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Are You An Enabler? Here’s how you can tell…
We all want what’s best for our loved ones. Mothers want to protect their children, spouses want to help their partners, siblings look out for one another and even good friends have your back. But sometimes this line can be crossed or become blurry. Things can occur where we find ourselves in situations where we need to come to the rescue of others.
The Line Between Caring and Rescuing
The question is, when is this okay? When do we cross the line to becoming an enabler and how do we know when to say enough is enough – to finally save ourselves, and the other person from this trap?
Being left with the regrettable feeling of “I could’ve done more” is not where we like to find ourselves, but I know I’m not alone when I say I’ve been there, multiple times, and that’s okay because I recognize it and I’m working on it.
Sometimes I’ve been physically too far away to help as much as I would’ve liked, other times I’ve had to stop myself from falling into the enabling “rescuer” mode and other times I’ve contributed to the issue they need rescuing from (hey, none of us are perfect!)
Why Do We Become Enablers?
The real reason we like to rescue is because it helps us feel needed. The rescuer depends on the role to give a sense of self, but also depends on it to bridge the gap, seemingly bringing the relationship closer. In other words, the rescuer needs the role just as much, and sometimes more, than the victim needs rescuing.
And if none of you know what I am referring to, enter The Drama Triangle – a dynamic model of social interaction and conflict.
The Drama Triangle
The triangle is formed by “victim, rescuer (or enabler), and persecutor” and refers to roles people unconsciously play, or try to manipulate others to play, not necessarily the actual circumstances in someone’s life.
The unfortunate trap is, people are acting out these roles to meet personal (often unconscious) needs rather than being able to see the picture as a whole and take responsibility for their part in keeping the triangle going.
The Victim (the helpless one)
The stance of the victim is “poor me!” Victims see themselves as victimized, oppressed, powerless, hopeless, and ashamed, and can come across as “super-sensitive,” wanting extra attention from others. They can be oblivious to any responsibility for their negative circumstances and deny possession of the power to change those circumstances.
A person in the victim role will look for a rescuer, a savior, to save them.
How to break free:
1. Discover if you have been acting like a victim. Be honest with yourself, does the description above outline your recent behavior? Is there a pattern of others in your life constantly coming to your rescue?
2. Do things differently. Perhaps you need to spend more time solo or journaling. Finding time away from others may allow you the space to see what’s really going on for you. When you are alone, do the same thoughts and actions occur, or do they disappear as there is no one around to come to your rescue? Do you share your woes for help? Are you truly looking to improve or do you constantly look to others to fix your problems without owning them yourself?
The Rescuer/Enabler (the martyr)
The position of the rescuer is “Let me help you!” Rescuers work hard to help and take care of other people, and they even need to help other people to feel good about themselves while neglecting their own needs.
Rescuers are classically co-dependent and enablers. They need victims to help and often can’t allow the victim to succeed or get better.
Are You a Rescuer?
1. Do you help people who have not clearly expressed that they needed your help?
2. Do you feel guilty and at fault when someone around you has trouble taking responsibility for themselves?
3. Do you sometimes feel angry because you are convinced that the person would do so much better if they listened to your instructions?
4. Do you feel a boost in your self-esteem when helping others and knowing they need you for help and advice?
To save your sanity, your relationship and your energy, it is imperative to learn how to say “no”.
Saving people from making their own mistakes is not your responsibility. I want you to think back to a time that was terrible in your life. One that you would not like to go through again, but when you look back on it now, you see it as the worst, and the best thing that ever happened to you. Now ask yourself, would you want to rob someone of understanding that experience firsthand? Try it in practice the next chance you get and see how you show up differently when you allow the other person to find their own way. You can longer be responsible for the other person’s feelings, thoughts or actions – you have your own to contend with!
The Persecutor (the bully)
The persecutor says, “It’s all your fault!” Persecutors criticize and blame the victim, set strict limits, can be controlling, rigid, authoritative, angry and unpleasant. They keep the victim feeling oppressed through threats and bullying.
Believe it or not, in many instances the persecutor doesn’t fully realize what they’re doing.
Accusatory statements, even if ‘joking’ like, “You never call me” can be replaced by one that is more authentic, coming from a place of genuine care and interest, “Please call me when you have free time, I love hearing about how your week went and all the great stuff you are up to”. This will allow people the space to come to you, without command, which often drives people away anyhow. Learning to let go and trust this will happen takes time, but you’ll find you can have much more energy and lasting positivity if you approach situations with curiosity rather than finger-pointing and blame.
When everyone in the triangle finally wakes up to the roles they are playing repeatedly, they can shift out of their role, and by breaking the cycle, they can be the catalyst for the shift to occur in the others.