"There was a lot of anger in my teenage years, in my 20s," Tyler Perry tells PEOPLE of trauma stemming from childhood sexual abuse

By Alexia Fernandez Mary Green
October 03, 2019 10:48 AM

Tyler Perry has reached a place of healing after a traumatic childhood in which he was sexually abused.

The actor, director, producer and writer, 50, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue he went through years of turmoil after he was sexually molested by three different men and a woman by the time he was 10.

“I didn’t know what was going on or the far-reaching effects of it,” says Perry. “I just moved through it. Go onto the next thing. ‘Boys don’t cry, shut up and move on.'”

The entertainment mogul says it took him a long time to come to grips with his trauma.

“Holding on to all of that, not knowing what to do with it, there was a lot of anger in my teenage years, in my 20s,” says Perry. “A lot of anger, a lot of confusion, a lot of frustration trying to just be OK.”

  • For more about Tyler Perry, pick up the latest issue of PEOPLE, on newsstands Friday.
Shayan Asgharnia

Perry’s despair led him to seek out a therapeutic creative outlet. He was inspired to pursue writing after watching an episode of The Oprah Winfrey Show in which Winfrey spoke about its healing power.

“It wasn’t until I really dug down into writing and started understanding the motivation of characters that helped me to understand my own behaviors,” he says. “I could untie some of those strings and get to full healing.”

Once Perry began writing stories, the rest was history. He staged his first play in 1998 with I Know I’ve Been Changed, which centered on two brothers who survived child abuse.

Tyler Perry as a young boy
Courtesy Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry
Jason Merritt/Getty

RELATED: Tyler Perry on Why He Decided to Quit Playing Madea and Whether She’ll Return: ‘We’ll See’

His best-known character, Madea, was introduced in his 2000 play I Can Do Bad All by Myself, which spawned a series of hit films revolving around the tough-talking southern grandmother such as the 2005 movie Diary of a Mad Black Woman.

The film grossed over $50 million, while the franchise overall has earned more than $500 million at the box office.

“I tell people who are in pain, who are struggling with trying to get through and sometimes I can just see it in their eyes,” says Perry. “I was like, ‘Listen, just keep going. One little step is a step, just one little step.'”

He adds, “I would challenge anyone who is struggling or trying to figure out what to do to press on because whatever this pain was, there is an opposite. Here I am in it and I’m loving every day.”

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