"We don’t cry, we don’t hug, we don’t say, 'I love you.' That’s just how we were raised," says Johnson.
Syleena Johnson is the latest celeb to get some tough love and ask for some fixin' on OWN's Iyanla, Fix My Life tomorrow night. The R&B diva brings along her sisters, mom Brenda and soul singer father Syl Johnson in an effort to work through their family's issues. Johnson works through forgiving her mother Brenda for years of bullying and verbal abuse. She spoke with ESSENCE.com about the emotional episode, her relationship with her mother now, and what she learned from Iyanla.
ESSENCE: What made you decide to go on Iyanla?
SYLEENA JOHNSON: I’ve been a fan of her work for year ever since I was 16 years old. I really felt like she could bring some clarity and bring my family to the next level because we’ve been struggling with so many issues. It’s one thing to live apart from your family and not have to deal with those issues. But when my mother moved in with me, those issues came back. I thought it would be really great to get Iyanla on board with my family, but also for a lot of daughters out there who are dealing with issues like mine with their moms.
ESSENCE: At one point in the episode your mom says that when you cry or show emotion you’re weak. Are you the same way?
JOHNSON: That is who I am. Or rather, that was who I was. We were raised to think that. One of the things I hated was seeing myself cry on R&B Divas because I felt vulnerable and weak. If you have to be the strongest one a lot and when you cry nobody cares, I guess that’s the exterior that you develop. I definitely got that from my mother. My sisters are the same. We don’t cry, we don’t hug, we don’t say, “I love you.” We don’t do things that are mushy. That’s just how we were raised.
ESSENCE: When did you realize that the lack of emotion was something that was not common?
JOHNSON: I was in a lot of sports and activities in high school and I would be around my friends a lot because my mom worked and my dad was on the road. I would get rides with friends and their families and would see how their parents talked to them. Not to say they were wonderful and great but I would see things that I never saw in my household. When I began to question my family about it, I was faced with being called “b***h, c**t, whore.” That’s where the turmoil really started with my mom.
ESSENCE: It must have been tough being continually called a b***h by your mom.
JOHNSON: My mother just called me a b***h last month. In my house! That’s just who she is, and she thinks you should accept her for that. At this age, it doesn’t bother me. But back then when I was growing up, I imagine it did some damage to me that I’m still working through. Maybe that’s the root of some of my issues/
ESSENCE: Where are you and your mom now, relationship-wise?
JOHNSON: When the show ended we were doing a lot better. You could see that we were on our way up. She had a lot more clarity. For about three seconds. But when I leave the house now, which I do quite often to go on the road, it’s almost like I’m leaving her. Never mind that I’m leaving my children and my husband, she feels like I’m being dismissive towards her. She’s working through her stuff too.
ESSENCE: Have you forgiven your parents?
JOHNSON: I’ve forgiven them and I accept them for who they are. What I’m struggling with is how to deal with them from this point forward. What I’m seeking in therapy is how do you deal with others in your environments that are not trying to change? I do forgive them because they did the best they could with what they had. But that still doesn’t mean I have to accept their ways in my world.
ESSENCE: What did you learn from Iyanla?
JOHNSON: That it’s okay to be open; that it’s okay to allow myself to love and let my guard down and to be kinder to myself. More patience and understanding that I’m a lot like my mother.
Catch Syleena Johnson on Iyanla, Fix My Life, tomorrow night at 9pm EST on OWN