"Whatever you are not changing, you are choosing."
- Laurie Buchanan
Many people confuse their intentions to help another with enabling behavior. This article will discuss the difference between helping and enabling. We will dive deep as to why enabling is a prevalent yet, delusional and destructive behavior.
Are you an enabler?
It can be distressing to take a clear look at ourselves and our behaviors, but recognizing is the first step to change.
Here are some common signs that you may be enabling:
You routinely do things for loved ones that they can do themselves.
You feel highly anxious or worried about what your loved one is doing or not doing.
You lie or make excuses about your loved one’s harmful behavior or poor choices.
You minimize or deny your loved one’s problems.
You consistently put your loved one’s needs above your own.
You feel guilty or anxious if you don’t help.
You feel responsible for your loved one’s life, choices, and problems.
You feel resentment towards your loved one because you are working harder on their life than they are.
You feel sorry for your loved one because they have had a hard life.
You are afraid to let your loved one fail or get in trouble.
Did any of these resonate with you?
Why are you enabling?
Why do you enable your loved one? Simply, because you are not recognizing and accepting what life tasks are yours and what life tasks belong to others.
The unexamined enabler may believe that they are offering a form of help to another, but this actually couldn’t be farther from the truth. And often, enablers offer this “support” to satisfy their own selfish needs, such as exerting control, attempting to win approval, or receiving recognition. It is so easy for us to spot an enabler, but I’ve never actually heard anyone describe themselves as one.
And often, enablers offer this “support” to satisfy their own selfish needs, such as exerting control, attempting to win approval, or receiving recognition
Let’s look at an example:
Timmy was learning to tie his shoes. His mom felt distressed watching her son struggle. So, she jumped in and tied his shoes. She felt grateful that she was able to rescue him.
The next day, Timmy contended again and cried because he could not tie his shoes. The mom felt sorry for him and jumped in to tie his shoes—this continued day after day.
Timmy turned eight and still didn’t know how to tie his shoes. His mom made excuses about why this was so. Before school, she triple knotted his shoes just in case they were to come untied. His mom worried every day that others would tease him for his lack of skill. But, as much as she worried, she equally felt needed, and she liked that feeling.
We can all see that Timmy’s mom was behaving in a delusional and even selfish way. She believed she was “helping” Timmy when in fact, she was disabling him. Which ultimately was harmful to Timmy, not helpful. Timmy's life task was to learn to tie his shoes. This life task was not his mother’s. What would have been more helpful behavior for the mother would have been to give Timmy the guidance and encouragement he needed to learn and master this skill.
What would have been more helpful behavior for the mother would have been to give Timmy the guidance and encouragement he needed to learn and master this skill.
How to stop enabling?
I wish there were three easy steps to stop enabling. You didn't become an enabler overnight and you probably won't stop being one overnight either. The road to healing your enabling behavior will probably take some time and skill-building.
Here are a few places you can start:
Recognize that you have been enabling your loved one.
Acknowledge what are your life tasks and what are their life tasks.
Admit that your enabling is not actually helpful for your loved one.
Teach and coach your loved one to tie their shoe, rather than tying their shoe.
Read the book, Non-Violent Communication by Marshall Rosenberg.
Find a therapist who can help you learn to establish boundaries and find your self-worth from within, rather than from doing for others what they can be doing for themselves.
You didn't become an enabler overnight and you probably won't stop being one overnight either.
I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
Certified Life Coach & Graduate Student in Marriage and Family Counseling