Were You an Enabler and Are You Still?
Does a difference of opinion feel like confrontation?
Do you avoid stating your point of view to avoid what you might perceive to be a confrontation?
Have you consistently gone along with things that you really didn’t want to?
Have you put up with bad behavior to avoid what you think will only make things worse?
Have you accepted disrespect or emotional/mental abuse because you were afraid to say no or wanted to avoid a heated discussion?
Did you allow yourself to be lost to yourself?
If so, your responsibility in any of these situations is the fact that you enabled bad behavior.
The ‘why’s” of enabling behavior are endless and most of them are based in our upbringing. In looking at your personal history, you can probably pinpoint why you might be hesitant to say no to unacceptable situations. Perhaps you grew up in a household where one or the other parent was angry or explosive and you walked on eggshells, always trying to avoid their unpredictable behavior. Perhaps you became a people pleaser, who put your own needs behind everyone else’s to maintain peace or to be helpful to someone who needed assistance. Whatever the reason, the inability to say no to unacceptable behavior or life situations is costing you dearly.
I love the quote, “We are defined by what we say no to.” For instance, let us say that a person is in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship. For whatever reasons, they accept this abuse and by doing so they have defined themselves as a victim. At the same time, they enable more bad behavior of their partner’s part by remaining silent in the face of abuse. Once they decide that they have had enough and say no, they re-define themself as a hero of their story. They go from being a victim to a hero/heroine.
What is especially interesting to me are those relationships where a difference of opinion is seen as a confrontation. I have had many clients whose partner ruled the roost, dictating everything in the household. If the dictator’s opinion was questioned, they became defensive or even angry.
In a healthy relationship, we learn to respect one another’s opinions and choose to truly hear what the other person is saying. We learn to compromise. We give and take. If we consistently give in to this bully, we enable their behavior and we risk losing our true identity, our authenticity.
If any of this rings true for you, consider the following steps:
-Take a look at your emotional baggage, the stuff you have carried around from your formative years and see if you can pinpoint the reasons you might be an enabler. Just recognizing the possible reasons is a step forward. What you did to survive in your past might not be serving you anymore.
-Start taking small steps towards self-respect and dignity by learning to say no to the little things first but make certain that these little things are meaningful in your quest to rid yourself of enabling behavior. If for instance, your kids are taking advantage of you by not helping out at home or demanding you handle every little detail of their lives (older children of course), start saying no.
-Set boundaries. Take a good look at what is unacceptable to you, to what does not serve you and create a boundary. For instance, if your ex gets angry on the phone and berates you, let them know that you will no longer accept their abuse and will terminate the conversation whenever they cross the line, the boundary you have set. I cannot express how important boundaries are to one’s well-being, self-esteem and healing.
-Surround yourself with people that are supportive, nurturing and respectful. Clean the closet of people who take advantage of your good nature, of people who cause repeated upsets. We aren’t kids anymore with the need to be liked by everyone. We can choose whom to include in our lives, even family members.