Are you or someone you know dealing with the consequences of someone else’s behaviour? It can be as simple as continuously putting away your kids toys or as time-consuming as taking home piles work because a colleague has unable to meet their deadline, once again. This is actually enabling, not helping. It happens all the time. Usually the more someone does for a person, the more will be asked of them over time. Anyone who is putting their precious energy into “helping”, needs to be aware of the fine line between enabling and helping.
Parents are often prime enablers. It starts from infancy and continues for as long as they let it happen. Children need to learn from an early age that they are responsible for their own actions. For example, if they scribble on the wall with crayon; let them help in the clean up. It’s ok to provide support and assistance, but if children are shielded from the negative consequences of their behaviour; they will be unlikely to learn.
It’s well researched that dealing with natural consequences aids learning. Young children learn to avoid a hot surface because it burns. So this type of learning can begin very early. Children will also learn if they need to accept responsibility of their actions or be able to shift it along to others.
Those who don’t want to deal with the negative repercussion of their own behaviour will look for alternatives. They may use people who love them to accept these for them. Parents can unknowingly encourage this. Eventually, even loved ones get tired of this and pull away from them. No one wants to see those around them fall; so it’s best to put a stop to enabling as soon as it is recognised for what it is.
If someone has been enabled for a long time, they will likely be unable to cope. This is where helping and enabling are two very difference objectives. It is really important to be aware of the difference. Enabling is the removal of negative consequence for behaviour, whereas helping is a purely supportive role. Although the person will want the enabler to take on their regular role and enable them to continue upon their path, a re-education needs to occur. The enabler will need to step back and provide support whilst letting the perpetrator of the behaviour deal with their consequences.
The shift from enabling to helping will be a positive one for all concerned but not an easy transition. Often the relationship has severed the needs of both parties and the relationship will need to be re-established. Enablers will need to relinquish control whilst letting the other regain theirs.
In situations where enabling of addiction or other serious behaviours are needing to be addressed, seek professional support. A recommended starting point is to visit a GP, discuss the behaviour and seek a referral to an appropriate professional.
By Kim Chartres