Enabling Behavior is defined as “the behavior of protecting others from experiencing the full impact and consequences of their behavior”.
According to the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation, Enabling Behavior:
• Protects the addict from the natural consequences of his behavior
• Keeps secrets about the addict’s behavior from others in order to keep peace
• Makes excuses for the addict’s behavior (with teachers, friends, legal authorities, employers, and
other family members)
• Bails the addict out of trouble (pays debts, fixes tickets, hires lawyers, and provides jobs)
• Blames others for the addicted person’s behaviors (friends, teachers, employers, family, and self)
• And several more points . . .
As you can read in the above, these references are to ‘addicts’, but we can be addicted to just about anything. I’ve seen (and done this as a parent) different forms of enabling behavior that ultimately do not help the person we are so lovingly attempting to help.
Let me give you a simple example of why ‘not’ to help someone if it becomes enabling behavior:
A woman is walking past a tree and observes a butterfly just attempting to free itself from its cocoon. The woman, intending to be helpful, carefully breaks open the cocoon to free the butterfly. Upon its freedom, the butterfly cannot open its wings! It appears that the struggle to free itself from the cocoon forces body fluids into the wings, causing them to expand. With no fluid in its wings, the butterfly could not extend them for flight.
So it appears, sometimes, even in our most helpful of attitudes, assisting the person through their struggles can be not very helpful. But how do we decide what is helpful and what is not? Whom should we turn away from our assistance if we are able to offer it? When does ‘helping’ become ‘enabling’?
I use enabling in this sense to mean an unhealthy relationship where one person continuously helps another, and the person being helped does nothing to help themselves or take positive, healthy advantage of the assistance to better themselves.
I don’t think it would be a stretch for each of us to scan our own memories for when we offered assistance to a family member or friend and it may have turned negative. Or perhaps when we ourselves took of that assistance from someone and it seemed to take forever for us to get on our own two feet. And I am sure there are many varieties on the above instances.
It has been said that we are living in the age of personal accountability and responsibility. And from my point of view, all we do is driven spiritually from a higher sense of awareness that is available to all, of our true spiritual nature.
If it is so that we live in such an age, then we may be receiving many such tests in enabling behavior. Think of the many people in your life who live in abundance and wealth and the many people who may not be experiencing such wealth but may be struggling from day to day.
When does a helping hand become enabling? When does reliance on some stimulation become an addiction? I understand an addiction to be negative if it affects the quality of your life or interferes with the healthy living of your life. How do we become self-reliant and also be able to accept a gift of abundance from another?
We must each decide for ourselves, what is our role in another person’s life? How do we help them if they are suffering and would benefit from our help (money, attention, love, support, etc.). These decisions can be exceedingly difficult, especially if within a familial or parental frame.
Again, because I tend to look at life through a spiritual lens, I think many of these answers are in our own spiritual development and awakening. That is, as we awaken our spiritual potential, we see the profound love that is the foundation of all things, and we see things more as they are instead of how they appear to be. We see, as we awaken, people as they are; their true selves. And I believe this spiritual insight greatly helps us to recognize when to help someone and when not helping is helping even more.
These are tough calls and for some of us these are very tough times. But these times offer tremendous spiritual growth as it really is the Golden Age of Inner Transformation.
I also feel that if you really want to help someone else, evolve yourself first. From that position of a higher spiritual perspective, your compassion and love will help you determine best how to help someone deeply in need and will also help you avoid tangling yourself in a downward spiral of negative enabling behavior which helps neither of you.
Continue your spiritual practices – awaken yourself to your spiritual potential. In this way you help everyone best from a higher state of consciousness based in altruistic love and can make better decisions to help those in need.