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If you like Oprah Winfrey's story, you might also like:
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Oprah Winfrey's
recommended reading: A Tree Grows in Brooklyn

Oprah Winfrey also appears in the video:
You Can Do Anything

Teachers can find prepared lesson plans featuring Oprah Winfrey in the Achievement Curriculum section:
Talent and Vision

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Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
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Oprah Winfrey Interview (page: 2 / 8)

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  Oprah Winfrey

There was a pretty bad patch after you left your grandmother. Maybe you can talk a little bit about what that was like when you were living with your mother.

Oprah Winfrey: I was living with my mother and living under circumstances that a lot of young children have to deal with even today. We weren't living in the projects, and if you'd asked me at the time if we were poor, I probably would have said, "no" because when you are living it and you don't know anything else, you think that's the way life is. And I was raped when I was nine by a cousin, and never told anybody until I was in my late twenties. Not only was I raped by a cousin, I was raped by a cousin, and then later sexually molested by a friend of the family, and then by an uncle. It was just an ongoing, continuous thing. So much so, that I started to think, you know, "This is the way life is."

And not until, I'd say, a year ago, did I release the shame for myself.

I was in the middle of an interview with a woman named Truddi Chase, who has multiple personalities and was severely abused as a child. I think it was on that day that, for the first time, I recognized that I was not to blame. I became a sexually promiscuous teenager and as a result of that got myself into a lot of trouble, and believed that I was responsible for it. It wasn't until I was 36 years old, 36, that I connected the fact, "Oh, that's why I was that way." I always blamed myself. Even though, intellectually, I would say to other kids, I would speak to people and say, "Oh, the child's never to blame. You're never responsible for molestation in your life." I still believed I was responsible somehow. That I was a bad girl -- and just released it, in the middle... So it happened on the air, as so many things happen for me. It happened on the air in the middle of somebody else's experience, and I thought I was going to have a breakdown on television. And I said, "Stop! Stop! You've got to stop rolling cameras!" And they didn't, so I got myself through it, but it was really quite traumatic for me.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

You must really be very loose and open emotionally for that to happen on the air. I'm sure there are very few people who would have a similar experience.

Oprah Winfrey Interview Photo
Oprah Winfrey: Yes, I think so. But, you know, my openness is the reason why I did not do so well as a news reporter. Because I used to go on assignment and be so open that I would say to people at fires -- and they've lost their children -- "That's okay. You don't have to talk to me." Well, then you go back to the newsroom, and the news director says, "What do you mean they didn't have to talk to you?" I'd say, "But she just lost her child, and you know I just felt so bad." So, I didn't do very well. I was too involved. I'd go to funerals of people and not go in. I wouldn't want to talk to them, disturb them, cry on the air.

In reading about that period in your life, it's obvious that there was a lot of anger in you, and you just didn't have the proper place to put it, and so you started to rebel.

Oprah Winfrey: Now I know. I do know it now.

Has that experience made you more empathetic to your guests?

Oprah Winfrey: Well, do you know what I think?

I think the lesson that you learn from allowing yourself to be abused as a child is an ongoing lesson. What I recognize is that the same thing that in some cases, that causes a child to be abused, is the same thing that causes you to be abused as an adult. It is the same thing that in your adulthood that allows you to never to be able to say "No" to people. And I realize that I was the kind of child who was always searching for love and affection and attention, and somebody to say, to look at me and say, "Yes, you are worthy." Unfortunately, there are adults who will take advantage of that and misread your intentions. And, you know, just part of the process for me as an adult has been to come to recognize that my inability as an adult female to say "No." I call it my disease to please as a female is the same thing that caused me to be victimized as a child. Because many times, I would get myself into situations as an adult where I didn't want to say "No" because I didn't want to hurt anybody's feelings. I didn't want to say "No" because I didn't want anybody angry with me. I didn't want to say "No" because I didn't want people to think I'm not nice. And that, to me, has been the greatest lesson of my life: is to recognize that I am solely responsible for it, and not trying to please other people, not living my life to please other people, but doing what my heart says all the time. That's the biggest lesson for me.

The other big lesson for me has been to learn: not only do you have the right to do whatever you want, you have the right to change your mind. Which has gotten me into so much trouble in my life. Like I'd say, "Oh, but, I have to go. I said I was going to do it." And then later you think about it, and you realize "I shouldn't be doing this, but I said I was going to do it, and I don't want to make anybody upset." It has taken me 37 years to figure that out, to get that straight. I think, "Oh, my goodness, if I had learned this 20 years ago, look at all the time I could have saved. Look where I could have been."

I don't know if men have this problem. I think men who are, for instance, abused sexually or physically, manifest outwardly in some way, that their anger and their rage takes on a different kind of direction. I think women, to a greater extent, and I know m-a-n-y, m-a-n-y women who were sexually abused, internalize it, and then allow themselves to abuse themselves later on in life. You know, you just don't allow yourself to be all that you can be. Whereas, a man will make it more external and will be angrier. I don't believe that anything happens without a reason. I don't believe it. And in order to believe "That is the truth, " you have to believe it in all circumstances.

So I say, if you are going to take responsibility for your life, then you have to take it all forms. I certainly wish that I had been the kind of child who told the first time and so, because I wasn't the kind of child who did that, a part of my mission in life now is to encourage every other child who is abused, you tell. You tell, and if they don't believe you, you keep telling. You tell everybody until somebody listens to you. If nothing else, that's part of something good that came out of that experience for me, because I don't want it to happen to another child. I don't want another child to be afraid of saying, "This is what happened to me."

You're in a tremendous position to change people's lives in that way.

Oprah Winfrey: The greatest thing about what I do, for me, is that I'm in a position to change people's lives. It is the most incredible platform for influence that you could imagine, and it's something that I hold in great esteem and take full responsibility for. I mean, I do every show in prayer, not down on my knees praying, but I do it before every show - a mental meditation in order to get the correct message across. Because you're dealing with millions of people every day, and it's very easy for something to be misinterpreted, so my intention is always, regardless of what the show is -- whether it's about sibling rivalry or wife battering or children of divorce -- for people to see within each show that you are responsible for your life, that although there may be tragedy in your life, there's always a possibility to triumph. It doesn't matter who you are, where you come from. The ability to triumph begins with you. Always, always.

[ Key to Success ] Courage

I feel very blessed. You know, as a kid, when I was growing up, especially in the third and fourth grade, I always wanted to be a minister and preach and be a missionary. And then for a while, after Mrs. Duncan's fourth grade class, I wanted to be a fourth grade teacher. And I think, in many ways, that I have been able to fulfill all of that. I feel that my show is a ministry; we just don't take up a collection. And I feel that it is a teaching tool, without preaching to people about it. I really do. That is my intent.

I couldn't do the kinds of shows that I see some other people do, I just couldn't. I've reached a level of maturity in this work myself. There was a time, when I first started out that, I would say, I was far more exploitative. You just put a person on for the purpose of having. I wouldn't do that anymore. I was in the middle of a show with some white supremacists, skinheads, Ku Klux Klan members and in the middle of that show I just had a flash, I thought, "This is doing nobody any good, nobody." And I had rationalized the show by saying, "Oh, people need to know that these kinds of people are out here." I won't do it anymore. I just won't do it. There are certain things I won't do - Satanism of any kind, any kind of Satan worship. I no longer want to give a platform to racists; I just don't because I think no good can come of it. So if you don't know that it exists, I'm sorry, you won't hear it here. But that's growth for me. I taped a show last year with a guy who was a mass murderer. He killed eighty people. I did the whole interview, and I had the families of some of the people he killed. In the middle of it, flash, I thought, "I shouldn't be doing this; this is not going to help anybody. It's a voyeuristic look at a serial killer, but what good is it going to do anybody?" And we didn't air it.

[ Key to Success ] Integrity

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