Jada Pinkett Smith is a woman who is learning to step out of the shadows.
It would be simplistic to only say that she has put her dark and painful past behind her. The actress, musician, self-care activist and mother is doing something much more complex and beautiful than that.
Pinkett Smith has given her life to unpacking hardship, embracing vulnerability, and learning what love truly is.
The creator of the revolutionary hit show, Red Table Talk, now uses her experiences to foster a space of openness and growth.
When Pinkett Smith sat down with Jay Shetty recently, their time was full of deep wisdom and transparency, something that Jada celebrates as a milestone of health and growth in her life.
Stepping Out of the Shadows
As they began talking, Jay Shetty complimented Pinkett Smith on her gift of meeting people where they are and listening well, giving value to their story and honor to their pain.
“You're such a listener,” Shetty affirmed his friend. “You engage people in a way that makes them find stuff they didn't even know was in them.”
Pinkett Smith believes listening is love in its truest sense. It has been a lesson that has taken her a lifetime to learn.
“One of the biggest realizations that I’ve made,” she told Jay Shetty, “Is that I’m actually learning how to love.”
Pinkett Smith’s childhood did not set her up for success. She was forced to grow up quickly and learned how to fend for herself out of necessity.
“I had a lot of adversity during my childhood,” Pinkett Smith told Jay Shetty. “My mother was a heroin addict and my father was an alcoholic and a criminal, as he would describe himself. So I did a lot of growing up. The ways of the world were kinda thrown at me on the streets of Baltimore.”
While some would see this as a life sentence, Pinkett Smith took these circumstances and vowed to use what she learned from them to rise above.
Part of the beauty of Pinkett Smith’s hit Facebook show, Red Table Talk, is the wisdom she brings to the table every episode. Taking what she has learned throughout life, she is honest with others about what it takes to be authentic.
She explained to Jay Shetty that one of the most important things she has learned in the last few years is what true self love looks like. She is convinced that she cannot fully love others without first learning to love herself.
This discovery was not easy for Pinkett Smith. She described how her childhood taught her to survive by whatever means necessary. She grew hard and suspicious of others. She threw up walls to protect herself from feeling.
“I'm working through understanding that life is not the enemy, and that adversity is not meant to steal things from you,” Pinkett Smith said to Jay Shetty. “It is actually meant to help you find the giant within.”
She calls this process learning to lay down her inner warrior.
This warrior, Pinkett Smith continued, has the potential to be both positive and negative. It has made her into a survivor, but it has also caused her to default into fight mode when things get tough.
“The experiences that I had in my childhood that have formed what I love are also the same experiences that have formed the characteristics within me that aren't so pretty,” she told Jay Shetty. It’s taken her a lifetime to learn how to process through the ugly to allow true beauty to shine.
Ego Goes Both Ways
At this point in her life, the beautiful, talented, and successful Pinkett Smith surely has much to brag about. There is a lot of potential for ego to creep in. Instead, she chooses to approach her life and success with humility.
That doesn’t mean ego isn’t lurking. Pinkett Smith told Jay Shetty that one of the deepest lessons she has had to learn is to die to her own ego. Some would think that her battle with ego is a battle with success, wealth or fame, but it’s not. Her ego battle has a foundation that is much more insidious – suffering.
As Pinkett Smith worked through the trauma of her incredibly difficult childhood, she learned to guard herself against playing the victim. She knew she must say no to the temptation to constantly measure her suffering against someone else’s.
“I really started coming outside of myself, looking at the world and having conversations with people about their lives,” she told Jay Shetty. “I began to realize that I wasn't the only one that was hurting, and that mostly everybody that you'll meet is hurting in some capacity. Hurt is hurt.”
When Jay Shetty asked her what this process has been like, her answer was simple.
“I had to really confront how egotistical I was in my martyrdom,” Pinkett Smith replied. “You have to get out of your ego. You have to stop thinking that you are so special, that you're the only one that hurts.”
When she began to strip this away, she found so much more room for learning to love herself. The outflow of that has been learning to love others well and walk through their pain with them instead of constantly comparing it with her own to see which was worse.
I Am Responsible for My Own Actions
Because her childhood was difficult and life handed her many things that seemed out of her control, the martyr mentality came easy to Pinkett Smith in her early adult life. Her growth has hinged on a crucial lesson.
“I've had to realize that no matter what circumstance I'm in and no matter what's happened, I have to take responsibility,” she told Jay Shetty. “If I wasn't willing to take responsibility for that, my life would not change. We stay stuck in certain patterns when we're not willing to look at ourselves. I think one of the most difficult aspects of my history of relating, is that in those moments, I want to hang on to being the victim or I want to hang on to blame.”
Forward progress in Pinkett Smith’s life did not leave room for this mentality. She began to understand that the more she took responsibility for what she could control about situations, the more she learned and moved forward. This became a catalyst for her growth.
Instead of approaching situations reactively, Pinkett Smith was able to look at situations objectively and understand why she was making certain decisions, not just approach them reactively.
“You're not up against a person,” Jay Shetty agreed. “You're up against this conditioning or habit or pattern that is making you choose that type of a person in your life. It's never the person.”
Pinkett Smith agrees that responsibility plays a vital role in self-love and healthy relationships. Making the shift to take responsibility for what was in her control has been a game changer.
Self Love is the Foundation of Flourishing
“I think a lot of times we try to look for relationships that buoy us up, relationships that confirm ideas of what we think we are,” Pinkett Smith told Jay Shetty. “We rely on people to confirm us versus relying on ourselves and the self-love patterns that we have the courage to create.”
Much of Pinkett Smith’s show, Red Table Talk, centers around helping others build the understanding needed to create patterns of self-love for themselves. Society focuses on self-worth being found in how someone is loved or seen by other people.
Pinkett Smith counters this trend with the argument that self-love is the crucial measurement. Attempting to love people from a place of brokenness or trauma isn’t truly loving them.
“I have no love to offer anyone if I don't love myself,” she told Jay Shetty. “I'm talking about on a very deep level, right now, through and through. I got to a place where I wanted to heal myself so that I have that to offer instead of all my trauma. I'm tired of hurting people and that all comes from my traumas. I've made it a point to just do some really deep healing because for this next part of my life, I want to leave a legacy of love.”
It’s not an easy journey.
“I can tell you probably more clearly what I know love isn't, let's start there,” Pinkett Smith replied when Jay Shetty asked her to explain. “Because, in all honesty, Jay, I'm still trying to figure out what love is. I think it's a journey and I think that right now where I've started is self-love, like on the deepest, most excruciating level ever.”
She does know, however, that there’s so much more to love than the romantic, movie-script love seen in the movies.
“I know that true love is compassionate,” she said. “True love is not always easy, that’s for sure. It’s not cruel and ego has no place.”
She also believes that true love has a higher source.
“True love has to come from my connection to self through the highest source,” she told Jay Shetty. “I think it’s a brilliant design by the Highest Source. ‘You want to love? You better come to know me. You really want to love somebody? You really want to know yourself? Really want to love yourself? You better come know me.’”
Long Haul Love
Jada and her husband Will Smith are seen as a real-life power couple in Hollywood. They’ve weathered ups and downs, joy and pain. Today, their relationship is stronger than ever.
Will and Jada’s commitment is marked by a foundation of self-love, hard work, and honest communication. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it.
“One of the things that I will say about long term relating, is that you do get worn down to a place where things can get so raw in the most beautiful way that there's just no more room for pretending,” she told Jay Shetty. “You know each other so well you can't hide.”
Being known is important, but it can be scary too.
“Am I going to go create another relationship where I can be more confirmed on what I'd rather see myself as and create more of a buffer to hide myself?” she asked. “Or am I going to stay in this and get to my true self?”
Pinkett Smith and her husband choose to stay, and the beauty of that commitment is something deep. Lived experience produces a blossoming friendship, a safe place, and a spiritual partnership.
“Relationships are simply there to show us ourselves,” she told Jay Shetty, something they both acknowledge is hard work.
“A lot of people feel that they're trying,” said Shetty. “They're trying to face themselves, they're trying to take on those lessons, but then they also feel like they’re trying to pull someone up and trying to get everyone through the landmine. And that feels like a lot of pressure. That sounds like a hard place to be.”
“I would say that in relationships, when it comes to growth, it's a seesaw,” Pinkett Smith responded. “There are times when you know your partner is going to have to pull you. Sometimes you have to pull your partner. Sometimes you do have to go your separate ways and figure out a whole lot of things.”
It all comes down to one thing – figuring out who you want to be.
“You have to know what kind of life you want to have,” Pinkett Smith told Jay Shetty. “Who do you want to be? And then you can actually communicate that.”
That, according to Pinkett Smith, is the secret to long haul love, and she’s living it out each day.
Higher Power, Deeper Love
When Pinkett Smith turned 40, she began to get serious about her spiritual practices and spiritual connection to a higher power.
“I always knew that there was a power higher than me, but I wasn't connected,” she told Jay Shetty. “So it's different knowing that there's a higher power and then actually taking the time to cultivate that relationship.”
Pinkett Smith explains that her self-love and healing journey took off when she intentionally sought out that higher power. Meditation has played a big role in her growth, and Jay Shetty has witnessed this transformation in her life.
“You've started crafting your life in a way where your imagery is changing,” he complimented Pinkett Smith. “When you think of romance, you have a mental picture on what it looks like because of movies, media, music. We have these mental pictures, but you've been changing where you visit, what you read, who you spent time with. You're not just thinking about this stuff. You're making a real effort to travel but also travel internally with books, with listening, with teachers, whatever it may be, to go there.”
“I have learned that to have a very intimate relationship with myself comes from a very intimate relationship with the higher source,” Pinkett Smith replied. “Those moments when I'm in a deep, painful struggle, I have to sit in the fire of that pain and I have to look at what's coming up, why it's coming up, and just have the patience to sit with myself.”
As she sits, she finds comfort and understanding from a higher source. She uses the pain she’s feeling to gain a deeper understanding of where she is and what she needs to change.
“Usually I realize that if I'm in an enormous amount of pain of some kind, then I have a false belief,” she told Jay Shetty. “So I sit in stillness and I listen until I can recognize the false belief. It may not come in one sitting, right? It might take two, may take three. But it always comes. Because once the universe knows your intention and what you're in search for, the universe gives you the answers.”
Jay Shetty on Pinkett Smith’s Outlook
“You've basically given us a whole thesis on how to grow in our lives,” Jay Shetty said, thanking his friend for graciously opening her heart to his audience. True healing and loving each other well comes from self-love. The deep work required to make that happen has been years in the making for Pinkett Smith, but she has no regrets.
Pinkett Smith acknowledges the journey of self-love and spirituality is never-ending. The self-love journey is always worth it, however, because its outflow has the potential to change the world. Pinkett Smith will continue to find the levels of surrender that will bring her peace and love she can share with others.
Listen to the entire On Purpose with Jay Shetty podcast episode on, “How To Heal Your Past and Love Yourself Again” now in the iTunes store or on Spotify. For more inspirational stories and messages like this, check out Jay’s website at jayshetty.me.