Please be careful, be safe. These words have become our default farewell, replacing have a nice day. ￼￼How does being careful differ from being cautious? It’s a familiar question in my line of work. The difference between cautious and careful in my opinion is that cautious is an emotion, a fear based emotion mostly. Being careful is an ACTION; it is things you can do, like gathering data, getting additional input, studying experts, analyzing, checking your locks, wearing a mask.
Natural selection rewards the cautious. At the slightest hint of danger, most animals scurry for safety – only in human beings and the higher primates – does curiosity overcome caution to any great extent. (See Fight/Flight/Flow, Dr. H. Siddique, in press, 2021).
It’s not always that easy to uncover and address our fears. Obviously, I’m an advocate for good psychotherapy – for ￼regular work with someone who can accompany us through our dark thoughts and help us get to the other side of many. At times, fear may cloud our vision. It clouds our judgement and can paralyze the very responsiveness we would need in a real emergency. None of us can really do much with fear – it’s there and feels stuck there. Sometimes it feels like something actually stuck in our throats or stomachs. We go around and around in this enclosed track of fear. There’s no forward movement or further understanding. We may feel frozen.￼
I frequently work with kids with being cautious (fear base) versus careful (action base). ￼￼Being a kid is already a pretty scary and vulnerable position. Children are primed to pick up on and absorb fears of all kinds, from the darkness under the bed to frightening imaginings of someone entering their home at night￼. ￼As adults, parents, and mental health professionals, we help our young folks distinguish between caution and carefulness. Quite often, I see kids who have a highly anxious parent, and their own baseline anxiety, not surprisingly, is much higher than their peers’. When your baseline is set higher, you are easily overloaded when additional stressors rear their heads.
￼In counseling/therapy, treatment for fearfulness or overcautiousness consists of not just relaxation strategies, but action oriented thoughts, self statements, rituals of safety and self soothing, and healthy self-care.￼ ￼Behaviors create new pathways that diminish existing fears.￼
(Picture credit, from “where the wild things are”, by Maurice Sendak, a primer in caution versus carefulness.I highly recommend it for children of all ages, five through 90.￼)