Beware the wolf in sheep's clothing...don't stray from the path...be careful who you trust...never let your guard down etc etc. Little girls are taught from a young age to be careful of the people they trust for they may not be all that they seem. Little Red Riding Hood is a parable designed to teach this early on, yet as we grow up, it's often the 'wolves' that get our attention first.
I have a tendency to see the best in people and while this sounds like a great virtue, over the years I have come to realize that it is actually my biggest flaw. It means that I sometimes trust the wrong people, those who would manipulate others to serve their own agenda. It means that I have been deceived in the past and I have failed to recognize when I am under the influence of what psychologists call truth bias and traumatic bonding.
Put simply truth bias is when the facts are staring you in the face but you just don't allow yourself to believe it, so you believe the word of a liar instead, because you love the person who is being dishonest. In that moment it is easier to accept a lie than it is to deal with the reality of the truth. Truth bias is a twisted form of self-preservation...believe the lie and kiss and make up; believe the lie and go on as before; believe the lie and avoid change. Because change seems more painful than deception.
Traumatic bonding is when you find yourself in a relationship that is not really of your choosing, but which just seems to develop during a stressful time in your life. If you are dealing with illness or bereavement, it can be difficult to see when you are being manipulated and drawn into a relationship against your better judgment. There are some people who would take advantage of any situation, even funerals and serious illnesses, in order to compromise you and take advantage. They are wolves in sheep's clothing - they look like good guys, they act like good guys - they might even be in a profession which garners automatic trust such as doctors or the police - yet they are acting from their own selfish agenda and you have inadvertently become their latest little tidbit.
Traumatic bonding and truth bias frequently go hand in hand, meaning that you become blind to the situation you are in, partly because no-one likes to admit that they can have been so easily manipulated, taken advantage of and fooled in every way. So you just carry on as you were. Eventually though, you become so broken by disappointment and let down that you stop caring about anything at all...and this is the turning point.
At this stage, an influence far older, wiser and deeper than either truth bias or traumatic bonding steps in and takes over - in short, your survival instinct kicks in, rips the blinkers from your eyes and gives you the strength you need to move on. You can acknowledge, to yourself at least, that yes, someone DID try to take advantage of you; that yes, they DID offer silver-tongued empty promises to be there for you, to catch you when you fell, to care for you...and then promptly left you to drop and fend for yourself because you failed to meet their demands and you ceased to be convenient to them. Someone DID try to reel you in at a traumatic time, not because they had any genuine care or compassion for you, but because they viewed you as an easy target. When you begin to see the truth, then you can deal with it.
Just because someone claims to have your best interests at heart, does not mean that they do. Ask yourself "Is this a treat or a threat?" "Is this a show of support or a strategic seduction?" "Is this a friend, or a fiend?" At the end of the day, you will be stronger for surviving the disappointment and you will have learnt to look beyond that which is being presented to you, to see the deeper truth lurking beneath.
And while you will always be wary, the wolves in sheep's clothing should also beware...for they'll never know when or if the loose cannon they left behind might go off with an almighty bang.