We have probably heard this saying with different permutations many times about someone showing “their true colors.”
As physician and best-selling author, Tess Gerritsen, shared: “There is no better test of character than when you’re tossed into crisis. That’s when we see one’s true colors shine through. So, I try my best to make my characters personally involved in the plot, in a way that stresses them and tests them.”
It made me think of a recent peer evaluation I was asked to do for my colleague for his re-credentialing at a hospital.
One of the questions was if I had any reservations about how they behaved “in high-stress situations.”
This was interesting because, as a surgeon and during my training, it brought me back to either a not-so-distant memory (and PTSD flashback) of when an emotionally unregulated attending was throwing instruments, robotic equipment, or verbal expletives around the room. Or when I thought about attendings who were calm and collected during unavoidable stressful parts of an operation.
Understandably, the skill of having emotional regulation at work and in health care settings is important. This is something that is imperative in life, not just a work setting.
When we experience someone full of anger becoming agitated, we may notice their face begins to change colors. They may even appear red in the face (or even purple) because of the rage they are feeling (if perhaps they are missing an instrument critical to the operation). We could say their “true color” was red in the face in that situation.
Yet, in Eastern traditions, colors assigned to our bodies or emotional states go much deeper. Each of our seven energy centers, called “chakras,” is assigned a different color depending on the location.
Each chakra has a color, and each is assigned to a different personality or emotional state. For example, the solar plexus chakra (right above the belly button) has the color assigned to it as yellow. You feel confident, warm, empowered, and energetic if it’s in balance. However, when out of balance, it then can make you feel powerless or full of anger.
There are some people who can sense or see these colors in energy (or aura). They will see this yellow emanating around the person if they are experiencing anger in the deficient state or confidence in the balanced state. Describing energy in the West makes us uncomfortable, yet it is no different than describing the color and heat that radiates when you turn on the gas stove. You will see the colors of the energy from the gas burning as blue, yellow, or orange, and you will feel the heat when you are close.
Seeing or recording energy transmission is exactly what is recorded in an EKG (electrocardiogram) or an EEG (electroencephalogram). We literally record the transmission of electrical waves and plot it into a paper printout.
If we tried to explain this principle in the 1500s, others must have thought we were bewitched or possessed. However, we just did not have the tools and sophisticated equipment to measure electrical or brain activity then. At this time, we may not have a widely available or general way to “see” a person’s energy outside their body, but it does not mean it is not there.
Energy is flowing whether you measure the electrical current in the heart, brain, or muscle. If you are angry, happy, sad, confident, or enthusiastic, there will be a different energy flow, and others will feel it. I am sure even if you are not very attuned to noticing energies, you have likely walked into a room where others were arguing and “felt” a strong heaviness in the air. The tension was palpable, and your body could feel it. You may have even begun to tense your own body in reaction/ rejection of this energy.
In comparison, think of when you run into someone who is always cheerful and smiling and just seeing them for a few minutes, they light up your spirit and your day. You feel lighter, energized, and calm from that interaction. What you are feeling is their energy which can be contagious.
A step beyond would be to see the manifestation of the colors of energy of those we interact with depending on their energy state.
However, our linear mind and eye cannot see it; we do not have that sensibility.
In the army, to “see” at night, special “night vision goggles” are used to detect the heat and energy of a person that our eyes could not “see” in the dark. The person is clearly there walking, yet our eyes cannot see it. If we were not made up of energy/heat, we would not be able to see anyone with these special glasses.
So, although our own eyes and mind may not be trained to look at these depths of energy and “true color” shifts, we have probably felt the difference of energy coming from someone as they were angry or joyful.
During high-stress situations, as Dr. Gerritsen described in the characters for her books, we must remind ourselves to act with compassion, kindness, and love, not with anger, judgment, fear, or hopelessness.
It is not only in the operating room that we want to have emotional regulation and react with love to a stressful situation. We should strive to do this in our everyday life.
When we are faced with a challenge or an event in which we must answer to or act, the best response is always to pause and think of how we would want to do this if our “true color” is one where love, compassion, and awareness reigned.
Let’s strive to have others perceive us to be warm, confident, energetic, and loving. To show “our true colors” of warmth, love and unity — not of anger and judgment. We all have a choice. So, choose the color of love.
Diana Londoño is a urologist and can be reached on Twitter @DianaLondonoMD.
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