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The Counsel of Caution

Caution is a word with a fine old-fashioned ring. The dictionary definition I have in front of me reads: "attention to safety, prudence, carefulness".

It's a term that seems to have been relegated to financial affairs. It smacks of an earlier time when the idea was to avoid debt at all costs.

These days caution sounds curiously out of place where interpersonal relationships are concerned. (Although there is a good case for asking yourself where the sense is in that.) Certainly, caution is not a quality that is characteristic of abused women, aka 'women who love too much'.

Abused women may be inclined to place unconditional trust in unsuitable parties, and they may be unusually fearful and distrustful. (Sadly, these attitudes are not necessarily mutually exclusive.)

Recurrent verbal abuse will drown out the voice of their intuition, until they come to rely on the apparent certainties of a partner, or others, with strong opinions about everything. (How many abusive men do you know who don't think their opinion is law?)

One thing is sure, abused women are rarely emotionally cautious; possibly because they set so little store by themselves.

They have precious little attention left to give to their emotional safety. They rarely invest their emotional wealth prudently and they are, all too often, careless of their personal well-being. Their focus is always on appeasing an increasingly difficult partner who, vampire-like, consumes every drop of their concern and energy.

Nor is it any wonder that they don't expend their emotional resources cautiously since their partner consistently berates them for not showing enough love or understanding.

Sadly it is not only with a partner or prospective partner that they need to exercise emotional caution.

Within a relatively short time I've heard several accounts of women who have experienced abusive treatment from their counsellor or psychotherapist. In some cases of couples' counselling, the counsellor was swayed by the charm and credibility of the abuser, to blame the victim for the problems in the relationship.

In one case a male psychotherapist spent some weeks building a foundation of trust with his female client and then, slowly and systematically, he started 'grooming' her to satisfy his own sexual needs.

Counsellors and therapists are, in the end, no better and no worse than anyone else. Professional competence, in whatever field, is one thing. Integrity and refusal to take advantage of the vulnerable clearly should be part of it. But they may not be. It depends on the values of the individual. (The male therapist mentioned above was apparently a good therapist - when he confined himself to doing the job he was paid to do.)

It comes down to a Catch 22 situation. When we are at our most vulnerable, we are most likely to trust, more or less blindly, someone who we come to believe is better equipped to manage our situation than we are.

Yet that is precisely the time when we are most likely to attract someone who will exploit and abuse our trust.

It goes without saying that we are most vulnerable when the voice of intuition has been more or less silenced by distress.

And that is where caution comes in. The women mentioned above, whose trust was abused by the professionals allegedly there to support them, were ? understandably - slow to make sense of what was happening. They were also fearful of walking away from someone they believed they needed in order to cope.

The question they asked themselves was: "What will happen to me if I lose this support?" It is a question that serves only to disempower people further.

The truth is that they would have coped. Our fear grossly underestimates our resources. Our resources, once we confront issues, end up amazing us.

Better questions to ask, might be based on the components of caution:

"Is this person's attention truly focused on my physical and emotional safety?"

"Is their advice prudent, that is to say careful to avoid consequences for me that I would find undesirable?" "Is this person careful of my feelings?"

If the answer to any of these questions is "No", then why would you trust the person? What will happen if you put yourself in their hands?

Nor is it enough to ask and answer these questions just once. Trust, including self-trust, has to be built incrementally. Until your intuition is back in action working overtime on your behalf ? and that will happen in time ? the counsel of caution may well be the most valuable counsel you're likely to hear.

C) 2005 Annie Kaszina

Joyful Coaching

An NLP Practitioner and Women's Empowerment Coach, Annie specialises in helping women heal the trauma of bad relationships, so they can enjoy the present and look forward to the future. To contact Annie email:

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