Iyanla Vanzant knows a thing or two about fixing lives. As an ordained priestess in the Yoruba tradition and New Thought minister, the 60-year-old has helped people around the world piece back their deep brokenness. With her unyielding and unique approach to getting others to intrinsically address their issues, Vanzant has become a healer of sorts; a maternal figure with the tools to help build atop of one’s emotional rubble.
In an exclusive interview with CentricTV.com, Vanzant opens up on what led her on the path of fixing lives and drops some knowledge on why she says we play a role in our own brokenness. See why the former lawyer says posting provocative pictures on social media may reveal more than we think, as well as her two cents on the ever-scrutinized Chris Brown and his current legal and mental issues.
Centric: You’ve said that life once left you broke and feeling broken. For readers who are not familiar with your story, could you explain?
Iyanla Vanzant: I lost my daughter to colon cancer, and I ended a 40-year relationship. That’ll leave you broken. The truth is broken is just what we feel. I had to look at not only my response to those experiences, but just everything that was going on in my life. It tied to my daughter’s illness. I was working and speaking and spent 15 months with her trying to recover, and spent three-quarters of a million dollars trying to pay for her health care. So, that’s what led broke-ness. The brokenness is just our or my emotional and psychological response to everything that was going on in my life. So you don’t stay that way. What led me to fix it was the fact that I knew that I was still broken.
And when did you decide or what led you to the decision to do the work that you do now?
That wasn’t a decision; it was a calling. It was a unfolding. If we pay close-enough attention, life will lead us where we need to be. I was a criminal defense attorney, and I was very unhappy. And I guess because I didn’t know any better, I just didn’t think I was supposed to work at a place where I was unhappy.
So I left law and I went into radio. Someone invited me to do radio and I did it. And someone invited me to train women who were transitioning from welfare to work, and I did it. And then someone invited me to speak about the transitions that women go through, and I did it. So, I think that, for me – and I think it’s true for everybody – if we just follow our instinct, we trust our gut, and we’re willing to take a risk, your life will unfold the way it’s supposed to – the way your soul needs it to unfold. Or I could have continued to practice law making nice money and being miserable, and I just wasn’t willing to do that.
Wow, how relatable! So you’re a priestess in the Yoruba tradition, and you’re also an ordained New Thought minister. What exactly is a New Thought minister?
A New Thought - The Christian New Thought minister is the minister that looks at the metaphysics of Christianity; that which is beyond the physical and deals with the science of the mind and soul and spirit. So [it’s] what happens in just the theology, in the dogma of traditional religion, a new thought.
So you recently helped a woman who was suffering from obesity at the hands of depression after having a death in the family...
I don’t know if she was depressed; she was stuck! So mentally, emotionally, and physically. But what her story represents is how all of us get stuck. Everybody feels stuck or believes they’re stuck. Hers just happened to be physical, carved by emotional. But most people are stuck emotionally and then they become physically stuck. So hers was about a story of how you get stuck and how you get unstuck.
So, how can people recognize the signs that they’re heading down that path of getting stuck? And are there tools that they can use to prevent that in the case that they do experience trauma like death in the family?
Well, being stuck is really a conventional emotional response to the story that you’re telling yourself. So we all, regardless of whether you feel stuck or think you’re stuck or been stuck, we gotta get clear about this. Any time you have any place of breakdown, upset, unhappiness, chaos, confusion, conflict in your life, you’re stuck! But the truth is you’re creating it. We create every experience; we attract every experience.
So if you’re stuck, if you’re in chaos, confusion, if you are unhappy, if your life is not mobbing the way you want it to, you gotta look at you! So, look at the story you’re telling yourself. You gotta look at yourself and what you do, why you do it, how you do it, and what it creates for you. And I think we all have to get a clear vision. What is our vision who we are? What is our vision for what we want? What is our vision? And vision isn’t an outward thing; it’s an inward thing. You gotta be able to see it, feel it, sense it, believe it, trust it, within yourself. And then once you get the vision, you take one step at a time. You eat the elephant one bite at a time. You create the vision one step at a time.
You often tell people to “own up” to their behavior or their realities. But it kind of seems like it’s very difficult for them to do that, particularly when you met with reality star Erica Jean. Why is it so hard for people to own their reality?
Because we live in a world where we are conditioned and programmed to externally reference, to look outside of ourselves. I mean, as babies, somebody feeds us, clothes us, trains us, you know? Somebody tells us what to do, what not to do, and we’re never trained on or allowed to – we [don’t] get to deal with the within. And it’s much easier to look at what someone else is doing than to ask yourself, ‘Why did I invite this person into my life?’ It’s easier to say what’s happening because of this or that than to look at yourself and say, ‘Okay. What am I thinking? What am I creating? What is the story I’m telling myself? What are the habits that I have engaged?’ And, so, that’s how we’re conditioned in life, to look outside of ourselves, not look within ourselves.
And from your perspective, do we all have a little brokenness inside of us? Is that a natural part of life?
Well, I think we all have a little brokenness simple by virtue of the way we’re born, you know? We come out of a safe, nurturing place into the cold world, where somebody slapped you on the butt or, you know, snatches you and just traumatizes you. So when we talk about brokenness, I don’t mean that there’s anything wrong with us. When I talk about brokenness, I talk about the thought, the belief, the behavior, the attitude, that keep us from experiencing joy and peace and fulfillment – whatever that is. Brokenness doesn’t mean that anything’s wrong with you. Because as long as you are living, you have the opportunity to create and re-create the life you desire. So, yes, we all do have brokenness; it’s the condition of our birth, and we all have the power to heal.
What do you think of the Rihanna’s of the world, who post provocative pictures on social media and who adopt that outwardly sexual image and behavior? What do you see when you see these things?
People who pose partially nude or in sexual positions or people who spend this exorbitant amount of money for clothes, and hair, and nails; it’s a quest for external validation. If you know who you are inside, if you’re clear about your value, your worth, your dignity and your decency – and you make the choice to do that – then who am I to judge? The question becomes, ‘Why would you need to do that, to be seen in that way...to accomplish what? To feel good about what?’ But, you know, people are free to make the choices that they want. But we live in a world where women are sexualized and sexuality is a profit-making venture. So, I would just ask the women, what is it that you’re going for? I don’t have an opinion about it one or the other because I don’t see it (laughs).
So Chris Brown was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, and he also witnessed a lot of domestic violence in his home as a child. Do you think that jail or prison is the answer for someone who’s has gone through some of things that he’s going through?
He’s not going to jail because of the things that he went through. He’s going to jail because of a lack of self-control; he’s going to jail because of his inability to control his anger; and he’s going to jail because people around him didn’t support him in getting the help that he needed to control his anger and himself. That’s why he’s going to jail, not because he has bipolar disorder and not because he saw domestic violence; that’s apples and oranges.
I think there’s a consequence to every action and every choice, you know? He made the choices. And he took some action. And he’s got to be accountable for that. I don’t think that prison is good for anybody, however, I do think that when a person finds themselves in a legal situation, and they get the grace of probation, that is their responsibility to honor the commitment that they make. He made a commitment. Through grace, he got probation. And he made a commitment, and he didn’t honor his commitment. So, for me, my lawyer thinking, him going to prison is a consequence for his failure to honor his commitment to the probation department. I also think that it is time for him to be away, to get still, to think, to reflect, and, hopefully, to make some better choices. But I’m not advocating prison for anybody! Please be clear about that. (laughs).
So what are some tools that you would give someone who’s feeling broken? What are some tools you can give them to find that joy you were speaking about earlier?
They need to come to my institute and let me train them. They need to come to a workshop. I mean because you take, for example, a Chris Brown; do you really think that I could get in three-second effective tools to Chris Brown? No. He’s got to do the work. So, people who want to heal their brokenness, invite them to come to Inner Visions, if they’re stuck (laughs).
Do you ever feel pressured to make the best decisions in life now that your brand is wrapped in fixing other people’s lives? How do you negotiate between having the answers for others but still being a human being who’s not perfect?
I don’t have answers for others. I don’t even know where people get that from. Most of the time, I don’t have answers for myself, and when I do have answers, I forget where they are. What I have is information. What I have is knowledge of spiritual laws and principles. What I am is a spiritual ignition. Just like when you go to a doctor or a cardiologist or a neurosurgeon, well, I am a soul surgeon. And I know my craft; I’m good at my craft. So, I’m not giving people answers – ever! I’m giving them information. I ask questions that ultimately lead to possibilities and alternatives.
Are there any words of wisdom or encouragement that you want to leave with CentricTV.com’s readers?
Do the work! If you want your life to be different, if you want to be different, if you want to experience the fullness of being at peace, of the fullness that the universe has for each of us, do your work! Do your work.
(Photo: Larry Busacca/Getty Images for Women in Cable Telecommunications)