Sometimes “Helping” Doesn’t Help at All

Sometimes “Helping” Doesn’t Help at All

Many times when family and friends try to “help” children (ages 13 and up) they are actually making it easier for them never to learn how to help themselves.

This baffling phenomenon is called “enabling,” which takes many forms, all of which have the same effect — allowing a person to avoid the consequences of his or her actions. This in turn allows children to continue merrily along their way, secure in the knowledge that no matter how much they mess up, somebody will always be there to rescue them from their mistakes.

What is the difference between helping and enabling?

Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves.

Enabling is doing something for someone that they could, and should be doing themselves.

Simply: enabling creates an atmosphere in which the child can comfortably continue his/her unacceptable behavior or irresponsibility.
Are you being enabled?

Here are a few questions that might help determine whether or not someone in your life has enabled you:

1. Has a parent/guardian ever “called in sick” for you, lying about your symptoms?

2. Has someone ever accepted part of the blame for your actions or behavior?

3. Has an adult gotten you out of trouble even though they knew that you were to blame? Or are they always making excuses for your failings?

4. Has an adult in your life (parent, teacher, school administrator, guardian) allowed you to break rules because it was easier for them to let you do it than it was for them to make you do the right thing?

5. Has a girlfriend or boyfriend done your homework for you because they “love” you (is that person taking the tests for you too)?

6. Has a friend tried to match your bad behavior (like not doing homework or failing a test with you, or skipping school with you) in hopes of “strengthening” their relationship with you?

7. Has anyone in your life given you “one more chance” and then another, and another, until you realize that their chances are endless, and that you really do not have to respect their wishes or needs?

8. Has someone ever threatened to make you “do the right thing” but when you didn’t, they never followed through and there were no consequences for your actions?

9. Is there someone in your life who you know you can manipulate to the point where they will let you get away with anything? (That person is the worst kind of enabler, because they are really just thinking only of themselves, and not about you.)

Of course, if you answered “yes” to any of these questions, you, at some point in time, have been enabled so that you could avoid your own responsibilities. Rather than “help” you, enablers have actually made it easier for you to become less responsible.

If you answered “yes” to most or all of these questions, you have not only been enabled, but your enablers have probably become major contributors to the growing and continuing problem of your lack of responsibility.

As long as you have your “enabling devices” in place, it is easy for you to continue to deny you have a problem — since most of your problems are being “solved” by those around you. Only when you are forced to face the consequences of your own actions, will it finally begin to sink in how deep your problem of irresponsibility has become.

NOT enabling you is not an easy choice for your friends, family, or teachers. For example, if you don’t bring a pencil to take a test that you knew about for a week or more, it’s easier for a teacher to just give you a pencil than it is to watch you sit and not take a test. If the teacher does not give you a pencil, that teacher is making more work for themselves. He or she would have to document (make notes) about the event, maybe call home or schedule a parent conference about your irresponsibility, etc.-it’s more work.

The people in your life who are willing to take the extra time for you, who are willing to lose your friendship to tell you the truth-these are the people that are looking out for you not for themselves.

Those kinds of choices are difficult. They require “detachment with love.” But it is love. Unless you are allowed to face the consequences of your own actions, you will never realize just how much your irresponsibility has become a problem–to yourself and to those around you.

The person who is requiring you, or asking you, to read this article is not an enabler. This person is an example of someone who believes that, no matter how hard it is for them, they are helping you to learn about your problems by experiencing the consequences and by helping you learn how to make better choices for your own good.

Respect and Self-Respect come from helping those who help themselves.

“Do not enable my people. Rather, teach them how to do for themselves so that when you leave you will not have created an unhealthy dependence, even though well intentioned. This is of no help to us. In fact, the second state could become worse than the first.” – Cardinal Napier, Archbishop of Durban, South Africa (2006).


Dr. Susanne Gaddis
The Communications Doctor

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