Constance Wu on dealing with grief after suicide attempt: ‘You're never completely cured’
Constance Wu is a work in progress.
The Crazy Rich Asians star, 40, has been extremely candid in recent months about her own mental health struggles. In a new interview on Dax Shepard's Archetypes podcast, the actress opened up even further about how she's taking steps toward healing.
"Some people think therapy is like a button," she said. "You 'hit' this mistake once [during a session], then you think you're cured. And then it relapses a couple months later and you have to do the work again. Then it's 10 months, then it's 10 years. The fact that it happens with less frequency, that is sort of the goal."
Wu went on to describe grief as being like "a ball in a glass case."
"People think it's a ball in a glass case that shrinks over time, but it doesn't. It stays the same size, it's just the container gets bigger," she explained of her approach to healing. "The container around it is the time it takes to relapse. You get better and better [at handling grief], but you're never completely cured."
Following her controversial tweet in May 2019, in which she expressed unhappiness over her hit show Fresh Off the Boat being renewed for a sixth season, Wu experienced tremendous backlash from fans and critics — including a direct message from a fellow Asian actress who Wu says called her a "disgrace to my race."
That event led Wu to attempt suicide, which was followed by years of intense therapy.
"I had the suicide attempt and I was in New York, which is not my home anymore, because I just finished filming Hustlers," she told Shepard of that time. "I was paired with a psychiatrist who I'd never met before, but I saw him every day. And then when I came back to L.A. I found a psychologist who does work with people in the industry, and who I could see face to face. I saw her at least three times a week."
Getting to a point where she "could be completely honest" with her therapist took time, Wu notes.
"I think so many people go into therapy, either looking to vent something — a breakup, or whatever. They tell the narrative of their own story, saying, like, 'Oh, but this happened,' instead of going into a session being like, 'I did these bad things. I'm not always the good guy. What does that say about me?'" she said. "When you can get to the point where you can talk about those things without shame, I think that's when you can start to actually heal from them. I think so few people go into it that way, or it takes them a long time to get there. It certainly took me awhile."
Therapy, she added, also helped her realize the benefits of building empathy for those who've done her harm. For example, in her memoir Making a Scene, Wu dedicated a whole chapter to her rapist, which she hoped would paint a more compassionate portrait of the man so readers could see his humanity. (Wu writes that when she was in her 20s, a date with a 30-something man ended with him cajoling her into sex after her repeatedly saying no. Eventually, she explained, she “didn’t fight back” and “gave up” as it happened.)
"In the essay, I talk about being raped, but I take the time to consider the point of view of my rapist and how he would genuinely, sincerely think, not only that he was innocent, but that I was the bad guy in the situation," she told Shepard.
"It's interesting because I think when you try to empathize or have curiosity for somebody's experience, people think that you're defending them," she continued. "I'm not, actually. It was a good exercise for me to do that, to be like, hmm, I can see how he thought that [it was consensual], even though I literally said the words, 'I'm not ready for sex.'"
Wu added that she wrote the chapter "not for his sake," but as a way to "forgive myself a little bit."
"It's a gesture that I would like men to extend to women," she explained of practicing empathy, which she believes may help shape healthier discussions around consent.
"I don't think it's too much to ask [men] to consider that their point of view is not the only valid one," she said. "When you're solid in your point of view, it doesn't become a threat to think of somebody else's point of view. I think when you can hold both of those things, and understand and appreciate them, they both can be valid."
Wu has responded in the past to criticism that she showed too much compassion for her rapist in her book.
"Some people think that I'm showing compassion for my rapist and I can understand how it might be perceived that way," she told Loretta Ross at the 2022 MAKERS Conference, a global leadership event aiming to accelerate equity for women in the workplace and beyond.
"People say he doesn't deserve it or whatever, and I was like, it's not about whether or not he deserves it," she explained. "I tried to think of what he might be going through because it makes me feel better. It makes me blame myself less."
Wu also argued that while some people say "forgiveness is about the other person and whether or not they deserve it," she decided to take a different route.
"Forgiveness is often about taking the weight off of your own heart," she explained. "And if anyone deserves to not have a weight on their heart, it's the rape victim, not the rapist, right? So, you have to do the thing that heals your heart the best. And for some people it may be like, 'F*** you!' ... But for me, it was also trying to understand ... where somebody else might come from — not to excuse it, but just to understand it."
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