In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Reese Witherspoon opens up about a past abusive relationship that changed her life and helped her to get where she is today.

By Sarah Yang
Updated February 07, 2018

Reese Witherspoon has played a huge role in Hollywood’s Time’s Up movement and has been vocal about her experience with sexual assault in the film industry. Now, the actress has opened up about a past abusive relationship in a SuperSoul Sunday interview with Oprah Winfrey.

Winfrey asked Witherspoon and Wrinkle in Time costar Mindy Kaling, “What’s the most difficult decision you’ve had to make to fulfill your destiny?” Witherspoon revealed that she left a psychologically and verbally abusive relationship. “A line got drawn in the sand, and it got crossed and my brain just switched,” she told Winfrey. “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.”

Witherspoon said it changed who she was “on a cellular level,” and that she had no self-esteem before that. She credits the experience as one of things that compels her to stand up for herself every day. “I’m a different person now and it’s part of the reason I can stand up and say, ‘Yes, I’m ambitious,’ because someone tried to take that from me before.”

The relationship was also one of the reasons why the actress and producer is driven to tell these types of stories about women. “It was incredible when we did Big Little Lies, how we would sit around—all the women—and talk about… each one of us had specific experiences, it was a range of experiences, but there wasn’t a woman there that hadn’t been affected by abuse. Not one of those women. And it’s why we decided to make this show.”

This isn’t the first time Witherspoon has talked about her experience with sexual assault—during a speech at ELLE’s Women in Hollywood last fall, Witherspoon revealed that she was sexually assaulted by a director when she was 16. She said she felt, “true disgust at the director who assaulted me when I was 16 years old and anger at the agents and the producers who made me feel that silence was a condition of my employment. And I wish I could tell you that that was an isolated incident in my career, but sadly, it wasn’t.”