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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 so they will have less pain. But 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 even though you are trying to help the person prevent or stop their dysfunctional behavior, your action provides them with the power or means to continue their dysfunctional activities. In essence, your enabling makes it a lot easier for those who are struggling to persist in their self-destructive behaviors.
A major component of our enabling behaviors is that they keep our struggling loved one from feeling the natural, painful 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. We are then called a “nag” or a “martyr” when we try to “undo” the enabling or hound them about the behavior.
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 get 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?
At the foundation of our enabling behavior is our inability to tolerate negative feelings, both 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 enduring consequences. We may feel at fault, or 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 or 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 their growth, not to inhibit growth by facilitating their struggle. You need to empathize and pray for them, but not fix their problems. They need to learn how to fix it themselves. You aren’t going to be around all the time. You need to encourage them when they have made an error, but not protect them from the necessary 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. And then we can begin the process of being a supporter instead of an enabler. Let God, not you, determine the consequences that will open their eyes, change their behavior, and hopefully, transform their hearts. Enabling is your decision, so choose well. If you need help to stop enabling, call our Parent Coaching Service.
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