When does helping become enabling/dependent?

It’s an issue I ran across. I know that everyday deeds like holding the door, etc. don’t really fall under this. This is more like when people begin to take your help for granted and then if you refuse or set a boundary then you become the bad guy. Or how how you might in one instance just be making the other person dependent on you and so your help becomes a harm because they can’t function without you (assuming they would if they just learned how).

I guess what I am getting at is where do you draw the line between tough love and helping them out. It is sometimes necessary to let someone “fall” so they can help themselves?

I think you need to work this out for yourself.

It’s just that sometimes I mean well, but then people get so dependent on me being around for them that it’s like you get taken for granted. It becomes ASSUMED that I will say yes and that I will help and to refuse would make me callous or mean, when really I’m just tired or just don’t wish to. I cannot count the times that my family’s plans would fall through if I wasn’t around.

In the case of little kids learning to walk, literally. Not so much so they can help themselves, but so they can learn how to stop a fall and how to react after one.

And sometimes you need to do the quotes version with grown-ups. If I’d let my mother get his way, I would have become a nurse and spent my whole life working for her. Every waking minute. She would not have cooked a single meal after I was 15 or so. She would not merely, not have dusted a single shelf, but not even have searched for and given instructions to cleaning ladies, because why would you pay when you already have a built-in slave. The last time she was hospitalized I warned my brothers to leave her alone as much as possible; I knew they wouldn’t believe me when I told them that was best, but I also knew that if I did not warn them then when she started doing as she does, each of them would think it was him going crazy, rather than her being a bitch. Eventually she displayed the behavior I’d warned them about and since I’d given warning their respective first reactions were to check if the rest of my information was correct: yes. If she’s by herself, she’ll find a way to do what she wants to do, all by herself. If she’s got one helper, she’ll drive him nuts with constant demands. And if she’s got two, alas, if she’s got two suddenly she’s incapable of going two steps without holding onto both helpers for dear life. You literally have to let her go, not only for her sake (she’ll actually be in better physical shape if she makes some effort) but for your own sanity and health (when I say she holds on for dear life I mean she leaves bruises; she will also hit you if you’re not quick enough fulfilling her badly-expressed wishes).

When your family makes those plans, do they ask if you’re available? Do they ask if whatever role they’re putting on you is ok? No? Then yeah, they’re taking your for granted and may even be getting into, or well inside, abusive.

I guess I just don’t care about being the “bad guy”.

When you assist someone in THEIR efforts to succeed, you are helping.
Example: Fred has had drug/unemployment problems. You get him into a rehab program and front him tuition money so that, when he is finished with rehab, he can go to a trade school and learn the skills necessary to get a decent job.

When you assist a person in such a way that it allows them to continue on a destructive path, that is enabling.
Example: Fred has had drug/unemployment problems, so you let him live in your basement rent free with no plan in place as to what he is to accomplish. Now, he can remain unemployed and continue his self-destructive lifestyle.

There is a quote that is (close to), “You can not help someone by doing for them, what they could or should, do for themselves.”

I had this quote taped to my computer as a daily reminder when I was struggling to help my brothers. It kinda kept me from ‘helping’ too much.

It also really helps to truly examine WHY you’re doing this helpful thing. Look very closely and be extremely honest, do they need/appreciate it, or does it really mostly make you feel better about your helpfulness, or how good a friend, sibling, etc you are? Because if that’s the case, it’s more about your need to give thanks their need to receive!

This is difficult water to navigate, I wish you Good Luck!

This is 100% on you. Setting boundaries is something that needs to be done early and often in every relationship.

If you yourself don’t understand that you are not responsible for the success of other people’s plans or the happiness of their lives, then they will never believe it either. You always, always have the right to say no. Believe it. Live it.

This is good advice.

Also, another valuable way to look at this kind of question generally is to worry less about what you’ve decided someone else should be able to do, and focus more on what you are happy or unhappy doing.

Not everyone can “do” everything with equal skill or dedication, and part of being in relationship with people is doing the things you can do well to support them where they may not be as successful. If the help that you give others is beyond your capacity, or does not feel valued, then that’s an issue. But beware falling into the mindset that others “should” be doing things for themselves because you’ve decided it’s so.

Machinaforce, just politely “take leave” from your family’s plans a few times to wean them off of you. The next time they make a plan in which you are the linchpin without which it would all fall apart, just say that you already have other plans or are not interested and maybe they should try some other plan.

It’s like obscenity.

I know enabling when I see it.

I guess it’s a cycle between feeling good about being a “good person” or a “good boy”, but also to avoid making people mad. But largely it’s also about just wanting to be useful. It’s like if I refuse to help it makes it seem like I am lazy when I am not.

I don’t mind helping, but when it’s just a constant string of requests then it wears you down after a while. I mean I’m not just a body for you to do everything with. But in a sense it’s like my family does depend in a sense on me being available. I know in the past some solutions were only possible because I had no job. But now I do, kind of, and when I move out they just can’t depend on me all the time.

Like I said I don’t mind helping, but if I am the only one people go to then I’m gonna have to draw a line. If someone genuinely cannot do for themselves normally then that’s different, like my grandmother.

Well I grew up in a Hispanic family so there is a certain domineering element at play.

I know that they place a great importance on family, but sometimes it makes me feel like my life has to revolve around theirs. It’s nice a times to have such a value, but others times it is like a disregard for your wants.

I’ve noted in other threads that my wife works in a field that assists people with developmental (and certain brain trauma) disabilities. Very early in her career she related the stock phrase around her workplace: When you’re helping people, do not put more effort into the success than they do.

I really struggled to understand this, very much because I like to consider myself an altruistic kind of guy. Eventually, she elaborated by explaining…
[li]If the person you are helping is putting forth his/her best effort, the fact that you are putting more effort into the matter robs that person of his/her victory and enjoyment of the spoils – or it insulates him/her from the defeat or facing the consequences. [/li][li]If the person you are helping is putting forth less than his/her best effort, the fact that you are putting more effort into the matter is enabling reliance on (exploitation of) others, thereby inhibiting self-sufficiency and personal growth.[/li][/ul]

This became increasingly problematic with my father-in-law (my wife’s step-father). As long as I’ve known him (and, as my wife reports, long before then) he has always asked people to do things for him or simply expected-without-asking that things were done for him. We got sick of what we called the “Plantation Owner” attitude and we realized one of the big reasons my in-laws liked going to resorts and on cruises* was because their package deals included accommodating people whose focus was catering to his every wish and whim; he got pampered and she got a break from servitude.

We had to set some harsh boundaries when they were visiting last winter. When he would ask for help getting up from the dinner table, we’d push his walker closer and hold onto the table and chair while he levered himself up and grabbed the handles of his machine, but if he asked for someone to lift him, we’d remind him he needed to use his legs (and arms) so they would get stronger#, not use them less and let them get weaker.

My Hispanic friends mentioned that a while back. They noted that they hated it when every member amongst six siblings families was expected$ to ‘pitch in’ to help each other out. On the other hand, they noted that everyone lives in pretty decent neighborhoods in mortgage-free homes, and several have motor homes and extra vehicles and such that were made affordable because the whole extended family pitched in. In fact, my friends got a motor home for ‘free’ because one of the brother’s families decided they were bored with summer road trips and didn’t need it any more but it should stay in the family because everyone bought it.

The critical question is Do They Reciprocate?

But that’s kind-of a separate question from the enabling/exploiting issue. Maybe better for a separate thread?

  • And, for that matter, when he was in a care facility, though the trauma that would put him there was a horrible price to pay

And, because he’s a retired pastor, I would pointedly note “Yeah something about The Lord helping those who help themselves…you know, that kind of thing.”

$ So what might sound like a voluntary donation of whatever amount was more like a required minimal contribution.