Over its past four seasons, Iyanla: Fix My Life has taken on some of the most controversial topics on television. From abandonment to abuse, the series takes an honest look at the lives of both celebrities and everyday people seeking peace from years of mental torment, and with the help of spiritual technician Iyanla Vanzant, most come out of the experience with a new perspective.
In this chat with EBONY, the mother, teacher and fearless woman of faith discusses the new season, treating men vs. women, and which client she admittedly didn’t handle with the care deserved.
Ebony: What would you say makes your relationship with OWN so strong?
Iyanla: I don’t know If my relationship with OWN is stronger than our joint commitment to the viewer. To do the work in the world in a way that supports the viewer and OWN’s commitment to the work is what makes the relationship strong.
They give me the opportunity to do what I do and be who I am, without hesitation and without restriction.
Do you find that it’s harder for men or women to open up in a way that truly allows them to heal?
Oh, absolutely men. They’re not trained to talk the way women talk. We talk about everything, and they’re trained to be more intellectual, they’re trained and conditioned and socialized to be strong. I had a man tell me as recently as last week that “sadness is a weakness.”
And it’s harder for men to even put their finger on what it is that they’re feeling, so I’m sure they don’t want to talk about it when they don’t even know what the problem is.
Do you believe that there’s a common thread between most of your clients on the show?
Yes. Most haven’t been taught how to process negative or toxic emotions. That’s definitely the common thread.
In hindsight, was there ever a time where you felt you didn’t approach a client in the best manner to really help them?
Absolutely, with DMX. I did not do what I was guided to do spiritually because it didn’t fit the production model.
At this point, I am always obedient to the holy spirit, and if I can’t be obedient to the holy spirit, then I don’t do the show, regardless of the guest or the story.
Do you find that working with celebrities differs from working with everyday people?
I don’t find it different, but they think they’re different [laughs]. They think that because they’re public people or because they’re celebrities, certain things don’t apply to them, and the reason I do celebrities is because I want to level the playing field. I want everyday people to understand that it doesn’t matter what you do for a living or how much money you have, an issue is an issue. I think people misread that and think this is only about celebrities.
The other interesting thing is, it’s easier for people to see themselves in celebrities than it is for them to see themselves in common people, and we can tell by the ratings. People will watch the show if there’s a star, and they won’t watch it if it’s an everyday person.
So, while they challenge me and judge me for doing celebrities, the issue is the issue, and we want people to get the information they need. We sprinkle celebrities in there so people will watch.
Right, because those celebrities represent millions of people watching who are going through the same thing.
Millions, but we think it’s different. Shaquita in Chicago, when her husband cheats on her, it’s no different than when JAY-Z cheated on Beyoncé. I’m sure Kevin Hart’s wife doesn’t feel any different than you or I would feel if our partner cheated. The tragedy is, we get to keep our business private, and they don’t, which is a whole other issue.
What have you personally gotten from helping so many people over the years? It feels as if this has become your life’s work.
I didn’t make it my life’s work, it is my purpose. I’m a teacher, that’s it. I’m not some special somebody endowed with magical powers or anything [laughs]. I don’t have my own star shining left of heaven; I’m a teacher and a spiritual technician.
I didn’t choose this, I’m a criminal defense attorney by trade. That’s what I went to school for and I paid $87,000 to get that education, but I thought I was learning man’s law when, in fact, I was learning God’s law.
How did your cameo with Queen Latifah in Girls Trip come about?
The producer Will [Packer] asked me to do it, and it was such an honor. I was supposed to shoot it at the Essence Music Festival. I’ve closed the Empowerment Experience session of the festival every year for 15 years. They were going to shoot it there, but it happened to be the one year I was sick. But they were able to reconfigure it and put me in the party.
Everyone was so wonderful. Queen Latifah, Jada, all of the women were just so gracious and generous and welcoming. It was really a good experience.
How does it feel to know a lot of your signature phrases (beloved, guttersnipe, etc.) have become a part of the mainstream lexicon?
It’s funny because up until recently, I didn’t know what a meme was [laughs]. I’m not very social media savvy, but someone showed me all the memes of me with my phrases. I consider it an honor that people are paying that close attention. I just hope they’re willing to do the work.
Your first guest this season is Turk from The Hot Boys. What were some of the challenges in working with him that we’ll witness during the season premiere?
Like most men, getting him to change his mind. The problem is, when a man makes up his mind that this is what it is and this is how it is, you have to be very mindful of how you present to him another perspective so that you don’t offend his ego.
But I have to say that Turk was so willing and so open, he really was. Like so many people, he knew that something had to change. He didn’t know what, and he didn’t know how to do it. But he and his wife put in the work, and you’ll see that.
Season Four of Iyanla: Fix My Life continues Saturday, Sept. 30, at 9 p.m. ET on OWN.
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Born and raised in Compton, California, Jessica Bennett began her career as an intern at The Oakland Post, and later, The Source Magazine. She went on to write for respected hip hop publications such as DJ Booth and Hip Hop DX before becoming the Urban Editor of pop culture website, Wetpaint.com. She joined Ebony as the Entertainment Editor August 2017. Bennett has interviewed such names as Vanessa Williams, Spike Lee, Tyra Banks, Forest Whitaker, Magic & Cookie Johnson and several others.