While there are many impactful lessons I could cite from the work of Maya Angelou, one of the most meaningful pieces of knowledge which shaped my perspective was delivered on Oprah Winfrey’s show. The conversation unfolded as follows:
Winfrey: One of the most important lessons I ever learned from you […] when people show you who they are, believe them.
Angelou: Yes, absolutely. A person says to you, “I’m selfish,” or, “I’m mean,” or, “I am unkind”—
Winfrey: Or, “I’m crazy.”
Angelou: Or, “I’m cra—,” believe them. They know themselves much better than you do. But no, more often than not, those of us who don’t trust life say, “Don’t say a thing like that! You’re not really crazy,” “You’re not really unkind,” “You’re not really mean.” And soon as you say that, the person—pap! [making slapping hand gesture]—
Winfrey: Lets you know.
Angelou: And shows you. “I told you. I told you I was unkind! So now, why are you angry?”
The essential takeaway is that when people show you who they are, believe them the first time; because they know themselves better than you do. This conclusion is a rational one.
Notice what was and wasn’t shared during the Winfrey and Angelou discussion. The dictum wasn’t that when individuals tell you who they are, believe them. Rather, it was when people show you who they are, believe them.
People may tell you all sorts of things in order to persuade you of a great many things. As such, Angelou seemed to advocate that rather than listening and being deceived by words crafted to entice an appeal to emotion, believe what the behavior of others may suggest about motivation and character.
Additionally, Angelou addressed “those of us who don’t trust life.” This is a fundamental component of the wisdom shared with Winfrey. By “trust,” I’m addressing the firm belief in the reliability, truth, ability, or strength of someone or something.
Although I’m aware that not many people with whom I interact enjoy hearing this, humans tend not to be rational actors in many situations. Instead, we maintain irrational beliefs and place a significant amount of trust in our unhelpful assumptions.
When life inevitably reveals that our presumptions are inaccurate, we disturb ourselves into an unpleasant consequential experience involving emotions, bodily sensations, or behaviors. This process is akin to Angelou’s indication of a slap from reality.
In Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy (REBT), a trust-based belief that leads to an openhand strike of sensibility is known as the belief-consequence connection. Using the ABC Model, here’s how this connection is illustrated:
Action – Though you previously convinced yourself otherwise, a person in whom you’re romantically interested shows you that the individual isn’t concerned with your wants or needs.
Consequence – Because of your unproductive belief—largely as a result of not trusting life by believing the person when shown who the individual was the first time—you experience anger, pain in your chest, and you isolate yourself from others for a week as you wallow in misery.
In actuality, the consequential slap from life is the product of your unfavorable belief. Using Angelou’s words, “So now, why are you angry?”
You’re the one who upset yourself, not the other person. You’re the individual who slapped yourself, not some nebulous life force handing down punishment from upon high.
Perhaps preferable to self-disturbance is trusting life. After all, people “know themselves much better than you do,” given Angelou’s guidance.
Even though you may not like hearing truth, it’s my hope that you can accept reality. For those who struggle with letting go of the control you never actually had in the first place, I may be able to help in this regard.
If you’re looking for a provider who works to help you understand how thinking impacts physical, mental, emotional, and behavioral elements of your life—helping you to sharpen your critical thinking skills, I invite you to reach out today by using the contact widget on my website.
As a psychotherapist, I’m pleased to help people with an assortment of issues ranging from anger (hostility, rage, and aggression) to relational issues, adjustment matters, trauma experience, justice involvement, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, anxiety and depression, and other mood or personality-related matters.
At Hollings Therapy, LLC, serving all of Texas, I aim to treat clients with dignity and respect while offering a multi-lensed approach to the practice of psychotherapy and life coaching. My mission includes: Prioritizing the cognitive and emotive needs of clients, an overall reduction in client suffering, and supporting sustainable growth for the clients I serve. Rather than simply helping you to feel better, I want to help you get better!
Deric Hollings, LPC, LCSW
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