Why Enabling Never Gets You What You Most Want

By Rhoberta Shaler, PhD.

Ever awoke to the early morning anger of a toxic person? Nothing has really happened yet, and already you’re scrambling to say or do something that will appease them, make them feel better, and reduce your own anxiety.

That’s a “gotcha!” You have started your day running, trying to make a person happy who is dedicated to disapproving, no matter what you do. Sound familiar? This is a sure sign that you are sadly ensnared in the Hijackal Trap. You’re more focused on keeping them happy and meeting their needs, expressed or not, than on establishing a healthy relationship balance.

You’re running as fast as you can to prevent a Hijackal*® from being displeased with you, especially while trying so hard to meet the Hijackal’s wants. You’re emotionally reliant on them to need you, and you lose yourself in the process. That’s co-dependence.

On the brighter side, you can stop being that way and start reclaiming your own personal power by putting an end to your own enabling behaviors.

“But I’m not an enabler!” you say. Did you have that thought?

Enabling is the cozy cousin of codependence. They can’t really exist without each other…they are, in fact, codependent!

Enabling, by my definition, is when you usually or frequently step in to fix, solve, excuse, rationalize, justify, OR make the consequences go away for the poor choices of another. It is supporting someone in continuing bad behavior or poor choices, assisting them to do what they want…often allowing them to treat you poorly while they do it.

Codependence leads you to make up great excuses for those poor choices, believing that the difficult, toxic person will like you more if you enable them. You then have difficulty identifying your own feelings because you are SO wrapped up in meeting the needs and getting the approval of the Hijackal. You sincerely believe that the Hijackal will eventually be grateful to you for allowing them to use you.

Does that sound like the basis for a healthy, strong, mutually respectful relationship? I hope not.

Enabling isn’t healthy and it isn’t helping. It worsens the situation, it hurts you, and it doesn’t help the Hijackal either. Everybody gets hurt in the end. It hurts you because it turns you into a doormat, increases your anxiety and leaves you stressed. You’re running around trying to please everyone, and you’re exhausted, confused, and abused.

An important question to always ask yourself is, “In what ways am I enabling a narcissist?”

This list created by Julie Hall, of the Narcissist Family Ties, offers clear possible answers:

  • unquestionably accepting their version of reality
  • not standing up to their abuse
  • hiding or cleaning up their messes
  • acting as an apologist for them, and
  • blaming others for their behavior

Recognizing where you are in your relationship can be difficult. After all, you’ve been so focused on the difficult person, you can forget what your own needs and wants are, what your dream life might look like. If you’re here reading this, you have already come to realize there is a problem. Let’s look at some solutions.

Self-examination is a good first step. Where did you come by your understanding of compassion, or helping others? Was it from someone healthy? Someone who was genuinely happy and engaged in equitable, mutually respectful relationships? If it wasn’t, you may be carrying a skewed idea of what help looks like. Remember that classic from the airlines, “put on your own mask first before helping others”? There’s something to that.

You must be compassionate to yourself, and believe that you have an equal right to take up space and draw breath in the same room as your Hijackal. You can accord yourself that right – it’s inalienable, but very easy to give up in the face of someone who is determined to be the Center of the Universe.

Standing up for yourself in the face of a narcissistic person can be terrifying. They are well-known for being “un-nice.” If you have the right approach, though, you will speak up and change the dynamic. Not easy but do-able!

I developed the Personal Weather Report for just such an occasion. It’s a method for expressing yourself in a neutral way that clearly states facts, your own feelings, and your own needs. You are simply claiming your space.

“No, that’s not what I remember.”
“No, actually, that’s not what I want.”
“No, I really wouldn’t like Thai food tonight.”

Whatever it is, know that you have the right to say “No.” You have the right to state your personal wants, needs, preferences.

The next thing you need are boundaries…with consequences. Hijackals can be extremely resistant to these. Think things through so that you are clear and confident about what is not OK with you. Be clear about what you need, and what you are 100% not willing to accept. Once you have that clarity, you’ll find it easier to express and maintain those non-negotiable boundaries. What Hijackals also need are strong, unbendable consequences, plainly communicated with the boundary.

Don’t ever set a boundary you’re not willing to maintain. Boundaries are not threats. They must be real. You know, “if my boundary is not respected, I will do this.” Period. You must be prepared to execute the
consequence…for sure. Time to step up!

And finally, make yourself and your time a priority. The Hijackal will keep you as busy as they possibly can doing things for them, involved with them, thinking about them, taking care of them. You’re important, too. Carve out your own time and establish your priorities. You need to be able to respond to a Hijackal’s request with equality and honesty:

“No I’m busy at that time. I’m doing something for myself.” Without feeling badly.

Now, toxic folks don’t like that either. They want to come first and do what they want. They don’t want you to have a life, too. It takes practice to make progress with this. When you take the time to do your own work, and find yourself, you will find it easier and easier to extricate yourself from the codependence of your relationship. And becoming independent – and healthily interdependent – gives you so much more room to breathe and be your own person.

You CAN reclaim your personal power and rebuild your life successfully when you are willing to give up enabling forever! Ready?

*Hijackal® is my term for people who hijack relationships for their own needs and wants, and
scavenge those relationships for power, status, and control.

Host of the Save Your Sanity podcast, Rhoberta Shaler, PhD, helps clients worldwide to recognize, release, and recover from toxic relationships and emotional abuse. She is the author of Escaping the Hijackal Trap and Kaizen for Couples. Learn more about her work and join in her community here: https://www.EmergingEmpowered.com

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