We are taught the honorable nature of being a ‘helper’ or in a helping profession. Such behaviour is generally considered pro-social and indicates a person who is able to put their own concerns aside for the benefit of others.
All good things.
The concern comes when helping becomes about power- when helping is a way to control others, and to ensure we are irreplaceable. This is the case with codependency and emotional abuse. Both situations call on power, control and helplessness.
As an abuse victim we are told we are worthless, useless and ineffectual. As a codependent, we see our lack of power in the face of addiction, dysfunction and pain. We learn day after day that we do not have the power to stop or control what occurs in our own homes.
But we do have the power to make things less bad. We can prevent fights. We can do things that make the addicts life easier. We can delay or waylay pain that we see coming. We learn to watch for roadblocks and carefully remove them. We clean up messes, we keep secrets, we make no demands. This all makes perfect sense.
The problem comes when we cannot stop, when we wear the consequences of everything. The problem comes when the other needs us for everything. The problem arises when we do for those who don’t need us to. When we do because we feel compelled, not because we want to.
Often as victims of emotional abuse we become chronic rescuers. We need to find other abusers, to save from their pain and difficulty. As codependents we need to find people to help. This is our identity.
It comes down to the simple belief that being useful is our power. If we are not needed, not useful, we will be discarded.
This is the nature of our work. To stop helping out of fear. To stop helping so we can be loved. To stop helping so we can protect people from their own choices.
It is not easy. It is not natural for us to let people fall, to let them struggle, to put our own needs first.
In fact it can be nearly impossible at first to know what the line is between kindness and enabling.
There are many lines that are invisible until you see them. The line between joking and abuse. The line between unhappy and depressed. The line between kind and codependent.
The next time you find yourself helping a little too much, or you feel that tug of resentment, ask yourself:
1) Why are you helping?
2) Can the person do it themselves? Would you expect someone else to do if for themselves?
3) Are you trying to shield the person or yourself from the facts of life or important consequences?
But also, be kind to yourself and your incredible heart for others. Realize that awareness alone is a key victory.