Abuse Changed Reese Witherspoon on a “Cellular Level,” and I Know the Feeling All Too Well


“A line got drawn in the sand, and it got crossed. And my brain just switched, and I knew it was going to be very difficult, but I just couldn’t go any further,” Reese Witherspoon explained to Oprah in a recent interview on the podcast Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations.

Referring to a relationship she describes as psychologically and verbally abusive, Witherspoon touched upon something that I haven’t heard nearly enough people talking about: the damage that all types of abuse leave behind.

“There’s a range of abuse, you know. There’s verbal, there’s psychological, there’s so many things other than physical that can be completely detrimental to your self-worth, your self-esteem, and your progress,” Witherspoon surmises.

As I’m listening, I have to lean back in my chair and catch my breath because I know she understands. And it’s about time that we realize domestic abuse is not only about shattered bones and purple bruises; it comes in many forms — each leaving their victims battered and broken.

“It was profound, and I was young, really young,” she explains. “I could never be the person I am today. I was a different person, too. It changed who I was on a cellular level — the fact that I stood up for myself.”

I know Witherspoon understands, because I can relate.

It’s been almost six years since I said “no more” to my abusive husband, a man who then walked out the front door and never returned to our marriage or our children. Physical violence aside, it was his unrelenting psychological destruction of my soul that left me wondering how I would ever make it past the mess I was in.

He had spent years breaking me in ways that bandages and ice couldn’t fix. And as I stood there looking in the mirror, I didn’t recognize the face staring back in my reflection. He didn’t just leave me, he stole my soul.

“[None of] leaving those situations is easy because it’s wrought with self-doubt, particularly if someone damages your self-esteem,” Witherspoon goes on to say. “People say to me, [they] knew me then, you’re a completely different person now. I didn’t have self-esteem, you know?”

Despite her red carpet, picture-perfect appearance, it’s clear that Witherspoon is able to connect to survivors in ways only an abuse survivor can.

Like the actress, I’m not who I used to be. After years of living in secrecy and shame, I now spend a good deal of my time working as a motivational speaker, sharing the details of my past to let other women know there is life after abuse.

I look back at the woman I used to be and I know she isn’t here anymore. I’ve changed, which is why I’m especially proud of Witherspoon for pointing out that those changes don’t have to ruin you forever.

In describing how leaving an abusive relationship was the most difficult decision she had to make to fulfill her destiny, she proudly proclaims that “it’s part of the reason I can stand up and say ‘yes I am ambitious,’ because someone tried to take that from me before.”

As she says that, she suddenly becomes less of a celebrity and more of a personal hero.

One in three women will be abused in their lifetime — that is a lot of damage done to a lot of lives. But thanks to women like Reese Witherspoon, we are reminded that their stories don’t need to end there. Someone nearly broke her, but she fought back by standing up and moving on.

Witherspoon may have been changed on a cellular level, but she survived, and that is what evolution is all about — being strong enough to change and adapt to keep moving towards your destiny.

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