There’s a fine line between helping and enabling. Learning to discern the difference can have a huge impact upon the abilities and sensibilities of the person you want to help.
There’s helping, then there’s enabling.Give people the ability to recognize their own strengths, to struggle & to overcome = confidence.
— Marianna Paulson (@AuntieStress) May 11, 2017
My recent experience
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I had been included in a list of 11 blogs that had been awarded “The Best Stress Relief Blogs of the Year” by Healthline.com. Along with a boost in confidence, it came with the html code for a badge to be placed on my website. Of course I wanted to include this honour on my site, so I dutifully logged into the back end to see if I could install it. I hunted, then hunted some more, until I found the appropriate page. I copied the code and pasted it into place. Hitting preview was like hitting dismay. All that appeared was the html code instead of the green badge. So, I tried again, then again and again, but to no avail.
Finally, I put a call in to my “expert help”. I hadn’t heard back, so I decided to try once more. This time, I searched YouTube, where I found a video with clear and concise instructions. Bingo! Job done.
By reflecting upon this experience, I was able to see the stages I went through as I solved this small challenge:
- Enthusiasm. I can just log in and quickly put the html code for this badge into place.
- Frustration. I can’t do it!
- Fear. What if I break something on my website?
- Laziness. I’ll let someone else do it for me.
- Determination. I am going to do it.
- Struggle. How can I figure this out? It’ll take time.
- Satisfaction. Look (ma!), at what I did!
- Confidence. Time and patience allowed me to learn something that I would normally not attempt.
- Empowered. When I face a similar situation in the future, I already have some experience in how to resolve it.
In our attempts to be helpful, we may be robbing the “helpee” of very important developmental skills. There are a number of reasons for helping. As a helper, you may get satisfaction, or a sense of identity by lending a hand, being of service, or being the rescuer/problem-solver. It feels good to know you’ve assisted someone. Maybe you don’t want someone to suffer. Perhaps it’s simply faster to do it yourself. However, your needs may end up superseding those of the person you’re helping.
Think of the parent who does everything for the child. Chores are not given, activities are over-supervised, decisions are met with “Are you sure? You don’t want to change your mind?”, all of which undermines confidence. Of course, you want to protect your child, to ensure that they are safe. However, “over-helping” jeopardizes the learning that occurs on the way to adulthood.
Disempowerment and stress
For example, I know of several people who want nothing to do with cooking. The common factor they share is that when they were young fledgling cooks, they were chastised for not being neat enough, not doing it right, or being told that their first attempts were not up to a certain standard. As a result, the kitchen became a place where they were felt badly.
Enter the amygdala, an almond-shaped section of tissue in the temporal (side) lobe of the brain which is responsible for strong emotions, memory and survival. Those unpleasant early memories that were cooked in the kitchen can hiss and splutter into action years and decades later, ensuring that the kitchen becomes a no-go-cook-zone. The criticism they received disempowered them to point that they lost interest in cooking. However, this can be changed by the realization that those unpleasant thoughts and feelings no longer need to be on the menu. This is where stress techniques help to quiet those old negative voices and get you back in the
As in my example, time, patience, problem-solving and struggle led to satisfaction, confidence and empowerment. Granted, this is a “light brew” of an example, versus one that is “full-strength”. However, if you take the time to analyze other situations, you’ll find similar strategies come into play.
3-way intersection of helping, enabling, empowering
Imagine standing in the middle of a 3-way intersection. A journey down each street offers a different experience.
Helping – making it easier for someone to do something by offering one’s services or resources; improving a situation or problem. The dark side of helping is that it can make a detour into enabling – offering help that perpetuates a problem.
Your travels may be imbued with either a sense of suffering – the state of pain, distress, hardship, or struggling – strive to achieve or attain something in the face of difficulty or resistance. While there is pain and quite possibly growth in suffering, it often doesn’t endear you to a having a repeat performance. Struggle, however, is often a necessary part of learning. When the obstacle is surmounted the results are empowering. When someone is empowered, they are given the autonomy to uncover, build and recognize their own strengths.
Discerning the difference
Helpful Hints for Empowering vs Enabling is an article geared towards parents who wish to empower their children as they grow into adulthood. The examples that are given can be useful in work with adults, as well.
Empowering the young to be responsible for their actions may go a long way to preventing that sense of entitlement that is prevalent today.
Over to you
- Can you discern the difference between when you enable and when you empower?
- How did you feel when you changed your approach?
- What happened?