59. How Can Grief Affect Our Brains? With Bruce Perry

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For Dr. Bruce Perry, a renowned brain development and trauma expert, understanding how traumatic life events shape our brain’s stress response and other functions has been critical in helping people lead healthier lives. In this episode, Bruce talks to Claire about science-based advice that can help people build resiliency and discusses lessons from his book What Happened To You, which he co-wrote with Oprah Winfrey.

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Bruce Perry, Claire Bidwell-Smith

Bruce Perry  00:00

So your brain at birth is undeveloped, and so the systems are involved in helping the higher parts of your brain organize. But if early in life, these systems are impacted by trauma or loss or other kinds of catastrophic experiences that will cause them to be regulated abnormally, that can have this cascade of impact on the development of your brain. And then all of the functions that are related to that, including things as simple as even regulating, you know, your cardiovascular functioning, your GI functioning, or, you know, really things that you wouldn’t normally think about as being trauma related, but they’re all part of your body’s physical organization. And so what happens is you’ve got this very deep, deeply ingrained vulnerability, and it’s harder to address now you can’t address it, but you can’t address it. If you don’t know that that’s what the problem is.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  01:08

Hi, I’m Claire Bidwell Smith. Welcome to NEW DAY. Grieving can be an incredibly isolating experience, especially because our bodies respond to grief in ways many of us have never learned ever talked about. And learning what you need to heal from trauma and actually accessing the proper care can be an energy drain and make you feel out of balance. So as we’re going through all this, we may encounter treatments that take aim at the symptoms were displaying. But why is it rare for someone to explore the root cause of whatever is ailing us? Someone who asks, what is really going on? And how deep is this pain rooted? My guest today Dr. Bruce Perry, shifted the paradigm on how we think about healing. His book, what happened to you, which he co-wrote with Oprah Winfrey covers his research on how our lives are shaped by the brain’s stress response and developmental experiences. Bruce is a renowned brain development and trauma expert, and his book unpacks how life experiences can impact brain development and function. In this episode, Bruce talks about how we can identify the ways stress is impacting our bodies, and how our healthcare system can benefit from shifting how it thinks about people’s healing. He also talks about why we shouldn’t compare our grief to other people’s grief. And he shares advice on how parents can guide their children through grieving. Oh, and even though Bruce says he isn’t the biggest fan of the word resilience, he does speak with me about how we can build resiliency, and why some of us have lost some of our resilience during the COVID 19 pandemic. Here’s my conversation with Bruce.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  02:50

Nice to meet you.

Bruce Perry  02:51

Nice to meet you.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  02:52

Thanks so much for coming on the show.

Bruce Perry  02:55

Appreciate it. Thanks for having me.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  02:58

So I’m not sure how much you know, but I’m a therapist who specializes in grief. And I really want to talk to you today about your work as it relates to grief. And I was wondering if you could just start by telling us a little bit about your work and yourself and why you’re inspired to do this.

Bruce Perry  03:14

I’m a trained as a developmental neuroscientist, and a child and adolescent psychiatrist. And I’m part of a very big inter disciplinary group that’s been looking at the impact of experience on development from a lot of different lenses. And I just very curious and very lucky to have a really great working group. And, you know, we’ve been trying to learn a lot over the last 30 years about all of these things. And you know, pretty much what inspires me is that the work we do, I think really does help people. So that’s always nice to say,

Claire Bidwell-Smith  03:54

yeah, absolutely. I first heard about you, when your book came out, I think last year that you co-wrote with Oprah, what happened to you? And I remember I initially read some blurb about the book, and I saw the title. And I was like, What a weird title. And then I understood what the title was. And it was really like, as Oprah would say, one of those aha moments, particularly for me in the grief world, because I feel like a lot of people who are grappling with the effects of grief and loss, get that kind of response of not what happened to you, but what’s wrong with you. And you guys in this book are really making that shift to look at, not what’s wrong with you, but what happened to you. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about that whole premise.

Bruce Perry  04:39

Sure. I mentioned earlier that I’m kind of a trained as a developmental neuroscientist. And so I’ve even going into my clinical training, I was very much aware of the relationship between previous experience and current functioning. And I always either took an historical perspective on functioning or a developmental perspective. But then when I got into clinical work, we tended to just look at people and at their symptoms, like, what’s wrong with you, like, you know, you have attention problems or sleep problems, or you’re crying all the time. And then we would problem solve around those problems. And a lot of time, as you well know, you can get to the point where you are inattentive, or sad, or have sleep problems from a lot of different routes, it could be completely normal, if it’s in context of the recent loss of a loved one, for example, or it could be related to a whole variety of other factors. And so until you actually understand the trajectory that brought someone to the present, it’s very hard for you to be truly helpful. And so that was that’s pretty much the perspective on the work that we’ve been doing that has been mostly in context of developmental trauma of different kinds of abuse, and neglect, and so forth. But I think that that frame of reference is, is good for any way you approach a person. And just the more you know about somebody, the more you’re able to connect with them in a real human way. And I think that’s very important.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  06:23

Absolutely. It really applies to the work I’m doing and the people I see. And I’ll tell you a little bit about my personal experience, I was 14, when both of my parents got cancer at the same time, I was an only child, my mom died when I was 18. And my father when I was 25. And you know, by my early and mid-20s, I was having panic attacks, tons of anxiety, you know, I ended up in the ER a couple of times, and the doctors would check me out and do all the blood work and asked me all these questions about my health and never asked me about myself and my life and what was going on. And they would just kind of send me on my way, telling me that I had heart palpitations. And for years, I just thought there was something wrong with me. And I didn’t connect it to everything that I had been through all these losses and watching my parents go through their illnesses and their deaths. And so this shift that you guys are making in this book, and that you’re doing in your work is so important. Because when I was able to finally put those pieces together and start to look at what happened to me, and how the impact of that was playing out in my life, I was then able to begin healing. And I’ve been doing a lot of that work with so many other people, I’ve worked with an enormous amount of people who lost a parent in childhood or adolescence. And they come to see me in their 30s. And they’re really looking back at this whole trajectory of how their physiology has changed how their relationships have been impacted their careers, their parenting, and all long thinking there was something wrong with them, not looking at what happened to them.

Bruce Perry  07:51

You know, I remember when I was first training, and one of I was training, one of the sites was a VA hospital. And I had a gentleman excuse me, who’s about 85 years old, and he was theoretically being treated for combat related PTSD. But it really was so much different from traditional combat presentation of anxiety and trauma related symptoms. And as we worked to became clear, and it became the focal point of our work was that he had been working with his dad in the garage when he was like six or seven years old. And his dad asked him to do something. And he really didn’t want to do it. They said any sort of push them go get something in the house, go get something in the house. And finally he’s he said okay, I will and the father said to him, Don’t dawdle come back quickly. So he goes into the house and he dawdled, he gets a cookie kind of fooling around, and all of a sudden the garage blows up. And his dad’s killed in the garage burns down. And from that point forward, this sense of guilt and loss, it just permeated his whole life. But he didn’t really understand that. And it made him highly vulnerable to subsequent traumatic experiences. So he was much more likely to get PTSD because he had this predisposing anxiety regulation issue that came from when he was just little, and I’m, you know, as we’re talking about this, I think about here’s this 85 year old man, and one of the most defining experiences of his life happened when he was 6 years old. And he had never really talked about it until he got into a therapeutic relationship that was looking at how did you get here, as opposed to why are you having trouble sleeping?

Claire Bidwell-Smith  09:55

Yeah, and I know that you’ve talked a lot about this in your work this kind of it Do you have resilience and someone who has gone through early trauma is more prone to have that kind of response and to continue building up these trauma responses? Whereas someone who maybe gets into adulthood without having had any trauma, can maybe have a different resilient reaction to something catastrophic. Can you speak on that a little bit?

Bruce Perry  10:22

Yeah, it’s the systems in our brain that are involved in managing attention, arousal, the stress response, and so forth. They develop really early in life, and then they play this important role in shaping the rest of our brain development. So your brain at birth is undeveloped, and so the systems are involved in helping the higher parts of your brain organize. But if early in life, these systems are impacted by trauma, or loss, or other kinds of catastrophic experiences that will cause them to be regulated abnormally, that can have this cascade of impact on the development of your brain, and then all of the functions that are related to that, including things as simple as even regulating, you know, your cardiovascular functioning, your GI functioning, or, you know, really things that you wouldn’t normally think about as being trauma related, but they’re all part of your, your body’s physical organization. And so what happens is, is you’ve got this very deep, deeply ingrained vulnerability, and it’s harder to address now you can’t address it. But you can’t address it, if you don’t know that that’s what the problem is, right? And so along the lines of what you were saying about you, you’re yourself that people using the DSM lens and only looking at the symptoms that you’re presenting, they’re like, oh, maybe a panic attacks, maybe this maybe that. But they didn’t follow the trajectory that led you to having that regulation issue. And I think that people miss that stuff all the time.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  11:59

Absolutely. You know, and, you know, this was 25 years ago, when my mom died. And back then in the grief world, too, we were still so much more literate than we still are. But, you know, they would look at me and they say, Oh, well, your mom died 6 years ago, you should be fine now. Right? And that wasn’t the case at all. And so for so long, I really thought there was something wrong with me.

Bruce Perry  12:21

Yeah, well, you know, Claire, the sad thing about that is that that’s still sort of the prevailing view. In fact, they pathologize prolonged grief, the DSM has a new category, that it’s like, wait a minute, you know, if you don’t get better within a certain period of time, by my standards, then you have a disease, which I think is just messed up.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  12:43

Yeah, it doesn’t make any sense. And especially if you’re looking through this lens of looking back to see all the other impacts that have occurred in your life that are going to affect this current loss, you know, you may have had all kinds of other things leading up to this one. Whereas for this kind of loss for someone else might be totally different. I’d love to ask you about, you know, the impact of grief on the brain. But I’m aware that it’s going to be different for someone who’s age seven, than someone who’s 42, for instance, you know, and could you speak on kind of both of those?

Bruce Perry  13:38

You know, there are certain commonalities in the way we function and the way we’re put together. But if you look, start to look, with a little bit of a finer tooth comb, you go on everybody’s journey is a little bit different. And everybody has some vulnerabilities and some strengths in there are serendipitous opportunities, were at the right time that a certain person came in and protected you from some of the things that would have normally happen after loss. And then some people had this, the opposite of serendipitous, they had this tragic sort of the family moved, at the time that you lost your primary parents, and all of a sudden, you also lost your Girl Scout troop, your soccer team, your teachers, your friends, your community of faith, everything that was sort of helping you deal with that, that’s gone too, because it’s so many of those stories. And so, it’s so much harder to carry the burdens of grief by yourself. And when you have these relational supports that can be helpful. And so there are certain things about getting older, where you develop some brain mediated capabilities to be reflective and say things like well, you can tell time, for example, you know, all right, it’s not always going to be like this. Maybe, you know, I have a sense of the future. But if you’re, you know, when you’re three, your sense of time is just not the same as if you’re 13. And it hurts, but a 13 year old can also look at the world differently and go, You know what, there are pathways out of this pain, the three year old kid is just going to be kind of confused. And there will be in addition to the sense of loss, there’s a lot of anxiety about what going to happen to me am I gonna have a place to live a place to eat and the things that these kids kind of get to worry about. The adult world is like, of course, you’ll have a play, of course, will take care of you, but they don’t ever explicitly say to the child necessarily, and reassure them again, and again and again, I’m not going anywhere, and be okay, we’ll get through this together. And they may say it once, right, apparently, they say that once it’s great, or the surviving parent or grandparent, whoever it is, and that’s all good. But we forget that, if you’re three, that you need to say it again, and again, and again, and an act it and that that anxiety about the insecurity of losing loved ones that persists. And so you just need to continually be understanding of that.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  16:09

Yeah, I’m seeing that so much. It’s so interesting to work with someone who went through early childhood loss, and then have them come in, in their 30s, or 40s. And it’s like, they hit all these developmental milestones as they matured, in which they were able to understand the loss in new ways at each milestone, right. And so they had a new awareness of it, that almost brought on more grief, in some cases, or, you know, was able to change their perspective, but it’s impacted all their relationships and their ability to function. And you can see very easily, someone who had a lot of support did get that reassurance, you know, their world stayed intact, for the most part, as opposed to someone whose world completely changed and didn’t get that reassurance. And, you know, someone in that realm has so much more anxiety and has so much more kind of disorganized attachment issues. And it’s really challenging.

Bruce Perry  17:03

It is and they and they seek to maintain order and their lives in a different way. And, you know, it’s, they get, of course, not every, not every pathway out of the same of a similar thing is exactly the same either. So there’ll be people who manage some of this stuff by trying to replicate the chaos that’s familiar. And there’ll be some that tried to control the chaos by being overly controlling in relationships, and work and everything else. And the interesting thing is, this is why it’s so important to ask, What happened to you is that these two completely different clinical presentations, using a DSM lens, you treat differently. But once you understand that, they’re both connected to grief and relational loss at the key point life, then you go back to that point and start doing the work there. And that’s, it’s you’re not treating symptoms, you’re treating the source of the symptoms.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  17:58

Yeah, wow. What I’ve also noticed a lot too, is that the coping skills that someone would develop in childhood or adolescence, while they may be helpful, and, you know, survivor, kind of coping skills in a way, as they reach adulthood, they’re no longer working, but they’ve become so ingrained that they’re playing out in really maladaptive ways. And so helping someone kind of go back and look at that, and often they’re not themselves connecting their current present day issues to this childhood loss.

Bruce Perry  18:29

Exactly. And I actually think, you know, again, you have a different population that you work with. And I do, I would say that most of the people we work with that have relational loss early and who are dealing with aspects of grief, and post traumatic loss symptoms, most of the folks that we work with, have no clue that that’s part of what’s going on. And I also think it’s what you do is so important, because it’s not given, I think the space it should get in sort of the mental health world.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  19:04

It’s definitely not I’m working really hard to try to change that on an hourly basis these days. What do you think is the kind of impact on the brain for, you know, maybe a high functioning adult who goes through a big loss, as opposed to the child had an adolescent type?

Bruce Perry  19:25

I do think that if you grow up and you have built in pretty healthy neurobiology of connectedness, and you’ve got templates about how to be healthy in relationships, and then you lose somebody that you love, it’s very painful. But you have more tools in your brain. And typically you have more relational tools as you get older, to kind of help you guide you through that process. So I think it’s a different kind of work. There are similarities But when you’re really, really, really young, it’s such a, it’s such a foundational organizing loss, so that people organize around that. I don’t want to call pathology, but around that deficit or that worldview, and it colors, everything. Whereas if somebody grows up with a pretty healthy worldview and pretty healthy connectedness, and then they have this horrible thing happened, they’ve got the resources internally to kind of heal in a different way.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  20:31

Yeah, I see big differences in that same way. Whereas it’s not that it’s any less painful the going through the loss. And the grief itself is still incredibly painful and full of anguish. But they have different tools with which to cope with it, that they’ve built in for years. And they have perhaps more stable life with which to support themselves as they move through that kind of loss.

Bruce Perry  20:54

You know, I don’t know whether you run into this in your work. But one of the things that we struggle with when we have different groups of people that are either have experienced the same high profile, tragic event, because we do a lot of work with school shootings in natural disasters and other situations, is that people get this odd idea that my pain is bigger than your pain, or do they do like, grief comparisons? I’m like, oh, gosh.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  21:23

Yeah, I saw a lot of, I called it grief shaming, during the pandemic, where someone would be talking about the grief that they were experiencing over maybe the changes in their life, or, you know, the limitations they were going through, and other people would just jump on, and, you know, shame them with theirs. You know, other people are dying, and other people are going through this and yours isn’t as bad as that. And it made me really sad, because at the same time, I was also seeing a new recognition and awareness and discussion around grief, which was exciting to hear and see. But at the same time that all competitive stuff was coming out too. And, yeah,

Bruce Perry  22:02

when you work with a family, for example, and there’s the death of a mother, and there are kids in this in the remaining partner, there’s this the whole dynamics of trying to compare and protect, and all of the things that can happen. And it just makes it really hard work. That’s why I think it’s you have to be an incredibly skilled clinician to work around grief in these situations. And I think honestly, it’s one of the reasons that a lot of therapists don’t do this work. You have to be really good. And it’s very complicated. Yeah,

Claire Bidwell-Smith  22:34

it is. It’s very complicated. It’s very nuanced. There’s a lot to look at, you know, it’s never just one formula. One was simple way to move through it and treat,

Bruce Perry  22:44

which is, which is what our field looks for. Right? They’re looking for the evidence based formulaic thing, 20 sessions, and you learn how to do treatment X, and all of a sudden, you’re an expert, you just can’t do that. When it comes to loss and grief, it just doesn’t, it doesn’t work.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  23:24

Talking about children, again, in adolescence, what are ways that parents can help move a child and an adolescent through grief that is going to set them up better?

Bruce Perry  23:35

I think, you know, like a lot of aspects of sort of emotional and social development, that one of the most powerful things that people can feel, is it somebody’s with you? And it’s not necessarily the words you say, but it’s your willingness to sit in pain with them.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  23:56

Yeah. And this is what our culture is not great at. Not great

Bruce Perry  24:00

Right. And, you know, this, I mean, this is where we are. And it drives me crazy. It’s kind of one of my pet peeves is that we tend to love the words resilience, that we don’t want to deal with the intense pain of people losing someone or a child, laying at the bottom of a pile of dead classmates. And the response for so many people is well it’s been six months, kids are resilient. They can handle the discomfort. So they declare the child resilient, and move on. Yeah, rather than give the child help and this is we see this happen again and again and again. And I think that the one of the hardest things to do, but one of the most important things to do when you’re constantly giving, giving adults advice about how to help kids, is to tell them not be afraid of the pain. Don’t be afraid of it. This pain hurts, but it’s not going to kill you. But if you can sit with somebody in pain, be with them, and be kind and supportive and present. You know, it’s really, really powerful and important. Now, you know, the treatment process evolves, right? And in the beginning, just thinking about the loss is enough to just overwhelm somebody. And then as somebody gets older, then they put some words to it. Or they might say something like, you know, I remember a father, who is a child who had been in the house when a home invader came and murdered the mother in front of him. And the father was beside himself to try to try and losing his wife and knowing that his child had suffered that. And you know, several months after I’d started working with them, the father was in the grocery store. And the child was in that little seat in the cart. And they were checking out and he looked at the checkout clerk, and he said, My mom is dead. She got shot. And the checkout clerk was very sweet and said, Oh, honey, I’m sorry. And that’s it. But the father was like, Oh, my God, I need to get this out. He needs to talk about it. We need. So he as they went out to the car, he kept saying, I miss mom, do you miss mom? I know. So what do you think about Mom is that Mom, we can talk about mom and dad and the child got no, no, no, no, and finally jumped out of the car and ran into the street. And the point there is that the dose of revisiting is very brief in the beginning, they can only tolerate a little bit. And, and as they get further away from it, and it gets a little bit more tolerable, and they’ve read through it a million times in their head, then they’re more capable of talking about it. But this is something they need, you know, the adults in the child’s life need coaching about these things about how to keep the revisiting experience, moderate, and controllable for the person who’s talking about it.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  26:59

Yeah, that’s so important. I see. So many adults get confused about how to handle children’s grief, because it just doesn’t look the same as adult grief. Right? They’re maybe not emotional, or they’re not talking about it, or you know, they’re not, they’re having a good day at school, or they’re wrapped up with their friends. And the parent is thinking, Oh, my God, what is wrong with my kid, they’re not grieving.

Bruce Perry  27:22

Or they’re laughing, right? Or they’re playing me like what’s wrong with them.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  27:25

Right, or they want to have a 32nd conversation about it, and then move on, right. So just being aware that they’re going to keep coming back to it in new and different ways for years. And that that’s what’s important is to be available, when they do keep coming back and to hold that space.

Bruce Perry  27:42

And as you said earlier, as they process it, and develop and mature, they’ll revisit it in different ways. And the grief process will be revisited. But it’ll be negotiated in a different way. And, you know, the people, there’s this myth, it doesn’t go away. Grief does not go away. I mean, if you love somebody, and there was a traumatic loss or a loss, there will always be moments where you go back and visit that.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  28:11

These kinds of losses, stay in us, you know, and continue to inform our perceptions of the world. I did want to ask you about resilience. It was a word that did pop up in this book here and there, but not in the way that I think we throw it around and like, you know, the magazine’s at the grocery store. What is your, how do you define resilience? And what do you think it should mean to us?

Bruce Perry  28:34

Well, resilience is, is the capability of demonstrating, dealing with a stressor, and then being able to get back to your previous level of, of regulation or functioning. You know, people aren’t we have stressors every day, right? So you can have a really challenging week with you have a lot of meetings and a lot of presentations and book deadlines or whatever it is. But once that’s over, you get back to your previous level of functioning. Now, the reality is, you probably get back to a level of stress regulation that’s more resilient than it was before you went through all of these moderate challenges that you successfully negotiated and dealt with. So the truth is normal development involves a series of challenges, right? You have to learn how to walk, you have to learn how to talk if learn how to socialize, you have to learn new topics. And so you’re continually getting these little stressors, but they have three sort of features. One is that they’re moderate, you know, they’re not so overwhelming that you can’t manage them. The second thing is that there’s some element of controllability. You know, I’m going to do well on my spelling test. It’s stressful to take a test but if I practice, I’ll do better. And then there’s the predictability, you know that every Friday you’re going to have a spelling test. So when things are predictable And they’re moderate. And there’s controllability that builds resilience. This is why, you know, being part of the band or being part of a track team or being part of the play all of those things, you know, you got to memorize lines and perform in front of people. But that builds resilience, it builds the capacity of your stress response system to deal with future stressors. But that’s that quality is something that can be overwhelmed. Even if you are able to demonstrate resilience in the face of a lot of challenges. That can, the plasticity of the brain is such that you can wear down that system and get back to the level where you’re no longer a superhero, you’re just sort of average. And then if that keeps on even people that haven’t, at one point, were able to demonstrate resilience start to be more vulnerable. And this is one of the things we’ve seen in the pandemic, the entire stress reactivity curve for most of us has shifted. So the uncontrollability, the last two years, the unpredictability, the aspects of the prolonged activation of our stress response systems, in the absence of buffering, regulatory relationships, because relational connection makes us feel safer, helps us tolerate stressors. So that combination has made all of us a little bit less resilient. And this is why people are quiet, quitting jobs. If people that don’t quit feel exhausted earlier, they can’t get as much work done is just, we’re all stretched thin. But if we have opportunities to re-sort of rebuild our resilience, which we will, we can get back towards population wise and on an individual basis, get back towards the pre pandemic state, which but it’s going to take a while.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  31:53

It’s so interesting to hear it kind of spelled out like that. I think so many people are experiencing something that they’re just not quite sure why or what it is or like, why they’re so tired earlier than usual or what’s going on and probably feeling like what’s wrong with me, but rather, you know, what just happened to us?

Bruce Perry  32:11

It’s exactly right. That’s exactly right. What has happened is it all of us have been a little bit more stressed, a little bit less relational buffering, the things that make us feel safe and rewarded, we haven’t had as much access to and the things that make us feel a little bit unsettled. We’ve had more of, and so that balance is we’re out of balance, basically. And, you know, I know people that wake up on you used to be like, you know, by Thursday night and Friday, you’re like, oh my god, I can’t wait to the weekend. We wake up now on Mondays are like, Oh God I feel to work. Like anyone to look at my calendar,

Claire Bidwell-Smith  32:49

I know. Okay, well, the last little topic I want to touch on is, you know, this, this is hard stuff to look at, right? We’re looking at like this is for some people may be listening, it’s like, oh, this is disheartening. Like, we’re all a mess or like, We’re so screwed. But there is healing that’s possible, right? Like there are changes we can make. Can you speak on that a little bit?

Bruce Perry  33:13

Well, I kind of alluded to it earlier that that what we know is human beings are social creatures, we are neuro biologically organized so that when we’re in the presence of people who send us signals that we belong, you know, we’re one of you. And you get you know, somebody smiles at you or somebody, it has a joke with you or you have a meal with somebody that you know those things literally, physiologically change us. They make our stress response system quieter; they give us little bursts of neurobiology of reward. And so the things that we can control around just very simple things like get your exercise, get your sleep, it Don’t skip your books, clubs, don’t go to your spent have lunch with your friends, you know, these things will help us recharge. And the more you are relationally connected to a community where you feel you belong, and you are given welcoming signals of belonging the more capable you are of getting number one buffering current stressors and number two healing from past stress or trauma and so forth. And you know that the big thing about grief is this is it’s that controllability element. Because there are going to be times when you want to talk to your neighbor, and they’re going to be times and you don’t want to see anybody. But what you do is in grief you control who you talk to, when you talk to them and how much you talk and that is giving yourself these little moderate predictable controllable doses, which actually builds resilience. And when you’re dysregulated, it helps heal. So the same sort of pattern of neurobiological activity in the stress response that builds resilience is also therapeutic. And that’s what I think is so important about helping facilitate a grief process is be present to be available, but don’t be intrusive. And give the person the time and space to choose when they want to talk about it, and how they want to talk about it. But you got to also make yourself available. Because the other thing that happens in grief, as you well know, is that most people feel really uncomfortable. They don’t know what to do. So a lot of people just leave, they abandon you, because they feel uncomfortable. And then it particularly if it’s outside of their perceived time limit for grief. Right? If it’s six months later, and you’re still start to cry, when you talk about your dead child, they feel so whacked out, they’re like, I can’t be around you because it makes me feel horrible.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  36:04

And that’s when that message comes in. You know, that’s that external message that comes in from our culture. That’s something wrong with you, you know, because if you’re still grieving at six months, and everyone around you is surprised by that, you start to think, Oh, God, there must be something wrong with me, when really it’s something wrong with our, our culture and the way that we look at grief and support it. Absolutely, yeah. Dr. Bruce Perry, I cannot thank you enough. It is such a pleasure to talk to you. I could ask you questions all day. But I am going to be respectful of your time because you’re doing such important work in the world. And I just really appreciate you being here today.

Bruce Perry  36:39

Thank you. It’s a pleasure talking with you. And I think as I said before, your work is so important. So keep it up.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  36:45

One of the many things I appreciate about Bruce is the clarity and succinctness in his analysis of how trauma impacts our bodies and our lives. I appreciate how in talking about humans being neuro biologically organized, Bruce breaks it down simply us being social creatures that needs support systems to help us carry the burdens of grief. It feels like such a basic truth about our species. But it feels great to have that affirmed by a brain expert. Related to that is one of the many things I’ll take away from this conversation, which is Bruce’s advice not to skip your book club or workout sessions or hangouts with friends. Because those relations can bring immense physiological benefits. Cultivating a community can literally heal you. I could talk to Bruce for hours and ask him hundreds more questions. You can find more analysis and resources in his book What happened to you available wherever you get your books. That’s it for today. But don’t forget that there’s more New Day with Lemonada Premium where subscribers get exclusive access to bonus content. Subscribe now on Apple {odcasts.

Claire Bidwell-Smith  37:57

NEW DAY is a Lemonada Media Original. The show is produced by Kryssy Pease and Erianna Jiles. Kat Yore is our engineer. Music is by Hannis Brown. Our VP of weekly content is Steve Nelson. And our executive producers are Stephanie Wittels Wachs, Jessica Cordova Kramer, and me, Claire Bidwell Smith. NEW DAY is produced in partnership with the Well Being Trust, The Jed Foundation and Education Development Center. Help others find our show by leaving us a rating and writing a review. Follow us at @LemonadaMedia across all social platforms, or find me at clairebidwellsmith.com. Join our Facebook group to connect with me and fellow NEW DAY listeners at facebook.com/groups/newdaypod. You can also get bonus content and behind the scenes material by subscribing to Lemonada Premium on Apple podcasts.  Thanks for listening. See you next week.

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