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Expert vs Authority

You’re the doctor

Betrayal. Color pencil on paper. Animorphia, DB 2016

Every so often, I’ll be going through my routine of offering different management options to a patient, and they will throw the question back at me. For example I may say, “You can either take this medicine, or do some physiotherapy or bodywork for your back strain.” And they’ll say, “You tell me what to do. You’re the doctor.”

In my article Loving Dr Google, I discuss why it makes the most sense for our conversation about treatment options to be a dialogue. I do get that some patients may want to defer to the doctors’ expertise, but as it turns out - no matter how much experience they may have or how many initials they have after their names, your input and buy-in is needed to carry out the plan.

I don’t get to abdicate my responsibility, no matter what expert tries to talk me out of it

Healthcare delivery is undergoing a sea change in the era of information, big data, and the internet. In The Future of Medicine is Here, I describe how our collective experience of healthcare has become increasingly automated and technology-driven, requiring consumers to take greater ownership of their own health.

I see the movement towards individuals being more informed and engaged as being overall extremely positive. And it will require us to understand who is the expert and who is the authority when it comes to our health. Because sometimes we can get hurt by healthcare when we don’t trust ourselves.

What could go wrong?

I’ll use a personal story from a non health-related experience to illustrate what I mean.

I was recently invited to join a group of women for professional hair and makeup in getting ready for a photoshoot. Now, I know that most makeup artists struggle to do olive-shaped monolid eyes well, and had had a few experiences of having it go badly before. So I usually just request that the makeup artist just do my face and falsies, and let me do the rest with my eyes.

Photo by Raphael Lovaski on Unsplash

But this artist wanted to show me photos of how she had done makeup for lots of asian women, and insisted that she had the expertise to do everything. I didn’t want to make any more of a fuss, so I decided to go along.

After all, she was the expert, right?

What could go wrong?

There was no mirror in the room where we were getting ready, so I even let myself believe her when she told me how amazing my eyes looked as she was doing them.

That is, until I got a peek in the mirror after she was done.

My first thought was, “Wait, who is that looking back at me?”

Second was, “Her eyes are so ugly - she looks a fright!!”

If you have seen the movie The Eyes of Tammy Faye, you’ll get an idea of what I mean.

Shame storm

In retrospect, my reaction was almost comical. I told her everything was great, but had a hard time hiding my actual horror and disappointment. I ran back to my own hotel room and began fixing the damage as soon as I could.

At first, I couldn’t understand why I was having such a strongly visceral reaction. My hands were shaking and I literally felt nauseated and lightheaded.

I mean it’s only makeup, right?

What’s the big deal?

Photo by Nong V on Unsplash

And then it hit me. I was having what Brene Brown calls a “shame storm.” Because I had bought into the story that she was the expert, so if I didn’t like her work, there must be something wrong with me. And the thing is, I had known there was something wrong with my eyes for as long as I can remember. Asian girls with monolid eyes grow up with the unique shame of being told their eyes are ugly and wrong.

Lesson learned

It wasn’t until another woman from the group came to fix her makeup a while later that part 2 hit me. She said, “Ugh - I hate when makeup artists make you think they know better than you do about how you look best!”

I realized that I was feeling shame and anger for having betrayed myself. Right from the beginning, I had anticipated this would happen, and so I had asserted my request to do my own eye makeup. But then I allowed myself to be overruled, because she was “the expert”.

I get to be the authority of me, because no one can know me better than I know myself

And then when I didn’t like her work, I made it mean that I was wrong. And even though I had been dealt a gut-punch by her and by myself, I felt the need to protect her status as the expert, and her rightness. What happened to me having my own back when it comes to protecting myself and my own discernment?

The irony goddess was having a good time laughing at me. After all my teaching about allowing doctors to be the expert but NOT the authority, here I was allowing a makeup artist to overrule my own authority.

So, here’s the lesson I learned. I absolutely get to trust myself to know what’s best for me, whether it comes to makeup, healthcare or whatever. I get to be the authority of me, because no one can know me better than I know myself. And I don’t get to abdicate my responsibility, no matter what expert tries to talk me out of it.


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