Exploitation per se is a common topic in our diverse socio-political context. It speaks of taking advantage of the disadvantaged. People who were previously disadvantaged in our country, due to an imbalance and misuse of power, know well the implications of exploitation. Exploitation happens to cross-culturally, universally and is indiscriminate.

Exploitation in retirement, just as at other pivotal stages in our lives, becomes a phenomenon we need to guard against. It can happen in our financial, emotional, physical and/or spiritual spheres. When it strikes, it is one of the best-kept secrets due to the shame experienced by the exploited. Anyone who is in a vulnerable position is at risk of being exploited. We often link financial exploitation to retirement.

We read about unscrupulous get-rich-quick schemes, dodgy financial organisation, seducing us to part with lifelong savings, promising long term financial security. But what of the other spheres of exploitation in retirement? What about exploitation, perpetrated by those near and dear to us? Children “borrowing” non-returnable money from kind retired parents or an over dependency by children on retired parents?

Double income families with children in most Western countries are now the norm. Young children needing aftercare have a number of options’ like aftercare facilities, au pairs, nannies and grandparents. At times the latter is exploited. Some parents take it for granted that gran and grandpa want to spend as much time with their grandchildren as possible. Grandparents may be reluctant to say no, due to upsetting their own children and so suffer in silence. Retirement is the time to relish self-discovery, share different experiences with your partner/friends, sleep late if you chose, eat cheese in bed if you like, celebrate unscheduled time. Consistent “babysitting”, if left unchecked, eats into this precious time.

There is also evidence to suggest that retired partners may exploit each other once retirement comes. For example, one may take on the helpless, sick and infirm role, expecting the other partner to serve all his/her needs while he/she withdraws, even though they can function very well. This type of exploitation usually occurs in a long term co-dependent relationship, where it has been lurking around for years and has never been successfully addressed. It manifests more prominently when both partners spend more time together due to retirement. Checking this dynamic early on in the relationship would assist in changing the dynamic for both partners, thereby creating a deeper, loving, more conscious relationship.

During middle and later stages of retirement, there is also an added risk of being physically exploited in the form of elderly abuse. Like any form of abuse, breaking the silence around this by talking about it, in spite of threats, stops it, as exposure is a bully’s Achilles heel.

Collectively, if we take a deeper look at exploitation, we can band together to prevent it. Living consciously and in connection with partners, friends, family, and communities, helps to form a united front against any whiff of exploitative thoughts. Connectivity and consciousness are special tools to guard against exploitation.

Retirement is a time of reflection, of doing and experiencing newness. Eckhart Tolle suggests that this is the year of transforming human consciousness through being more connected with self, other and thus the world. He says:

“When you lose touch with inner stillness, you lose touch with yourself. When you lose touch with yourself, you lose yourself in the world” Eckhart Tolle, 2003, Stillness Speaks. When you lose yourself in the world, you lose touch with reality and when you lose touch with reality, you become vulnerable to exploitation. By being aware and connected to friends/ family/community, you have the capacity to prevent exploitation in retirement.