There are a lot of ways to be an enabler; they don’t all involve a substance abuser. But they do all involve making yourself far too responsible for the well-being of another person.
As regular readers to this blog know, I believe that identifying a problem is crucial to its solution. It can even be a solution in itself. So here are some questions that can help you recognize your enabling tendencies.
1) Am I chronically exhausted?
You may be depleting yourself by doing so much for others, without any real payoff or reward. Now, selflessness can be a virtue, but not if you’re doing it constantly, not if your relationships take far more than they give. The imbalance can lead to stress, and stress illnesses.
2) Am I giving more than I can afford?
I don’t just mean money (though it can be that, too) I mean, are you giving too much of your time, your energy, your love? Are you left with very little for yourself, or to give to other pursuits or relationships?
(Yes, this is in a similar vein to question number 1. If your answer to be each of these is “yes”, you might not need to read the rest.)
3) Even after I do and do and do, is this other person asking for more?
Or they might not ask directly; they might simply suggest. Or they might just drop hints, or share their suffering, all the while knowing that you’re likely to step up and offer. (Consider the potential manipulation factor: Since past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior, is the person in your life COUNTING on you to once again bail them out?)
4) Am I teaching them to fish, or am I just giving them the fish?
You know the old saying, right? Teach someone to fish, they eat for a lifetime. In your case, are you just perpetually supplying the fish?
Think how this is interconnected with the other questions I’ve asked. If you’re always having to do for others, to your own detriment, beyond the point of what you can afford, and still they need more–no wonder you’re exhausted!
But the important thing to recognize is that all your help is ultimately not helping you or the other person. It’s keeping them caught up in a cycle of dependency; they’re not learning self-reliance. They’ll always need more; you’ll always be giving more, and yet, it’ll never be enough. This is the basis for a deeply unhealthy dynamic.
Don’t you both deserve better?
Exhausted woman photo available from Shutterstock