I only have to look at my own family to see just how much enabling can hurt others.
My maternal grandmother was the child of an abusive alcoholic father and an enabling mother. Her assigned family role was to keep the family secrets and pretend that “everything was lovely” no matter how bad it was. She took this role very seriously, but she herself was not in any way “abusive” directly, but indirectly, her choices to enable the family “bad boy” hurt others though she had no intention of doing so.
When her son, my “Uncle Monster” was age seven, she gave birth to my mother who was a very frail premature child. Uncle Monster was so jealous of the new baby that he was a danger to that baby, and after she caught him trying to “do in” his new rival for attention, she didn’t tell his father about the incident and years later she excused her failure to do anything about Monster’s abusive behavior toward his sister, because “He (his father) would spank him and he might run away from home.” Yet her enabling of her son Monster allowed her daughter to be physically and psychologically abused by Monster.
The abuse went on for seven more years with Monster smothering and strangling my mother until she passed out any time he could get alone with her. Finally, my grandfather caught Monster abusing his sister and “tanned his hide” and the overt abuse stopped.
A few years ago when I was trying to explain “enabling” to my mother I used this as an example and I called it “strangling.” Even retroactively, my mother defended Monster by saying “It wasn’t strangling, it was smothering.” Huh? Strangling? Smothering? What’s the difference?>
The differences between my mother’s enabling and her mother’s enabling is that if you didn’t go along with my grandmother’s enabling, she would not attack you. My mother on the other hand, will punish you if you don’t go along with her enabling and protecting the family bad boy. She is willing to do whatever it takes and give up the rest of her family (myself and my other sons) in order to “protect” my son Patrick from me trying to keep him IN prison.
Back when Uncle Monster was dying with brain cancer, my mother was his power of attorney. His children were pretty much estranged from him, and lived at a distance, so Mom had to make the arrangements for in home 24 hour care etc. I could see and hear the anxiety in her every decision. Even though Uncle Monster was totally “out of it” she was so afraid that she would do something with his money that he would not approve of and be angry at her. Her anxiety was through the roof.
Her anxiety went to new heights. Uncle Monster had plenty of money to pay for his care, etc. but he had an old dog that had no teeth and was in pretty bad shape. The dog couldn’t eat dry dog food which is what Monster had kept out for the poor thing before he became so confused and I told my mother to buy her some canned dog food. She bought the cheapest kind available for 25 cents a can and then became very anxious that he would be upset with her for spending his money for food the dog could eat rather than continuing to feed her food she couldn’t eat.
The dog was old and suffering as well, and could no longer get up and walk, only lie on one side. I thought she needed to be put down and saved from her pain. She was a pitiful wreck. Finally, after much begging on my part that the dog was suffering, mother agreed we could put the dog down, but she made me go to the vet and get injections that had to be delivered directly into the heart, which were quite painful, rather than shooting her in the head which would have instantly rendered her dead without any associated pain. Her reasons were that Uncle Monster wouldn’t have wanted her to be put down. Plus, the medications cost $50 and the bullet would have been less than a dollar. This obviously
I think that most enabling is done our of anxiety. Anxiety that we will make someone unhappy by standing up. Or that we will make someone not love us if we don’t keep the secrets or do whatever it is they want.
We also eventually come to resent those we enable because it never does any real long-lasting good for them. We are unable to get the psychopath or the alcoholic or drug addict to stop drinking or drugging and making bad decisions when we cover up for them or assume the consequences for their bad choices. Each time they reoffend we become resentful of their lack of gratitude for “all we’ve done for you.”
The thing is that people high in psychopathic traits are unable to be grateful for anything you do for them. They have no compassion, no empathy and no gratitude for anything or any one.
Enabling also hurts us as well because it keeps us in a constant state of anxiety about “when the other shoe will fall.” The Triad of “rescuer, persecutor and victim” is one in which while our “favorite” role is rescuer, we also play the “game” from the other roles of victim, and persecutor.
One of my favorite illustrations of this is a story taken from Games People Play by Dr. Eric Berne.
A man who is a drunk comes home from the bar and his wife says to him (from the Persecutor role) “You no good so and so you went out and spent all your pay on booze and broads and now I can’t buy food this week. Etc etc” He is in the victim role as she attacks him verbally. Then he gets tired of the victim role and smacks her a good one to shut her up. He is now in the persecutor role and she is in the victim mode.
She calls the police who come in and RESCUE her by taking the husband to jail. Now the husband is in the victim role.
The next morning she calls her husband’s boss (in the rescuer mode,) and tells him that her husband is sick and can’t come to work. Then she continues this rescuer role by going down and pawning her wedding ring to pay husband’s bail. When they get home she reverts from the rescuer role into the persecutor and starts giving him heck for being such a crummy drunk. He is now in the victim mode and she the persecutor, and then he gets tired of the victim role and smacks her another one to shut her up. Now they have come full circle with each having played all three seats.
I read that story many years ago, but didn’t fully apply it to myself and my own ways of thinking and behaving. It is like a game of Musical Chairs with all the participants in the game changing chairs over and over. This Triad of Dysfunction is something we all seem to engage in from time to time, but here are a few helpful articles on this condition.
You can find many many more articles by googling Drama Triad, victim, persecutor, rescuer.