When Empathy Becomes Enabling
Before you continue I need you (the reader) to know the following:
I am not perfect at never blurring the lines between showing empathy and becoming an enabler. So this is not me sharing how I overcame my enabling, but simply what I am learning in this process of finding balance.
Empathy (in layman's term) is the ability to sit with someone in their emotional state of struggle. For example if someone is dealing with a loss of a loved one, an empathetic person would just be able to sit with them in their sadness instead of trying to make them feel better. So many times when people are working through a rough season, it is common for us as humans to want to help them and take away whatever is hurting them. Wanting to help and fix isn't always a bad thing, but learning to sit with them can be a powerful thing.
It is powerful when we learn how to empathize with one another, but it becomes dangerous when we cross over to enabling. Enabling is something that I found myself doing with loved ones and those closest to me. I would sit with them in their mourning or rough season but would never challenge them to start moving forward. I was scared that I would rush their process of grieving. So I moved from a place to being a shoulder to cry to becoming a doormat to walk on. It was never a malicious thing, but it became a debilitating thing for both myself and those I thought I was helping. It was about 3 years ago when I came to a place where I noticed that my empathy became enabling, and I knew that I needed to change. As a counselor it is my job to show empathy, but it is also my job to encourage the process of moving forward. When I started the counseling journey there were some things that I became aware of in regards to the difference between being empathetic and being an enabler.
Here are the 3 main things that I learned about
when empathy becomes enabling
1. If there has been a prolonged period of time where the person is choosing to sit in their feelings instead of moving forward.
Grief and hard seasons look different for everyone walking through them, but in everyones journey there needs to be some sort of movement forward (no matter how slow or how much). When we enable, we don't encourage the movement forward in anyway.
2. If you find yourself taking care of the other person so much that your needs an wellbeing are suffering at an alarming rate.
We all have different capacities to be able to give before we start feeling drained. Those who lean on the empathetic side can sometimes give beyond their capacity and then their own emotional and mental health start struggling.
3. If you realize that you are the only person in their life that they are dependent on.
Seasons of loss and/or struggle shouldn't be just a two person process. It should take a village like the cliche saying mentions. So if you start realizing you're their first and only call to help (because you answer it every time) then you may be enabling instead of just showing empathy.
Empathy is a trait that needs to be displayed more often in todays world, but more importantly it is a trait that needs to done right. I hope that in reading this, it encourages you take a step back and see if you're showing empathy or if you have crossed the line into enabling.