On Feb. 15, Jennette McCurdy sat across from outgoing Editor-in-Chief of the Los Angeles Loyolan, Chris Benis and Associated Students of LMU VP of Academic Affairs, Riya Beri, in front of hundreds of students as the keynote speaker for First Amendment Week. The Los Angeles Loyolan and ASLMU hold First Amendment Week yearly to celebrate the first amendment, particularly as it pertains to freedom of speech and press.
McCurdy published her New York Times bestselling book “I’m Glad My Mom Died” in August of 2022. It is a memoir in which she reflects on how her tendencies as a “people pleaser” played into years of narcissistic parental abuse, a propensity for food obsession, and a tumultuous acting career.
McCurdy began acting at the age of six; a career that she claims began as a manifestation of her mother’s obsessive desire for her daughter to reach success. She worked her way up from background roles, eventually landing the role of ‘Sam Puckett’ on Nickelodeon’s “iCarly.” Throughout this period in her life, McCurdy’s mother strictly monitored her calorie intake and restricted her body autonomy, further straining their relationship. At 21, she lost her mother, leaving her with a cocktail of grief and unresolved trauma that manifested itself into alcoholism and patterns of disordered eating. Now, at 30, McCurdy has worked through her trauma in therapy and vulnerably translated her experience onto the pages of “I’m Glad My Mom Died.”
Despite her former inclination towards pleasing people at all costs, McCurdy now speaks from a place of tremendous growth. She is sure of herself, captivating the room full of college students by discussing her life experience, showing off her sense of humor amid challenging topics.
“This is the age where I felt the most lost. I felt the most confused and overwhelmed I felt like I was pulled in a million different directions and didn’t know I knew what was unhappy in my life,” McCurdy said. “I really think this is an age where things can go in a couple of different directions. And I hope things go in the direction that serve you the most and that is most fulfilling for you”.
If you couldn’t attend, here are the five key takeaways from McCurdy’s keynote speech.
1. People Pleasing Can Cause Resentment
McCurdy spends the majority of her book meticulously following everything her mother asked of her, which led to the downfall of her mental health. From the age of eleven, McCurdy loved writing, but was forced to suppress that part of her identity in order to please her mom. Speaking to the students at LMU, McCurdy warns of the dangers people pleasing inevitably creates.
“I feel like I’d just be like, yes, sir. Yes, ma’am. Like trying to do what everybody wanted all the time and then deep down, I was just kind of seething and resentful and kind of burdened by that, bogged down by that,” McCurdy said. “So I really wanted to just trust myself and hope that it would resonate.”
2. “If it’s not a, hell yes, it’s a no”
As for offering advice to those on their own journeys of recovery, McCurdy has this motto: “If it’s not a hell, yes, it’s a no.”
“So I think if there’s something in your life that’s not a hell yes, it’s a no. And for me, when I started kind of filtering decisions through that, it made things a lot clearer. It made my life a lot better. It made me set my priorities really clearly,” she said.
3. Processing Things Completely is Important in the Healing Process
McCurdy shared that she has put in a lot of work to develop a healthy distance from grief.
“It’s been nine years, but I’m able to dismiss [my mother] now. And it’s so fulfilling to have that experience,” McCurdy said. “It’s one that I will take full credit for. I think that I earned that experience of grief. I don’t think that’s one that [my mom] gave to me.”
A combination of years in and out of therapy and writing her book has given her the coping skills necessary to really approach and go through the healing process. Before writing her book, McCurdy worked to fully process everything that happened in her life to be able to share with the world what she went through.
“I need time, I need space and I need distance from the things that I’ve experienced in order to have some perspective on it,” McCurdy said.
4. Boundaries Are Valid, and Important
McCurdy grew up in a household without boundaries, which she said largely contributed to the turbulent nature of her family environment; and that it later extended to other relationships. She describes learning unhealthy behaviors that disrupted her ideas about intimacy.
“I grew up thinking that a boundary was a betrayal of the person that you love. I grew up thinking, you can’t say no. You have to just accept whatever it throws at you. They have to know everything about you and everything about them,” she said.
She emphasized that through embarking on her healing journey, she learned that the presence of boundaries is essential to cultivating healthy relationships.
“I learned from my therapist that boundaries cultivate intimacy,” she said.
5. Family Does Not Define You
In the context of emotionally unstable and abusive relationships, Benis asked McCurdy to consider if “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
“The part that is most part of my identity and the part that scares me the most is my emotionality. I’m super emotional. My mom was so emotional and volatile and erratic and unstable,” she said.
However, McCurdy offered a solution to those who fear repeating their parents behavior; having the courage to analyze their own behavior and taking action to get help.
“It was also something that concerned me because I felt like, ‘Oh God, I might be becoming her, am I going to become her’?” McCurdy said. “I shared that with one of my brothers…and he had said, you know, you could never become her because you’ve taken actions that she would never take. She refused to get help.”
McCurdy lived most of her life in submission to the desires of her mother, and let her love for writing go unfulfilled until after her mother died. McCurdy’s speech encouraged students to consider their relationships with themselves, their families and their behaviors; reminding students that something good can often come from the negative.
“I was really drawn to books, to writing from an early age. So I think that was always in me…I loved it, but my mom didn’t support it, and I think she can sense that, ‘Oh, she’s starting to like this more than acting’…So I sort of put writing to the side. But then when she died, I started taking writing classes and really pursuing it more and I’m so glad I’m writing today,” McCurdy said.