Pam sobbed uncontrollably in my arms.
“You feel bad about yourself,” I said. This was not the time to bother with preliminary questions.
Unable to speak, she nodded her head.
“You feel like deep down, you are broken and can’t be fixed—that there is no hope for you.”
More nodding. This is not an uncommon belief at the root of all our other fears.
“Prove it,” I said.
Almost immediately she stopped sobbing and looked at me. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that your feelings of pain, fear, and despair are all based on your judgment that you’re not worthwhile—that you’re broken. If you’re going to give up your happiness based on a judgment, you’d better be sure it’s the right one. So prove to me that your judgment is true, just like you were proving it in a court of law. I want evidence, not just your opinion. What evidence do you have that you’re broken or worthless?”
She listed a great many people—mother, father, ex-husbands, ex-lovers, sister, two brothers, and others—with specific examples of where they had told her with words and behavior that she was unloved and worthless. “Just last week, my mother told me that I was a horrible person, and those are her exact words.”
“Are any of those people genuinely happy? Are any of them unconditionally loving to anybody?”
“So, I admit that I wasn’t there for any of those events you described, but I did notice something in common with all of them. Tell me if I’m wrong, but in every single case where you described being told you were worthless, it sounded like you first failed ONLY to give the other person what they wanted. Yes? Or you did something that was inconvenient for them.”
“Yes, I guess that’s true.”
“So every time somebody told you that you were worthless, what really happened is that the other person was telling you that you simply didn’t satisfy their needs. Yes?”
“Just for fun, let’s imagine that you and I both play tennis.”
“I do play tennis.”
“So let’s imagine that we’re playing a game of tennis, and every time you score a point—every time the game doesn’t go my way, in other words—I scream at you that you don’t know how to play. Does that mean you don’t know how to play tennis?”
“But I’m screaming that you can’t play, on every point you score, in fact.”
“But your word doesn’t mean anything.”
“Why not?” she asked.
“Because you’re not really describing ME. You’re describing your own selfishness.”
“Bingo. Exactly right. And that’s exactly what has happened to you all your life. People were not describing YOU—even though they used the word ‘you’—but instead were describing their own pain and subsequent selfishness. But because you were very young when this pattern first began, you believed them—all the way to your bones—and in the absence of powerful evidence to the contrary, you have continued to believe these negative and WRONG messages about you all your life.”
Pam said—with an eloquence and emotional intensity I have rarely witnessed—“Oh.” She got the point. “So I’ve been lied to all my life?”
“So all that proof that I’m unlovable is really worthless. It’s wrong, and you’re telling me that I’m not worthless.”
“And I can believe you because you’re not empty or afraid. You can really see me, so you’re describing ME, not your own pain or selfishness.”
Pam really did get it. Her life has been different ever since that moment. She just needed to see that her lifelong judgment was wrong, and then pain and fear no longer made any sense. It was a miracle to watch.