Supporting or Enabling

I’ve been drawn to the field of psychology for most of my adult life. In fact, before stumbling upon a copy of “Freakonomics” my freshman year my plan was to major in psychology. Alas, I ended up majoring in economics instead (I certainly don’t regret that, but it is interesting to think about how my life would have gone if I stuck with my original plan) but I still read books on psychology frequently and ponder the issues of the mind.

Due to some recent reading, I’ve been wondering about where the line is between being a support system for someone and being an enabler for negative behavior. It seems to be such a gray area with no clear answer, but I can’t help but wonder if some people (with the best intentions) end up hurting someone long-term as they attempt to provide short-term support. There are two scenarios that pop into my mind.

The blow off valve
Sometimes, in order to change our lives, we need to face the full consequences of our situation. We need to feel the emotions and direct our desire for change at the actual problem, but when we have a friend that allows us to vent to them it can actually prevent us from taking action. Take, for example, a person who is in a bad relationship. Maybe it isn’t anything abusive but two people really aren’t compatible together long-term and they even recognize it. But, instead of ending the relationship they vent to their supportive friends. This venting literally releases pressure and allows the relationship to continue when it really shouldn’t. Would the friend be making the right choice to withhold support in hopes that without a method of venting the relationship will end as it should?

Minimizing the Situation
We all want to support our friends and tell them that they are loved, but we aren’t really helping them if we aren’t honest with them. If a friend has a behavior that is harming their goals or health then we maybe we shouldn’t be supportive. Telling someone that their drinking, unhealthy eating, lack of exercise, weed habit, video game playing, masturbation, constant shopping, etc isn’t a big deal is doing them a disservice if they have expressed a desire to get healthier, stay sober, be thrifty, create art, etc. Support is more than telling someone that everything will be okay or that their behavior isn’t a big deal isn’t being a real friend, even if the action isn’t a big deal when viewed in a vacuum. Sometimes support is less important than accountability.

Anyway, that’s the random shit on my mind as I try to get back into the habit of writing daily. The second situation seems easier to manage than the first, but I don’t necessarily know how to handle either one that well. I try to be a great friend and confidante for the people in my life, but I am worried that maybe I’m doing more harm than good…

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