How to Recognize (and Correct) Enabling Behavior - Deepstash

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Helping a loved one

Helping a loved one

Many people try to help a loved one make significant life changes but fail. They may try to help a spouse quit smoking or get a roommate out of an abusive relationship. They may feel that if they don't help, the person will come to ruin.

Instead of helping, they are engaged in enabling behaviors such as lying and covering for them or threatening to leave but not doing it.

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Different forms of enabling behavior

Enabling may accidentally happen when you are trying to help, but after an extended period, you realise that you are really helping.

  • Cleaning up after someone is one form of enabling behavior and includes any way of protecting the person from the negative consequences of their own behavior.
  • A partner lies to his in-laws about his wife's drug problem to protect her from embarrassment.
  • A sibling pays his brother's rent because he regularly loses his money to gambling.

It might be okay if it happened once, but if these "rescues" happen repeatedly, they don't get to learn from the cause-and-effect pattern of their behaviors.

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Giving someone non-specific help

  • Our loved ones often come to us in a moment of crisis. They're losing their job or need to pay someone back. We sometimes feel we have to give money or bail them out in some form. But after a time or two, you become the consistent rescuer while they continue in their unaccountable ways.
  • Boundaries can be used to stop the cycle, but not letting those boundaries slip is hard. If you put your foot down on not loaning money, don't give in. The person you're trying to help will ultimately feel more secure if they know you keep your word. You're also a good role model for consistent behavior.

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Shaming someone and making excuses

It's easy to get frustrated when a loved one keeps damaging themselves. This frustration can make us guilt-tripping them. But shaming someone seldom works.

When it doesn't work, we may start to make excuses for them to explain their problem away. This won't help either.

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How to productively help someone

We cannot control another person's behavior nor change it.

  • Once you understand that, let go of judgments and accept the person. Give them space to share their thoughts and feelings. It doesn't mean you condone their behavior, but you can respect their feelings.
  • Hold them accountable without shaming or guilt-tripping. Encourage them to set goals and ask what they need from you to hold them responsible.
  • Celebrate successes with them. It will strengthen trust between you and give them permission to feel good about themselves.
  • Provide reasonable logistical support and assist in a plan to help them climb out of their circumstances.

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