It’s been decades since Christina Aguilera was a young child trying to understand the fear she felt while growing up in an abusive household, but even now, she carries the experience with her closely. During a recent appearance on the Call Her Daddy podcast, the singer opened up to host Alex Cooper about her healing journey — and how her childhood informs her own approach to parenthood.
“You have to listen to your body. Fear is something that you innately feel, so, right then and there you know something doesn’t feel good, and it’s not right,” Aguilera explained about the early warning signs that she was in a less than safe environment while growing up. “And then, you know, having so much compassion for my mother. When you see someone being hurt – someone you love – that … At 42, I’m still affected by this. It’s under the surface. Trauma never leaves you, you just figure out ways to try and heal it.”
The singer’s parents divorced when she was six years old, after which she relocated to Pittsburgh, where her grandmother lived, with her mother and younger sister. But before the split, she said, her mother would often trek them between Pennsylvania and New Jersey on late-night drives. “There was some back and forth. There’s always the tug of like, ‘I’m never gonna do it again,’” she said. “There’s sweet-talking involved. There’s a lot of shame also in like, ‘Well, why don’t you just leave?’ It is so much more complicated than that.”
For Aguilera’s family, an early complication was the abuse inflicted while living with her father at an army base. “In a situation like that, too, abuse runs rampant. The walls are paper thin where we’re living, and you can hear abuse just happening on the other side of the wall,” she recalled. “It’s terrifying, and it’s like all you want to do is help, but a lot of times when you call the authorities, you don’t get the help that you you need — and then the door shuts, and you’re with your abuser again. So it’s so important to try and research all you can, speak to people that you can trust, and really try and get yourself out of the situation. Because worst case scenario, you won’t live to tell the story about it.”
Speaking out against abuse and domestic violence has helped Aguilera through her healing journey, which she said can be marred with complex feelings of anger before it gives way to release. “It takes a lot for a woman to leave those situations as well, and my heart goes out because some of them don’t leave them,” she continued. “And, you know, that could vary in a lot of ways. Sometimes it’s financial. Sometimes it’s fear of authorities not helping, and then it getting worse.
Even now, Aguilera admitted that the smallest things, like certain movie scenes, can trigger a trauma response in her. The lingering impact has also made her deeply protective of her own two children, particularly her young daughter.
“It’s a mental breakdown of self-esteem. You start to believe someone else’s narrative and verbal abuse to you, and self-esteem is something that can break down so easily, even to the most powerful woman executive. It doesn’t matter what you do,” she explained. “We can go on stage and have these larger-than-life personas, but all it takes is for you to believe someone’s negative narrative about you, once it’s in there and it’s working its way. It’s why I’m so adamant with my daughter. I’m just like, the first time somebody ever hits you, the first time somebody makes you feel not right about yourself – I’m so protective, Mama Bear.”