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Helping or Enabling?

By Caroline

Last month, I mentioned I would discuss those motherly feelings that make me want to endorse my daughter’s troubles or issues and solve them … but then, is it helping or enabling? How do I tell the difference? And how do I stop myself, in the moment?
Let me explain what I mean by “enabling versus helping.” I believe that when you enable someone, you actually are assuming a superior position. Think about it. If you do for others when they can do for themselves, you’re indicating that they’re incapable and that you’re better … while helping is about an exchange, an offer, a contribution. To me, it’s the difference between giving a hungry person a fish, rather than helping him build a fishing rod. Nothing is gained long term, the person didn’t grow from the experience, nothing was learned. There was no accountability!


So, how do you know the boundary between being helpful and enabling? As a very common example: If you lend a child, a sibling or friend money, and do not create a plan for them to repay you (in some way), you are not holding them responsible and accountable, and you are possibly giving the impression that they can’t take care of themselves. It creates a dependence, putting you in a superior position. You’re enabling them, not helping!
And where does “helping” fall in the energy chart? For me, it’s a 5 (“Give the person a fishing rod rather than the fish”). What about “enabling?” That looks like a 2 to me. It’s based on judgment, feeling righteous and dominating. Remember, energy 2 is destructive long term, while a 5 is fueling, energizing, productive energy.
Another way to know? Is the person thanking you or blaming you? If they truly thank you, from the heart, you have helped. If they act like they’re blaming you, that’s because deep down, they know they’re not valued, not trusted to find their own way out, create their own solution. They feel your energy 2 and react in kind.
It’s so hard to be parents. We are used to doing everything for our kids when they are very young, and we don’t necessarily learn to stand back as they grow up and allow them to take on more responsibility. So, in the moment, ask yourself, “Am I teaching her to dig a well or am I providing a glass of water? Is it a potential for growth or a quick fix? Am I giving her some accountability?” The result will be an opportunity for her to learn and grow, and feel proud of her success … not resentful!
Merry Christmas! Joyeux Noel!

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