Stop Repeating the Same Mistakes of Enabling Bad Behavior

enabling gets you nowhereHave you ever become frustrated because you find yourself in the same (or similar) predicament over and over with a loved one who will not change? How many times do you realize, often too late, that as careful as you thought you were being, you made choices that led you down the same old path of enabling? We find ouselves in a familiar situation, we respond the same unfortunate way we did the last time and we get stuck. Why do we keep repeating those patterns?

  • Sometimes we’re hoping for a better outcome

    • How many times has a parent bailed out their child (from jail, debt, or any other trouble) and thought, “I hope they’ve learned their lesson THIS time?”
    • How often have you conceded to a partner, expecting that the next time, it will be your turn? How often are you disappointed that your turn never seems to come?
  • Sometimes we don’t understand the cause and effect

    • Have you ever tried to help someone by giving them advice, only to have them get angry with you – teens are good at this. You think you’re being helpful; they think your butting in.
    • Have you ever considered that by helping someone out of a jam, hoping they will not get into trouble again, you are actually teaching them that their choices have no consequences because someone will always come to their rescue?
  • Sometimes it’s just more comfortable

    • Doing what is expected or familiar may seem like the easier path but that is usually only in the short run. Repeating mistakes may be easier in the moment, but living with the regret or the negative outcome is harder in the long run.
  • Sometimes we’re afraid of the repurcussions

    • Sometimes we think it’s easier to “go along to get along.” While this may be true and, sometimes, the right thing to do, we overlook the resentment that builds over weeks and years of not standing your ground.
    • Sometimes we are afraid of another person’s reaction. Will they get angry? Will they think you are selfish?

So how do we break out of these negative and destructive patterns?

Changing a patter can be challenging, but with patience and commitment, it is possible. Here are some steps you can take to break a bad habit:

  • Recognize the pattern

    Begin by acknowledging the pattern. Be honest with yourself about its negative effects on your life and well-being and the negative effects it may have on your loved ones. Make a list of these effects and the positive things that you changes in your life when you make the change.

  • Set a clear and realistic goal

Notice that the previous step says to make a list of changes in your life. You may be very disappointed if you set your goal around a change in your loved one. I had a client who stopped covering bad checks for their child. It stopped the arguments with his wife and helped their financial status tremendously; it did not stop the child from spending money frivolously.

  • Understand the triggers

Identify how this pattern arises and how you feel when you feel compelled to enable your loved one. This awareness will help you anticipate and prepare for those triggers. By understanding what prompts your enabling ways, you can develop strategies to avoid or manage your triggers effectively.

  • Replace the pattern with a positive alternative

Find a healthier and more productive response to your loved one to replace the enabling response. For instance, if you want to stop getting angry every time you child is late for work, get out in the morning for a good walk or meditate in your room until they leave the house.

  • Get support

Surround yourself with people who support your goal and understand the challenges you face. Go to an AlAnon  Codependents Anonymous or another support group meeting of people trying to stop their enabling behaviors. Be with people who are getting healthy like you want to be.

  • Practice mindful awareness

Develop mindfulness techniques to observe your thoughts and feelings and put some space between you and your almost-automatic enabling reactions.

  • Be patient and compassionate

Breaking any bad habit takes time and effort. Breaking a long-held relationship pattern is even more challenging. Expect setbacks along the way but be gentle when you slip. Learn from the experience and continue moving forward.

  • Seek professional help if needed

You may want to seek professional guidance from a therapist or counselor.

Remember, stopping enabling behavior is a process that requires commitment, perseverance, and self-compassion. We are here to help. If you need support, contact us today.