Tyler Perry can’t bear to look at this photo of himself as a 6-year old boy. The abuse he experienced was so horrific that he learned early how to disassociate ~ to “leave myself” ~ by taking a mental trip to a happy day in the park. Tyler’s father was brutal with his words and his fists. Tyler believes his father hated him. He had no safe haven. He told 60 Minutes that he hid in a cubby hole underneath the house to escape his father’s abuse.
His aunt Jerry was his Enlightened Witness. She became Madea in many of Tyler Perry’s plays and movies. Like Madea, Aunt Jerry got out her gun and confronted Tyler’s father after one especially horrific episode of abuse.
It didn’t stop. One beating was so horrendous that Tyler couldn’t make his mind go to the park, and he believes the little boy inside him died that day. The abuse escalated, and Tyler attempted suicide by slashing his wrists. He told Oprah on October 20, 2010:
Yeah, I was suicidal because I thought what is the point of living? My mother was truly my saving grace. She would take me to church with her. I would see my mother smiling in the choir, and she’s happy. I wanted to know this God that made her so happy. If I had not had that faith in my life, I don’t know where I’d be right now. She didn’t have anything else to give me, but she gave me Jesus.
Tyler was also sexually molested multiple times outside his home. The abuse at home escalated to an “un-bearable” level after Tyler told his mother that his father had sexually molested one of his friends. Tyler dearly loved his late mother Maxine Perry, but she didn’t have Aunt Jerry’s sense of power. She was terrified of her husband and didn’t always protect Tyler. He told Oprah:
I loved my mother so much. It is so unfair for a child to take on the responsibility to try to comfort her and make sure she is safe and make sure she okay. My mother didn’t know ~ she wasn’t strong like my aunt ~ she was just very passive ~ she did not have that backbone to stand up for herself so certainly she couldn’t stand up for me.
Tyler prayed that someone would love him and that he would be able to return that love. Tyler was left with raw rage:
There was a lot of rage. From the moment this happened to me when I left myself and couldn’t find myself ~ what I consider to be the dead years of my life ~ up until the time when I was 28 ~ I was just existing ~ I was just moving through it ~ I was so disconnected from everything. I burned down a house. Burned up my car. I was stealing. Getting kicked out of school. I was violent. Everybody who was around me was miserable. I had to make them all miserable because I was in so much pain.
Turning Point: Tyler Heard Oprah Say Writing is “Cathartic”
Tyler credits Oprah for the miracle of his success. One afternoon he heard her tell viewers that writing is “cathartic.” He started keeping a journal. He thanked Oprah:
I want to say this to you. Here’s the thing ~ land mines everywhere ~ I’m going through all of this hell ~ all of this stuff is happening ~ nobody is telling me that I can fly ~ nobody is telling me I’m special ~ nobody’s telling me what I can do. Here you are on television ~ this is what is so miraculous about this moment ~ I turn on the TV and I see you ~ you say that it is cathartic to start writing. I didn’t even know what cathartic meant. I went to look it up. And, I started writing down all of the things that had happened to me ~ I was using different characters names. A chain reaction. I started using these characters names. A friend of mine comes by and he said, “man, this is a really good play.” Through these dead years is when I started to search my soul. Do you understand?
On behalf of the millions of people who will never get a chance to sit here and say to you how much you have changed their lives over these 25 years, I want to say thank you. On behalf of all of them and myself, can I just tell you thank you?
Tyler Perry Became His Own Puppet Master
His catharsis was productive, and I think we can all benefit from what he discovered:
All of these people had given me something to carry. I could either continue to carry it knowing it doesn’t belong to me or I could find a way. . .I think that everyone who is abused ~ there is a string to the puppet master. They are holding you hostage in your behaviors and what you do. At some point, you have to become responsible for them. What I started to do is untie the strings and chase them down to where they came from. As I was able to do that, I was able to free myself and understand that even though these things had happened to me it was not me.
Tyler invested everything he had in his first play, but nobody showed up.
He became homeless and worked a myriad of odd jobs. One day he called his father and let his anger rip:
The same strength that it took to take [the abuse] is the same amount of strength that it takes to let it go. Sometimes you’ve spent all of [your strength]. You have nothing else to give. But, forgiving [my father] ~ I remember being able to say some things to him at 28 ~ this is when my life changed ~ when every-thing changed ~ when I was able to talk to him on the phone and yell and scream and say everything that I wanted to say to him ~ after that ~ it was ripped out of me ~ whatever it was that I was holding for so long. Anger is good. Bitterness is not. I was bitter.
You have to let anger go. You have to know how to use it ~ not use anger to abuse someone else. Use it for yourself to cleanse. It is like fire. It is cleansing.
Homeless to Studio Mogul in 14 Years
If you question the power of forgiveness, keep in mind that Mr. Perry went from homeless to the number two guy on Forbes’ list of powerful studio moguls in just 14 years.
Writing was his passion, and it became his destiny. He eliminated the chaos from his life. He put himself in motion. He cleared his head and adjusted his attitude. He made his home his sanctuary, and he worked his butt off. In Don’t Make a Black Woman Take Off Her Earrings: Madea’s Uninhibited Commentaries on Love and Life, he shared this advice:
Whatever is kicking you and trying to push you down, I say kick back. . .pull your pistol out and shoot at it. Open up the curtains. . .good music. . .take you a shower. . .put on a good face. . .open the door. . .go out. . .see the world. . .
Go into your house and get rid of everything that’s in there that ain’t giving you peace. . .your house is your sanctuary ~ your castle ~ no matter how big or small. . .place of peace. . .place where you can rest and relax. . .nobody there driving you crazy. If they’re in there, they need to get the hell out. This world is full of people who are here for the specific purpose to try to drive you crazy. . .live by your damned self! Nobody’s bothering you. . .might be lonely. My solution to achieve quick stress reduction: I pull out my pistol. . .I make peace with a piece of steel. If you go crazy one good time and lose your mind and start breaking everybody’s stuff but your own. . .the next time they start to work on your nerves. . .all you have to do is walk toward anything that’s breakable. . .all you got to do is do it one time. You might need to spend a couple of nights in jail. . .they’ll know to shut the hell up.
Madea Teaches Women and Children to Own Their Power
Aunt Jerry arrived at the premier of Diary of a Mad Black Woman with a pistol in her purse. Like Aunt Jerry, Madea protects her chicks and empowers them:
I think the little boy in me was trying to speak to my mother and trying to speak to every other mother ~ to let them know you don’t have to endure this kind of pain ~ you can stand on your own. I have been a champion for that ~ it was my experience.
Madea is especially protective when predators sense a child is easy prey:
It’s blood in the water. It’s blood in the water. They’re sharks. They’re sharks. Predators know when a child is an easy mark. Vulnerable.
Tyler Perry’s Issues with Intimacy
All the sexual abuse young Tyler experienced created triggers for Mr. Perry and interfered with his ability to be intimate in relationships.
He prefers to be at home alone with his dogs than to be at a glamorous party. He told Oprah he’s not in a relationship because:
I love being by myself too much.
I certainly appreciate this feeling of preferring to be alone than in bad company. And, I’m sure there are millions of women who wish he’d come home to them.