Enabling is often confused with empowering. Truth is, both are born out of a desire to help. It is a natural instinct to want to help someone you love, the problem arises when helping transitions to hurting instead. To a certain degree, everyone can be an enabler so it is important that people learn to identify when they have crossed the “invisible” border and entered the land of destruction.
The desire to want to help others is one of the noblest of human instincts until that help perpetuates rather than solves a particular problem. It is innate for parents to want to help their children, friends want to help others they are in relation with and spouses to want to help their mate. This well-meaning instinct can often backfire when it interferes with the consequence of certain behaviors.
Enabling tends to counter one of the most valuable laws or principles of life called cause and effect. This principle states – very simply – every action has a reaction and is often referred to as the law of sowing and reaping. Far too often people do not reap what they sow because an enabler steps in and reaps the consequences for them. Parents tend to do this when their child overspends or buys their wants and begs for their needs.
If parents constantly cover their child’s overdrafted account or high credit card balance the child fails to reap the consequences of their bad habits. Protecting anyone from the natural consequences of their actions is never empowering because it extracts the valuable lesson needed for optimal life performance. Rescuing a person from the natural consequences of their actions enables them to continue in irresponsible behavior. The law of sowing and reaping has not been cancelled; it is still in operation however, the abuser is not suffering the consequences, someone else is.
Another name for someone who repeatedly rescues the same person is codependent. Those who are considered codependent are people who continuously “co-sign the note” of life for the irresponsible person. They find themselves reaping the consequences or paying the bills, not only physically but emotionally as well, while the frivolous spender continues out of control consequence free.
Enablers are often very nice and well-meaning people. They are compassionate and may not even realize their actions are hurting the other party. Nonetheless, when a person continues operate void of responsibility it is no longer a good deed but a detriment to their well-being.
What can be puzzling is when people know they are being codependent yet continue to enable bad behavior over and over. This usually happens when people lean more towards emotions than to logic, making the process of quitting more difficult. Boundaries must be put in place and enforced in order for the codependent person to stop interrupting the law of sowing and reaping in their loved one’s life. These limits force the person who is doing the sowing to also do the reaping. Simply confronting an irresponsible person is not painful enough to prompt any type of change, only consequences are.
What are we left with? In our deepest of intent we want to see people better. In order for this to take place it is paramount to remember that creating an enabling relationship leaves the recipient crippled and at times feeds an inappropriate need within us to feel superior. Empowering someone puts the other person in the position to stand, learn and develop a pattern of self-reliance. It also puts the responsibility along with its consequence where it belongs. As the old proverb goes, “Give a man a fish and he eats for a day, teach him how to fish and he can eat forever.”
Opinion by Cherese Jackson (Virginia)