Thursday, December 11, 2014

Can You Stop Enabling Bad Behavior?

Those of us focused on finding solutions to problems will often encounter one big one: we tend to be enablers.  What does that mean exactly?  Well, it basically means that because we keep covering up or fixing the mistakes of those we love, we don't let them suffer the harsh consequences that would normally result from their bad choices.  But eventually, one of two things will happen: either you get tired of mopping up someone else's messes, or they will create a catastrophic situation that finally leaves you with no choice but to walk away.

There are actually many problem accumulators out there, and I unfortunately have to hear about them and their epic failures every day in divorce court.  Sometimes I refer to these people as ten-triers-- these are people that need to get burned at least 10 times before it finally sinks in that fire is actually dangerous.  Ten triers simply cannot play out the consequences of their choices beforehand, and instead just act on impulse.  They often lack insight into their own behaviors, and impulse control.

If you are a loving, caring person, you will find that you in particular are a magnet for these problematic types.  Why?  Well, precisely because they need you to help fix their problems.  But you can't always play the role of a savior, and eventually you will learn that the best way to help this type of person is to actually let him/her fail.  This is particularly hard when it is your own child or spouse, but at some point you will realize that they will only learn their lessons the hard way.

When you finally cease being an enabler, be prepared for some backlash.  Problem accumulators have a tendency to blame everyone but themselves for their problems, and if you change the status quo on them, chances are high that you will be the target of blame.  It sounds ridiculous, but seriously these people will turn everything around, and somehow it is a huge conspiracy that is working against them to have them terminated at work, incarcerated, hospitalized, evicted, involved in collections actions, with suspended licenses and/or divorced.

Ultimately, you have to realize that these people are toxic.  They create no-win situations that will make you feel ill.  If your home ceases to be a safe harbor because of these individuals, you have to find a way to create boundaries to protect yourself from suffering for bad choices made by others.  One great book I read years ago on this topic was "Boundaries in Marriage" by Dr. Cloud.  Another good resource is "It's All Your Fault" by Bill Eddy, who is the founder of the High Conflict Institute.

High conflict personalities make up over 20% of our population according to a recent NIH study.  You have a 1 in 5 chance of meeting up with one of these, and you can't let feelings of guilt trap you in a pattern of behavior where you continue to facilitate their bad behavior.  Get some help, and stop enabling.   It won't be easy, but this too shall pass.

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