Stephanie Foo is a journalist and writer known for her work on mental health, trauma, and recovery. “What My Bones Know” is a brutally honest memoir in which she shares her personal experiences with complex trauma and her journey toward healing. 

By age thirty, Stephanie Foo was thriving on paper: She had her ideal job as an award-winning radio producer at This American Life and a devoted boyfriend. But behind her office door, she was having panic attacks and crying at her desk every morning. After years of examining what was amiss, she was diagnosed with complex PTSD–a state that happens when trauma transpires continually over years. Both of Foo’s parents deserted her when she was a teenager after years of physical and verbal abuse and neglect. She thought she’d moved on, but her new diagnosis illuminated the way her past continued to threaten her health, relationships, and career. She discovered there was little help to support her. So Foo set out to heal herself and map her knowledge onto the inadequate literature about Complex PTSD. In this profoundly intimate and exhaustively investigated narrative, Foo interviews scientists and psychologists and attempts a variety of inventive therapies. She returns to her hometown of San Jose, California, to examine the consequences of immigrant trauma on the community, and she discovers family secrets in the country of her birth, Malaysia, to understand how trauma can be inherited through generations. Finally, she finds that you don’t move on from trauma–but you can learn to move with it.

What is complex trauma? It refers to prolonged and severe traumatic experiences, often occurring in interpersonal relationships, particularly during childhood. Unlike single traumatic incidents, complex trauma involves ongoing or repeated exposure to distressing events, such as abuse, neglect, or violence. This kind of trauma can have a profound and lasting impact on an individual’s mental, emotional, and physical well-being.

Powerful, illuminating, and promising, What My Bones Know is a brave narrative that reckons with the hold of the past over the present, the mind over the body–and explores one woman’s ability to reclaim agency from her trauma.

As complex trauma typically occurs during early development, especially in childhood, the brain and nervous system are still developing during this period. Hence, exposure to chronic stress or trauma can disrupt normal development. Complex trauma is often relational, involving interactions with caregivers, family members, or close others. Betrayal, neglect, or abuse within these relationships can contribute to the complexity of the trauma. Therefore, the effects of complex trauma are cumulative, meaning that the impact intensifies as exposure to trauma continues over time. 

How Compley trauma experience burdens the individual. It affects cognitive, emotional, social, and physical functioning. It may show difficulties in forming and maintaining relationships, regulating emotions, and coping with stress. Because complex trauma often occurs during critical periods of development, it can influence the formation of core beliefs, attachment styles, and coping strategies. These impacts can persist into adulthood. Individuals who have experienced complex trauma may struggle with a sense of self, often due to disrupted identity development and a distorted self-perception.

It’s crucial for individuals who have experienced complex trauma to seek professional support and engage in a therapeutic process tailored to their specific needs.

Stephanie Foo’s beautiful memoir about her healing journey from complex trauma includes a couple of chapters near the end with Dr Jacob Ham, including snippets from a brief stint of psychotherapy. Dr am helped her to consolidate what she had learned through this journey. It’s one book that makes you cry and cheer on the same page.