After years of therapy, meditation, and personal growth work I have come to see that I am an “enabler.”
I pathologically put my own needs aside in order to keep my partners happy, satisfied, fed, groomed, and tended to. I make excuses for them when they are late, cover for them when they are offensive, overlook when they forget things, and speak glowingly of them to others no matter how many times they have stood me up. I do this, of course, as an indirect (and ineffectual) way to get my own needs met by having a “good” relationship.
Dr. David Schnarch points out that, since over-functioning doesn’t actually help us or our partners, we are in fact “DIS-ablers.” He quickly and wisely adds: “But who is going to come to a ‘disablers’ support group?”
I work with individuals, couples, and groups, and I find that women in particular often come in to work on their relationship issues. They all seem to be disablers too, even the ones in same-sex relationships. One woman in my group said that she had kept a log of how many hours she had helped her boyfriend do such tasks as gardening, cleaning and fixing up his house. His debt load of hours to her is now in the thousands.
Another woman in a same-sex relationship longed for her partner to “grow up” and take responsibility for her behavior. Meanwhile, she admitted that she “mothers” her partner, catering to her every emotional need. Although she sees how she contorts herself to keep her partner as stress-free as possible (even as she reports wanting her partner to “grow up”), she finds herself unable to stop.
And, as recently as yesterday, I watched myself reply automatically and without regard to my own train of thought, “Oh, I’m so sorry,” to my sweetheart when he interrupted me.
I am starting to wonder if there are any women out there who don’t count themselves as enablers.
So now I have two questions. First, how can we stop engaging in this self-defeating and frankly insulting behavior that serves neither us nor our partners? And second, if at least half the population consists of over-functioners, where can I get one?
In fact, I could really use someone to spend a few thousand hours cleaning my house, filling the tank in my car, balancing my check book, planning vacations, and telling me very gently that “everything will be okay,” while stroking my head as I stress out over my finances.
It seems only fair that, having served as the emotional bedrock for my partners for the past 22 years, I am entitled to a few decades of pampering. I think it could even be a positive emotional development for me to devolve for a while. This personal growth shit is exhausting — and expensive. Let me tell you, trying to be more emotionally and spiritually mature so as to be the quintessential peaceful, well-adjusted mother and partner takes its toll after a while.
In fact, I am looking forward to throwing a few fits and letting my sweetheart sort them out, as he silently wonders how he may have caused them. I envision his musings as he questions whether he has been kind and accommodating enough, and looks deeply into what might be wrong with him that has caused my bad behavior. And, as he perseverates about his short-comings and rationalizes my tantrums, he could make me sandwiches, pick up the kids and plan my next birthday party.
I will even enjoy his going on long retreats and self-improvement workshops. I can see him now coming home and bestowing on me copious amounts of unearned wisdom — like dangling perfectly ripened grapes into my open and eager mind. And, more importantly, he will return with a renewed bank of inner peace and endurance to better fulfill my infantile needs.
Although it may be true that it is insulting for disablers to continue their neurotic and self-destructive behaviors, and their partners may indeed become crippled and infantalized as a result, I am not sure that it works the other way around. That is, it could be quite illuminating for a self-centered narcissist to take a turn at service, while a seasoned disabler might also benefit from letting it all hang out once in a while.
I realize now that ceasing to disable my partner, as well as finding an enabler of my own, could both be accomplished by one simple change in my behavior.
That is, becoming less sensitive to others while demanding more. This way, enablers will naturally flock to me, sensing that their self esteem can be immediately (if briefly) lifted by serving my ego. Applicants unsuited for the job will discover quickly that this is outside their purview and perhaps go on to find enablers of their own. It may be as simple as switching my relational “current” from a minus to a plus, and watching the ensuing mayhem as others rearrange themselves around me.
In fact, Byron Katie says that she would question any thought that keeps her from doing what she wants to do. She says that if she thought she needed something she would ask 99 people, and if they all said “no,” she would ask the 100th person. If everyone said “no,” she would ask the only one who was left: herself.
I am banking on the fact that more than one in a hundred people is a hardcore disabler and will be happy to meet my demands. And even if I should fail in my quest, I will still be relieved of 50% of my job description simply by flipping my relational current — not to mention the scads of time and money I will save now that I no longer have to try to improve myself.
My astrology teacher told me 15 years ago that my “north node is in Aries,” which supposedly means that I was put on this earth to become more impulsive, sexual, confrontational, and self-centered. I responded with horror: “You mean that my high destiny is to become an asshole?”
Now, I’m starting to think that maybe she was right.
(by Kristin Luce)