“Hi, Roxy. Do you have a minute?” The voice on the other end of the phone was familiar, and even if I didn’t have time, I’d make time to listen. I held the receiver close to my ear as I settled into my favorite listening chair.


“What’s going on?” I asked. And then I listened. Her problems were not new. She’d been wrestling with these same issues for years. But, I’ve learned that speaking your woes is therapeutic, and sometimes it takes saying them out loud more than once to work through them. I listened and then pulled out much of the same advice I’d given her before. I imagined her nodding on the other end of the line. She murmured, “Yes. I know. I’ll do that.”

Then we hung up. But, I couldn’t let go. As I went about my day, I rehashed the complications of her life. It seemed after all this time, something in her life should have changed. Yet, here she was. Still stuck. Wanting my ear and counsel. But, really, what good had anything I’d told her ever done?

Long before I got my psychology degree, people came to me for advice. I’m not a trained therapist, but studying why and how people behave the way they do served me well as a novelist, and serves me well when I’m asked to chime in on problem-solving.

During the past many years, I’ve found myself repeating one piece of advice. It’s not original to me. It’s this: People will show you who they are. Believe them.

Nine simple words, but they carry a powerful message.

Not long ago, a friend told me of a person she trusted implicitly, who broke an important promise to her. She continued to trust that, eventually, he’d come through with his promise, only to be disappointed yet again. She was frustrated with herself for continuing to believe his promises.

I pointed out when someone we love and trust tells us they will do something for us, we believe them. When they don’t carry through, we simply can’t believe it. We give them another chance, fully expecting they will do what they promised “this time.” And then, they don’t. It seems impossible they would intentionally disappoint us. So there we are, giving them one more chance to make good on their word. And, there we go, turning to them one more time, believing this time will be different. And, it isn’t.

And, that’s when I repeat those nine words once again: “People will show you who they are. Believe them.”

This summer, I was taking a walk with a friend. She’s been wrestling a problem for some time, attempting to solve it in a variety of ways. But, the person she needs won’t help. We walked and talked. We rehashed the past and the many times this person has promised, yet not delivered. I’ve told her before and I said it again, “People will show you who they are. Believe them.”

But this time, when I said those familiar words, it wasn’t my friend who “got it.” It was me.

For some time, I’d been frustrated with a friendship – the one I wrote about at the beginning. This longtime friend sought me out time and again for listening and advice. I’d given her my time, attention, thoughts, prayers and sleepless hours in the middle of the night. I recalled her nods of agreement, the multiple times she thanked me for listening and pointing her to a resolution, only to ignore everything I’d said, or do almost the exact opposite. And then, when things didn’t work out, there she’d be, asking for advice. And there I’d be, once again, giving it.

As I walked along that gravel road with my other friend, I heard anew my own advice: “People will show you who they are. Believe them.” I actually laughed out loud. What in the world had I been doing all these years? This friend didn’t want my advice. She wanted my attention. She wanted my gasps of outrage on her behalf. She’d shown me over and over. I just didn’t want to believe her. Now, I did.

Once I saw our dynamic for what it was, I took a step away from our friendship for a time. I’m still interested in her well-being and touch base now and then, but like a TV series that has gone on a few seasons too many, I’ve lost interest.

There was a lesson for me in this. I began to examine my words and actions. Am I using people for self-serving reasons? Do my words and actions show people I’m the person they believe me to be? I want people to be able to say to my face, or behind my back, “Roxy shows you who she is. When she says something, you can believe her!”

I love this quote by Carl Jung: “You are what you do, not what you say you will do.”

Now, it’s your turn: Who are you showing people you are? Can they believe you?

Roxanne (Roxy) Henke lives in rural North Dakota, with a long escape to her lake cabin in the summer. Her husband and DeeDee, the dog, join her, as well as a multitude of guests, where a multitude of problems are hashed over and sometimes solved. You can contact Roxy at