Maria Shriver—journalist, former First Lady of California, and ex-wife to Arnold Schwarzenegger—talked with Hota Kotb on Monday on the Today host’s podcast, Making Space, about how she attended a convent following her split with Arnold.
Arnold and Maria initially split in 2011, but the divorce wasn’t finalized until 2021. The split came in light of Arnold’s confession to having an affair with their housekeeper and even conceiving a child with her.
As this would be heavy news for anyone to handle, Maria was no exception, and decided to spend time in a convent to seek answers and closure.
“I went to a convent, a cloistered convent and to be in silence and look for advice,” she told Kotb. “And the reverend mother there […] She said, ‘I think you came here looking for permission.’”
Shriver compared the feeling to “a scene out of The Sound of Music”.
“[The reverend mother] goes, ‘You can’t come live here…but you do have permission to go out and become Maria.”
“I was, like, sobbing,” she recalled.
Shriver had spent her life being in the shadow of someone else, even before Schwarzenegger. Maria is part of the Kennedy family, her mother, Eunice, being JFK’s sister (making him Maria’s uncle).
Maria explained that she had always felt “invisible” growing up, a feeling that would not subside going into her adulthood. She believed this was a result of being unwilling to learn the lesson that her life had presented for her time and time again: “It’s not about other people seeing you, it’s about you seeing yourself.”
“If you, as a child, are standing next to the president of the United States, two U.S. senators, the first lady, nobody is looking at you,” Maria explained to Kotb. “You are background noise. And you take that with you really through life, and you end up putting yourself in situations where that continues until you learn your lesson.”
After realizing the lesson she was destined to learn about self-worth and identity, she reflected on how she felt in those situations that frustrated her and made her feel unimportant.
“I had never given myself permission to — to feel, to be vulnerable, to be weak, to be brought to my knees. And the world did it to me. And then I was like, ‘OK, God, let’s go.’
“I would find myself getting angry at people,” she continued, “who came up and didn’t acknowledge that I existed when I was standing next to Arnold or when I was standing next to, you know, my uncle. And then I was like, they were teaching me a lesson, that it’s not about whether they see me. Do I see me? Am I invisible to me?”
Thanks to her realization and “permission to go out and become Maria”, she was and is able to recognize when others may be feeling the same as she once did. She says it’s foolish to think that someone who feels invisible wants to be seen on the biggest scale, like “winning an Emmy…getting an award, getting a book, being on TV”.
“But,” she clarified, “what actually makes people feel seen and worthy is talking to them, sitting with them, calling them, slowing down…sitting on the porch, going, ‘I don’t have anywhere to go. I’m right here with you.’”
In other words, for someone to feel seen, it isn’t about the number of eyes on them, rather, those same eyes actually noticing them and recognizing them, no matter how many eyes that may be. But first, you have to recognize yourself.