ARE YOU AN ENABLER?
When we think of the word “enabling,” we often think of its use in addictions. You enable an addict when your attempt to help them, hurts them instead. For example, if you decide to pay the rent of an addicted person, you allow their drug use to continue. They should be paying their own rent and if they cannot, they must suffer the natural consequences involved. If you pay their rent for them, they are allowed to keep using their money however they desire (and inevitably, they desire drugs).
When I discuss enabling with my clients, I usually have to discuss it in the context of addictions first before I can convince them that enabling also happens in other situations. The truth is that enabling can actually happen every single day in a lot of different ways! Say for example, your partner is notoriously known to avoid conflict. If you, generally, do not avoid conflict but do so to protect your partner’s feelings, you are enabling your partner’s bad habit, plainly and simply.
What I’m trying to say is that you don’t have to be involved with an addict to enable bad behavior. You can easily enable any and all persons by letting their bad habits happen over and over again without saying a word. So think about it. Are you enabling anyone in your life today? A parent? A child? A colleague? A neighbour? A friend? Do you have an adult child still living with you? Are you constantly lending your neighbour money? Are you always finishing your co-workers tasks? If so, you could very well be an enabler.
Let me call myself out for a moment in my enabling behavior, as I am definitely not above making these common mistakes. A family acquaintance of mine is known to give inappropriate and elaborate gifts. I know right, what a “bitch!” But seriously, her gifts are often strangely over-the-top. For example, she gave my kid one of those larger-than-life teddy bears that take-up a ton of space. Without consulting me or my kid (without even knowing me or my kid, for that matter), she went ahead and gave my child this gargantuan teddy as a gift. I mean, she knows nothing about me or my child nor has she ever seen the space I may (or may not) have in my house. You might say, “c’mon who does that” right? Well, from a psychological perspective, this gift-giving of behavior can be very relatable. Maybe she wanted acceptance. Maybe she wanted to make a statement. Maybe she wanted someone to love her. Maybe she wanted people to see that she is a “good” person. Who knows?! But just because her feelings are relatable doesn’t mean that I should enable them. In short, I did not want to enable her gestures of (what could be) low self-esteem, or feelings of inadequacy. She needs to know that she is valuable and good even when she does not give elaborate and extravagant gifts! It was therefore my responsibility to graciously and respectfully decline the gift so as to not enable or collude with her unhealthy gift-giving habits.
As you can see, identifying your own enabling behavior may not be easy but it is your job to check yourself. Are you enabling someone’s bad behaviors? …and the reason for your enabling is all about your own psychological issues, but it’s time to figure that shit out! Don’t let your issues, enable someone else’s! If your adult child does still lives with you, it’s time to make other arrangements. If you are constantly lending people money, it’s time to be financially reasonable. If you are always finishing people’s tasks, it’s time to give them back responsibility. Essentially, it’s time to set your boundaries to respect yourself and to let others discover their own resilience in solving their own problems.