‘I didn’t want to be that person’: Why Chelsea Handler started therapy at 42

Chelsea Handler. Occupation Comedian, actor and TV Host. Age 44. Relationship status Single. Best known for Chelsea Does and Chelsea on Netflix. Currently Touring Australia.

Chelsea Handler: “I always held grudges and would remain mad at people. I have always ended relationships in a huff.”

My maternal grandfather used to pick me up in the palm of his huge hand and look me in the eye. He was a weird German man who we called Vater [“father” in German]. He was in my life until
I was nine.

I was a total tomboy as a kid – I kind of still am. I would walk around topless until I was nine. I had to eat soup without a shirt because I would start sweating the minute I ate it. I was definitely not a girly girl.

I had three older brothers Chet, Roy and Glen, and two older sisters, Simone and Shoshanna. I preferred hanging with my brothers and doing things with them in the yard, but now it’s the other way around – I prefer my sisters’ company.

My dad, Seymour, used to laugh loudly and slam his hands on the table and throw them back when he spoke. People tell me the way I laugh is very much like him.

My earliest memories of him are in the garage at our home in New Jersey. He worked as a used-car dealer. I’d sneak in as a four-year-old to watch Dad and my eldest brother, Chet, standing around a car trying to fix it. I can remember the smell of gasoline. Chet would give me a cheeky look of that told me I shouldn’t be in there and to get out.

Chet died when I was nine. He fell to his death while on a hiking trip in 1984 at the age of 22. It
had a huge impact on my family. Everybody fell apart after that, especially my parents. My father
took it quite badly. I had never seen him in a state like that.

Chet’s death forced me to become stronger. I didn’t want to cry or become vulnerable and felt I needed to take care of everyone, even though I was the youngest of six children. I became very shut down emotionally, wouldn’t take “no” for an answer, and if you got in my way then you’d better get out of it.

My parents fought a lot when I was growing up; crying a lot after Chet died. But my dad definitely wore the pants and my mum, Rita, eventually got sick of it. She put up with less garbage from him as time rolled on.

I always held grudges and would remain mad at people. I have always ended relationships in a huff. I didn’t think that needed dealing with – I thought I could go through life without addressing my behaviour. I thought people who went to therapy had to toughen up and I didn’t want
to be a victim. I didn’t think I was an angry person. It wasn’t until people pointed out to me that I always walked away from relationships really pissed off that I realised I didn’t want to be that person any more.

My mother died in 2006. I learnt two years later that Dad had a child before he got married in 1961. I felt more and more disappointed in him.

I am much more forgiving of my dad since he died in 2018. I try to remember the good times and not focus on him being an asshole. I only changed my point of view after I got therapy at 42. I stopped being angry towards people for dying and blaming them for leaving me.

I met my psychotherapist, Dr Dan Siegel, when I interviewed him for my Netflix show in 2016. He has been a huge influence on me and was very good at cracking my egg open. Because of him I don’t think I will tolerate anything bad in a relationship again. I value my time alone and enjoy it, and if someone joined my life they’d have to be a good addition to it.

I have learnt that when my relationship with a man ends, it is a good time to figure myself out. It’s never somebody else’s fault – well, none of that is true. It’s a matter of what you experience and not letting the relationship freak you out if it’s not working. It’s okay to go for different men at different times in your life.

One of the nicest guys I have ever interviewed on my show was Australian actor Eric Bana. I love
his sense of humour; I appreciate that in a man, for sure.

Chelsea Handler appears at the State Theatre, Sydney, on October 5, and at Hamer Hall, Melbourne, on October 7.

This article appears in Sunday Life magazine within the Sun-Herald and the Sunday Age on sale September 29.

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