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Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime. Unknown

I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it. Maya Angelou

You have no empathy. You’re an enabler. We level accusations at people but do we really understand the difference?

When we feel “with” someone, their pain is theirs, not ours to carry. We can share experiences with them and our words of wisdom. We can make them feel “heard” and help them feel less alone in their struggle. But, it’s their struggle.

When we feel “for” someone, we take on their suffering and make it our responsibility to fix. When we take on their burden we disempower them, we enable their distorted thinking, and we make excuses for them. We feel sorry for them. We are operating under the assumption they are unable to solve their own problem, they need our help to solve their problem.

Herein lies the problem, because it is their problem and only they can fix it. When we empower someone we support them in doing the work necessary to move forward. When we enable someone it means we do the work for them and make excuses for why they can’t or aren’t doing it.

When we empower someone they take responsibility for their own lives and their energy remains high. When we enable someone we take responsibility for their lives and our energy levels begins to drain, especially if the person we are enabling sees us as an emotional crutch to solve their problems.

How do we make sure we are empowering instead of enabling?

We need to accept people as they are. We shouldn’t try to fix them, save them, or change them in any way to fit into our life. Once we accept them as they are, we may have to admit they don’t fit with our values or our lifestyle, because if they did why were we trying to fix them?

We all go through trials and tribulations in our life. It is through the hard times in our life we grow. When we try to take on someone else’s load we are denying them their growth. The energy we are expending on their lives should be expended on our own for our growth.

Often we need to quit offering advice and start listening instead. Sometimes we have to bow out. We need to let go of thinking we know how something in someone else’s life should be. Sharing the lessons we’ve learned and inspiring others to think and feel differently may be encouraging, but that has to be their choice.

We can light the way, we can open doors, but it is not our job to make their life better, safer, or happier.  Are we using our judgment or just being judgmental? If they have to change for us we are not maintaining strong boundaries, we are not maintaining integrity, and we are not limiting resentment.

We need to shoulder our own burdens, carry our own load, and create our own life. If we take on someone else’s burdens we are not building our own life, and they are not building theirs. We may have to back off, let go, and disentangle ourselves from them so they can take up their own burden and become who they are to be. When we let them deal with their own lives we are both happier. It is not their job to build a life to our satisfaction but to theirs.

We never set out to be an enabler it happens because we don’t like feelings of guilt, sadness, or pain. Enabling doesn’t lead to feelings of satisfaction, peace or happiness. It leads to frustration, bitterness, resentment, and even depression.

An article by Pathways to Create a Great Life tells us enabling does harm by:

Keeping someone from having to face the consequences of their own behavior.

Robbing them of the opportunity to do something on their own and so gain self-esteem.

Making things too easy for them.

If our “help” is actually harming someone, either now or in the long run, it is enabling.

When we find ourselves trying to fix the other person’s problem or we find ourselves needing to help the other person for our own sense of identity – then we are dealing with codependency. Sherry Collier

We think we listen, but very rarely do we listen with real understanding, true empathy. Yet listening, of this very special kind, is one of the most potent forces for change that I know. Carl Rogers

We all need to take full responsibility for our lives, emotionally, physically, spiritually. We need to know no one else can do this for us, nor can we do this for anyone else. If we need help, it is healthy to ask but to do it without feeling entitled to that help. When we reach out to help someone else we must seek to support them on their journey without creating an unhealthy dependence.

It is a fine balance we walk between empathy and enabling. We may need to ask our self along the way, am I enabling them? Am I trying to do for them something they need to do for themselves? Am I hindering their growth? We need to find healthy ways to show true compassion and empathy and do more good than harm.

If we are helping for any of these reasons we are doing more harm than good:

We can’t stand to see them in pain.

They will owe us.

They make us feel needed and important.

We’ll feel guilty if we don’t help.

We don’t want them to think we are mean.

They’ll love us more if we help.

Are we trying to rescue someone? Does our identity rest in helping others? Are we trying to help someone because we don’t feel strong enough to help our self? Are their problems a distraction from our own challenges?

We need to carry our load and we need to let them carry theirs. We need to respect them as equals not as damaged, fragile, or incompetent tragic figures. They don’t need our pity; they may need a hand up, but not a handout.

Are we guilty of helping too much, are we crossing the line between empathy and enabling?

Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around. Leo Buscaglia

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Plato

Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion by [Bloom, Paul]
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