So recently, I have been asked my opinion of unconditional love, is it possible? What is tough love? What is the difference between helping and enabling and at what point does helping turn into enabling?
I will give only my opinion out of my own struggles with these questions and it is only what I have learned as I walked through this journey thus far. It is not clinical or science, but mere personal experience and as I share often on subjects I have dealt with, I hear from others that are going through similar struggles. So my prayer is that you may find some truth and be enlightened by my sharing on this subject.
We can all proclaim to love someone unconditionally, but I wonder if that is really possible for us as humans? God loves us unconditionally, whether we ever accept His love or not. His unconditional love is never based on us, what we do or what we don’t do. He loves us in spite of ourselves. His love is above all other loves. It truly is so amazing, it is miraculous and the fact that He loved us so much that He would allow His Son, actually giving His Son to die in our place, is unfathomable for me to comprehend. As I ponder upon this amazing, undeserved gift, I have to simply accept it by faith; unworthy as I am, believe and know there is no one else that will and could ever love like that. Oh how great a love is my Father’s love for me and for you!
So do we humans have the capacity to love without conditions, to continue loving and not be rewarded or receive back; can we love if we are hated, disrespected, cursed, spat upon and hurt in the process of our loving? I believe only God can help us to love that way and even then, we will still fall short of loving unconditionally.
Further, to love unconditionally means to love without boundaries, to love without expectations, to love without judgments, to love without preconceived ideas and notions and to love without any conditions at all. As human beings, we base our giving love upon what we want and what we expect to get in return. We love based upon our decisions of what we deem to be truth and lies, what is right and what is wrong. Example: If someone does us wrong, we can turn 180 degrees and go from loving to being hateful and seeking revenge.
We, as a society are made up of people who try to live in harmony for the most part and we desire to be at peace with our brothers and sisters as we abide by the laws of the land. We have to have rules to follow and be able to judge and discern what is right and just and what is wrong, what is holy and sacred from the defiled and profane, to prefer what is good from that which is evil. In having a conscience, morals and a value system; we decide when, where and who gets our help, forgiveness and pardon. We are capable of loving and when we do love, we show that love through giving, caring and helping and for how long and how much. However there is a fine line between our helpings turning into enabling.
The term enabling means to “help” someone to the point of keeping them in a perpetual state of dependence upon us and whatever other entity is involved. There is always a payoff for everything we do in life or else we wouldn’t do it. Most of us learn this life lesson as children. We study hard in school so we get the good grades, gaining parents praise and getting into a better college, we train and learn new things so we can expand and increase our earning potential, we work because we get a paycheck to pay our bills and obligations, we exercise and eat right because our bodies look, feel and are healthier, we wait and delay gratification because the end result is grander and greater because we waited. Likewise the reward an enabler attains from enabling can fill some void, something missing; whether through praise, glory, recognition, adoration, etc…. along with the pride and false sense of superiority the enabler feels since they are saving someone. Enablers tend to thrive on the “feel good high” they experience during the time of enabling. Enablers are often times “people pleasers”, someone that desires to control others decisions and lives because their own is out of control. What is so ironic about this whole scenario of enabling is that enablers usually tend to start out “helping” on a positive note, wanting to make someone and something better, but most of the time enablers end up feeling resentful, frustrated, taken advantage of and unappreciated. In most the cases the recipient actually becomes handicapped, impaired and unable to care for their own needs because enablers have become their “source”, their “fixer”, their “solution”, their “savior”. There is no need to look any further or within for the answers.
To be perfectly honest, I can share volumes on this subject, because I have struggled in this area a huge majority of my life. Because I do love people, I do care about the pain and suffering in the world and because I am a helper; I have some good, noble ideas in fixing others problems. I have the ability to foresee and anticipate a crisis approaching before someone I love suffers, and because of that, I often times have already made an interception, keeping them from harm. But in the aftermath, I can see where I have interfered with their learning, their growth, their maturing and becoming stronger to stand on their own. I end up sacrificing myself not only financially, but emotionally, physically, and even spiritually in my attempt to better serve someone else’s needs.
It all starts out as a desire to help, because I want to see them better off, doing better and making it in life successfully, being productive and contributing to society in a loving and positive way and eventually being able to “pay it forward” in helping someone else one day so that the circle of goodwill continues.
BUT: in a “perfect” world, that is the way our helping should turn out. Performing an act of kindness, doing something nice, something unexpected for someone or helping out occasionally is one thing and we all should be that way, but when a person is capable and their responsibilities and obligations are taken and handled for them all the time, they are being irresponsible and so is the one doing it. Enabling protects them from the consequences of their choices and actions they have made. The more we do for some people, the more dependent they will become on us, the more they will take us for granted and they will be less motivated to make any positive changes in their own lives and eventually the “good help” we thought we were doing will actually turn into a downward spiral for all involved. So a vicious cycle will continue: the more help we give = the more we enable = the more they need and expect = they become more dependent = more resentment = more help = more enabling = more dependence = more resentment and on and on and on it goes!
There are some people we help and they become so dependent upon us, they can’t survive without us. They become lazy and in all reality, why should they change and get better themselves if we keep taking care of them? They expect more and more and more and the giving and helping is never enough because their lives are empty and a bottomless pit that can never be filled with what we give. For me, I have learned there are not enough hours in the day I can work to earn enough money to help some of the people in my life, sad to say but a couple of these leaches are family members. And the more I give, the more they take and the more they expect and they are forgetful of the past giving’s and when I finally have had to say “no”, I have become the “bad person” in their eyes. They are mean, ungrateful, turning against me and have set out to hurt me. They have said terrible, hurtful things all because I no longer play the game of being their enabler, their supplier and their provider. I have been called selfish, self-centered, and stingy, but it is ok, breaking bad habits are never easy or painless! I love them still and I continue to pray for them every day, but I refuse to be part of this dangerous, enabling game any longer.
Real, true love for someone is being able to take a step back and allow them to suffer enough to realize their need for change. This is the practice of “tough love”. This is the only way to break the cycle of enabling and help them become a mature, responsible, whole man or woman and function in a productive manner with society.
With determination and God’s help and some good reading material on breaking the cycles of enabling and co-dependency, I can proclaim “I am a recovering enabler and former people pleaser that has learned to say NO!”
Following are some tips I have found very helpful:
- Don’t lie for anyone for any reason! Be truthful and speak the truth from your heart ALWAYS!
- Don’t make excuses for anyone when their obligations go unfulfilled!
- Don’t clean up, especially after a substance abuser! They should see the damage and chaos they have created and work to rectify it.
- Don’t pay for others bills, they are not you’re responsibility! You can help out now and again, but when it becomes expected or a hardship for you, STOP!
- Don’t rescue! Everyone must suffer the consequences of their actions. (Which means no paying lawyers bills or posting bail)
- Don’t attempt the frustrating task of fixing everybody! You are not God! He never called you to be their miracle worker, their magician or their savior. Let GO and let God do His work in their life.
- Do stand up for yourself! Not in a mean hateful manner, but you do have to put your foot down and stand up for what is right.
- Do work on yourself! There is a huge section of self-help books available and support groups.
- Do whatever it takes to stop yourself from hurting others by your incessant need to rescue, enable, control and fix!
- Do accept the amazing love and forgiveness and grace Father God has for you! He sees you as perfect just the way you are. You don’t need others approval to make you whole.
It is perfectly ok if people get mad because you say no, it is more than ok if they curse and talk bad about you, it is ok if you take care of yourself and put your needs and desires first. That is one thing I have learned; enablers are not selfish people. So when you take care of yourself first, it is definitely a-ok! You deserve it!
Tonya F. Henshaw
October 4, 2014