Helping OR Enabling??

Is there really a difference between helping and enabling? What is enabling? What are the causes and effects of this behavior on both the “enabler” and the person being “helped”? Helping is doing something for someone else that they are unable to do for themselves. Enabling is doing things for someone else that they can and should be doing for themselves. So, why is there so much confusion between the two?

We have many opportunities in our lives to help someone else, whether it be amongst those of our own families, close friends or complete strangers. Perhaps someone you know has become ill, and you help them by arranging and bringing meals to them until they are well enough to do it for themselves again. A friend’s car may be in the shop getting fixed and you help them by driving them to and from work until their car is in good running order again.

Maybe someone you know has run into a bit of bad luck and is in need of temporary financial help to tide them over for awhile until their situation improves. Did you notice the optimal word, “until”? Providing temporary help to someone in need exemplifies kindness and consideration towards the receiver of help, but it also makes us feel wonderful inside when we are able to do so. But it is still temporary.

What then is enabling?

Enabling is entirely a different matter, but oftentimes gets confused as “help” by well-intentioned family members, friends and even neighbors. Remember, enabling is doing things for someone else that they CAN and SHOULD be doing for themselves. Many people think of enabling strictly in regards to alcoholics or drug addicts, whose family and friends make excuses for unacceptable behaviors, thus creating an atmosphere of comfort and ease for the situation to continue long-term.

Enabling vs. helping has a much broader meaning, encompassing many areas of life, including raising children to become independent adults rather than contributing to the increasing phenomenon of grown children returning home to live with their parents. When we enable addicts, children, friends or family, we are preventing them from experiencing the consequences of their own actions. We are not only preventing them from realizing they have a problem, but we are also depriving them of fully reaching their own potential.

CO-dependent behavior early warning signs:

  • Repeatedly bailing them out—of financial problems, extending deadlines, other “tight spots” they get themselves into
  • Giving them “one more chance”–. . .then another. . .then another. . .then another
  • Ignoring the problem—because they get defensive when you bring it up and you want to “keep the peace” or your hope that is will magically go away.
  • Joining them in blaming others or in making excuses—it’s never their fault, they have problems, their life has been “rough”.
  • Accepting their justifications, excuses and rationalizations—“I’m depressed” “I have a rough life (childhood, work schedule. Etc., etc.)
  • Avoiding Problems—Again to keep the peace, or to avoid “upsetting” them
  • Doing for them what they should be able to do for themselves—Yes—even when it’s faster, easier, simpler to just do it for them.
  • Softening or removing the natural consequences-After all they shouldn’t have to suffer
  • Trying to “fix” their problem for them.
  • Repeatedly coming to the “Rescue”
  • Trying to control them or their problem—Getting angry, frustrated, or hurt when they don’t “take your advice” or accept your help.

 

If even one or two of the above apply to a relationship over a weeks, months, or beyond; this is a sign that the relationship has become a co-dependent, enabling type of relationship.

The Best Of Intentions Often Back-fire

Helping someone in need is truly admirable, until. Enabling someone is not so admirable, fraught with complications that can last indefinitely. Society often sends confusing messages about what it means to be a good family member or friend.  However “unselfishness” must have limits – everyone needs to have limits in relationships.

Being an enabler has it’s own payoff, with a false sense of control over the lives of others. Well-intentioned parents, friends and even strangers can often find themselves feeling frustrated, resentful and used, but lack the will to stop the enabling. The “help” provided to those lacking the motivation and determination to stand on their own two feet has become a long-term expectation and outright demand by many. Are you an enabler?

Turning Enabling Behaviors Into Positive Potential-

Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers etc must learn to redirect their “helping” efforts with Tough Love, allowing persons to recognize and accept the responsibilities and consequences of their own choices, rather than enabling the continuance of unacceptable behaviors to the detriment of everyone involved. Take responsibility for any enabling behaviors, which is considered by some experts to be akin to abuse, realizing that creating positive change in someone being “helped” will not only have a positive impact on them but on you as well. There really is a difference between helping and enabling, but it is up to you to choose whether to continue on this path or to put a stop to it now.