Imagine how many times you have been disappointed with someone’s behavior. They are always late. They continue to break some household rules. They are abusive. They are your children who do not act responsibly or who continually do not do their part. They are friends who never call. They are lovers who don’t want to have sex. They are neighbors who don’t cut the dandelions.
You name it. There are always people who do not do what you feel is the right thing, but you are expecting this of them. If you are still waiting for them for dinner, taking out the trash because they didn’t, still calling when they won’t, and miserable, then you do not have healthy boundaries.
When we stay with an alcoholic who is wreaking havoc on themselves and the family and do not set clear boundaries in regards to rehab, we enable the behavior to continue. Because we are ashamed of their behavior as well as our inability to leave or take a stand, we make excuses for them. This is how they do not feel the consequences of their actions.
If we rob someone of feeling consequences, we rob them of taking responsibility for their actions. This is the classic enabler who displays no boundary.
If we do the dishes when we have set clear expectations that it is our child’s turn, we give the message that it is not necessary for them to carry their weight. Someone will pick up after them. If we ask our small children to clean up their room and then clean up after them when they don’t, we send the very message that they do not have to do it. If we have not taught them how to clean up by doing it with them in the beginning, they may really not know how, yet we blame them.
If we make up lost time for someone who is late, we give the very message that it doesn’t matter if they are late. If we wait to serve dinner to accommodate a chronically late family member, we do not allow them to feel what they are missing when they don’t eat with the family. They may not even care like we care. This is when we must evaluate what is right for us, not what is right for them.
If we worry about our children’s success, constantly helping them, we rob them of learning how to do the homework/work/practice themselves. We create extremely codependent people who do not know how to fail.
But what if we don’t want dirty dishes everywhere, while we wait for the kid to do them? What if we have house guests coming and everything is a mess? What if we really want to see the person and eat dinner with them even if they are always late?
In these cases, we have to be OK with things and people being the way they are and not what we think they should be and do.
There has to be a clear decision within ourselves that accepts the behavior for what it is without the expectation of it changing. We then have to decide whether we want to tolerate it or not. In many cases, it is often that we are lazy about allowing consequences that they will actually feel, often known as tough love.
For example, if someone doesn’t do the dishes, but we like the kitchen clean, then we cannot keep blaming them for not adhering to our cleanliness standards. They obviously don’t care if the dishes are done. We impose a certain picture of how we like things on others and expect them to comply. Now we may want to teach our children that everyone contributes in the family and an orderly kitchen is more hygienic and more efficient to run. When we are hungry and pots are available without having to wash it, or worse, scrape days old macaroni stuck to the bottom, we can get right to the cooking. They have to learn this through experience and consequence to know its truth. Some people just don’t care if they have to wash it right before they use it. They don’t care if the place is messy. Go look in any college household.
So what is proper boundary here?
Either we have to give up our expectation of how we want others to comply to our likes and desires about keeping the kitchen clean and do it ourselves without asking them to do it, or we let a little chaos happen with dirty dishes piling up and let the kid scrub the pan the next time he wants to make macaroni.
It is hard when it affects others in the house, but the collective will start experiencing the consequences of someone’s actions. It will eventually be learned that all things go better when each individual takes responsibility for his/her actions.
If you do wash the pot, resenting the kid/wife/husband who did not do it, then your boundaries are not in order. Perhaps you can devise some way for that person to feel the consequences, but the issue is enabling and resenting.
Understanding our own needs/standards/desires without putting the expectation of others to fill those needs is a healthy boundary.
We learn to accept what is and decide if that is right for us. We teach our children in a way that they feel the consequences, instead of nagging and punishing. Shaming and condemning never goes very far with anyone.
Now that we have the picture of what it means to be an enabler, the real work comes in struggling to not be one. We may find ourselves powerless to leave an abusive relationship. We may be afraid of saying no. We may pick up the pieces over and over in order to make things right. We may tolerate unskillful behavior under the guise of being tolerant and “bigger than that”, when in fact we are miserable.
The work of three centered awareness is a surefire way of discovering what really lies beneath our enabling. This allows us to see in a present moment how we are put together from the inside. It will show us the why. It will shed light on our own sense of unworthiness, our fears of not being accepted, or being alone, or our desire for power. It takes practice in attention to get this kind of perspective of our inner self. That practice will counteract the enabling because we start to directly see the cause of our actions in a new way.
The first step is to notice that you enable. The second step is to catch yourself in the moment of struggle to not enable. What are the feelings going through you? Are you able to observe your thoughts? What makes you give in?
Are you enabling someone by keeping them from feeling the consequences of their actions?
In the case of children or parents, do you continue to blame them for not being, having, or doing what you want?
Do you give away your power and the right to be satisfied and at peace by blaming and resenting someone with whom you continue to enable?
Lots of questions for you to ponder as you go forth this week.
Blessings on all of us enablers.
We often learn the hard way.