ARE YOU AN ENABLER? Are you the “go to person” that everyone depends upon? Do people tell you they “don’t know what they would do without you?” Do you usually lend a helping hand, a shoulder, an ear to others? Do you tend to put others’ needs and desires ahead of your own?
In the May 2011 tip, I asked you if “You were Giving More and Enjoying it Less?” The response from readers was so great that I created a program, “Stop the World I Want to Get Off”! It is now being booked in the Tri State area but for those of you who are unable to hear this presentation, I have decided to share some excerpts in the October tip.
Are you an “enabler”? Ask yourself these questions, answering true or false, and be honest if some of them describe you.
- I anticipate the needs of others and jump in to help without waiting to be asked.
- I am often exhausted and have forgotten how to relax.
- I’ve put my own dreams on hold so my loved ones, especially my children, can be happy.
- I volunteer to do things because I can effortlessly do them the right way.
- I often do things because I don’t know who else will do them.
- I juggle lots of balls so things will go smoothly for everyone.
- I sometimes feel resentful that everyone but me seems to get what they want.
- I get sad because people don’t recognize or appreciate how much I do.
- I feel selfish and guilty saying “no”.
If you answered true to some of these questions, while your intentions may be good, you might be enabling. At some point, your efforts or endeavors may have been appropriate or necessary. But life changes: children grow up and we get older, yet often we stay set in the same dynamics that have now become unhealthy for everyone.
Nurturing vs Enabling.
Nurturing is good and can be appropriate, for example, in taking care of a child or helping an aged/handicapped person. This also might apply to someone in temporary crisis. It is a fine idea to nurture and care for them for a specific period of time because they cannot take care of themselves. The danger arises when we shift to enabling; when we move from appropriate and healthy caretaking to inappropriate and unnecessary assistance.
It becomes enabling when:
- The person is capable of doing it themselves and you are “too helpful”. This could be because the job is not done to your standards so you jump in “to help”.
- It is the other person’s responsibility- homework is a perfect example. You want your child to do well in school and get good grades, so you “over see” their work and it ends up becoming “your school work” Or you pay off a loved one’s debt and a few months later they are back in debt.
- The person is not interested in your help and advice. As hard as it is to believe, sometimes people do not want to change or do something positive for themselves. To overcome their inertia, we cheerlead and work very hard to try to convince them. It is exhausting for us and futile. I have learned to watch people’s faces and if they glaze over in disinterest when I share my advice, I try to stop talking.
- When it fosters dependency and makes the person feel inadequate. You might initially be helping for wonderful reasons but when you continue to help inappropriately a subtle shift will take place. The person will often stop trying, feel inadequate, and unconsciously think that they cannot do the job without you.
Who I carry? Try this exercise:
Put on your “detective hat” and without judging yourself or the other person be curious as you write a list of the people that you “help out”.
Circle the primary person and think about why you do so as you answer the questions below.
1. Did the other person ask for help or support?
2. Is there an end point to my help or intervention?
3. Do/did I feel good (“okay”) about my participation?
4. Did he/she do 50% or more of their own work?
5. Did he/she thank me for my help or support?
- 1. Write 3 fears about what would happen if you stopped “helping”.
- 2. What is one boundary you will set with your primary person this month?
We have deprived ourselves too long. There is no need to do that anymore. Melody Beattie Co-Dependent No More