The term enabling can be defined in two ways. In a positive sense, enabling someone would essentially be allowing them or empowering them to do something they wish to do which can help them find joy or expand and grow in life. In a more negative sense, it can be described as continually allowing another to engage in problematic behavior or dysfunctional behavior. This behavior is of course not to be judged, but simply observed as something that isn’t allowing for us to move forward but instead stay stagnant.
Often times enabling takes place because a third party is taking responsibility or blame for something to shield the other. This, in essence, enables the other to continue their problematic behavior. One example could be in a mother child relationship. A child may repeat a pattern of problematic treatment towards others due to the mother never choosing to help the child identify and learn where the behavior is coming from to begin with. Instead of assisting the child to move beyond the challenge, the mother might blame herself for her child’s behavior because she doesn’t get to spend enough time with him or her, or is afraid to hurt her child’s feelings.
You may or may not recognize this behavior in someone around you or possibly even in your own life. I think it’s important to better understand enabling so we can gather some tools to help move beyond it. There are some key factors I would like to bring attention to when it comes to enabling. I feel that if these factors are understood, an individual can truly help both themselves and others around them grow.
Continuing with the example of relationships, we can look at the first key factor. Enabling is often confused with being nice. In any given relationship, whether it is parent child, siblings, romantic or friendly, we can very easily avoid confronting another’s behavior because we think doing so will be mean. Instead, we may continue to enable problematic behavior so we can maintain the idea that we are being nice to the other in the relationship. It’s important for us to realize that the idea of being nice in this situation, is just a belief. We may feel it is mean or not nice to confront someone based on behavior that is creating challenges, and so we avoid it. If we take a step back for a moment and look at the idea of someone calling us mean for confronting them, it is likely the case that the other person is acting out in judgment or emotion due to the fact that their current behavior is being challenged. Of course, the approach one would take in confronting another does not have to be intense or aggressive, it simply needs to be an honest revelation of what behavior is being observed and what actions might be taken if the behavior continues -being careful to not allow yourself to make it a threat of course. Recognizing this can help to remove this beliefs power in our situation.
If we continually enable another’s behavior because we are afraid of appearing mean, we are often hindering another’s growth and our own because of our actions. In most relationships, there is a deeper agreement that both parties have with one another and it creates a role for each to play. While it may seem, in an emotional sense, that a certain choice or decision may not be ideal, a deeper aspect of that individual is asking for the situation to play out in order to allow them to grow and learn. It is important to remember that by staying in a box ourselves when it comes to enabling people, we are not only closing our own growth off, but also the growth of the other.
Finally we can look at a feeling that may arise through all of this; feeling cold or unloving. It is easy to look at someone you love, say something to them that will likely challenge them and then feel cold or unloving as a result. This is mainly due to the fact that we are attached to their emotional response that plays out as a result of our actions. We need to remember to step back in these cases and see the situation for what it is. Two people, interacting with one another to create growth for one another. When we can see it this way. We have an easier time seeing why the enabling is not serving either person in the relationship and that by making a change, a lot can expand as a result for both parties.
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