In PEOPLE's latest digital cover, the 'White Lotus' star gets candid about her journey to self-love
Haley Lu Richardson has been getting vulnerable lately — and showing fans a side of herself that her fans may not know from her quirky onscreen persona.
In July the White Lotus actress, 28, revealed she was going through a difficult time to her 2.2 million followers on Instagram, writing, "Up and down and generally feeling things a lot ... It’s taken me forever to even be able to tell the people I’m closest to that I’m having a hard time. Something kept calling me to post this."
In PEOPLE's latest digital cover, Richardson opens up about her journey to finding herself.
“I was experiencing deep heartbreak and fully letting myself feel how scary that was, how unknown,” says Richardson about her July Instagram post.
Though she declined to give more specifics, the star says has no regrets about posting.
“I don't know if I'd ever just let myself actually feel those things without trying to fight it so much. It was a lot. I let myself feel sadness. And I just felt compelled to share that I wasn’t actually doing that great. It was so overwhelming, the effect that had, because I immediately felt less alone," she says of sharing her emotions. "Maybe because I hadn’t let myself feel that at other times in the past, where I’d felt lonely, down or lost — I just felt what I was feeling in that moment.”
After reading through her Instagram comments, she realized that her followers were not only supportive — but they were also sharing their own struggles.
“It sounds so dumb that an Instagram post could affect me so much, but I just felt like people were being so honest and experiencing a shared feeling," she says. "We all go through these painful times, and to come together in that — that’s where compassion comes from. I felt like I was getting hugs from everyone."
This wasn't the first time Richardson had opened up about heartbreak. Last November she announced via an Instagram Story that she and her ex-fiancé, Jane the Virgin alum Brett Dier, had privately separated two years prior after more than seven years together.
"Hey guys. This is me and Brett. We actually separated two years ago," Richardson wrote in the post, which included a photo of herself and Dier giving a thumbs up.
"But life goes on and we are both existing and doing pretty well turns out," her statement continued. "We shared a deeply special chunk of our lives together. I'm so glad to have had the last couple years to heal and grow without the internet knowing but we kinda just wanted to share it and move on now." Richardson ended the post with a piece of inspiration for her followers: "Love yourselves! Life is life babies!"
Dier also shared a similar sentiment at the time. "We saw each other for the first time today," he wrote on his Instagram Story. "We are happy and so thankful for the time we had together. (For those people who have been dying to know what happened to us) Haley's post is better worded so go read that one!"
Richardson had previously revealed on Busy Tonight in March 2019 that she popped the question to Dier while eating pizza at a strip mall — and he said yes. When articles continued circulating about their relationship, they eventually felt it was time to tell everyone the truth.
“It was hard, but I got through it — that’s important and what matters," she tells PEOPLE, holding back tears. "I was in a really long relationship. I spent a lot of life with someone, and it was very special. I thought it could be forever, but it wasn’t."
She continues, reflecting. "I had thought the whole time we were together that if it wasn't going to be forever, my life would just stop.”
Three years after their breakup, Richardson is proud of her strength. “The perspective of time to be able to be like, ‘Wow, I got through that, and I was capable of getting through something like that, and I’m capable of being on my own,’ . . . that’s been an amazing thing to learn.”
The actress also revealed she's been able to process her feelings over the past years and now feels more comfortable embracing them. "And part of this thing of letting myself feel sadness in the last probably five years or so of my life, and specifically maybe the last couple years, I've gotten more comfortable letting that in and out," she says.
She credits a lot of her coping skills to therapy and dance. “I've been doing therapy for six or seven years now, and I should have started long, long before that,” she says. “Once you do it, and once you start feeling how it’s totally affecting, in the best ways, every single aspect of your life, it becomes a part of your life."
As for dancing? It's become her greatest gift to free herself.
"I learned self-motivation through dance. I think I got comfortable in my body. I got to know who I was on the inside and understood the way I react to hard times in life, my feelings and emotions through dance," she shares. "I learned to love myself."
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