How to stop enabling and start loving well
A friend posted a quote on Facebook the other day. It said, We must not confuse the command to love with the disease to please. @lysaterkerust
How true, I thought instantly.
We struggle to know how to love, when to love, where to love. We grapple to acknowledge when our love isn’t loving, when it is nothing short of enabling.
We all have those relationships. We each have people in our lives who somehow expand their level of taking while never getting around to giving, who always seem to be in a crisis, and who never want to listen to advice.
The cajole us. They blame us. They manipulate us interminably because we are afraid to say no— afraid of the anger, afraid of the disappointment, perhaps we’re afraid of the punishment to come and most certainly, we’re afraid of being rejected.
We desperately want things to be different. We had so many hopes and dreams for what our lives with family and friends would look like. We never envisioned this.
Enabling has become such a catchphrase in our culture. Though in a positive sense enabling can be used to denote empowerment, in a negative sense, according to Wikepedia:
“Enabling can describe dysfunctional behavior approaches that are intended to help resolve a specific problem but in fact may perpetuate or exacerbate the problem. A common theme of enabling in this latter sense is that third parties take responsibility or blame, or make accommodations for a person’s harmful conduct (often with the best of intentions, or from fear or insecurity which inhibits action). The practical effect is that the person himself or herself does not have to do so, and is shielded from awareness of the harm it may do, and the need or pressure to change. Enabling in this sense is a major environmental cause of addiction.”
We have become a nation of enablers. As parents, we stand between our children and the consequences of their actions because we feel it defines our love as better, or stronger, for our children. We believe that rescuing is helping. Desperately needing to feel loved ourselves, and having placed our children on the altar of our emotional needs, we are immobilized from saying or doing anything that might threaten their love for us.
As friends and family, we try to be helpful, loving. We always tell ourselves, this will be the last time, knowing full well somewhere in the back quarter of our minds that it won’t be. We tell ourselves, that’s what good parents do for their children, that’s what friends do for each other, that’s what being a good Christian means.
We need them to love us because many of us do not know how to love ourselves. We use their love as a surrogate love that was never meant to fill the hole inside of us, the place where God’s love and our love was meant to fill.
What do we do? How do we determine where we end and another begins? How do we begin to forge healthy boundaries so that we can actually love others, without enabling them?
Assess whether your efforts to help have helped.
Have your acts of love led to any real, consistent behavioral change? Is this the fifth time your child has totaled the family car? Has the money you’ve given a loved one really gotten them out of a crisis and put them back up on the road toward health and stability? Have you ever been repaid?
If what we want is behavioral change, if we want our friends and our children to make better choices, are they? If not, chances are that your love and your help have not been loving or helpful.
The first step towards behavioral change is sincerely owning responsibility for one’s life and having a heart change. Owning responsibility never blames, never rationalizes, and is not angry. Owning responsibility is simply that. It is heartfelt and is followed by repentance. Repentance is defined as, turning from sin and dedicating oneself to the amendment of one’s life; to feel regret or contrition; to change one’s mind.
You can always tell when there is heart change. Heart change is always followed by behavioral change. Apologies, rationalizations, blame, threats rarely lead to life change.
Determine what boundaries are needed for you to stop enabling your loved ones.
Do you need to stop rescuing your children? Do you need to stop giving money, room and board, or transportation when it only seems to perpetuate the insanity, and continue the dysfunctional cycle? Do our loved ones need to face the consequences of their choices? Do our friends and family members need to find the answers to their problems themselves instead of looking to you to be the answer to their problems?
What do you need to do or better yet, stop doing, to lovingly allow your loved ones to come face to face with themselves and God in order to determine the path they will pursue on their journeys. Love them. Give them the gift of facing the results of their choices, their hearts, their lives, and having the opportunity to build a life that’s radically different.
Learn the most loving word, “No.”
Whatever emotions surface inside of you as a result of saying “no” are your responsibility. Don’t place them on someone else. Lean in. Listen.
If you’ve never learned how to love yourself and continue the enabling in an effort to find and feel love, even for a fleeting and perhaps, destructive moment, you can begin today. Learn how to experience God’s love for you. Learn how to give the gift of love to yourself. You are beloved. You are worthy. You are enough. It is never someone else’s job to give that to you. It is your job. Open yourself to the love that is waiting for you.
When your friend or loved one asks something of you that you know you should not do, calmly, respectfully say “no.” Free them. Free yourself. Focus on the things you can do. You can pray. Perhaps you can offer suggestions, if they are requested. Freedom allows everyone to determine how they want to engage their lives, how they want to move forward with clarity into their future.
Just because someone has a problem doesn’t mean that it is your problem. Love sees the long-term game and is willing to sacrifice short-term pay-offs to ensure the potential of future success.
- Assess whether your efforts to help have helped.
- Determine what boundaries are needed to stop enabling your loved ones.
- Learn to use the most loving word, “No.”
You will find freedom in your heart and mind. You will find abundance in your relationships. You will find peace.
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What is the relationship that is hardest for you to draw healthy boundaries? Leave your comment below. I’d love us to learn and grow with each other.
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