When it comes to supporting someone's mental health, it can be difficult to know the right steps to take. Should you, for example, offer direct advice? Is it appropriate to help them financially? Is it beneficial to attend therapy or doctor's appointments together?
And where do boundaries become blurred? At one point, could too much support become detrimental? Is there such a thing as too much love?
There can be a fine line between enabling vs. supporting, but you must understand when you have crossed it. Let's get into what you need to know.
Enabling Tends To Feel Draining
Enabling itself isn't always obvious. After all, how do you truly quantify how you feel about another person? But one thing tends to prevail with continuous enabling: the enabler becomes exhausted.
Beyond that, they start feeling frustrated, resentful, and unappreciated. They wonder why they're giving, giving, giving- only to feel like they're feeding on scraps in return. It becomes this awful and vicious cycle. They often give more, only to be appreciated less.
Of course, after a while, enabling can start to feel like an incessant chore. You feel obligated to do it- because you don't think you have another choice- but it seems thankless at the same time. And after falling into this pattern, it starts taking the time and energy away from the things you do enjoy.
Enabling Often Means Sacrificing Your Needs
When a person has a baby, they understand the inherent sacrifice that comes with raising a newborn. The child is so dependent and so helpless. The parent must do everything they can to protect that child's health.
Indeed, for a few months, the parent may feel like they have completely lost their identity. Life is a loop of feeding and diaper changes and sleep. Everything seemingly revolves around that baby- without the caretaker, they would die.
While most enabling isn't quite this extreme, it can certainly take a toll on someone's identity and overall well-being. When you're trying to solve someone else's problems, when you're holding yourself responsible for someone else's happiness, you naturally surrender parts of yourself.
Sometimes, this sacrifice is worth it. This is a part of being human. But if this is your constant status quo, what's left for you? Who's there to take care of you at the end of the day?
Enabling Can Hurt Your Loved One, Too
At first, this realization may seem paradoxical. Wouldn't your enabling make things better? Aren't you doing for someone what they cannot do for themselves?
Yes. And no. Yes, you're doing things for someone else. But no, you're not necessarily improving the situation. If anything, you risk fostering more helplessness, dependence, and immaturity.
You risk your loved one continuing to make the same mistakes because they know they have a safety net. Love means showing support. It means providing guidance and compassion and empathy.
But try to keep in mind that love doesn't mean you fix all the problems. And it doesn't mean you shouldn't hold people accountable for their actions. Everyone must learn the essentials of personal responsibility.
When people are continuously enabled, they don't learn the value of responsibility. They often blame others. They may become entitled- they expect people to do things for them, and they expect the world to operate from a specific framework.
Likewise, they often struggle with their own identity. Their mental health may suffer tremendously. They may lack problem-solving skills and sabotage their relationships and coping skills.
Enabling Can Also Worsen Your Mental Health
In trying to fix someone else's situation, you may inadvertently worsen your own. That's because enabling requires immense time, energy, and effort. You may jeopardize other important elements of your life- your other relationships, finances, physical health, job, hobbies- to take care of someone else.
It's not uncommon for enablers to feel a profound sense of emptiness or despair. Sometimes, they don't know who they are without helping someone else. Often, they only feel validation for what they give to others. While giving feels good, it is not your sole purpose in life.
You must prioritize your own values and self-care. This matters regardless of your loved one's health. It matters regardless of what they are- or are not- doing. Your happiness cannot be contingent on their decisions.
Enabling Vs. Supporting: You Can Learn To Set Boundaries
If love is the foundation of healthy relationships, boundaries are the walls where the house is made. You can't have a house without walls- unless you don't want any privacy or individual thought or unique identity.
Mental health can be complicated, but you need to honor your integrity and personal well-being. That matters for your sake- and your loved one's sake.
At The Mental Health House, we are here to support you on your journey. We understand how difficult these dynamics can be, and we can teach you new ways of coping with this distress. Contact us today to learn more about our one-of-a-kind program.