It is heartbreaking to have someone in my office crying because they were trying to help a loved one and they are now out of money or resources and worn out because it was never enough. On top of that, the person who they were trying to help continues to exhibit unhealthy habits. Often what we don’t realize is that we aren’t really helping the other person, we are just enabling them.
What is enabling?
Being kind and caring are wonderful traits. They should be nurtured in ourselves and celebrated as a society. Enabling is where caring turns into an unhealthy need to take care of someone else and we feel that our actions are responsible for the other person’s well-being. A common example of this is, thinking that your adult child needs to become more responsible and get a job while you are paying for their housing and their food. Often followed by lectures that just leave you feeling exhausted and nothing changes.
Enabling keeps adult children dependent on their parents long after they should be independent adults. It keeps addicted spouses and friends addicted long after they should have been allowed to hit bottom and wake up. It keeps employers stuck with dead weight and paralyzes people’s professional growth. Enabling is horrible and it is not helping, it is actually hurting our loved ones.
There is a difference between helping someone who is disabled, incapable or otherwise infirm versus helping someone who is resisting growing up and taking care of what every adult must be responsible for: herself or himself. When you find yourself in any way paying for someone else’s responsibilities, not only are you stuck with a delayed ending, but you are probably harming that person.
Gift of Saying No
To stop enabling is not about you changing your nurturing traits. It is about changing your thinking process about what helping looks like. Allowing someone to figure out their own problems is a gift. It teaches them how to be independent and to problem solve which results in a higher level of life satisfaction. And sometimes it feels painful to the person. But that pain is only going to last a little while and might be the motivating factor that promotes change.
The first step is to start imaging the life you wish for that person and then realize that your “no” is the gift that will move them towards that life. When they come to you with a request or talking about a problem in their life, listen. Then say, what are you going to do about that? And then let go. Let them figure it out. Yes, they might fail the first time. That’s ok, I’m sure you failed at a few things in your life too the first time you tried them. But they will be able to then try something different and they might even realize how much they need help and reach out to a professional that can help them find their way out of their unhealthy lifestyle.
If you are a recovering enabler we are here to help. Book your appointment today to break out of the enabling cycle and allow change your loved one the room to be healthier.
Trish Pauls, MA RP