Enabled to Stop Enabling

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“We cripple people who are capable of walking because we choose to carry them.” Christie Williams

Enabling is one of the surest ways to assure not getting your own life.

Enabling goes hand-in-hand with not setting boundaries – two sides of the same coin. Like the quote says, we have to say “no” or we do damage. We cripple people, and usually the ones we love the most.

What is Enabling?

Here are definitions of enabling, which sound harmless until we recognize we’ve signed up to run someone’s life besides our own, and we may be signing up to run it forever.

  •  To make (someone or something) able to do or to be something

 Twelve step programs typically define enabling as …

  •  Doing for others what they can do for themselves.

Like the times I did my son’s chore of raking the backyard. I didn’t think I could watch any longer while he balanced the handle of the upside down rake in the palm of his hand, and then walked all around the yard still balancing it in the air. I felt like crippling him with the rake long before my enabling did damage.

I didn’t equate raking for a 13-year-old as enabling until I looked up the word in an index of one of my daily readers. I thought I was doing a friend a favor. I planned to pass along insight from the pages about how she could stop enabling her older teenaged son.

As I flipped through, I noticed the only two pages on enabling belonged to my husband and my son. The pages happened to fall on their birthdays.

While trying to dismiss the correlation, I forgot about helping my friend. I spent weeks mulling over how others enabled, and how I didn’t.

I knew …

Parents who did their children’s homework, parents who ran items to school every week when their children forgot them at home, parents who fought with teachers and administration to defend their children every time they got in trouble.

Parents who allowed grown children to live at home, not work, and run up whopping debt for cars and education and wardrobes.

Women who worked two jobs because their husbands worked none.

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And I was worried about raking? Seriously? Raking?

I thought, What’s the harm in helping in the yard when he can’t get it done? You know, because he’s practicing his balancing act.

I asked these same sorts of questions about my husband and my daughter. All the while, I justified enabling as helping and I minimized the size of my enablement. I told myself, “It’s just raking.”

Justify it or not, minimize it or not, experience confirms we get better by taking small steps in the right direction the same as we get worse (more irresponsible, more immature, and more helpless) by taking small steps in the wrong direction, which includes your mom raking for you when it’s your chore.

There’s a fine line between being a wife and a mom who helps or being an enabler who harms. Unfortunately for us, we enablers are the ones who have to draw these lines (remember from a previous blog post, if you’re in the most pain, you’re the one who has to change). The person being enabled isn’t going to stop us.

And we each draw our own lines. What’s acceptable for one person may be enabling for another.

For me, the line where I’m enabling is …

  • When I’m resentful about what I call “helping.
  • When I don’t want to do what they ask, but I do it anyway.
  • When I put my life on hold so I can do what they want.
  • When I grumble about the person I’m supposedly helping.

Maybe you’ll recognize this rant.

“Do you know what happened today? My (family member, friend) asked me to (fill in the blank). Can you believe that? I did it, but I won’t be doing it again. He/she didn’t even thank me.”

The funny (funny interesting, not funny ha ha) thing about enabling is next time he/she asked, I did it again. I complained again. He/she asked again.

For me, the line where I’m enabling is also …

  • When I hear them not only asking for help, but also expecting and insisting on it even when it’s something they can do for themselves.
  • When I notice they’re regressing and I feel like I’m dealing with a child in a big body.
  • When there are visible signs of trouble like excessive drinking, running up debt, laying around for days, acting irritable, making irresponsible choices.

Enabling feels similar to a hostage situation. Once we’ve taken responsibility for their lives, they take over our lives. We feel trapped. We may not know how to stop the progression. And they probably won’t want us to.

It took several (okay, more like several hundred) times of reviewing the two enabling pages before I took the words to heart and put them into action.

It took experiencing the crippling effect with my own family when their list of expectations grew longer than my to-do list.

It took seeing the crippling effect like watching more than one elderly couple work overtime to provide for their unemployed adult children.

It took hearing a mom share about her alcoholic daughter who died from drinking. She said, “I literally loved her to death. I knew better, but I couldn’t stop trying to help her in unhelpful ways.”

 So, why’d I do it?

 Oh, I had my reasons.

 Here are a few from my long and scary list …

 1.     I was afraid.

 2.     I was fearful they really couldn’t do it, whatever “it” was.

 3.     I was fearful they wouldn’t do it.

 4.     I was fearful if they didn’t do it, they wouldn’t be okay, which would mean I wasn’t okay.

 5.     I was fearful if they weren’t okay, it’d be my fault.

 6.     I was fearful they’d die and our last time together would be when I set a boundary and said “no.”

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What’s the solution?

Stop enabling.

Stop even if it seems insignificant like raking for your 13-year-old.

Find a friend who understands and talk with them. Make an appointment with a counselor. Attend a 12-step meeting. Reach out to someone who’s in your same situation.

Help the people you’re enabling by helping yourself. Find something to put in the place of enabling like #GettingYourOwnLife.

It’s easier said than done, I know, but “stop enabling” is the only solution. And it’s why I’m writing about it. Y’all are the group I’m reaching out to.

In This Together,
Kim

Image of rake compliments of Pixabay.com.

Disclaimer: This blog post is from my personal experience and is not expert advice like you’d receive from a psychologist, psychiatrist, or medical doctor, although I do have advanced degrees in the counseling field. When dealing with serious issues like addiction and depression, be sure to engage a support system, one that can help you set boundaries, prepare you for consequences when you stop enabling, and offer assistance to the person you’re letting go. 

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19 responses »

    • Hi Andrew,

      I’ve missed you and your comments, but I’ve prayed and hoped you were doing okay.

      I’m sure dealing with terminal illness is a balancing act for everyone involved, just like trying to balance responsibilities with aging parents. How much is too much care? When is it too little help? When does it turn enabling?

      I love that you still have your sense of humor … dudette. My husband says that. 🙂

      It’s great to see you blogging too. I’m sure your words will help many.

      Thanks for your comment and your friendship!

  1. Kim, it is amazing how parallel some of our. Elements and issues are. Your blogs give me more courage every week to face, accept. And work on these issues in my own life.

    • Judy, I’m always surprised when I talk to people and it seems we’ve lived in the same household. I wish I had known earlier that my problems and I weren’t terminally unique. It’s been lonely and painful keeping all this inside and trying to handle it by myself. I’m grateful for blogging and having readers/friends like you. ❤

      Your "thought for the day" yesterday was so helpful.

  2. I used to spend all day, sometimes, ‘helping” people who wanted a voice to listen to them on the Internet, Would feel choked, and knew I was getting further and further from my own goals. Internet enabling is a new form of enabling that takes awhile to realize is true enabling.

    ~pia

    • Oh my gosh, Pia. You’re right. That’s a whole new realm that people like us have to be aware of. I love my online life, but I’ve felt suffocated a couple of times and had to back off. These days, my online relationships are healthy and happy and helpful, but that’s because I stay awake and aware. 🙂

      I’m appreciative you mentioned this since enabling can happen subtly and overnight, or so it seems.

      I enjoy our friendship and our writing-ship. ❤

    • Cathy, have you been raking lately? LoL.

      I’m almost sure I’ll never completely stop enabling. It’s part of my Most Dependable character (I was voted that in high school 🙂 ). I’m giving myself permission to enable a little, just not a lot. And if I’m going to do it, I need to at least be aware of it and own up to it. I think I’ve done the most damage by walking around oblivious to my own life. I’m trying to show up now.

      Thanks for stopping by. ❤

  3. There is such a fine line between enabling and helping. My husband and I have been through these issues in caring for severely ill parents. The decisions we made were difficult enough, but the resultant conflict (between some family members) still causes resentment.

    • Gayle, I’m glad you mentioned elderly parents. I haven’t had much experience with this since I detached from my own parents before they needed extra care, but it’s certainly an issue. By the time we’re our age, our parents need additional attention and for us to make decisions for them like finding a place to care for them when we can’t and taking away privileges like their drivers licenses when it’s time. There is a fine line.

      I’m sorry you and Mark had to deal with it, but I’m not surprised about leftover resentments. I hear it all the time from other friends, too. Family from afar, or even close by, have many opinions about what you should do even when they’re not willing to help. And they get angry when you don’t. Kind of crazy sounding to me!

      Thanks for bringing up this conversation. ❤

  4. Kim, once again, you’ve been living in my house. I have been really wrestling with this issue in regard to caregiving for my husband. How much am I doing for him that he could do for himself, and am I making the situation worse and slowing his recovery by doing those things? Your post came at just the right time (God’s timing is always perfect). Then the first comment I read was Andrew’s about doing for the sick dude what he can and should do for himself. Yikes! Guilty as charged and then some. It is a delicate balance, because if I do too much, he resents it and gets cranky because it’s difficult for him to do much any more. If I do too little, he could get sicker and then both of us have to deal with the outcome. Anyway, another excellent post about issues many of us struggle with. You’ve given us much to ponder and work on.

    • Mary, I thought of you when I read Andrew’s comment. He speaks with authority because he is the “sick dude.”

      This post was a hard one to write because the lines blurred, just like in real life. Sometimes I feel stronger about setting boundaries, sometimes I think I’m being too harsh, and sometimes I wonder if some enabling is okay. I don’t have the answers even though I said “stop enabling.” After I published, I wondered if that was right, too unrealistic, too rigid of a solution. I’m giving myself much to ponder, but if I think too much before I share these posts, I’ll confuse myself and never put them out there. It’s best to hit publish and trust y’all to help with the answers. 🙂

      I love our blogs ❤ because our readers are kind and willing to offer insights I wouldn't otherwise come up with. Thanks for being one who is willing to share your struggles and your perspective. I always relate. Always.

  5. From Facebook (from JJ Snyder’s page) ~

    A great blog post by my friend Kim about enabling the ones we love. ❤️

    3 Likes

    Kim Henson JJ Warren Snyder. you’re an eagle! heart emoticon I appreciate your support, as always.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 11 hrs

    Connie Gardner Good job Kim Henson! The struggle is real❤️
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 11 hrs

    Kim Henson Thank you, Connie Gardner. heart emoticon It is.
    Like · Reply · 1 · 10 hrs

  6. From Facebook (Kim Henson) ~

    17 Sharon Treacy Carroll, Jo Ann Sarti and 15 others

    5 shares (Katrina Owen, Jean Dalton)

    JJ Warren Snyder Such a great post Kim. I’m dealing with this very situation. Your words lightened my burden a little. Thank you for sharing your insight and wisdom.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 16 hrs

    Kim Henson JJ Warren Snyder, I’m encouraged anytime someone says a blog post helped. It’s a shame we all have so much to face, but I’m grateful we’re facing it together. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 1 · 11 hrs

    JJ Warren Snyder Me too.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 10 hrs

    Mary Ann Zumpfe Wow, this is exactly the conversation i had with a few of my friends just last week. Kim Henson, you are spot on. Thank you for putting in to words what so many people feel.
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 16 hrs

    Kim Henson Mary Ann Zumpfe, it must be in the air. wink emoticon I’ve had this conversation twice with friends in the last month. Helped me organize my thoughts for this post. Thank you for your encouragement!
    Like · Reply · 1 · 11 hrs

    Delilah Lewis True
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 14 hrs

    Kim Henson Thanks, Delilah Lewis. heart emoticon I’m happy we finally connected on here.
    Like · Reply · 11 hrs

  7. From Facebook (from Mary Ann Zumpfe’s page) ~

    So how many of us do this?

    3 Summer Turner, Katrina D Owen and Maria Fiorelli

    Kim Henson Flailing my hand, Mary Ann Zumpfe. LoL. Thank you for sharing! I sure appreciate it and, even more, I appreciate our WINning friendship. heart emoticon
    Like · Reply · 11 hrs

    Summer Turner As usual, I’m grinning my way through your profoundly true post. I went through a 12-step program for co-dependency when I suddenly realized that I was there for everyone who asked but didn’t have anyone I could count on. Now I see how those who would …See More
    Unlike · Reply · 1 · 8 hrs

    Kim Henson Yep, that’s how it played out for me too, Summer Turner. It was really painful when I took a hard look at my life, but pain’s what got me motivated to change. It hurt too much to keep hanging out in their corners (I like that analogy, btw. I can see it. Good for us visual types).
    Like · Reply · 1 · 1 hr · Edited

  8. From Facebook (from Barbara Falco Galante’s page) ~

    Amazing information, Kim!

    Kim Henson Thanks so much, Barbara Falco Galante. heart emoticon I miss seeing you!
    Like · Reply · 1 min

    • Hi Cheryl, thanks for stopping by, reading, and commenting. I checked out your blog, as well. Noticed our common denominator with alcoholism. My family was also peppered with it, that and lots of denial that there were any problems.

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