“When Someone Shows You Who They Are, Believe Them”: The Wisdom of Maya Angelou’s Words

"When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time." ~ Maya Angelou | Quote Graphic

“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” This quote by Maya Angelou shares a simple but profound truth about human relationships and self-protection. Though only a few words long, it contains powerful advice we often find challenging to follow.

The essence of this quote is that people’s actions and behaviors reveal their true nature and priorities much more reliably than their words. First impressions provide real insight into someone’s character that we often rationalize away. This quote cautions us to pay closer attention instead of explaining away behaviors that violate our values.

The Origin and Significance of The Quote, “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”

Maya Angelou was an American poet, author, and prominent civil rights activist. She is best known for her groundbreaking memoir “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.”

This quote comes from her expansive wisdom about human nature and relationships. It encourages trusting your own instincts and observations rather than making excuses for others.

Actions speak louder than words. When someone’s behavior shows your well-being is not their priority, believe them. Don’t twist yourself into knots trying to reconcile their words and actions.

This quote reminds us we train people how to treat us. If we accept poor treatment, disrespect, or unethical behavior even once, we send the message it’s allowable.

Maya Angelou Animated Image from Mendola Artists
Maya Angelou (Source: Mendola Artists)

First impressions provide glimpses into someone’s inner world. Pay attention before rationalizing away any red flags.

Why It’s So Hard to Follow This Advice

Most of us struggle to follow this advice at times because it’s counterintuitive to how we prefer to move through the world.

We want to believe the best in people. It feels better to explain away or give the benefit of the doubt instead of accepting someone has issues or values different than ours.

When it’s a friend or partner, it feels especially difficult to face they aren’t who we hoped. We feel pressure to give endless second chances or think we can “fix” them.

Judging or walking away from anyone too quickly seems harsh. We worry we’ll miss out on a great relationship by being too judgmental. Many cling to unhealthy relationships merely out of habit or discomfort with the unknown.

It takes courage and self-esteem to walk away from any relationship that no longer serves us. We may worry we won’t find better connections. But it’s unhealthy and dangerous to sacrifice our self-respect in order to maintain any relationship, romantic or otherwise.

How to Put This Advice Into Practice

Here are some tips for implementing this quote’s wisdom:

  • Don’t ignore red flags or warning signs about someone’s character. If anything rings alarm bells, pay attention.
  • Look for patterns in their behavior versus rationalizing away single instances. Consistent issues reveal core aspects of who they are.
  • Believe any violations of your personal values or boundaries the first time. Don’t expect change without evidence.
  • Accept people as they are rather than hoping they’ll change to meet your expectations.
  • Establish healthy boundaries. Make clear what treatment you will and won’t accept.
  • Reflect on whether a relationship nurtures your growth vs. diminishes your self-worth or dignity.
  • Be highly selective about who you invite into your inner circle. Surround yourself only with people who lift you higher.
  • Take off the rose-colored glasses. Sweep aside wishful thinking and see people for who they actually are, not just their potential. Pay attention to any disconnects between words and actions.

The Benefits of Believing People’s True Colors

Implementing this quote’s advice leads to the following:

  • Avoiding unhealthy relationships and entanglements with toxic, manipulative, or abusive people
  • Experiencing deeper connections because you chose people based on their essence rather than potential
  • Gaining self-confidence and emotional strength from smart boundary-setting
  • Feeling empowered and in control of your life’s direction
  • Developing sharper intuition and judgment about people’s motivations and agendas
  • Becoming a stronger advocate for your needs and values
  • Building wisdom around human nature, sharpening your ability to read people
  • Gaining resilience as you walk away from anything misaligned with your growth and honor your worth.
  • Living by this quote gives you freedom. You release relationships you feel obligated to maintain out of habit, history, or guilt. Accepting someone’s true colors frees you to seek connections that actually nurture you.


In summary, Maya Angelou’s advice highlights that people reveal themselves through their actions. We should believe any behavior inconsistent with our values the first time instead of justifying it away.

No one deserves endless chances without real change. It takes courage, but we must walk away from unhealthy and unfulfilling relationships that compromise our self-worth or integrity. Honor your growth process. As Mary Oliver wrote, “Be ignited, or be gone.”

The truth is incontrovertible; malice may attack it but cannot prevail over it. Put this wisdom into practice in order to surround yourself only with people who elevate you and contribute to your growth.

Success Minded

Writer & Motivator with a goal of Inspiring and Helping 1 Million people across the globe to reach their goals. Join the largest self-improvement community on Twitter (700K+) over at @_SuccessMinded_

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