When does helping others become unhealthy?
I think many of us have been there. We care about someone. We want the best for them. We want to inspire them. But when does offering a helping hand move to enabling?
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As a person that has a history of being co-dependent, we can place our eggs of happiness in other baskets. Meaning, we want to be happy and we want them to be happy, and we can see that they could be happier and healthier if they just did this or that, so we start doing things for them, so that they can be happier, and then if they are happier then we can be happier.
Kelly Spencer – Happy Healthy YOU
(A wellness column by Kelly Spencer: writer, life coach, yoga & meditation teacher, holistic healer and a mindful life enthusiast!)
Aren’t you just exhausted just reading that?
That’s what enabling gives – exhaustion – and it’s often what happens in the long term of this scenario. The desire to help others, especially those who we love and care about, is one of the noblest of human instincts. As parents, we want ease for our children and success in life. In our closest connections and intimate relationships, we want to help each other solve the problems that life throws us.
But as well-meaning as our helpful impulse can be, it may backfire tragically when helping turns to enabling. The child whose parent is always making things easier by cleaning their rooms for them or fighting their personal battles, may gain more ease but the child does not learn how to take care of themselves independently. Or if a parent allows a child to skip school because they didn’t prepare for a test or project, this encourages and enables irresponsible behavior with no consequences. Ultimately becoming codependent on another for their happiness.
We can see this in adult relationships as well. Assistance can turn to resentment and even martyrdom. When an adult continually allows another adult to do for them, which they can do themselves, promotes the inabilities of one adult. Chronically lending a hand to help people accomplish things they could do by themselves only perpetuates rather than solves a problem. Possibly, never learning to empower themselves and govern their own lives through self-leadership and healthy autonomy.
In a romantic relationship, this can lead to a subtle or not so subtle shift in the dynamics of the relationship leading to more of a parent-child energy then an adult equality energy.
Don’t get me wrong, lots of relationship get accustomed to doing certain tasks for each other. My parents had an agreed equality of work around the home. My mother did most of the “inside” chores around the home and my father did most of the “outside” chores in the yard. It worked and they were happy with it.
The problems can start when we step into to solve a person’s problem or we do the work that others can do without prompting, without permission, without their own input, without their own assistance, without change or with expectations.
Let me offer a couple experiences where I caught myself in these in enabling scenarios.
One interaction, I felt the situation was out of control. They were close to me, I cared deeply for them, but unhealthy behaviors and actions were snowballing. They didn’t ask for my help. I just gave it. I gave it a lot. Their actions never changed. My happiness and self-esteem became dependent on their ability to get control of their life. My “help” allowed me to feel more in control of an unmanageable situation.
The reality, though, is the sense of control that I got from enabling them was an illusion and things were still very out of control. I also realized that enabling not only didn’t help them, but it actively caused harm and made the situation worse, while leaving me depleted, exhausted and resentful.
Another past person in my life that I cared about had constant upheaval. They came to me often asking for help with their ‘struggle du jour.’ The difference in this scenario is they came to me for help and told me often how much they appreciated my assistance. The healer, nurse, life coach, helper in me with tendencies to be a people-pleaser loved this appreciative call to help them. I offered advice, I gave recommendation, I made calls, I found internet links, I printed material, I ordered items for them online as their Visa was maxed out and I talked at them at length. This was wasn’t once. This was often.
I finally had to realize some important behaviors. One, they weren’t doing the work to make permanent, lasting or healthy changes. Two, the energy exchange was imbalanced as I was doing more for them then they were doing for themselves at the price of my time and effort. Three, I was starting to get annoyed that they never followed my advice or made changes.
So how can we keep our help to others healthy?
1. Supporting, inspiring and helping each other is amazing. Do it and do as often as it feels good. Be kind. Be considerate. Offer acts of appreciation and assistance. If it feels good, step into it.
2. High intention with low attachment. Set the loving vibration to offer your support, inspiration and help and then let go. Guiding people, we love that are having difficulty gaining control of their behaviors and life challenges, is fine but understand that they may only be ready to receive so much of your help at this point. Meaning, let go of what you think they should or should be doing. Offer and then release.
3. What is your intention and how does it feel? Are you doing it from a place of love? Or is it a need to feel good through people pleasing? Are you trying to control someone else’s situation to feel more in control? If your intentions feel good, joyful, inspiring still, great. If you feel frustrated, annoyed or depleted, time to re-examine.
4. Allow others to be responsible for their choices, their decisions and their consequences. Allow others to empower themselves by not taking over responsibility of things that they can fix themselves or they have not shifted the actions that caused the consequential conflict in the first place.
5. When you find yourself taking care of others more than you are taking care of your own life, step back. It’s possible to be supportive without neglecting your own needs. Helping someone should never be a threat to your own well-being, so make sure you’re taking care of you.
6. You can’t change another. You can inspire and support but ultimately change and mindful self-leadership is up to each of us.
It’s in our nature to want to help those we care about. It takes practice and self-control to allow someone to feel and maybe even suffer the consequences of their own choices. No parent wants to see their child fail and no person wants to see someone they love, suffer the effects of bad decisions.
So remember, “helping” and “supporting” should have mindful limits.
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