An interesting concept has crept up for me lately, is trying to identify the fine line between being a supportive friend who empowers her friends and someone who “emotionally enables” a friends poor choices for herself and her life.
Once upon a time I had a friend who had an abusive partner. Countless times I was there for her as they broke up; and again when they got back together. I moved her in and out of his home at least 4 times. By that, I mean that with a moment’s notice, I was at her doorstep literally packing boxes and putting them in my car. I let her stay in my house with next to no notice at least 2 of those times. I was as supportive a friend as I can be; with tissues and rom-coms and alcohol and ice cream and pizza at the ready nights on end. But no matter what I did (and no matter what he did for that matter!) she always went back to him. She loved him.
At some point I started to grow weary of listening to her endless list of complaints against him while she did nothing to change it. They basically had the same fight over and over again. Not about the same things but you know what I mean?! The last time I moved her out of his place I said to her “every time you go back to him he hurts you. Every time he hurts you he is also hurting me and I wont do this anymore. Stop letting him hurt us both. If you go back to him this time you go without me.” (Aka: The Ultimatum! Never a good plan. Never! I had so much to learn!)
You can guess what she did right? Yep. Not only did she go back to him, she agreed to move overseas with him too?! As you do! Lol She quit her job and sold their place at a loss I believe (which she bought with him after the 2nd time she moved out I think) and packed her things and they booked plane tickets?!! They probably did other important things too; like arrange passports, visa’s, accommodation etc… but you get the dramatic effect I am going for here. Lol Anyway. A week, maybe less than a week before they were due to depart he left her for someone else. No joke. HE. LEFT. HER! (Thank goodness he did, but honestly she deserved the satisfaction of knowing she finally made the right choice for herself…. Except let’s be honest, she didn’t feel it was right. Not back then anyway. We have no way of knowing if she EVER would have left him of her own accord although I like to hope she would have.)
I wasn’t around at the time all of this happened, because I felt that being there had somehow “emotionally enabled” her to keep making bad choices with her life – knowing I would be there to catch her. So I wasn’t. I left her life. And she was ok. She never did get back with him! (Although her next relationship wasn’t really any less dramatic. She also had much to learn!) I heard about this through mutual friends and I was torn, but I decided to reach out, being that he had left the country. (Either with someone else or to be with someone else – I’m not too sure of the exact specifics. It doesn’t matter. Point was, he was finally gone!)
She allowed me back into her life and I expressed how I had missed her. I thought, however misguidedly, that she would reciprocate the sentiment and say how right I was about him, and how crazy she had been to choose him over me (platonically) never mind what a huge bullet she dodged by not moving overseas with him. So you can imagine my shock when she was so ANGRY with me. From her perspective I had abandoned her in her time of need. I was not a good supportive friend, and leaving her had only isolated her further and made it easier for him to hurt her.
Although my intentions were pure, and came from a good place, my delivery was wrong. I can now see her point, hindsight is useless like that hey? Sigh. Essentially in a bid to stop “emotionally enabling” her I had cut off her support network and cut off my own nose to spite my face! I lost a friend, (she eventually left my life permanently for unrelated reasons… on the surface anyway) and she lost a valuable life support. Maybe I was no smarter than her in my emotional life choices after all? I told her I was sorry about 1000 times but it was never enough. She never forgave me in the end, not really I don’t think.
To be honest I didn’t think she would choose him. We were like sisters. I guess she never thought she would have to choose and essentially a woman will always follow her heart. I know that now. I was using emotional separation from me (some would say an equally abusive tactic) to try and control her into not going back to him. I was done trying to influence her choices with my words, listening, support, food and friendship and instead trying to force her to lead her life my way?! Cringe.
Honestly I only wanted what was best for her, but I couldn’t see or understand this was her own journey, her own lesson and her own life and the only way for her to get over this was through it – on her own. Maybe because we were like sisters; instead of like friends; I had lost the ability to stand back objectively and be LESS INVESTED. Which is exactly what she needed. Funny, isn’t it, how sometimes the answer is to care less, not more? In my post Friends are not the family you choose for yourself; I discuss this in more detail – that one of the benefits of friendships is that they can offer you a less invested and less judgmental support than family for the exact reason that they are friends NOT family. I failed her here. I know that now.
I thought I was “emotionally enabling” her to go back to him time and time again, but the truth is – she was going to do that anyway. I could not enable her! I could not force her or influence her for that matter. My support, and my logic, was flawed from the beginning! It never had anything to do with me and I had no place trying to involve myself and get into a position of power to manipulate what I thought was the best outcome for her! My opinion about her choices was irrelevant. And unnecessary. She asked for my help not my advice and certainly not my opinion! I was yet to learn the difference.
What she needed from me, was empowerment. She needed me to remind her of all the beauty and wonder that she was. To remind her how strong and capable she was and to trust in her intuition and know no matter if she made mistakes that she was capable of dealing with the fall out. That I believed in her and when she was ready to make the choices or changes she needed to make for herself I would be right there celebrating or commiserating with her. That we all make mistakes and it is ok. That I would always be there for her no matter what and nobody would ever isolate her from me. And when it came to her partners I would listen and validate her opinion, even as it changed dramatically in the course of minutes! Lol
I know in my own life, if my friends disapprove of what I am doing, I have a tendency to pull away and just stop telling them things. Which isn’t very conducive to friendship, but then again neither is disapproval… because it’s opposite is approval. We shouldn’t seek approval from our friends, we should seek acceptance. The concepts are quite different if you think about it. More I was yet to learn! All things I hope you will ponder for your own lives and friendships after you read this. Learn from my mistakes!!
So in answer to my question “Can we really "emotionally enable" our friends?” I think the answer is no. We can’t live their life for them and we shouldn’t try. Focus on your own life and empower your friends to live theirs in whatever way they need to, knowing you will always be there, not judging, criticising them or waiting to say ‘I told you so’ or threatening to leave, (they have parents for that!) but empowering them and feeling what they feel (with them,) not for them. By loving them a little bit less in these circumstances, you are loving them a little bit more. Life is funny like that with all it’s contradictions isn’t it?
What are your thoughts on this? I’d love to hear your experiences.
Your Best Friend ForNever