On Relationships and Connectedness: Bruce Perry

In two previous blogs, which you can find here and here, I have described the book What Happened to You?: Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, written by Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey. It’s one of the most important books I have read in the many years I’ve been working in the mental health/addiction field. During this time, I’ve come to appreciate and emphasise to others the key importance of relationships and connectedness.

Here are a few quotes from Bruce Perry and Oprah Winfrey’s book about relationships and connectedness, all written by Bruce:

‘Yes, I’m very concerned about poverty of relationships in modern society. In our work, we find the best predictor of your current mental health is your current “relational health”, or connectedness. This connectedness is fueled by two things: the basic capabilities you’ve developed to form and maintain relationships, and the relational “opportunities” you have in your family neighbourhood school and so forth.

Simply put, modern life provides fewer opportunities for relational interactions. In a multifamily, multigenerational environment, the continuous social interactions provide a rich source of regulation, reward and learning. And that’s how we used to live…. In 2006, only 8% of households had five or more people; 60% had two or fewer. In a recent survey of selected selected urban communities in the US, Europe and Japan, up to 60% of all households were just one person.

Add to this the impact of screen time. At home, at work, at school, we spend hours and hours in front of a screen—on average, over 11 hours a day. We are having far fewer family meals; are conversational skills are fading. The art of storytelling and the capacity to listen are on the decline. The result is a more self-absorbed, more anxious, more depressed—and less resilient—population.’


‘Disconnection and loneliness in our society are playing a major role in the increased anxiety, sleep problems, substance use, and depression we’re seeing.

A recent study by a team at Harvard found that of all the factors involved in depression, the most powerful were related to connectedness: “The protective effects of social connection were present even for individuals who were at higher risk of depression as a result of genetic vulnerability or early life trauma.” Certainly, our work supports that observation. One of our major findings is that in determining someone’s current mental health, the history of their childhood relational health—their connectedness—is as important as, if not more important than, their history of adversity. And for children and youth experiencing trauma, the best predictor of their current mental health functioning is their current connectedness.

I’m reminded of the Māori elders and their belief that trauma, anxiety, depression and substance abuse are “all the same thing”—and all related to our connectedness, our sense of belonging.’


‘So, ideally, if a child is growing up in a relationally “wealthy” home, with lots of opportunities for safe, stable, and nurturing interactions, they will be building their connectedness and resilience. This insight was a core understanding of all the traditional child-rearing and healing practices I learned about from Indigenous elders.

Their understanding of the primacy of human connectedness reflects a wisdom lost in our current world. How ironic that the culture our modern world has marginalised are the very cultures with the wisdom to heal our current woes.’

Powerful words from Dr. Bruce Perry, who in my humble opinion, is the world’s leading childhood trauma and trauma healing expert.

The photograph used in this blog post is by Mario Purisic  and has come from Unsplash, a great resource of free high resolution photographs.

Translate »