I’m always questioning whether my need to ‘rescue’ others is actually hurting them, rather than helping them.
We hear experts say that when you don’t allow someone to experience disappointment, struggles, the consequences of their choices, you’re robbing them of valuable opportunities for personal growth and maturity.
I never know just where the line is, between helping and hurting and I have a lot of trouble with sitting back and watching someone struggle, when I know I could help.
A friend of mine recently posted the question on social media, “Are you an enabler?”
I started thinking about my friend of 38 years and all the times I’ve taken her, or her and her son into my home, how many times I’ve taken on the responsibility of providing transportation for her, cleaned for her, cooked for her, given her clothing, done a variety of things for her.
She visited on Thursday, for the first time since the week before Christmas. She’s recovered from having her kidney removed, but when she tried to return to work, she discovered that her boss had demoted her from Assistant Manager to clerk, discontinued her salary (she’s not even sure what her hourly wage is at this time) and cut her from full time hours to part time, as needed.
I asked her about her bills, how she was going to make ends meet, if she was planning to find a smaller, less expensive apartment, if she’s started looking for a new job, if she’s looked into public assistance to help her through this transition.
She informed me that she hasn’t even started to look for a new job. I helped her update her resume´and encouraged her to spend some time in deep thought considering what she’d like to do with the rest of her working years, what job she might enjoy, that she’s qualified to do. I spent a good hour building her up, trying to point out her experience and what she might be able to do. She had nothing but negativity to offer.
She indicated her only bills were not too bad, then listed them, rent, electricity, internet, groceries, health insurance, and that she had to begin paying for her surgery and doctor bills. I asked her how that was “not too bad”, if she’s only working part time hours? She then informed me that her father had paid her rent for a year. He’d paid her rent for 8 months last year, because she’d told him she needed a new stove and a new sofa, some miscellaneous furniture and couldn’t afford it. He paid her rent thinking she’d take the money and apply it to getting the items she’d listed. She did buy a sofa, but didn’t follow through on anything else she’d talked about. When her mother asked her where all that money went, she said she told her, “eating out and groceries.” That’s dishonest, as when she was paying her own rent, she was eating out every night, buying minimal groceries, so she was affording that before she had the rent money to put aside.
Between the 8 months he paid her rent last year and paying the rent for this full year, he’s paid $14,000 in rent for her.
She indicated that she’d gotten food stamps for the month of December, while she was recovering and not cleared for work. She also told me that her brother and sister-in-law had brought her groceries, supplies for her cats, etc.
Her adult son lives with her and is making a lot more money than she is, but he’s only giving her $250 a month for living with her.
She told me before Christmas and again on Thursday that her father implored her to ask me for help, to see if I could tap my resources, having worked in the disability rights field, to get her some support, information on programs that are available, how she might get disability benefits, some sort of help.
The problem with that is I’ve been offering her suggestions and trying to guide her to resources and services for years. She just chooses not to act on anything that’s suggested. Her first instinct is to try to imagine how she wouldn’t qualify for anything, rather than checking into things to see what the criteria really is.
As I was listening to her, my mind started to wander to the discussion that other friend had regarding ‘enabling.’
She was telling me how she’s going to buy her fifth cell phone because one of the four she currently has is “acting up.”
I started to recount all the things my husband and I had done for her and her son over the years, all the things her parents had done for her over the years, how everyone around her made excuses for her, bailed her out of the difficulties she constantly seemed to find herself dealing with.
I’ve often reflected and felt that she shouldn’t have left home and come to live with myself and a mutual friend, when we had to leave home. She just wasn’t ready. She didn’t have the independent living skills that we did, because she’d never been made to do anything, her parents were affluent and gave their kids everything they wanted. I’ve often blamed myself for how much she relies on us, because we have been her safety net for decades.
I thought I was helping, supporting, being empathetic, being a good friend.
When my friend was discussing enabling, she asked what does it do for you?
I know that it made me feel good. It felt good to share what I had, to be a ‘soft place’ for her to land when she was having trouble. I had wished I had someone like that to be there for me.
Then I started to think about it and question if maybe always being there to help her was a way I measured my own success, whether I was making the right decisions, a way to boost my own self-esteem.
I’m not sure about the psychology behind it, but I know that I need to stop rescuing, stop enabling, stop taking responsibility for her problems and how to solve them. I need to learn to listen, but keep my views to myself, keep my ideas and suggestions about how to deal with any problem to myself. She needs to start figuring out how to live her life for herself.
I keep saying I need to stop it, but then I catch myself in the same situations over and over again, doing the same things. I really need to set a boundary for myself.