Alyson Stoner Is Slowly Learning to Trust Again“There's still a hypervigilant little kid inside.”
Alyson Stoner, best known for growing up on screen in some big roles—both in film and music videos—has ushered in a new era of their career, hosting a revealing podcast, Dear Hollywood, that dives into their experiences as a child star.
While the topics surely are enticing (including allegations of being taken advantage of financially and getting fired after coming out), Stoner is clear about the ultimate intention behind sharing their story: Discussing how society can learn to support children in exploring their identity, teaching kids about self-regulation amid stressful environments, and helping young people form safe and secure attachments with caregivers and others. “I'm trying to extract these bigger pillars that are shared so that in trying to serve the wellbeing of young artists, we can also open larger conversations around healing topics that all of us can relate to,” Stoner tells Wondermind.
“If you show up because you wanted the juicy gossip on what happened on set, and you end up having an epiphany for your own healing journey, that's just as important—if not more compelling—to me as having you hear my story.”
With their co-founder sister, Stoner is also raising mental health awareness through their Movement Genius company, which includes a library of on-demand mental health tools that aim to serve everyone, no matter where you’re at on your journey or what your background and identity is, Stoner tells Wondermind.
Here, Stoner gives us a glimpse inside their mind and shares what feelings the podcast has brought up and what they’ve learned about healing, trust, and forgiveness.
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WM: How are you doing lately?
Alyson Stoner: Life is always layered, and in some ways—professionally—it feels like a lot of my big visions are coming to fruition. So there feels to be alignment, and that is exciting. I'm full of gratitude. Simultaneously, I'm shifting my relationship dynamic with my former partner. There's a lot of love there, but there's also a lot of tenderness and some grief [around] losing someone who felt like an anchor in your life. It's interesting to feel that blend on a daily basis of watching some of my biggest intentions come true while craving that anchor support system and having to refine that within myself.
WM: What's helping you cope with these hard feelings right now?
AS: A former mentor in my life, who I trust, used to talk about life as a spiral staircase and healing as a spiral staircase. Sometimes when you're going around the spiral, whether you're going to a higher or a deeper level, it can look like we're looking at the same problem we've seen a million times. However, you've changed since the last time you've seen it.
In some ways, this circumstance feels like, Ah, what are the patterns here that are coming up that I need to observe? And also how am I different in this? That, to me, kind of means that I need a blend of tools. But then also … there is a process of sitting in the mystery and being in the ambiguity and recognizing I don't actually know what my heart needs exactly right now. … Sometimes it feels like things that were deep in your unconscious are finally coming forward and into your awareness, and you're seeing parts of yourself that maybe are uncomfortable. So compassion is key.
WM: You've been sharing a lot about your life experiences and being a child actor lately. What has being open in that way felt like?
AS: I have been writing this material for years and processing my life for 15+ years in therapy. So a lot of this is not new to me, although I know it's new for the public to receive and respond to. It's interesting because I sort of have the responsibility of holding space for everyone else's reactions to the degree that I choose to. I suppose I could set boundaries and not try to hold everyone's reality at once, but the point of releasing this is to start a conversation. So I recognize after I speak, I have to also listen and see how it's landing and create this more public and transparent conversation and relationship.
Now, granted, all of that's still happening in a parasocial way where we don't actually know each other, and there's a lot of filling in the blanks of who we think each other is. And so it's tough to hold really raw and deep conversations in a public space where everyone can comment, especially just from a limited point of view.
And, in full transparency, I'm getting a front row seat to observe my own coping strategies that I had as a kid, but I wasn't aware of. Now that I'm getting the attention on the podcast and people are stopping me again on the street, I can feel that inner performer self, that mask that glosses over and just goes through the world a little less connected to my body and more in presentation mode. I can feel the heightened stress and the way that that affects my eating and my sleep.
Thankfully, as an adult now, I can do this with more conscious awareness, but it's been illuminating to almost revisit the exact sequence of choices I would have made as a kid just trying to cope with something for the first time.
WM: With all you've been through, how did you relearn to trust people or yourself?
AS: Building trust with others has continued to be a deep challenge. I just let people know upfront: Now, I move at snail speed. I move really slowly in forming relationships, whether it's friendship or romantic. I can know someone for years before I'm willing to offer the title “partner” or “close friend.” I recognize that is just kind of how I'm wired, and I'm actively trying to create opportunities where I can trust, but it still moves slowly for me.
There's still a hypervigilant little kid inside who's kind of keeping score and going, Were they trustworthy there? They passed that test. OK, we can open up just a little bit more, but maybe not too soon. Let's make sure they do that consistently for this period. It's really self-protective for sure.
But in building trust with myself, that's where a lot of the mind-body connection tools came into play because I had been so disconnected from my own experience that I didn't even know basic cues like, Am I hungry? Am I thirsty? And if I'm feeling an emotion, a lot of it would just get swept away or not really managed in a helpful way. I ultimately had to work with a therapist to rebuild that connection and understand this language that your body is speaking with these sensations. Building these sets of experiences where I'm practicing listening and caring for [my mind and body], and not just neglecting how I'm feeling, strengthened that inner self-trust.
And [it] helped me understand, when I meet with other people, do they respect when I need to honor a certain boundary? It was amazing to see just how many people in my life I had formed relationships with who had no respect for my boundaries. And so I was like, Oh, I have some shifting to do. As I form new connections, they feel different. I don't feel like at any time someone might take advantage of me. Whereas before, it did. I didn't have a strong spine for really any spaces. I was just very much like, “Whatever you need, I'll bend to it.” And now I’m like, “I have some things that are yeses and some things that are nos. How do you feel about that?”
WM: How have you approached forgiveness for the people who have hurt you?
AS: From a young age, something clicked that this concept of forgiveness was really important for healing. But I realized a little bit later that I was offering it in more of a spiritual bypassing kind of way where I would intellectually forgive, but really, truly emotionally, I wasn't quite processing the wound and learning from it. It was almost just like a surface level saying, “Yep, everything's going to be fine.”
As I've gotten older, I've realized part of the forgiveness process does include embracing the real messy emotions that come with it and integrating them back into a sense of feeling whole again. It's not about tossing them aside or rejecting parts of ourselves that feel like they are a little jagged or wounded, but really saying, “These are all parts of me, and I was affected by this event in this way. I'm going to choose to release the story that keeps me ruminating on what went wrong or blaming another person or myself. I'm going to release that story while still embracing the impact.” That impact will take time to process.
So I think [it’s about] taking a softer approach to forgiveness, recognizing it is non-linear. You're going to have moments where you verbally forgave a person, but then something tugs a heart heartstring when you see them doing something and it almost feels like you're activated all over again.
There are people I've forgiven and experienced reconciliation with, and it's so special to feel that kind of repair after rupture. And there are people who I have forgiven who I still feel a rockiness between us. I don't know if that will ever resolve, and it does weigh on me. There is a tension or a density within when I think about that relationship, but it doesn't mean I haven't forgiven them or myself. It's just the residual kind of sadness of something going poorly or not as you expected.
It's interesting to reflect on which things, for each of us, are easy to forgive and which things are tougher for some. I know when I say this thing happened to me, for example, financially, a lot of people feel this sense of justice rise up and they say, “That was so unfair. Did you sue them? Did you go back and get the money and X, Y, Z?” That one, for me, was so simple and clear to just forgive and move forward. Whereas there's another situation that might appear so minor, but it really cut to such a vulnerable place within that that’s the thing that sticks around years later.
A lot of times I think people weren't intentionally trying to cause harm. So there is some assuming of good intent here. But yeah, life is messy. Humans, we're all real messy. So in order to move forward and not be stuck in your past, forgiveness is definitely going to be a part of the process.
WM: What else do you want to share with our readers?
AS: You deserve to feel safe, comfortable, and confident in your unique mind and body. Whatever tools and processes help you create a sense of home within yourself, that is going to be so empowering, and that's something you will carry for the rest of your life.
When you're struggling, if you feel like you tend to shrink and life becomes smaller because you're trying to protect yourself from different things, what if we started practicing skills that allowed us to manage the experience and even find ways to still expand and let ourselves still go into the spaces to pursue the dreams, to build connections?
Something to maybe reflect on is, [for example], when I'm considering my mental health journey and the support I need right now, [I think], Am I in a season where I need to close up, go into the cocoon and learn some tools? Or am I ready to actually practice some tools and start expanding again? That resilience, I think, is key in a stressful modern world.
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
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