Monday, March 9, 2020
When Does Empathy Become Enabling?
Feeling a bit more free this morning. I recently was in a conversation with a person who habitually reaches out to contact me only when they're in crisis, and who runs hot/cold in our relationship. They hinted strongly how much they needed help with their current crisis. I chose to not offer to fix it, but was a listening ear only. I know this sounds cold, but it's truly a victory for this recovering fixer/enabler.
Patterns matter. If anyone else I loved had reached out for help, I would jump at the chance, but patterns matter.
Patterns are not the same as seasons of pain, where we lean in to support a loved one through the pain of grief or loss.
Patterns are repeated cycles of destructive decisions, that either wound you or themselves
We are called to be patient though seasons, but we must be discerning through patterns.
When someone runs hot and cold, repeatedly cutting you out of their life without warning, that is a pattern.
When someone seems to restart your relationship when it suits their emotions or needs, that is a pattern.
It is ok, and Biblical, to protect yourself from the destructive and hurtful patterns of others, especially when you love the other person. Loving a person means loving them enough to have boundaries, even when it's hard.
It is ok, and Biblical, to have boundaries even when you see the pain behind the other's actions.
We think it is loving when we "love without limits", but more times than I can count, my empathy coupled with a lack of boundaries ending up hurting the person I was trying to help.
Empathy is wonderful, and needed deeply in our world. But there is a dark side to empathy.
Empathy without boundaries becomes enabling.
I have chosen to stay engaged in the above mentioned relationship, but I have to willfully choose to lend a compassionate ear, not an enabling hand.
Love someone enough to allow them to feel the consequences of their patterns. Only when the pain of the pattern is too great to bare, will they finally try to break free.