May 12 - Helping Versus Enabling

There is an old adage that goes something like this....

Throw a man a fish, feed him for a day; teach a man to fish, feed him for life.

How many fish have you thrown to others lately? And why do you continue to throw them? Is it to receive something in return...such as gratitude, a favor down the road, pleasing someone, avoiding your own hurt by eliminating theirs? Or is it truly just to help out friends in need, to give them a break, to let them know that someone cares?

If the latter is your motive, you probably will feel a lot more satisfied if you teach others to fish rather than to keep throwing them one. You will then know you have truly helped others reach their full potential, rather than perhaps sentencing them to eternal dependency.

It takes a lot longer to teach a skill than it does to supply a quick fix. But you give others their lives when you take the time to educate them...you give them their self-respect back rather than enabling them to feel like they cannot do it themselves…ever.

An example of enabling others is continuing to give them money to buy food even though you know that they are purchasing alcohol or drugs with your gifts. If you are ever afraid that their children do not receive adequate nutrition and you really want to help, buy a few bags of groceries or coupons to a restaurant that does not serve alcohol. Then, instead of handing them money to support their habits, you could take the time to teach the individuals how to manage their money and stick to their budgets.

If your friend has lost his job, volunteer to help him brainstorm so that he can find another…or discover why he was not able to hold the one that he had…but don’t volunteer to pay his bills. Relieving his financial burden may just keep him trapped in his old fears rather than giving him the courage to face the world once again. There is something about a dwindling bank account that gets us moving. If there are no consequences to not working, wouldn’t most of us choose to be on a permanent vacation… at least for a while?

If others have been using alcohol or drugs and have behaved in ways that are embarrassing, do not try to shield them from the effects of their drinking. Instead help them to connect the dots...help them to see that the consequences would not have occurred without the drugs or alcohol being used. Offer to help them find treatment and effective support if they are interested in recovery.

If your child does not want to get dressed for school and misses the bus rather regularly, tell him that the next time he will have to ride the bus in his pajamas…then by all means, let him!

Always remember, if you are helping others to escape from the consequences of their behaviors, you are unfortunately sentencing them to more of the same addictive behaviors. Is this what you want for your loved ones…or are you willing to learn how to support them in a new and genuine way?

Do you find yourself helping others or enabling them? Do you understand the difference? What is your intention when you are helping… are you looking for anything in return? Are you certain? Are you willing to take the time it takes to teach someone “to fish”? Are you willing to make the effort to truly make a difference in another person’s life?

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