March 23, 2020
Enabling: Good Intentions Gone Wrong
Sadly, we have all seen a loved one making destructive decisions. When someone we love is in the grip of a harmful pattern, we naturally want to help ease the pain. In spite of our best intentions, our efforts sometimes end up being more harmful than helpful. The official psychobabble term for this action is “enabling,” otherwise known as “good intentions gone wrong.”
In this sense, enabling means that even though you try to help the person prevent or stop their dysfunctional behavior, your action actually does the opposite and provides them with the power or means to continue their dysfunctional activities. In essence, your enabling makes it easier for those who are struggling with destructive activities to persist in those self-destructive behaviors.
A major component of enabling behaviors is that they keep our struggling loved ones from feeling the painful natural consequences of their conduct. These consequences could significantly influence them to stop their dysfunctional decisions before their problems spiral out of control. Today’s Scripture cautions us that if we start to rescue people from the consequences of their choices, we’ll just have to do it again … and again. When we try to undo the enabling or hound them about the behavior we are often called a “nag” or a “martyr.”
Here are some common scenarios that enable others. Do you find yourself covering up or “living with” the behavior of a friend, child, or loved one, or bailing them out of trouble? You might make excuses for them or even blame yourself for their problem. Are you reminding them to do certain chores or tasks so that they don’t receive the consequences they deserve? Do you find yourself giving them “one more chance” … over and over again instead of giving them the consequences they should receive? Do you care more than they do about the consequences they might get? Do you feel you are being held hostage by their behaviors? Are you constantly nagging them to do certain things so they don’t reap the natural consequences?
At the foundation of our enabling behavior is our inability to tolerate negative feelings in others and ourselves. These feelings are generated when someone struggles and faces potential consequences. We feel very uncomfortable when they feel sad, hurt, or have to endure a consequence, or when we anticipate their sadness or consequences. We may feel at fault. We may feel they will be mad at us for giving them a consequence. So we keep nagging, threatening, or pushing them to accomplish their task. Sometimes we even do the task for them. Perhaps it’s their homework. a project, driving them to school after missing the bus, or giving them one last chance – for the third or thirteenth time.
Today, be mindful that your responsibility to your troubled loved one is to be supportive and to facilitate growth, not to inhibit growth by facilitating the struggle. You need to empathize and pray, but not fix the problem. They need to learn how to fix it themselves. You aren’t going to be around all the time. You need to give encouragement when they make an error, but not protect them from the consequences. You must allow them to learn from the natural consequences of their actions and not rescue them. All of us need to look at whether we are helping or harming the struggling people in our lives. Then we can begin the process of being a supporter instead of an enabler. God, not you, will determine the consequences that will open eyes, change behavior, and hopefully, transform hearts. Whether you support a loved one, or you enable him/her is your decision, so choose well. If you need help to stop enabling, ask your pastor for a therapist or call our Helpline 844-Life-Change (844-543-3242) and we will try to find one for you. If your loved one is really struggling and needs help, call our Helpline for options for them as well.
Dear God, stepping aside from my loved one’s problems is so hard. My urge is to come to the rescue instead of letting her suffer the consequences. I realize now, that when I rescue her, I am actually crippling her from learning skills to rescue herself. Then I have to come to the rescue again and again … and nothing really gets fixed. Teach me to be a supporter instead of an enabler. Help me guide her to You … help me to trust You more. Give me the peace to tolerate my own uneasiness and the discomfort of others. Help me to allow Your consequences and lessons to play out. I pray this in the name of the One who gives me strength in all circumstances, Jesus Christ; and all God’s children say – AMEN!
A hot-tempered man must pay the penalty; if you rescue him, you will have to do it again. Proverbs 19:19
And he was longing to be fed with the pods that the pigs ate, and no one gave him anything. “But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. Luke 15:16-18