Viola Davis wears an all red outfit during press events at TIFF. 11 Sep 2018

Viola Davis Speaks On Dealing With Abuse At A Young Age

Home / News / Viola Davis Speaks On Dealing With Abuse At A Young Age

By Favour Adegoke on April 25, 2022 at 9:30 PM EDT

Multiple-award-winning 56-year-old actress Viola Davis recently opened up on an episode of the Making Space with Hoda Kotb podcast. On Monday, she recalled dealing with abuse and trauma as a black child and talked about how she escaped and coped with the violence.

The "How To Get Away With Murder" star talked about some of her experiences both inside her home and outside. She was bullied several times by young boys who called her racial slurs while chasing her.

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Viola Davis at The BAFTA Film Awards 2019
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"It was day after day. That's what it felt like. Was I actually running for my life? Would they actually have killed me? I don't know about that, but that's what it felt like," Davis recalled. Keep reading to find out more.

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Viola Davis Was Attacked By A Boy Because She Called Him 'Black'

Davis first recalled being attacked by a black boy who was upset that she called him black. This surprised her since the boy was "literally… a shade and a half lighter than [her]." In Davis' words, the boy said, "'You don't call me Black. You don't call me Black, Viola. You're Black. I'm Portuguese.'" "And he punched me," she continued.

"The power of that is just not how I was defined by those eight or nine boys. It's how the world defined me. It's that fear of being Black. What Black meant in that, in this powerful caste system we have of how you treat people based on perceived value and worth." Davis explained. "And I was worthless," she continued, "That's what it told me. I was a child."

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"Children cannot deal with the abstract, right?" she continued. "We don't have those building blocks. And so it felt like I was running for my life, and I didn't have any arms to run into. So I was just running." This was Davis' way of explaining that home wasn't safe for her since her dad was physically abusive to her mom.

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Her Father Was Abusive

Davis also noted that the running didn't end outside her home since it also felt like a nightmare inside. "If I felt like I was running for my life from the eight or nine boys, I felt then I had to go into a home where I was running for my life," she explained.

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She told fans that she would watch her father be violent with her mom and remember the violent moments that she experienced at night on the streets. "And not one window opened. No one came out to help," she said. 

She would also pray as a young girl that no one would notice but now that she's grown, she thinks to herself, "Why didn't anybody see us or help us?" Davis proceeded to explain the ways she dealt with all the trauma she experienced every day.

Davis’ Survival Technique

When asked about the coping mechanism for her pain, Davis recalled, "I had a whole technique of leaving my body." "It was pretty awesome, by the way," she continued, "I'd always go into the bathroom. And I'd stay there, I'd just sit on the top of the toilet seat. And I would stay there for the longest time."

The star also had a technique where she focused on one part of her body, usually a finger, and shut down everything else. "And after a certain amount of time, I literally would leave my body, and I'd go up to the ceiling, I'd turn around, and I would look at myself," she added.

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She compared the exercise to a "Pensieve," a fictional item from the "Harry Potter" world used to keep memories outside of the body. "You would remove a bad thought that was just causing you so much pain. And in order to give yourself some relief, you put it in the bowl," Davis explained, "That's what it felt like. So I did that a lot. I dreamed. I tried to achieve. And I kept secrets."

Viola Davis Kept Her Abuse A Secret

The Emmy Award-winning star told fans that for a while, she believed that keeping her abuse and home life to herself helped her cope with the world. She said, "I didn't understand anything about secrets actually eroding you. I just felt like if, if no one knew, then how they would see me is based on what I was achieving outside of my house."

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Viola Davis
Instagram | violadavis

She continued to distract herself with achievements outside her private life. "I disconnected … like a lot of people who go through trauma when they compartmentalize," Davis said, "That's what I did. I compartmentalized. I used drive and ambition to replace feeling and vulnerability."

However, she later realized how important it was to deal with her trauma. She also noted that a connection wasn't real unless one could share their pain, joy, and achievements with such a person. Then she continued, "But in order for me to share that, for me to have the ability to share that, I have to unpack it."

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