"We all deserve to know that we have more personal power — my brother did not know that," the actress tells PEOPLE

By Sam Gillette
November 19, 2019 10:21 AM
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Credit: Kauwuane Burton

Tina Lifford, a star of Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay‘s critically acclaimed show Queen Sugar, is also the queen of “inner fitness.”

The actress wrote a new book, The Little Book of Big Lies, to help readers overcome past experiences and achieve inner wellbeing — and she dedicates it to her brother, Steve, who died of a drug overdose.

“Everybody is carrying something,” Lifford, 53, tells PEOPLE in an exclusive interview. “The Little Book of Big Lies is saying, ‘Hold on. There are ways in which we can actually interrupt our old experiences of ourselves, rewire them, and then proactively go after the life we want.'”

The actress came on to the scene 25 years ago, and her work in self-empowerment and mental and spiritual wellbeing has been an equally important part of her journey. The CEO of The Inner Fitness Project and the creative mind behind The Circle, a play “about seven diverse women navigating the choppy waters of life together,” Lifford has been thinking about writing a book for years.

In The Little Book of Big Lies, out Tuesday, she focuses each chapter on different lies that people tell themselves (i.e. “Are You Thinking That Some Pain Lasts Forever?” and “Are You Bullied by an Old Sacred Torture?”). Lifford includes personal anecdotes and step-by-step tips to rewire readers’ understanding of those lies and their self-worth. The goal is to open readers up to new possibilities.

The concept behind the book has improved her own life, the actress explains. Lifford has had to navigate many false perceptions of herself, including the idea that she wasn’t worthy of the stage. She first developed “debilitating stage fright” after an embarrassing performance when she was a child, she says.

“With that stage fright, I began to feel that not only did I have this past experience that I held shame around, this experience kept building in my mind to be so big that it began to block and threaten my future,” Lifford recalls. “I’m an actress, right? I love acting and I’m good at it. Yet I had this internal struggle that was trying to get in the way of that. I turned that struggle into my gift. How do I deconstruct this set of circumstances that I find myself in?”

“How do I deconstruct my relationship with this stage fright?” she continues. “That turned into The Inner Fitness Project and movement that I am so passionate about.”

Credit: HarperCollins

Lifford also reveals that both her father, David Lifford, and brother struggled internally because of past traumas. The consequences were devastating for her family, she says.

According to Lifford, her father was a “good dad,” but he was “abusive” towards her mother, Dorothy Lifford.

“When he got mad, Daddy sometimes hit Mommy,” she writes. In the book, Lifford explains that her father loved her mother dearly, but he was “insanely jealous.” The violence stopped after a particularly tense interaction that ended with David jumping out of the car and walking home. (They locked the doors so he couldn’t get back in, Lifford writes.) But after a years-long hiatus, the abuse started again, Lifford says. (David died just months after his son, Steve.)

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“[The abuse] resurfaced when he was older and less strong, less mentally strong,” she says. “By the time it resurfaced, I was already on the path of seeing how we react and how we hold onto the past. I was able to see that my father was this fine human being, and also see that an unresolved, undisclosed hurt had lived in him.”

“When my father was nine years old, he came home and found his mother in bed with someone who was not his father. He never mentioned that to a soul until he was 73 years old and sitting on my couch,” Lifford continues. “What he said on my couch was that there wasn’t a day in his life where that memory didn’t replay. Here is this little boy who’s never been able to address that hurt, never been able to say, ‘This happened and it hurts.’ Never been able to process something so traumatic.”

Her father was also abusive towards her older brother, Steve, Lifford writes. She explains that both of them had undiagnosed dyslexia and couldn’t read, which was a source of great shame and manifested in unhealthy behaviors.

Steve’s shame at being dyslexic and other “undiscussed and unresolved hurts” led to his life spiraling out of control, Lifford says. He died of a drug overdose two weeks after leaving rehab at the age of 50.

“Every page [in my book] is what I wish my brother had known, so that [he could navigate] the hurt that he was carrying; the hurt that comes from being dyslexic and undiagnosed at a time when dyslexia was brand new,” Lifford says.

“So many people are leaving their best lives unexperienced, because they don’t know it,” she adds. “We all deserve to know that we have more personal power. My brother did not know that.”

The Little Book of Big Lies is on sale now.

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.