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A Conversation with Dr. Iyanla Vanzant

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Interviewed and written by Dr. Shanessa Fenner

SF: Hello Iyanla, I would first like to say congratulations for the nomination of an NAACP image award for your show Iyanla: Fix My Life. I am so proud of you.
IV: I am just so grateful that it is an indication that people will watch conscious television. I think so much television, particularly reality television, promotes the lowest common denominator. We really make an effort to provide people with information, inspiration, and healing. What this nomination says is that it is being noticed. I’m really, really grateful about that.

SFYour book, Forgiveness: 21 Days to Forgive Everyone for Everything, talks about forgiveness.  What are the necessary steps to forgiveness? 
IV: You have to first acknowledge that you have a hurting, wound, upset, or breakdown. There is someone or something that you are still holding memory about or upset about.  Acknowledgement is the first step towards healing. You have to acknowledge something is off so you can begin to fix it.

SF: I am a fatherless daughter and what impact, if any, does that play in my relationships with men?
IV: What I know is that a father demonstrates how to be a man to males and for females our daddy demonstrates how to be in loving relationships with men. Men think first from their head and need demonstration and we as women feel first.  So very often whatever our relationship was with our daddy or that male parent in our life, we are going to repeat that pattern over and over and over until we get in touch with what the feelings are attached to daddy not being there. So myself for example, my father was in my life but he was emotionally and often physically unavailable. For most of my adult life I was in relationships with men who were emotionally unavailable, physically unavailable, long distance relationships, and relationships with men who always had other women. And it wasn’t until I cleared myself and really got in touch with what it felt like to be abandoned, rejected, and left by my father that I was able to establish a healthy relationship.

SFWell how do I do that?
IV: You have to first get in touch with the feelings associated with daddy not being there or the feelings associated with the male caregivers that you did have. If you know that daddy was not there or absent, you today as an adult woman may not have any particular emotional tie.  What did it feel like when you were 5, 3, 7, or 12 years old? What did it feel like not having a daddy or seeing other girls with their daddy? Those are the feelings that you have to get in touch with. So very often we don’t even have a language for those feelings. We say, “Oh I am not mad, I am not angry.” But do you feel abandoned, rejected, unimportant, helpless, or hopeless? Those are the feelings from those early ages that you have got to get in touch with and those are the things you have to forgive. Until you do the forgiveness work the energy in your body is going to attract the same thing over and over. What forgiveness does is neutralizes that energy.  First of all forgive yourself. I had to forgive myself for feeling unimportant and I had to forgive myself for telling myself what I wanted didn’t matter or that I could never have what I wanted.  I had to forgive myself for believing that I would always be abandoned. That is a deep level of forgiveness and if you can’t do that then you start with forgiving daddy for leaving you and not making you feel important and not honoring his responsibility.

SFHow is forgiveness the final form of love?
IV: We are each born for giving love and for getting love.  The more love we give, the more love we get. As you engage in the practice and process of forgiving it opens your heart and allows you to receive more love. When your heart or emotional self is locked into a pattern of mistrust, hurt, upset, abandonment, or rejection, you are not open for giving love or for getting love. So forgiveness is what you do for yourself to open yourself to a new experience and a new way of being.

SFI am a principal and very concerned about the plight of the African-American male. They come to school with barriers and other situations that keep their focus off of learning. Please give insight on the African-American male and what needs to happen in order to make sure they are a success and not a statistic.
IV: I think one of the challenges that we face in this society today is having a higher expectation of our male children. We see young, black males in a single parent home and we immediately feel sorry, fear, or empathy for them as opposed to thinking higher of them and holding that in our hearts and correcting the bad behavior the moment we see it. I think we also have to listen to them and encourage them to speak about their needs, fears, wants, weaknesses, and strengths without advising them. Just let them talk and support them in putting together better thoughts and expectations about themselves. By the time a young male is five he has probably heard over a million messages of who he is not and what he can’t do. Those things make an impression on him. I remember when my grandsons were young. I used to call them doctor and tell them they were going to be a doctor of something. I don’t care if it is education, medicine, dentistry, veterinarian, or whatever and I impressed that on them.  They have not reached it yet, but I still particularly seem to call them that particularly when they are acting not so wonderful.  I say, ”Doctor, what are you doing?  Is that the way a doctor of education, medicine, or philosophy behaves?” Still today I say that to them. So we have got to keep inspiring them and forming them.  Ultimately it comes down to this, as adults we have to stop having unplanned pregnancies with children that we are unprepared to parent.  We have to stop it.

SF: Black women have been the major focus of the “marriage crisis.” Why is it that there are many black woman who have never married ?
IV: If I knew the reason I would bottle it and sell it. My experiences is that as women in general we are out of order.  We live like men, we think like men, and we behave like men.  What do I mean when I say like men: from our head and not our heart because so many of us have broken hearts from daddy being gone, from watching what mommy went through, and from not being affirmed in our beauty and our power as young girls. So we grow up with ideas about who we are without a real sense of who we are as women.  We don’t have to be hard and aggressive in order to be safe and feminine. We are out of order because as women we should live in our heart first and not in our head. Far too many of us are living in our head trying to take care of our heart and it is not working.  The other thing that I think is particularly for women of color and as an African-American, Native American, and Cuban woman, that is what I am, we have gotten so far away from the power of our culture and the things that women do. I meet young women today who are 20-35 years old and they do not know how to cook. They can’t cook.  They think of cooking as a duty and an obligation when it is really a medicine. It is the way that we nurture and medicine ourselves and our family.  I meet young women today who do not have a basic spiritual practice. My grandmother couldn’t read but she meditated every day. She had quiet time and she would memorize scriptures that she heard in church. There were things that she did as a Native American woman in the home and for herself.  We follow a template and a paradigm that was created by men and serves the needs of men that take us out of who we are as women so the reason why we are not married is because we are men. We want men to be either in competition with us even in the home or to be our girlfriends. We don’t know anymore how to take our place alongside the man because we have a worldly description of who men should be and who we are as women.  We are out of order on so many levels such as mentally. I don’t mean intellectually because we are brilliant, creative, and powerful.

SFDo you plan on coming to Fayetteville, NC?  If you come I would love for you to be on my TV show called “Let’s Talk with Dr. Shanessa Fenner.”  
IV:  Sure if we get to Fayetteville I will.

SF: Thanks for your time.  Have a great day!

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Last modified: May 14, 2023