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I Don’t Want to be an Enabler

There’s a fine line between helpful to do the right thing, and being helpful to the point where you are enabling someone to either take advantage of you, or to ultimately hurt themselves.

As often as possible, I try to go out of my way to do the right thing and be a nice person– over the years I’ve been burned many times by being nice– but in recent years I’ve come to realize it isn’t always possible to be the “nice person.” (Hopefully that doesn’t sound too conceited or braggy, but I really do try to be nice and pride myself on this fact.)

Being the “bad guy,” or a rules enforcer is something I do often at my work, either with co-workers who need a little nudge in the right direction in certain areas (usually with things that are nothing more serious than making sure certain boxes are filled out in paperwork or other nit-picky stuff), or with customers who I am unable to assist for whatever reason that might be.

For a long time, I had these little panic attacks whenever I knew I was going to have to be the bearer of bad news to customers (or anyone, really), as I don’t handle direct confrontations well and while never officially diagnosed, suffer from some level of social anxiety. After what felt like the billionth time of having to be the bearer of unpleasant news, I finally learned to accept the fact that it was something I was going to have to deal with and managed to get over the anxiety.

A big part of what I’ve worked on with my therapist was learning some ways to protect myself and overcome my passive aggressive nature to become more assertive. It was definitely hard admitting that I had problems I couldn’t solve on my own, but once I started to address the nature of those problems I noticed changes in myself as a result of facing the issues.

As a result of what I learned with therapy and some trial and error, for the most part I’ve learned how to pick my battles at work when it comes to dealing with situations that might escalate and bring back my feelings of anxiety. On rare occasions I will give in and make the exception, but under the condition of it being a one-time only thing, so as to keep having the same issue from happening in the future with that individual.

On a more personal level, I’ve realized that in my “serious” romantic relationships, I’m definitely guilty of enabling bad behavior.

During my last major long-term relationship, my ex often had troubles with money management, and instead of making him figure it out on his own, I often just opened up my wallet and paid for things or lent him money when he needed it. That was a terrible decision on my part, and what I hoped would be a rare occurrence turned into an escalating series of events where I essentially supported both of us financially and to this day regret enabling that behavior.

In other situations, I’ve often overlooked the fact that I was being taken advantage of by people who have mastered the art of manipulation by just thinking that those extra “out of my way” things I’d done to help them out were what a friend does, instead of seeing that in reality they had me pegged as an easy mark ready to serve their whims and wills. Without becoming suspicious of everyone I interact with, I’m sure I’ll fall prey to other forms of manipulation in the future, but am definitely on the lookout when dealing with people I know have abused my kindness in the past.

For others out there who also find themselves being enablers, how do you overcome this behavior, without changing yourself too much? Is it even possible to achieve the goal of not being an enabler while still being a person who cares and wants to help others?

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