Recognizing Professor Empower and General Enable
Do you use your superpowers for good or evil? Do you empower or enable the people around you?
Here’s a simple motto: Empowering people = good. Enabling = bad, mkay?
The superhero I just made up, Professor Empower, knows that healthy relationships are those that empower, not enable. The empower or enable thread runs through all of our relationships to varying degrees.
- Professor Empower would tell a True Friend: “Forget your ex-boyfriend! I would totally sleep with you!” Thanks for the words of encouragement, Professor Empower!
- General Enable would caution an over-protective parent, even one of an adult child, “Don’t worry, honey. I’ll bring the snack to school you left at home every day this week. There’s no use going without.” There’s no lesson like no lesson that when you forget your responsibilities your mom will make sure you don’t go hungry for an hour.
- A confused superhero may not understand how to use his powers for good when dealing with the addict in his life. Many loved ones are really trying to do the right thing when enabling the addicts in their life. The most common mistake General Enable makes when dealing with an addict is to lie about the addict’s behavior to himself or others. General Enable might say,“Jane has the flu so she won’t be joining us.” Professor Empower would say, “Bob is hung-over and isn’t coming tonight.”
Empower or Enable: Excuses. Excuses.
Don’t make excuses for addicts, ever. Don’t apologize for behavior that isn’t yours, ever. I’m sure you are like me and you screw up enough on your own that you don’t need to heap on the crap of others to make you feel/look bad.
If you are doing something for an addict that they are incapable of doing for themselves, you are helping them. If you are doing something for them that they could, or rather should do for themselves, then you are enabling them. When you enable an addict you are actually giving them less incentive to quit and more power to use.
Who has finished the dishes when it wasn’t your turn because it was just easier to do it yourself? Right. All of us. The problem is if you clean up everyone else’s messes, then they expect you to do it all the time. Messes can be financial, physical, emotional, legal or otherwise. There are several reasons you shouldn’t enable people. The person you are enabling may think you don’t believe they are capable of cleaning up their own mess. By doing for them what they could do for themselves, you send the message that they are incompetent. They could begin to believe it’s not their job to clean up their own messes, since you are always doing it. Either way, it’s not a good place to be.
Truly helping someone the right way is fucking hard. It may go against every instinct you have that wants to help end their suffering, to clean up their messes. One of my favorite quotes from Co-Dependent No More by Melody Beattie likens those trying to help an addict to singers in a large chorus.
“If the guy next to us gets off key, it helps him, and us, more to strive to stay on key than to stop what we’re doing in a misguided attempt to help.” I have a card that says “Chorus” taped to my computer to remind me. I still forget.