yeah.

BB: Okay, I would not have guessed that. Dr. Perry?

BP: I think “True Confessions.”

BB: Ooh. Okay. A concert you’ll never forget, Oprah?

OW: Oh my God, Stevie Wonder, 1976, Memphis, Tennessee, on the ground of the whatever Memphis Stadium. Will never forget it as long as I live.

BB: I wish y’all could see her right now.

OW: 3 1/2 hours. [laughter]

BB: She is losing… She is excited.

OW: Stevie Wonder! In Memphis, 1976, yeah.

BB: Love it. Okay. Dr. Perry?

BP: I went to… Bill Graham held a concert in San Francisco at Kezar Stadium, to fund music programs in San Francisco when they were going to defund it. And it had everybody… Bob Dylan and Neil Young actually did a duet together. The two worst singers in rock and roll. And it was like Tower of Power and Santana and the Doobie Brothers. I mean, it was unbelievable. That was in 1974.

BB: Yeah, good answers to that. Favorite meal, Oprah?

OW: Black-eyed peas and cornbread. Going to have it today.

BB: Butter on your cornbread?

OW: No butter.

BB: No butter?

OW: Just little pieces of corn inside the cornbread and black-eyed peas.

BB: Black-eyed peas.

OW: And some okra on the side. Fried okra on the side.

BB: Oh my God.

OW: Going to have it today!

BB: Are you having me over for dinner?


BB: That sounds so good. That’s like what my grandmother would make every Sunday. Okay. Favorite meal, Bruce?

BP: My favorite meal is fresh bread, cheese, and actually, a little whiskey, but…


BP: I have it when I climb or when I hike, so I always have it after working really hard on the top of a mountain, and that’s like my favorite meal. Just really good cheese and fresh bread that I got from a bakery before I left.

BB: Do you have a favorite cheese?

BP: I’ll take whatever they give me. I love any kind of cheese, but a lot of times it’s a soft cheese. So Brie or something like that. Yeah.

BB: Yum.

OW: That’s nice.

BB: Yeah, that is really nice, and I like it at the top of the mountain at the hike. That’s a spiritual meal right there.

BP: Yeah, exactly.

OW: I’d like it with a nice red wine, that’s what I would like. I’m trying to think. Would I do a Cab or Merlo? What would I do?

BP: Little single malt Scotch. And some good Macallan.


BP: Just a little bit. I got to get back. So I got to get down the mountain, so I can’t have too much.

BB: You got to get back down, [chuckle] from the mountain. Okay. What’s on your nightstand right now, Oprah? We’re dying to know.

OW: What’s always on my nightstand is a leather-bound copy of Eckhart Tolle’s book, A New Earth. So when I did the 10-part series with him, I had literally so many markings in the book and the cover was falling off, he gave me a leather-bound copy and so that’s always on my night stand.

BB: Beautiful.

OW: And also, I have a book of poetry right now by Mark Nepo. I can’t remember the book of poetry, but I have a book of poetry by Mark Nepo.

BB: You have a serious nightstand.


BB: That’s some enlightenment on your night stand.

OW: No, but I actually… I calm myself. Especially if there’s been anything like… First of all, I try not to watch any kind of news after 6:00 or 7:00, because I would ingest that. But if I have any kind of negative experience or even a conversation that’s disturbing, I will calm myself with poetry. So I have Mark Nepo’s book, and I have Mary Oliver’s book called Devotions by the bed, and I also have… Seat of the Soul is always there. Seat of the Soul is there and A New Earth is there.

BB: Beautiful. What about you, Dr. Perry? What’s on your nightstand?

BP: Well, I always read before I go to sleep as well. But I use my Kindle or my iPad, so that’s on my nightstand. But right now, on my nightstand is completely occupied with recording equipment for these… The book tour.


BP: So we had to find a place that was quiet and then, that had the right background, so the only place that was close enough to the router was next to my bed. So that’s what’s on my nightstand, a bunch of recording stuff.

BB: Well, I’m grateful for that, I’m grateful for that being on your… Because then we can do the podcast. Okay. Oprah, we have three more questions. A snapshot of an ordinary moment in your life that gives you joy? Just a single snapshot.

OW: Ooh. Me on the balcony of my house, which is right outside the bedroom window. It’s 3:48 in the morning, and the full moon, which was just three nights ago, is right over the ocean, glittering over the ocean, and you can hear absolutely nothing. It’s so still that your ears hurt from the silence. And you can feel and hear your heart pumping. And just in the distance, because the moon is so bright, you can hear a rooster crowing, because the rooster thinks 3:48 in the morning is daylight. I feel that in moments like that, I become one with the stillness. That happens to me quite a bit.

BB: Wow. Beautiful.

OW: Yeah, I stepped out just to see the moon. The moon was so bright, it was called a pink moon, this recent full moon. And it was so bright over the ocean that it woke me up. So it was like the light in the room was so bright from the moon, it woke me up. And so I went out onto the balcony and I just stood and literally tears started to form because the depth of connection and wholeness and being alive, I felt in that moment, was just like… It was perfection.

BB: You got called to the balcony by the moon?

OW: [chuckle] Yes! Yes!

BP: I can’t top that.

BB: No one’s ever topped that. [laughter]

OW: I got called to the balcony by the moon. Yes.

BB: You did.

OW: I will be now using that phrase, Brené, because I was like, “Whoa, what is that light in the room?” And I got up and went to the… Literally drawn to the balcony and just went and stood there.

BB: The moon called you.

OW: The moon called me.

BB: Wow.


BB: You got to give me a snapshot, Bruce. What’s a snapshot in your life that brings you joy?

BP: Watching my grandsons play Little League Baseball.

BB: Oh, that’s good stuff. Alright. One thing you’re grateful for right now, Oprah?

OW: I’m just grateful for sinus rhythm. As I was just describing that moment, the appreciation for the fact that your heart has been doing this work for 67 years and continues to do that thing that fills you up and allows the rest of your body circulation to operate. And I am at a space in my life where I pay attention to those things, and you know the first thing that I do when I wake in the morning, is like, “Oh, I’m still here. Thank you. I’m still here. Thank you.” So I pay attention to that a lot.

BP: And I am grateful that we’ve had this opportunity actually, Oprah, to work on this book and to think about how to share these concepts to many, many, many more people who would not have an opportunity to think about this unless they had a voice that they trusted.

OW: And we’re so grateful to you, Brené, for allowing us to be here to help unlock us a little bit. And my team was asking for… That you wanted five…

BB: Oh, we’re getting… That’s the last question. The five songs.

OW: That’s the last question? Okay, alright. I had so much fun with that last night, because nobody’s ever asked me that question, and I don’t listen to music a lot. And so that’s why you see I have a lot of old stuff there. So I went back and listened to every one of those songs from every one of those artists last night. Like, Is this really my favorite? Or is that my favorite? Is this my favorite? Or is that my favorite? So I thought really…

BB: You did some homework. Okay, so this is going to be interesting. Here’s your challenge. We make a mini-mix tape on Spotify for all of our guests, and we ask five songs you can’t live without. So Oprah, we’ll start with you. You gave us six.

OW: Six.

BB: But that’s okay.

OW: You know why I gave you six? Because that used to be… The last one, as I had a boyfriend in the ’70s, and that was our favorite song. We played it over and over and over and it used to always be my favorite song. And just the other day I heard it and I went, I don’t know, is it still a favorite or has it been tainted by that relationship? I don’t know, but anyways.

BB: Oh, that’s the worst. Okay. So here’s your challenge, here are your six songs. “Amazing Grace,” by Aretha Franklin or Wintley Phipps. “Blessed Assurance,” by Wintley Phipps. “Graceland,” by Paul Simon. “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes,” by Paul Simon. “Mary, Don’t You Weep,” by Aretha Franklin. And “As,” by Stevie Wonder. In one sentence, what does this mix tape say about Oprah Winfrey?

OW: It says that I appreciate the magnificence of my life, that Amazing Grace is the theme song for my life, and everything else that surrounds it is a part of that grace.

BB: Beautiful. Whoo. Okay, are you ready, Bruce?

BP: Getting compared to Oprah, I’m just such a slacker.


BB: You’ve got some great songs and some surprising. So you’ve got Hozier right up front. So Hozier’s best song, I think, in my opinion. “Nina Cried Power,” Hozier with Mavis Staples. “In the Garden” and “Queen of the Slipstream,” by Van Morrison. “Exodus,” by Bob Marley. And “What’s Going On” and “Mercy, Mercy Me” by Marvin Gaye. In one sentence, what does this say about Dr. Bruce Perry?

BP: I like the rhythm and poetry of words, especially when applied to questions of justice and fairness and the journey to become better people. So that’s what it says. I like words about justice. Van Morrison and Hozier, all of these really, independent of the beautiful music, they’d be incredible poetry.

BB: Poems. Yeah, these are poets.

BP: Yup. Hey, you forgot “Baby Shark.”

BB: Oh, my God.

BP: “Baby Shark” was on my list.

BB: That was Freudian. “Baby Shark” was on your list, because this is how my team wrote it. They wrote the list and then they wrote, “And, of course, ‘Baby Shark.’” [chuckle] The person in charge of this slacked me and she said, “As in du-du-du-du-du Baby Shark.”

BP: Yeah.

BB: I have to ask why you… Is that your neurology?

BP: No, it’s just because I have a little imp in me. I just have to tweak everybody a little bit.


BP: You want my songs? Here’s a song.

BB: Here are your songs. Alright, Oprah Winfrey, Dr. Bruce Perry, thank you for bringing us… I’m going to hold it up with all my stuff. This amazing book, What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and… The big word that I think just captures the whole heart of the book, Healing.

OW: Healing.

BB: Yeah, thank y’all.

OW: Thank you.

BP: Thank you very much.

OW: Thank you, Dr. Brené. Thank you.

BP: Appreciate it.

OW: Alright, until the next time.


BB: I’m so grateful that you were here with us for this conversation today. The more we understand trauma, the more we understand the brain, two of the greatest mysteries, I think of mental health, public health, emotional well-being. But the more we talk about it and the better the research gets, and the more we understand, the fuller our lives can be, the safer we can all be, the more connected we will all be. It was such a privilege to talk to them about this. You can find What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience and Healing wherever you like to buy books. We’ll also link to it on the episode page. You can find Oprah… You can find Oprah anywhere you look for Oprah, let’s be honest. But you can find her specifically on, Instagram @Oprah, Twitter @Oprah, YouTube OWN, the OWN channel. Bruce’s website is, all of their Twitter handles and Instagram handles and website information is on the episode page on As you know, all of the Dare to Lead and Unlocking Us podcasts have episode pages on

BB: Grateful that you’re here with us on Spotify. You can find their mini-mix tapes on the Brené Brown Hub on Spotify. Appreciate you being here. Stay awkward, brave and kind, and maybe lead with curiosity more than judgment when you see people really wrestling with hard things.


BB: I’m going to try. Thanks y’all. Unlocking Us is a Spotify original from Parcast. It’s hosted by me, Brené Brown. It’s produced by Max Cutler, Kristen Acevedo, Carleigh Madden, and Tristan McNeil, and by Weird Lucy Productions. Sound design by Kristen Acevedo, and music is by the amazing Carrie Rodriguez and the amazing Gina Chavez.

© 2021 Brené Brown Education and Research Group, LLC. All rights reserved.

Brown, B. (Host). (2021, May 5). Brené with Oprah Winfrey and Dr. Bruce D. Perry on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing. [Audio podcast episode]. In Unlocking Us with Brené Brown. Parcast Network.

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