The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog: And Other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook
by Bruce D. Perry (Author), Maia Szalavitz (Author), Danny Campbell (Narrator)
This book was so fascinating that I dropped all my other podcasts and shows in order to listen to nothing but it from start to finish. I consistently found myself rewinding to catch things I’d missed. Everyone that’s seen me in the last 3 days has heard about this book. It is because of my own personal experience with childhood trauma that “The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog” caught my eye, but you don’t have to have a history of abuse in order to find Dr. Perry and his work as compelling as I did.
This book is relevant to anyone who was ever a child and anyone who plans to raise children. Perry’s simple explanations, and memorable associations really helped me grasp the subject matter. For example, your developing brain is built like a thumbs-down fist, each finger matures at a different rate and requires different stimuli. After making this association, Perry would refer to the “fingers” of the brain throughout the book, helping me to visualize his subject.
The stories of these amazing children are riveting, and touching, and illuminating. From what I had previously thought I’d known about the brain, I was worried that the book would be little more than a freak show of irreparably damaged children and eventually adults, touched by the bony finger of neglect; disfigured mentally and physically by their relatively brief early trauma for the remaining years of their difficult and joyless lives. Fortunately, I was wrong about the brain. It seems that, while there are some things a person can’t retrieve from the jaws of serious damage, the brain will work to repair its self, and with proper stimulation, recover almost miraculously.
Perry talks about coming into the field of child psychology at a time when the official psychiatric belief was that children don’t suffer from trauma. If a child was molested, abused, or experienced the death of a parent, any significant change in behavior after that was considered to be purely coincidental.
As a child of the eighties, I came of age with the backlash from that incorrect assumption. The message I got growing up was that people who suffered abuse as children have been irreparably damaged. Forever broken on a foundational level, childhood trauma sufferers were doomed to a life of degradation.
A lot of people who find themselves in abusive relationships, or who have a history of abuse rewrite their stories rather than admit that they’re “that kind of person.” Violence, neglect and molestation don’t have a “type.” Childhood trauma has happened to every different kind of kid, with every different type of personality and in every different sort of home in the world. If you are currently living in fear for your safety, or if you ever have, you’re that “type.” I’m that type.
What I like about “The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog” is that it highlights just how much recovery the brain can make. It sends a clear message to and for those of us who felt that we would always be broken: the brain is amazing, your brain is amazing. Extreme childhood abuse and neglect has clearly left it’s mark on these children, and yet many of them make wonderful recoveries and are able to have and create the kind of social network that sustains mental health over time.
Dr. Perry confirmed something that I have long suspected on my own. Being in a 12 step program has shown me that massive recovery is possible with the right input and a strong social network. Human beings are amazing, and nothing can keep you down if you don’t want to be down. Damage takes time to repair, but nobody can break you if you get the help you need, and make the choice to not be broken.