When I graduated Wellesley in 1997, we were very fortunate to have Oprah Winfrey as our commencement speaker! Yes, having Oprah as your graduation speaker is something you never forget. Women from the class of ’97 still quote various parts of her speech that was so full of helpful life’s nuggets that there was no way to forget its impact. One of those nuggets I often recall (especially in talking with my sisters) is, “the first time he is a jerk believe him.” It is a simple lesson, but not one that is so easily practiced.
Yesterday I was watching the Oprah show, and once again in trying to help others avoid loss, hurt and betrayal, Oprah evoked the life lesson Maya Angelou taught her and I had heard at graduation (in slightly different words): “The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them. If a person lies, he/she is liar. If a person cheats, he/she is a cheater.”
Hearing her talk about this idea again I questioned why is it so difficult for many of us to live by this principle? Why when someone shows us their true colors do we either ignore our intuition or lower our standards of what is tolerable for us in the way we are treated? Of course the person who is doing the misleading has their own demons to work out, but really in order to “believe others the first time” we must turn the mirror on ourselves.
When we choose not to believe someone when they show us who they are, we are living with a depleted spirit. With little belief in ourselves, in our own power, we lower the standards of how others treat us. Our need to feel loved and our need for approval keep us tied to people who might be saying one thing but doing another. When we are living from a part of ourselves that feels less than, unworthy of love, in fear of the unknown, we are targets for those who manipulate and keep us in a cycle of lies.
When we are seeking approval from another, our awareness is externally focused. Everything we do is linked to the other’s acceptance of us which keeps us living from our ego. We live in fear of losing what we have built up in our minds to have. In this situation, fear has severed our connection to our own inner knowing. When you live in fear and without a strong definition of self, a gigantic red flag may be flying right in front of your face and you won’t see it (or you will choose to ignore it).
Another clever game we play with ourselves is when we see that someone is acting like a jerk toward someone else we rationalize that they wouldn’t ever treat us that way. This rationalization is absolutely illogical. A person is who they are, period. But when we feel powerless within our own being, our ego is seduced into this rationalization. We avoid having to look at the painful part of ourselves, which feels powerless and keeps supporting the illusion.
Luckily, our lives are healing spiritual journeys. Many of our closest relationships come in to heal those parts of ourselves that don’t serve us, that take us away from the essence of who we are, away from God. This is why more often than not it is after the experience of disappointment, hurt, and betrayal that we recognize we have ignored all the signs, that we indeed had not “believed them the first time.” When this pain stops us we have an opportunity to dig deep and heal the soul.
There are many ways to begin to heal the spirit from imposed limitation and fear. Going to yoga classes and starting to awaken the body is key. Yoga helps us open up to sensations in our body which are great indicators of what is actually going on in any given moment. Even more supportive would be working with a coach who helps us examine how feelings of unworthiness, powerlessness or of not being loveable stem from childhood beliefs that no longer have to determine our present actions. With the coach we can begin to set out forward action to diminish the fear. So if you find yourself struggling in a present relationship (with anyone, these emotions are not limited to intimate partners) or in one that has completed, take action meditatively in yoga or in coaching conversations to heal yourself so the next time (not the 5th time!), you are ready, able, and willing to “believe them the first time.”