Recently many clients have been saying the same thing about their significant other, spouse, or ex. The characters may change but the story line is the same. It goes something like this: “He called me last week. I know we broke up last year after he kicked my cat, put sand in my gas tank, beat me up, and got me fired. He seemed really, I don’t know, regretful. He wants to meet, have me come over or chat on the phone. I think he deserves a second, third, even fifth chance. I don’t want to hurt his feelings.” I noticed clients don’t make eye contact when they tell me this. Shame has settled in and has begun eroding at their self-esteem and self-compassion. Not cool!

At this point I often tell them to sit back, sip on the tea I just poured for them, and listen to a story. This story originated from a Native American legend and just like my clients, the characters may change but the meaning remains the same.

It goes like this: Once there was a young boy who was ready to take his initiation to become a man in his tribe. He was nervous but ready to do what was expected of him and a rite of passage for all men in his community. Early in the morning he woke with his leather bag and climbed alone to the top of the nearby mountain. There he was to spend the night, week, or month, and return home with wisdom and knowledge of what it means to be a man. Once he reached the mountain peak he happened upon a scorpion. The scorpion whispered to him, “I have been up here and the trek was hard and there is little for me to eat. I see you are a kind soul and would greatly appreciate if you would take me just half way down the mountain.” The young boy responded, “But you are a scorpion and you will bite me!” The scorpion answered, “No I won’t because I will be so appreciative of your help.” With that the boy, wanting to be helpful to all, picks up the scorpion and after spending the night, descends down the mountain. Once he got halfway down he opens up his pouch, reaches his hand in, and brings out the scorpion. At which time the scorpion smiles and bites him. The boy through his tears and cries, “Why did you do that? You said you wouldn’t bite me!” The scorpion, as he’s walking away, reminds the boy, “You knew what I was when you picked me up”

The boy, as do my clients, wants to help. They want to give their partner, spouse, ex that has proven on more than one occasion they aren’t changing, just one chance. They think, “Maybe this time she will be the person I know she is inside.” My clients look surprised and dismayed when they are bit again.

The work in therapy isn’t about the snake or scorpion. The work in therapy is about why some humans want to be valued, loved, flattered, attended to, cared for or help others so much, they are willing to put themselves in harm’s way time after time after time.

I ask them, and I will ask you if you see yourself in the scorpion scenario, what is getting in your way? What do you think you deserve? Why do you think this time it will be different? What are you risking? What is your level of self-esteem and self-respect? If you were to stand in your strength, power and integrity, what would you do differently? Take some time and ponder these questions. The answers will shed light on your path of change.

Ava Barron-Shasho is a social worker and certified life and relationship coach