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 …