Reese Witherspoon Opens Up To Oprah About Past Abusive Relationship

by Thea Glassman
Image via Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/Getty

Reese Witherspoon tells Oprah about abuse on an episode of Super Soul Sunday

Reese Witherspoon has been an outspoken champion of the Times Up movement and a fierce advocate for female equality. Now, she’s opening up about her own struggles with abuse, self-esteem, and personal growth. The actress sat down with Oprah for an episode of Super Soul Sunday, and spoke candidly about the heartbreaking struggles she faced as a young woman.

The Wrinkle in Time star told Oprah that leaving an abusive relationship was the hardest decision she’s ever made. She described her former partner as both psychologically and verbally abusive, and said that she eventually reached a tipping point with him.

“A line got drawn in the sand and it got crossed, and my brain just switched,” Witherspoon said. “I knew it was going to be very difficult, but I just couldn’t go any further. It was profound and I was young, really young.”

The actress went on to describe the deep ripple effect that ending the relationship had on the rest of her life.

“I could never be the person I am today,” she said. “It changed who I was on a cellular level, the fact that I stood up for myself. None of those leaving those situations …it’s wrought with self-doubt, particularly if someone damages your self-esteem.”

Others recognized that massive shift too. “People say to me that knew me then, ‘You’re a completely different person,'” Witherspoon noted. “I didn’t have self-esteem. I’m a different person now and it’s part of why I can stand up and say, ‘yes, I’m ambitious’ – because someone tried to take that from me before.”

It’s worth noting that Witherspoon went on to produce and star in Big Little Lies, an HBO hit that dealt with the difficult, complex relationship between an abusive husband and his wife. The actress noted that while on-set, all the female actresses came together to discuss their own experiences with abuse — both in their personal lives and situations they saw play out secondhand. It’s gut wrenching and sadly unsurprising that these are such universal experiences.

Oprah also had a heartbreaking story to share during the interview. The former talk show host opened up about her own struggles with a volatile partner and discussed the difficult decision to finally walk away.

“I lived in that superior, better-than-thou space where, ‘As long as he doesn’t hit me, he can say anything, he can do anything, but as long as he doesn’t hit me,'” she said. Then, one day, he slammed her hand into a door, and she realized that she had “become that woman who would allow [herself] to be psychologically, verbally assaulted.”

In light of all the sexual abuse allegations cropping up across so many industries — these two painful stories are deeply timely ones. The Times Up movement — which Witherspoon and over 300 other women in the film, television, and theatre industry have backed — was born in 2017, and serves as a legal defense fund for victims of sexual harassment and abuse in the workplace. Finally, more and more women are speaking out against their abusers, and people seem to finally be listening.

So, so much applause to Witherspoon and Oprah for sharing such deeply personal, important life experiences. Here’s hoping that their stories reach anyone who needs to hear them.