Have you ever found yourself in a position where you felt you were doing everything you could to help someone yet their negative situation just got worse and worse? If so, it’s possible you were enabling the other person.
You might be enabling whenever you’re trying to help someone, but your actions are, instead, exacerbating the issues.
Your friend and co-worker, Sally, has been drinking a little more than usual. Lately, she’s coming in late to work and asking you to cover for her. When the supervisor asks you where Sally is, you say, “She went to Human Resources to ask a question. She should be right back.”
After work, you all go for drinks together. Sally doesn’t have any money so you offer to buy her beverages and she accepts.
Later that evening, Sally admits she hasn’t finished her chapter of a report that’s due tomorrow. Sally asks if you’ll finish her partially completed paper. Although you’re tired and would rather go home and just relax, you agree to take the report home and type it up before tomorrow morning.
Unfortunately, even if you don’t mind offering your consistent aid, your efforts are ensuring that Sally doesn’t have to take responsibility for her actions.
What can you do to break the cycle of enabling someone you care about?
Follow these helpful tips:
1. Stop. Even though it’s your friend or loved one, picking up the slack for them is not helping them get better.
2. Instead, just observe. Rather than being so quick to jump in and offer help, sit back and watch what happens. Notice patterns in the person’s behaviors.
3. Listen. Stay informed by hearing how your friend or loved one feels. A good friend listens attentively. Consider listening an important act of caring.
4. Allow opportunity for your loved one to figure things out for themselves. Keep in mind that when you jump in and spontaneously offer your assistance all the time, the individual is robbed of opportunities to learn to resolve their own challenges.
5. Decline any direct requests for help. Recognize that your continued efforts to pick up the slack now are setting up your friend or loved one for a big fall later. Accept that it’s better if it happens sooner – when the situation isn’t so far out of hand – than later.
• Using the example above regarding Sally asking for your help with her report, you could say something like, “Oh, I’m so sorry, but I can’t finish your report. I need to pick up my daughter and do the laundry when I get home.” Then say nothing else.
6. Recognize it’s not your job to fix their troublesome situations. When you decline to help, you’re silently placing the issue back squarely on their shoulders where it belongs. Remember, it’s not your situation; it belongs to them.
7. Disengage emotionally from the person. Once you understand what you’re doing, you’ll be better able to remain on the outside of your friend’s troubling events. Think of your friend and their issues as a tornado. Then, decide to remain outside of the whirlwind.
• You’ll no longer allow yourself to get “sucked in” to your friend or loved one’s current crisis. You can still be their friend or confidante and spend time with them, if you choose. But you’ll avoid being pulled in to the fray of your friend’s ongoing drama.
• When you disengage emotionally, applying all the above strategies is also much easier.
If you believe you’re caught up in the cycle of helping a friend or loved one too much, step back and examine your relationship with the person. Then, apply the strategies above to stop enabling their self-destructive behaviors. As your loved one’s world becomes more overwhelming to them, it will encourage them to seek more direct assistance in resolving their underlying issues.