Los Angeles (CNN) -- Halle Berry's personal crusade to help domestic violence victims is linked to a secret she's kept hidden for most of her life -- watching her own mother being abused.
Berry said she thinks that experience has shaped her as an adult.
"Honestly, I think I've spent my adult life dealing with the sense of low self-esteem that that sort of implanted in me," Berry said. "Somehow I felt not worthy."
But wouldn't many have a hard time believing that?
"I'm sure. Because that's Halle Berry. But before I'm Halle Berry, I'm little Halle, who was a little girl growing in this environment that damaged me in some ways. And I've spent my adult life trying to really heal from that."
Part of that healing happens at the Jenesse Center, a Los Angeles shelter for victims of domestic violence where Berry volunteers and often shows up unannounced.
"I come here sometimes and I play with the kids. I see the children and so I'm just regular old crackers to them," she said with a laugh. "And I love being regular old crackers, I have to say."
It's a far cry from the glamorous, movie-star world that many associate her with. But this is the work that Berry says is more important and more meaningful.
"I have a spot in my soul that understands the devastation that this causes a family and how hard it is to rebuild your self-esteem when you've suffered," she said.
Berry helps renovate run-down apartments so women who flee their abusive partners can have a safe, inviting place to live.
"We can turn these apartments around in two weeks," Berry said.
Here, women can "feel rejuvenated ... hugged and loved," Berry said. And they can see what life can be like so they can dream of a better future.
Berry said she has a message for women currently in abusive relationships:
"Get out. Don't stay a moment longer. If there's no shelter, go to a friend, to a police station. Go somewhere. But go."