The Fine Line Between Supporting vs. Enabling
You’re empathetic. You care deeply about your friends and family and it shows! But do you sometimes find yourself drained and giving more than you have to give? Do you find yourself fixing problems for others so they don’t do it “wrong” or suffer the consequences?
In our desire to help and care for others, it's crucial to get clear on the difference between supporting and enabling. Supporting empowers growth, confidence and resilience. Enabling hinders growth and fosters dependence and feelings of inadequacy. It's crucial to recognize enabling behaviors to avoid inadvertently sabotaging the growth and personal power of those we love (and wearing ourselves out in the process!).
In this blog post, we will highlight the consequences of enabling and offer specific strategies for effective support.
Supporting: Empowering Growth and Resilience
Supporting someone entails providing assistance, encouragement, and resources that enable individuals to overcome challenges and develop their skills and strengths. You can think of supporting as being the “Coach” - offering encouragement and guidance from the sidelines but not running out on the field to block the tackle.
When support is offered appropriately, it provides the foundation for others to find their own solutions thereby fostering resilience, self-confidence, and self-efficacy.
Encouraging Autonomy: Supporting emphasizes the importance of autonomy, allowing individuals to make their own decisions and take responsibility for their actions. This approach recognizes that individuals are capable of managing their own lives but we all need a little help at times.
Providing Emotional Support: Emotional support involves offering understanding, empathy, and validation to individuals facing emotional or psychological struggles. By lending a listening ear and showing compassion, we can create a safe space for individuals to express their feelings and find comfort.
Offering Resources and Guidance: Supporting also encompasses providing access to information, resources, and guidance that can help individuals navigate challenges. This can include educational materials, professional advice, or connecting them with appropriate networks or support groups.
Enabling: Hindering Growth and Fostering Dependency
Enabling, on the other hand, involves behaviors that inadvertently reinforce dependency and lack of confidence and inhibit personal growth. You can think of enabling as being the “Fixer” - taking care of the problems and struggles of others so they don’t do it “wrong” or suffer any consequences.
Remember the movie “Finding Nemo”? Nemo’s dad, Marlin, was the “fixer” - frantically working to protect Nemo from danger and suffering. When Marlin finally let go of “fixing” and acted more like a “coach” as Nemo rescued Dory from the fisherman’s net, Nemo was able to take ownership of the situation, problem-solve, and rescue his friend.
Enabling generally stems from good intentions, but unintentionally fosters dependence, low confidence, trouble making decisions, and feelings of inadequacy. It hinders individuals from developing the necessary skills and wisdom to overcome obstacles.
It's crucial to recognize enabling behaviors to avoid inadvertently sabotaging the growth and personal power of those we love.
Removing Consequences: Enabling often involves shielding individuals from facing the consequences of their actions, which prevents them from learning from their mistakes. This can perpetuate a cycle of irresponsibility and dependence, hindering personal growth and development.
Overprotection and Overcompensation: Enablers may excessively protect individuals from experiencing discomfort or adversity, inadvertently preventing them from developing resilience and problem-solving skills. Overcompensation can lead to a sense of entitlement and a lack of accountability.
Ignoring Boundaries: Enabling behavior often ignores boundaries and personal responsibilities, taking on tasks that should be the individual's responsibility. This can lead to a loss of self-efficacy and a diminished sense of personal agency.
Strategies for Effective Support:
To ensure that we are providing effective support rather than enabling, it is important to implement certain strategies:
Check your beliefs! It is imperative to come from the framework that each of us has our own source of wisdom and path to walk, and that we possess the ability to weather the consequences of our actions and learn from our mistakes. Equally important is recognizing if you’re “fixing” others problems because it makes you feel valuable and lovable. Consider the cost of this faulty belief to both you and your loved one.
Encourage Personal Responsibility: Promote accountability and personal agency by encouraging individuals to take ownership of their actions and decisions. Allow them to experience the natural consequences of their choices and provide guidance in reflecting upon and learning from those experiences.
Example, “I’m not going to pay for the window you broke with your baseball but I have some ideas of how you could earn the money. Would you like to hear them?”
Foster Independence: Support individuals in developing their skills and self-reliance by offering assistance that promotes autonomy. Encourage them to explore their own solutions, make decisions, and take actions independently while offering guidance and support along the way.
Example, “I’m wondering what ideas you might think of for avoiding hitting your baseball into the window again?”
Set Boundaries: Establish clear boundaries and communicate expectations in a supportive manner. This helps individuals understand their responsibilities and allows them to develop a sense of self-discipline and accountability.
Example, “I love that you’re so passionate about baseball and I know this was an accident. I do expect you to respect the area around where you’re playing and I trust you to find a space to play ball where nothing can be damaged. Let me know if you’d like help brainstorming where that might be.”
Distinguishing between supporting and enabling is vital in fostering personal growth, maintaining healthy relationships, and promoting independence. By providing appropriate support, we empower individuals to overcome challenges, build resilience, and thrive. And what more could we want for those we love?