When does helping someone cross the line into actually disempowering them? How can we know when to help, and when it’s time to let them handle it on their own?
Understanding the difference between empowering and enabling is crucial for all relationships including relationships with partners, family, friends, clients, and colleagues.
Knowing the difference between empowering and enabling is beneficial not just for the person you’re in relationship with, but also for yourself. Allowing others to be empowered and take self-responsibility can take a huge weight off of you and allow you to only be responsible for yourself while simultaneously benefitting the other person.
Let’s start with a simple definition of terms.
Enabling is when you assume responsibility for tasks that the person is capable of performing themselves, therefore encouraging them to not take self-responsibility for their feelings, actions, or decisions.
Empowering honors the other person’s sovereignty and assumes their competence. It encourages the person to take self-responsibility for their feelings, actions, and decisions. Empowering therefore encourages independence, growth, and acceptance of natural consequences.
Enabling someone burns you out and overwhelms you because you are taking over-responsibility. When you chronically enable others, your life feels like it isn’t your own because you are so busy taking over-responsibility for others, you never have time for yourself.
It’s so easy to think it is the caring, loving thing to do to “help” or “save” someone in this way, but when you enable someone:
- They receive the message that they aren’t capable of handling it which disempowers them
- They don’t have to deal with the natural consequences of their decisions which stunts their growth and resilience
- It violates their sovereignty
- It assumes their incompetence
- It places yourself in a position of superiority/pedestals you
- It doesn’t honor and exhibit trust in the other person’s process
Understanding that empowering others instead of enabling them is beneficial for both parties involved can be so helpful as you begin to shift this often well-worn pattern.
How To Start Empowering Instead of Enabling:
- Know What is Your Responsibility and What Is Their Responsibility
Take the time to get super clear on what is your responsibility and what isn’t. When situations arise, if you’re clear on what you’re responsible for and what you’re not, it streamlines the decision-making process.
As a general rule, if there are two adults in a relationship: I am responsible for me (my thoughts, feelings, actions, decisions, etc.) and you are responsible for you (your thoughts, feelings, actions, decisions, etc.)
Be mindful of when you slip into taking responsibility for others feelings, actions, and decisions, which can be easy to do as our culture trains women to be responsible for everyone and everything, but to simultaneously lack self-responsibility.
2. If They Are Capable of Doing It For Themselves, Let Them
Is this something they are capable of doing for themselves? Let them!
Notice I didn’t say “are they capable of doing it for themselves easily” or “do you think you are more capable of doing it than they are”?
If they asked for your help and there isn’t a pattern of enabling in place, of course helping each other and a natural give and take in relationships is healthy.
What I’m speaking to here is no longer swooping in and consistently doing things for others that they are fully capable of doing for themselves.
3. Have They Actually Asked For My Help?
This one is pretty self-explanatory, but sometimes we can be in such an ingrained pattern of doing things automatically for others, we may think they have asked when they in fact haven’t.
Stop and pause. Think back. Did they ask for my help, or was I assuming they wanted it? Or was I perhaps staying in familiar roles of me being the “helper”?
As a general practice, I find it helpful to ask someone if they want help as a means of getting consent. Consent honors the other person’s sovereignty and competence.
4. Honor Their Sovereignty and Assume Their Competence
The other person’s sovereignty is innate and cannot be taken away from them (as it yours).
Even if they are making decisions that you don’t agree with, they are their choices to make.
Make a conscious decision to assume their competence. Others can feel the energy with which we are approaching them, and tend to behave accordingly. If you feel they are incompetent, they will likely sense this and then exhibit those behaviors. By assuming their competence, you are communicating that you trust them with their own process.
5. Trust Their Process and Unique Life Path
It can be so tempting to help someone not have to go through some of the things that you had to learn “the hard way”, but everyone has their own unique life path.
Trust their process and their own unique way of learning and growing. Trust that there are other ways of them learning and growing other than you ;)
I’ve seen women go from holding their clients hand at every move, over-delivering to the point of burnout and start making 30K/month working only a few hours a week when she switched to empowering her clients instead of enabling them.
I’ve witnessed so many women achieve more equality of time, energy, and division of household responsibilities when they stepped out of the role of “saver” in their partnership which resulted in deeper connection and less overwhelm.
I’ve also seen family relationships restored to harmony despite nothing “changing” externally when the relationship dynamics changed from enabling to empowering.
Shifting from enabling to empowering can hold so much power in your relationships across the board.
I’d love to hear from you: can you relate to enabling?
Comment below and let me know if I can help you with any specific scenarios in your life. I’m happy to give custom action tips and help in any way that I can!