Before she ever wrote her first book, before she became a regular guest on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," before she inspired countless with her no-nonsense life advice and before she landed a series on OWN, Iyanla Vanzant wasn't just unknown. She didn't even exist.
Iyanla Vanzant was born Rhonda Harris, but changed her name when she was in her late 20s. When Rhonda became Iyanla, the bestselling author and spiritual teacher didn't just leave behind her birth name -- she reinvented a new identity.
Rhonda, Iyanla says during her interview with Oprah for OWN's "Super Soul Sunday," was a resourceful, broken, wounded, sorrowful soul. Though Iyanla renamed herself as a way of letting her old self go, she also credits her painful past with helping shape her into the survivor she is today.
"Had it not been for [Rhonda] -- that aspect of me -- I would have never survived the abuse, the abandonment, the rejection," Iyanla explains. "Rhonda Harris was with me when my father beat the skin off my back. She was there when my grandmother abused me, when my uncle raped me, when my brother abandoned me. She was there when I got pregnant at 14. She was there when I got on the subway in New York to ride to Manhattan to identify my dead child's body... She was there. She was there when nobody else was there."
As Iyanla came to the realization that Rhonda "no longer fit" who she had become, she decided it was time for a rebirth and, symbolically, a new name. "I had to bury her. Not in the ground, hating her, hiding her, diminishing her, but bury her," Iyanla says. "I realized that the life that I was living was not the truth of who I was."
The life Iyanla was living was bleak, but she was able to acknowledge that it wasn't something she deserved or had to accept.
"There's no way that I came out of the projects, off welfare, to go to college and law school , and to end up in a house with no furniture with my children eating fast food off the floor," she says. "I had to go through that to get here, but when I was there, I had to look at that and say, 'This need not be.'"
Once Iyanla better understood her own self-worth, the new identity emerged and she embarked on her life's true spiritual journey.