by Dr. Tina Marcantel
Betty* had just spent the first thirty minutes of our visit telling me part of her life story. She spoke of the emotional and physical abuse she had endured in her youth, about her recent divorce, and about the chronic physical problems that I suspected were linked to her difficult past. At the same time that she was telling me revealing facts about herself, she was also building a wall between us with her hardened demeanor and body language. She was angry with the world and herself.
Why was Betty angry? She believed a lie. She had been told so many stories about who she was that she had constructed a version of herself that was broken, unloved, and unlovable. The lies others had told her (and she had told herself) about who she was had become her reality. In her mind, Betty did not believe she deserved to be healthy and happy, so she unconsciously pushed away any attempts to help her.
It would have been easy for me to think, “She’s rude and defiant. She doesn’t really want my help,” and to react to her sharply. Instead, I took a moment to consider the fact that she had made the considerable effort to be with me now. I chose to look past the façade she presented, and I saw a woman of courage and surprising strength. She had been through so much, and she was, in fact, trying to rediscover her authentic self by seeking help one more time.
When I told her what I was thinking, I saw an almost immediate change in her countenance. I wasn’t offering her flattery, but a heartfelt recognition of her character strengths. It was as though she was both surprised and relieved to rediscover these traits within herself. My words were a witness to her to embrace her true courage and strength—her authentic self.
This is the miraculous power that we possess: we each have the choice to see the goodness and light within the other and express that to them. They may choose to receive it or not, but it may spark the miracle of the other seeing themselves in a new light that will continue to grow brighter within them.
I know that if I want to see change in the world, I must first be that change. This happens when I choose to approach others with an open heart, knowing that we are all more alike than different and that we have received similar wounds through different experiences. When I see myself in another, I set aside judgment and allow understanding and compassion to flow.
This miracle of seeing and affirming the light in someone else also benefits me. Having an open heart means I learn to see past what I might think of as character flaws and draw inspiration and knowledge from anyone I meet. It also helps me learn to see myself in a kinder and gentler way.
If I can help one other person rediscover in himself or herself positive traits like courage, kindness, or compassion, how many lives might that affect? How would her more positive outlook radiate through her relationships with family, friends, and coworkers? We each have the choice to be the source of the ripple effect that can spread through our world—and be the change we want to see around us.
*Not her real name