Maisie Williams says her childhood was ‘consumed’ by traumatic relationship with her father: ‘I was indoctrinated in a way’

Maisie Williams gets candid about her traumatic childhood. (Photo: Getty Images)
Maisie Williams gets candid about her traumatic childhood. (Photo: Getty Images)

Maisie Williams has been in the spotlight for over a decade of her life, after being cast in the hit HBO series Game of Thrones when she was just 12 years old. But according to a new interview with the star, her personal life is something that she's managed to keep very private, including a trauma-filled past with her father.

In an episode of The Diary of a CEO podcast hosted by Steven Bartlett, the 25-year-old actress shared for the very first time details of her childhood that preceded her public life. She explained that "before the age of 8," she had experienced "quite a traumatic relationship with my dad" that "consumed a lot of my childhood." It wasn't until she received proper support that she even realized the danger of what was taking place inside of her home.

"Ever since I can remember like I've really struggled sleeping. And I think a lot of the traumatic things that were happening, I didn't realize that they were wrong but I knew that I would look around at other kids and be like, 'Why don't they seem to understand this pain or dread or fear? Where does the joy ... when does that come for me?'" she recalled. "I kind of always felt like I felt things very deeply in comparison to other people."

Williams explained that although her mother "escaped" from the situation with her father when Williams was just an infant, her involvement with her dad hadn't "met its peak" until she was 8 years old. At that point, a teacher had intervened.

"Obviously I was really struggling and I don't really know what happened but I was taken by a teacher to the staff room and she was saying like, 'What's wrong? What's happened?' She said, 'Are you hungry?' I said, 'Yeah,' she said, ‘Did you eat breakfast?’ I said, 'No.' And she said, 'Oh, why not?' And I said, 'We just didn't have any breakfast.' And then she says, 'Well, do you usually have breakfast?' And I'm like, 'No, not really,'" Williams recalled through tears. "I do think it's important because I had so many people who loved and cared about me so much but I'd never been asked the right questions where I could really say what was wrong."

The actress left out of a number of details out of respect for family members also affected. However, she went on to explain how difficult it had been to even recognize her father's wrongdoings at the time.

"It was the first time that it was like all of the doors were sort of open and all of these things that we were experiencing were out on the table. And it was really, really hard because I still wanted to fight and say, 'No, these things aren't bad. You're trying to take me away from my dad and that's wrong.' 'Cause I was indoctrinated in a way," she explained. "Basically my whole world flipped on its head and even though all of these things that I was feeling, I thought, 'Oh my god, I'm so glad I don't have to see my dad anymore,' it still was like against everything I had ever knew to be true."

Williams even likened her situation with her dad to a cult.

"I think that's why I'm obsessed with cults because I'm like, 'I get it, I get it. I was in a child cult against my mother,'" she said. "You can feel so liberated and free and at the same time just like that impending doom is kind of still there where it's like all of your problems don't sort of just go away. You still care a lot about that person or you still sort of understand the pain or whatever that led to those very, very poor decisions."

While addressing her decision to now speak out about the reality of her childhood, Williams explained that she had spent the past few years working through a lot of her trauma with a therapist who continues to help her make realizations about the person that she is and wants to become. A big part of the process, she said, was recognizing the "mental manipulation" that she had been subjected to for so many years.

"I think that struggle with identity and the big questions of 'Who am I?' I think everyone struggles with that but I think that there's a period of your childhood where you know certain situations can really stunt or just alter forever who you are going to become," she said.

In many ways, her career as an actress has helped Williams to explore the identities of other people.

"It's something nice to leave in the past, I guess. But it's hugely influenced everything that I do as an actor. I get to access all of that confusion and pain in my job and I get to really feel it in every fiber of my being, but there's no consequence and you're not really showing anyone or hurting someone. It's all pretend but the emotion is real. And just being able to let that out is something that I didn't do for a long time, so it all just sort of came to the surface," she explained.

And although her complex emotions often made her feel isolated from other people her age, she reflected on how it actually worked to her advantage when auditioning for Arya Stark. "I was surrounded by girls that like were joyous and were free and like, they were kids. They were kids who were happy and had whatever they had. And I thought, ‘Wow, I really, here we go again. Gonna be a disappointment,'" she recalled. "But for that moment, actually that was all they needed and so that was sort of a moment in my life where I was like, 'Huh, maybe this thing isn't all bad. Maybe there can be something beautiful that comes from this part of myself that I find unnatural or like just different to other kids.'"

Williams acknowledged that there was likely a connection between her emotional trauma and how she portrayed Stark in the series. "I sort of became this character who wouldn't let anything bad happen to her or anyone around her," she said.

Although admittedly, she was still struggling to figure out who she really was in her personal life as she grew up in the spotlight.

"I had felt that I got to a point already within being in the show that I was like, 'Oh I feel like I'm cosplaying as this person that I've created and I don’t think that this really is who I am.' So sort of leaving the show meant that I could leave that as well," she said. "I kind of wanted to say the right thing and do the right thing and act like I had everything figured out and be a good role model, which is all very good things to want. But it wasn't very authentic."

Now, at 25, Williams said she's still figuring it out, but she now looks at her growth as a journey rather than a destination. She also can appreciate all that she's been through as a vital part of that story.

"The things I experienced when I was a child, no person should ever experience at any point in their life. But it's taught me so much. And I feel this complex, like these complex deep emotions that are ultimately what I use every single day as an actor and I can recall those things and I'm, I don't know. I'm grateful for that," she said. "I'm grateful to understand the deepest pain and fear and also like the most liberating joy and freedom. And maybe you don't have to go through those awful, awful things to feel that but I did and this spectrum of emotions that are within me, I feel like incredibly fortunate for. Because I think that that is something that's different about me."

For anyone affected by abuse and needing support, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or if you're unable to speak safely, you can log onto or text LOVEIS to 22522.

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