I see it all the time. Parents, spouses, girlfriends, boyfriends, all with bleeding hearts; full of compassion and understanding for their loved ones, while the people they love so much continue to hurt them – over and over again, daily.
Why does this happen?
Non-addicts, non-abusers, people without characterological disorders, all play with one set of rules and do not realize that they are on a different playing field altogether than their abusive or addictive counterparts, who are playing a different game, which requires DIFFERENT RULES; period.
You cannot stop addicts or abusers by reasoning with them with eloquent platitudes about how they are acting, ruining their lives, being mean, hurting you, or by having other similar transactions involving reason.
What you do need to do if you are in this boat, is have a complete paradigm shift. Call your current behavior whatever you want. Some call it “codependency;” others “enabling.” You may call it “love” or “care.” Whatever label you are attaching to the dynamic between you and the person driving you crazy – it needs to change. And before it will change you need to give yourself permission to stop doing it.
In fact, if you really feel that your behaviors are borne out of love then this should be relatively easy once you realize that love sometimes comes in the form of compassion, and in other times it comes in the form of, “over my dead body!” – Unwavering resolve to no longer put up with it!
This is not done in anger, or with a loud voice, but rather with a firm, strong, confident, resolute energy force. You need to find this energy force. It resides somewhere deep inside your being; somewhere underneath your fears, hopes, and ineffective personal constructs.
Sometimes people are so close to the problem that they can’t see it.
Here are some real life examples I’ve witnessed with my own eyes:
A 50-year-old happily married couple had a grown daughter, who was 24 years old, living at home, struggling with alcohol dependence and “low living.” As her mother was talking to me about how distressed she was over her adult daughter’s choices, she informed me, “We stopped handing her money, now she has to earn it.” She went on to explain, “For instance, we pay her for doing chores.”
The daughter had lost her driver’s license from a DUI. Receiving a phone call on her iPhone (hmmm) she informed her parents that she was going to go meet her friend. The mom whispered to me, “She’s going to drive to the bar.” (Double hmmm.) The daughter proceeded to ask her father, “Can I have my money for unloading the dishwasher now’ I’ll unload the dishes when I get home.” To which, her father pulled out a twenty dollar bill and handed it to her, telling her to, “Be careful.”
I’m still trying to figure out how to get twenty dollars for unloading a dishwasher…
The parents were loving, kind, understanding, empathic, and intelligent; but, they could not, for the life of them, figure out what on earth was wrong with their daughter.
Here’s one more example:
A mom and dad brought their 15-year-old son in for court-mandated counseling, explaining to me that he had already been to two residential treatment programs for drug addiction. Their son was under house arrest and wore an ankle monitor. One of his probation requirements was to not have any friends come over to the house. During the intake counseling session the child was on his cell phone (hmmm) inviting friends over to the house, while his parents were looking at me saying, “See how defiant he is?”
When I asked the parents why he had a cell phone and why they allowed him to have friends over, their reply was, “He’ll be put in Juvenile Hall and he doesn’t understand how bad that is and we need to protect him.”
Hopefully, you can see the problems in both of these scenarios. Sometimes people act out because they have been abused or traumatized in some way; but sometimes people have serious problems for other reasons. Regardless of a problem’s origin, the solution to poor behavior is not “co-signing” on to it.
One thing that seems apparent to me is the current culture of over-sensitivity and the fear of offending anyone. As people are surrounded by the message that they should never have to tolerate feeling offended, I believe some of them take that concept and run with it. They turn every little slight into a major affront to their sense of dignity. Over time this type of thinking can become a strongly held belief of entitlement.
Enablers overlook their addicts’ and abusers’ sense of entitlement. In fact, they cater to it. This not only reinforces the behavior, but it further emboldens the perpetrators to keep doing it.
It is my opinion that people need to learn how to be offended without (1) taking it personally; (2) letting it define them; (3) letting it destroy their character. I believe that in order to survive this life well, people need to learn a sense of resilience. Resilience involves, among other things, an ability to actually see how one’s behaviors affect others.
The other problem I see with “enablers” is what I have termed the “oblivious effect.” That is, many people are simply oblivious to what is happening right under their noses; in their own homes. I believe in these cases, people simply don’t want to see the truth.
If you are a person who is being manipulated by someone else’s poor behavior then you have all the power in the world to change everything. Here’s how:
- Don’t let your fears dictate your choices
- Give yourself permission to change
- Stand back and put yourself in an outside position and observe the situation objectively
- Stop being oblivious
- Set boundaries; say, “No,” and be consistent
- Stop lecturing
- Don’t view your loved one as a victim
- Keep smiling and be happy
- Don’t be more invested in another person’s well-being than he/she is
- Remember, you can’t change anyone but yourself. Change yourself
My very last piece of advice is to allow yourself to let go of another person’s problem and give yourself the gift of freedom. You can have a good life even if someone you love and care for deeply does not choose to do so.
For a copy of my free monthly newsletter on the psychology of abuse, please send me an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org