After reading last month’s tip, Dara wrote “I often wonder if I have a tattoo on my head that says use me”. Do you wonder too? Do you have a generous heart and like to help others but often feel tired, unappreciated and resentful? Are you in relationships that have no clear rules or limits in behavior? If so, I invite you to explore the following dynamics as you ask yourself the following questions and consider these possible solutions:Ask yourself if this person is asking for your support and if the request appropriate? Sometimes an individual is merely looking for a listening ear. When you are an enabler, you tend to feel duty bound to fix the situation. When someone comes to you with a problem, take a deep breath and listen, then ask them “what do you need?” and “how would you like me to help you?” For years, I jumped in and offered my daughter lots of solutions when she discussed her problems. This resulted in both of us feeling frustrated! I thought that she was not listening to my sage advice. She just wanted to vent, knew she could solve her own, and took my advice as a vote of no confidence.
Sometimes a person does approach you with a specific request for assistance. In this case, you want to ask yourself if this is a reasonable request and consider if you have the time, energy or desire to assist them. While helping others can be seductive and feed your inner enabler’s need to be needed, you do not want to prevent another from learning life’s lessons. An example of this is the parent who always brings her “forgetful” child’s homework to school or drives them to school when they miss the bus. Does this merely perpetuate irresponsibility? Would it better for the child to have the consequences in school rather than later in life as an adult? It might be more helpful for the parent to allow the child to “fail” and encourage personal responsibility by compassionately asking “what do you need to do about it?” or “what can you do learn in order to avoid it happening next time?”
Do you feel good about your participation? Enablers tend to feel used because they go too far with their help. While it stems from the generous heart, they will often over function and end up feeling exhausted, unappreciated and resentful. This is a case where you want to measure the ROI (see Sept 08 tip). If you are unsure about whether you want to be of assistance, tell them that you will need to get back to them, then step away and get some distance.
Is the individual doing 50% or more of the work? Do you feel as if you are dragging the person up the hill? Are you doing the majority of the person’s work? If you are working harder than the person that you are trying to help, you are over-functioning. I have discovered that when I do cartwheels to try to get a client to do something for their “own good” I am actually more invested in the outcome than my client. This has become a red flag for me to step back, take a breath and ask them what they want.
As a psychotherapist, helping others is very seductive to me and I know that I have tendencies toward enabling. To counter my enabling, I keep the client’s goals in mind and respect the person’s right to make his/her own choices; even if I do not agree with the alternative. Rather than give advice, I try to offer several possible solutions and assist them in listening to their inner wisdom.
If you have a “need to be needed”, allow yourself to recognize this fact and explore the reasons that motivate you. Is it habit? Is it the way you define yourself? Begin to look at the benefit you get from helping others and the cost to you. Examine your triggers as you refrain from automatically offering help and giving advice. Notice your reaction after helping and see if you feel used and resentful? Begin to set clear boundaries and standards and speak up right away when you feel you are being treated unfairly. Trust that you know what you want and need and that your feelings are important. Remember, if someone has to be unhappy or do all the giving it does not always have to be you!
1. What are some boundaries you have set recently?
2. What are the most difficult types of boundaries for you to set and enforce? With whom?
”It never occurred to me that simply because a deed was good in nature, and put before me, that I was not the one to fulfill it, even if I did have the talents to do so” The Gift of the Red Bird by Paula D’Arcy