How to stop enabling others

How to Stop Enabling Others

Helping vs. Enabling: The difference between “being there” and helping until it hurts. Recently, I had a patient say to me, “Of course I’m going to help him. I’m his mother!” I understood her sentiment, but I also knew that this woman was practically unraveling her own life for the sake of a grown son who hardly seemed to notice her sacrifices. She’d lost sight of the difference between helping and enabling. It’s important to learn how to stop enabling. In fact, over the past few months, I’ve noticed an increasing number of talks with my patients about the subject of enabling. But the conversations rarely start there. Instead, they start with a parent or spouse or significant other telling me they believe they need to “be there” for the person they love. Then they go on to detail the emotional and physical toll “being there for them” requires. Husbands feel it’s their “duty” to support their wives. Wives can’t “turn my back on him when he’s down.” Parents can’t stand to see their kids struggle and go to great lengths to help, telling me “it’s what a caring parent does” even when their kids are adults. Kids, too, struggle to help their aging parents, even to the great disruption of their own lives, and justify the hardship by asking me, “If I’m not there for them, who will be?!” No wonder we struggle. Relationships can be immensely difficult to navigate. It’s not that people don’t understand the general difference between helping someone and enabling them. As more Husbands feel it’s their “duty” to support their wives. Wives can’t “turn my back on him when he’s down.” psychological concepts make their way into our culture, I find that people are both aware of and can articulate the risks and consequences helping too much. The challenge isn’t about awareness. It’s about applying that knowledge in a healthy manner to our most personal relationships. This is where I come in, in teaching people how to stop enabling. So, back to my recent discussions with patients. After they’ve described their struggles to help a loved one, I ask how they can tell the difference between helping and enabling that person and how to stop enabling. “How do you know you’re not enabling him?” I say. Most often, they answer, “I don’t.” The good news is that the line between helping and enabling is …

how to say no to family conversation

Setting Boundaries: How to Say No to Your Family, Friends, and Others

3 Signs You’re Letting Your Boundaries Slide. Learn how to say no to family.   Three warning signs to watch for when examining your boundaries. Sign #1: Seething beneath a calm exterior When it comes to teaching patients about boundaries, the most common warning sign I see is in patients who choose to tolerate the behavior; they are not actually in a healthy position to accept. Examples of this: “My wife is a nag, but I just let it slide.” “My boss is under a lot of stress. I don’t take his comments personally.” “What are you going to do? I can’t change her.” These may be the sentiments my patients want me to hear, but what I really see are men seething beneath the surface of their cool facades. Their emotional distress is palpable, and they genuinely don’t have any idea why. Saying things such as: Let it slide. Don’t take it personally. What are you going to do? It’s just the way she is. This is the language we use to justify not protecting our personal boundaries. We tell ourselves these events aren’t a big deal, but that’s really just a tactic to avoid the guilt of how to say no to family or to confront our loved ones. Under the surface, the issue we try to cast aside actually churn and build. They disrupt our lives, emotional health, and confidence. They hurt our feelings. They chip away and eventually destroy our most important relationships. They are a big deal.   Sign #2: Blaming things instead of people Setting and protecting is difficult. It elicits feelings of guilt and fear because we don’t want to “hurt” the people in our lives. To keep our boundaries intact, we have to learn how to say no to family, even when our loved ones want us to say “yes.” To mitigate guilt, I find that my patients often blame their anger and frustration on objects, rather than people. For example: A husband who dislikes spending every holiday at his in-law’s house will blame the weather or the traffic. He’ll tell me, “Just getting there is a total nightmare!” A man who doesn’t agree politically with his extended family blames his discomfort on a difference in cultures, saying, “Southerners just get me, you know?” A father whose adult son is still on his “payroll” will blame the economy by asking me, “How is anyone …

family issues causing stress

Family Issues: Tension Between Your Parents and Your Spouse

Should You Choose Your Family or Your Relationship? How to Resolve Family Issues Between Your Parents and Your Spouse Let me start with a story about a good guy trying to do right by the people he loved… “Tony” came from a great family and was happily married. Tony loved his parents and his siblings; he loved his wife and his kids. He was a lucky guy. So it drove him nuts that whenever he and his wife spent time with his family, they ended up fighting the entire drive home—she didn’t like their comments about the kids or the gifts they gave or the unhealthy food. Whatever happened during the visit, his wife would find a way to be unhappy about it. Tony felt the pressure of what felt like family issues. He remembers finally yelling at her, overcome with rage. “It’s so unfair— you actually make me dread spending time with them.” He just wanted everyone to be happy. And more often than not, we’re just like Tony. We want the best for the people we love. So why does his dilemma seem so impossible to resolve? The issue wasn’t that Tony didn’t love his parents or his wife enough. The issue wasn’t that his wife was unreasonable. The problem wasn’t even that his parents were at fault. The issue was that Tony wasn’t prioritizing his marriage over his relationship with his family, which in return, was causing the family issues. I see the same conflict play out every week in my practice. Regardless of the specifics of a situation, I tell my patients that to resolve this conflict; we must remember two truths: 1. If we want to keep our marriage, our marriage must always come first. 2. We don’t owe our parents anything. My patients can’t help but argue with me. They say, “But Dr. Dabney … “ … my parents did so much for me. I don’t want to seem ungrateful.” “ … my parents are getting older. They need my help.” “ … I don’t want to be mean.” “ … I don’t want them to think I don’t love them.” “ … they’ll make me feel guilty.” “ … it’s expected of me.” “ … that’s just how things are in our family.” “ … they don’t mean the things they say.” “ … my wife just misinterprets everything.” “ … she just …

Man sitting in front of Christmas tree

Christmas Stress and Holiday Have-To’s

3 Things to Know About Christmas Stress and Holiday Have-To’s (and How to Avoid Them) The holidays can be full of Christmas stress and “have to’s.” No matter what our personality is— extrovert or introvert, party-person, or home-body. I have to go to the company party. It would be rude if I didn’t show up. We have to go to my mother’s house for Christmas Eve. She expects us. I have to make everyone’s favorite type of cookie. I’ve always done that. We have to invite cranky Uncle Ted to Christmas. He’s family. Does any of that sound familiar? If you’re like most of us, you could probably add a dozen more have-to’s of your own to the list. Here’s the thing with obligation guilt; however: We do it to ourselves. Don’t believe me yet? Here are the only three things you need to know about minimizing your holiday obligations this year. One: Obligations are never imposed on us without consent. This may not feel true yet, but the fact is that obligations are never thrust on us. Obligations are, in fact, choices we make ourselves based on information we believe to be true. Take Tom, for example. He believed that if he didn’t spend Christmas with his family, he’d let everyone down. He didn’t want to spend Christmas at his parent’s house, but he assumed that not showing up would, in some way, be worse. In effect, it was easier to “suck it up and go” and deal with the Christmas stress than it was to confront his parents with a change in plans. This lack of choice may feel very real to us, particularly when it comes to our closest relationships. We hate to disappoint, hate confrontation, hate to cause confusion, or pain. But here’s the truth: We always have a choice in how we respond to a person or situation. Even though our choices may disappoint others, they are still our choices to make. Two: Obligations are internally imposed. To understand this second fact, you first must understand the psychological process of obligation. It goes like this: 1. We receive an invitation. 2. Our inviting host expresses their hopes or expectations for the event. 3. We internalize their hopes and expectations as our own. Did you catch that? We have an uncanny ability to take on the expectations of other people. The reason we do that is …

How to Set Boundaries With Family Over the Holidays

Three Ways to Set Your Boundaries Over the Holidays I’ve had several male patients in my office who let the people in their life walk all over them. And they all do it in the name of keeping their reputation as a “Nice Guy.” My first questions are always the same. I say, Where is it written that Nice Guys can’t say no? Is there a law that to be a Nice Guy, you have to put up with abusive comments and invasive questions? Does the dictionary define Nice Guy as, “A man who allows others to take advantage of him”? The answers? No. No. And No.  The critical factor here is they need to learn how to set boundaries with family. I’ve had so many Nice Guys in my office and heard so many stories about the pain they’re feeling. My message for Nice Guys everywhere: It is possible to set and maintain your boundaries with friends and family without turning into a jerk. Three tactics on How to Set Boundaries with Family and Friends this Holiday Seasons While it’s impossible to control what people say to or expect of us during the holidays, there is a lot we can do to manage our behavior while we’re with them. I tell my patients to practice three boundary setting tactics: Stop inappropriate behavior in its tracks Preemptively set boundaries Change the subject when faced with inappropriate comments One: Stop inappropriate behavior in its tracks Finally, one of the most anxiety-producing holiday situations my patients experience is the feeling of being “stuck” with people whose behavior makes them uncomfortable. This can be physical, such as relatives who don’t share the same boundaries around hugging or kissing, etc., or it can also be environmental, such as the relative who loves to bring up touchy subjects like politics. No matter what form the inappropriate behavior takes, you don’t have to spend the holidays “stuck” in its net. For example, one of my patients doesn’t enjoy copious amounts of physical contact with anyone except his wife. His wife’s family, however, is very physical, and he used to dread spending time with them because they had no inhibitions about snuggling up to him on the couch or touching his arms or legs while in conversation. Now, instead of feeling uncomfortable and “stuck,” he promptly moves his hand or foot, etc. out of physical contact and …