Thursday, 19 July 2012

Help vs Enabling

There is a poem called “I will not help you” I heard it quite a few years ago.  I’ve tried to search for it but you try typing those five little words into Google and sift through the millions of hits you get.  I caught up with the lady who read it at a meeting and she gave me a copy.  A few earthquakes and a shift later, who knows where it’s gotten to.  But right now, I feel it’s appropriate.

I will not help you.

Doesn’t that sound cold and hard?  The reality is that it’s quite the opposite.  We are so conditioned to believe that we should help everyone in every way we can.  However, by helping we are usually not allowing that person to grow or learn how to help themselves.

It goes somewhat with the saying “there is no self-less act”.  When we help someone, it makes us feel good.  Sometimes for genuinely pleasant reasons.  That person is a friend, I don’t want to see them suffer when I can do something about it.  More often it makes us feel superior, not that we realise it at the time, or would admit it if we did.  That person had to come to us, they needed us in order to get through.  After a while, it becomes a chore.  Haven’t they figured it out yet?  How do they keep getting into this position? When will they learn?

Truth is that by constantly helping that person, you are enabling that behaviour.  There is no natural consequence.  What have they learned?  That they can do this, get into that position and you’ll be there to clean it all up for them.  We don’t do that with our children, why do it with our friends?

It took me a long time to learn this.  And I had to learn it the hard way.  Even when I thought I’d learned it I found I hadn’t.  I could see it on a big scale, but not on the smaller one.  Look at all the times when we do something we shouldn’t have to because it needs to be done and it seems that no one else is going to do it.  My partner has this at work.  In his position, he finds the mistakes made by the design team.  He needs to fix them because otherwise his part of the job is wrong and it gets very messy for him.  He’s spent the last 12 years going back to the design team and saying “you need to get this sorted” and they roll their eyes and make jokes about it.  It was suggested to him that he lets one or two go, without fixing it, to make it clear that this is a problem.  He won’t though, he thinks that would effectively be sabotage and if he did that, knowing it to be wrong or faulty then he should lose his job.  He is stuck in a position of having to enable them.  They don’t need to clean up their acts and get things right because my partner will fix it for them.  The ‘helper’ is the one who suffers for it.

We have a rental property, currently tenanted by adult children of some friends.  If ever there was a nasty case of helping/enabling there it is.  Mum is quite fierce when it comes to her kids, she’ll step in without the slightest hesitation.  This is becoming a problem for us.  There was a problem with the house, none of the tenants got in touch with us, it was Mum.  And Dad was ringing us to find out what was going on with it.  We’ve had to say to our friends that we can’t be talking to them about it.  They aren’t our tenants, there is no way we should have to be dealing with the parents and not the tenants.

More recently, we’re in a situation where the builder is coming in to do the earthquake repairs.  The tenants need to move out for 5-6 weeks while the house is being worked on.  Because it’s a rental, our insurance doesn’t cover this, EQC doesn’t cover this, so we’re not charging rent while they’re not in the house.  My partner was spending time with his friend, the Dad, last night.  Dad kept going on about what’s happening with the place until my partner said to him that he’s not going to discuss it with him as really it’s not his business.  The problem is that Dad is the one who is having to do all the work finding a place for the kids.  They won’t do it themselves.

And there is the guts of the problem.  They won’t do it themselves, why would they when Mum and Dad will take care of it for them.  Mum and Dad run themselves ragged and make themselves sick every time because the kids won’t do it for themselves.  It’s a vicious cycle - Mum and Dad fix it because the kids won’t.  The kids won’t because Mum and Dad will fix it.

A friend and ex-flatmate of my daughter’s is even worse.  She has set herself up at the centre of a web of friends with mental health issues.  She is always on Facebook asking for “healing energy” and support for a friend who is suicidal or cutting or having another breakdown.  She thinks of herself as being wise and able to help them get through.  The reality is that she gets an emotional reward constantly by ‘saving’ them.

She doesn’t understand that she’s not in fact helping anyone.  She’s enabling this behaviour.  This one doesn’t need to grow up and face her problems and learn any coping skills because she’s got someone who will prop her up and ‘make it all better’.  That one doesn’t have to realise that she doesn’t have multiple personalities at all, she’s separated the parts of herself into different one dimensional characters and plays silly attention seeking games that others buy into.  She’s obviously got a few things that need to be resolved, but pretending to have a breakdown (and detailing it with updates at five minute intervals on Facebook) and bouncing back within a few hours isn’t working towards any kind of resolution or growth.  It won’t solve any problems, it will create new ones and the cycle never ends.

This friend of my daughter’s doesn’t see that she’s like a ghoulish spider.  She’s feeding off the “issues” that her friends have, and by “helping” them constantly, she’s ensuring a continuous supply of being needed and having to be there.  It’s arrogance and vampirism and enabling.  It’s not help for these poor kids who lean on her, what coping skills are they learning?  What tools have they gained that will allow them to face real life?  She’s still a kid herself, she’s not a mental health professional.  What right does she really have to tell them what they should do?  To try to counsel them or offer better solutions.  I don’t agree with the “well, I’ve been through it too, so I know all about it” angle.  I’m a woman with children, does that mean that I’m the complete expert on women and raising kids?  Hell no.  You wouldn’t accept it there, why accept it anywhere else?

There is a proverb “if you save a life, you are thereafter responsible for it”.  It doesn’t really seem to mean a great deal at first.  What about the doctors, nurses, ambulance officers, police officers, rescue workers and all the others in those kinds of work?  Are they responsible for every life they save?  Well, the answer there is no, but what about saving a friend who has attempted suicide?  I did it.  At the ripe old age of 14, I had a friend who was always trying to kill herself.  The only time she looked like succeeding she rang me and told me she didn’t want to die.  A few quick panicky calls later and she was rushed into hospital and had her stomach pumped.  It wasn’t her first attempt, and it certainly wasn’t her last, but it was the only one that seemed to be working and she called on me.  Afterwards, I didn’t feel like I could leave her alone.  I had to make sure she was safe and not going to try again.  That’s a hell of a responsibility for a young teenaged girl.  I was still trying to figure out who I was and how I was going to be in life, I shouldn’t have had to be a mother as well, and especially not to a friend who was a year older than me.

I had a breakdown as a result of this.  It took me a few years to understand that she wanted attention, not to die.  And I was the poor fool who got caught up in it.  Now, I have little to no patience with people like this, but it’s difficult when my own kids seem to be doing the same thing.  It seems to have become the latest fashion in self-expression.  Forget tattoos and funky hair dyes, kids now have scars striping up their arms because cutting is like an addiction.

I don’t want your hand this time,
I’ll save myself. 
Maybe I’ll wake up for once.

~ Evanescence Going Under (c) 2003

I’ve been rescued more than a few times myself.  For many years I didn’t need to learn to be sensible with money.  If I got in trouble I could borrow it off my parents, and while they might give me a lecture about it, they’d be there and lend me money.  The best thing they did for me was to say no.  I had to get myself out of trouble.  I also knew that they didn’t approve of me leaving my husband and in a moment of pride I decided that I wouldn’t rely on my parents anymore.  I was an adult and needed to learn how to sort my own shit out.  I got myself out of nearly $30,000 debt without needing a handout from them. I’m still proud of that.

It was quite shocking to me initially, when a friend told me his way of dealing with people telling you that they’re off to kill themselves.  He’ll give them a hug, tell them that he’ll miss them, but it’s their choice and he won’t interfere with that.  I was gobsmacked.  How could anyone be so cold and harsh?  But after a bit of thought, I get it.  He’s not challenging them by telling them they’re just attention seeking so that they have to go and do something to prove that they’re not.  He’s not buying into the drama.  He’s taking a step back and letting them face the hard truth themselves.  Are they serious?  And how far will they go?

That is help.  That is useful help.  There is no enabling, there is no feelgood kickback.  It’s not heartless, he made his feelings known, but to solve it is up to the person themselves.

1 comment:

  1. RE: The rescued friend - While it might be true that it was "just" a cry for attention - it's always more than that. Somethign pushes people to see that as effective, and once it starts working, they're not really in a place to use any other way of getting the attention...and as soon as it's safe to leave them on their own they want the attention they were getting back again. Attention that people were about to take back for their own lives because they thought the issues solved. And the more we help them, the more successful and dependant they become on this strategy. But to beat it, we need to shape a better world for all of us, one that help us understand who we are ourselves. One where we can face our needs and fears honestly without the shadow and dark empowering them.

    As the messages from the gods says...I love you all well enough to give you the space you need to grow to be the person you want to be. And I will be there when you move forward, if you should wish to come this way. For my arms are always open to you should you wish to come to me.