This column was contributed by Maytee Schlecht. She is a free-lance writer and a guest speaker on the subject of conflict resolution and communication skills.
So many of us know only too well the frustration of trying so hard to help a loved one stop their bad habits, only to be thwarted at every turn. In the case of seriously self-destructive habits we may go to great lengths because we would rather err on the side of having done too much, rather than having done too little. We may even cross boundaries such as privacy, which we would otherwise respect, and which we expect to be respected in our own lives. We may be willing to endure our loved ones’ anger at our attempts to control them, all the while knowing we ourselves don’t want to be controlled. Yet, we are relentless, because the higher priority is our loved one’s wellbeing; and our very happiness depends on it. The words ‘codependent’ and ‘enabling’ come to mind.
Co-dependency is an unhealthy attempt to try to control someone else’s behavior. It breeds anger, sadness and fear, can make you really miserable and is very dysfunctional. The reality is that we can’t control or change anyone but ourselves…we can’t stop anyone from doing anything. We can only control what we do and how we respond to things. The good news is that if we change how we respond, then we affect a change in others. But, ultimately the direction that our loved one’s lives will take is really up to them, so the sooner we let go, the sooner we can begin to heal our relationships.
Enabling differs from helping in that it actually perpetuates the problem. We enable when we take responsibility for someone’s harmful behavior rather than hold them accountable. We enable when we make accommodations for our loved one or when we keep them from suffering the consequences of their actions. While we may be well intentioned, when we shield our loved one from the harm they are doing, we also lesson the pressure on them to change. Having an understanding of these two unhealthy interactions is of great value, but it is still just the beginning. Change is required of both you and your loved one and some of the same strategies can be employed. But, change does not come easy. You will have to be patient and be willing to suffer some missteps. You will have to keep a clear vision of what you want and never lose sight of it. You will have to train yourself to respond differently, and your success will hinge on internalizing this new dynamic.
Stephen Covey writes in The 8th Habit “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness.” Even though that space between stimulus and response is so small as to go unnoticed, it is powerful and unless we become good at recognizing it, employ strategies to avoid succumbing to it, it can derail our efforts. We have to keep our guard up even after our response feels as if it’s second nature. We all make mistakes and the good thing is that people are generally very forgiving of past transgressions when we make genuine attempts to change. Someone who has fallen, and has picked them self up, dusted them self off, has refused to give up, inspires hope in all of us. There is not a single person on earth who does not have demons to fight, and we admire people who are winning the battle over theirs. After all, it is in our struggles that we find our strength, our courage and our wisdom. At the end of the movie, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Benjamin writes the following to the daughter he had to leave behind: “For what it’s worth, it’s never too late or too early to be whoever you want to be. There is no time limit . . . start whenever you want. You can change or stay the same . . . there are no rules to this thing. I hope you live a life you are proud of. If you find you are not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.”
Mary Garza Cummings is a free-lance writer. The Town Crier does not warrant the information as valid. It is the responsibility of the reader to ensure validity of the information. If you have questions or comments, email firstname.lastname@example.org