Eyes Open

So your ETL, forgets his homework – more than a few times.  Should you help him organize his locker?  Email  teachers and ask for assignments to be sent to you?  Check agenda for fourth time?

Or, there’s  problems with  friends.  Should you check Face Book to see what’s going on?  Should you call parents?

Even worse, your ETL is an adolescent and finds himself in trouble with the law.  Should you help him get a lawyer?  Should you help navigate the consequences or help with fines?

Our help, which starts off that way, may take on a second life.  If our loved-one’s problems become our problem, we may have a problem too.

But, the child doesn’t complete the homework unless those extra steps are taken.  They get frustrated.  We get frustrated.  – Or, wanting to help because the person is sad, we do lots of things to make him feel better.  – Or, the kid is only seventeen, how could he come up with the money for the fine when he got himself in trouble?

Many times our ETLs do need help.  They need extra steps and strategies.  Those on the outside may say, “He needs to be held accountable.”   Sometimes, outsiders just don’t understand what those with disabilities go through to try to be independent.  But it really is true that there’s help – then there’s “help”.

Have you come to a point where situations like this reach into all parts of your ETLs life?  Maybe not all the time, but is it many or most of the time?  What’s the answer?   To be honest, I don’t have one, but if you involve yourself in the problems of a person in your life to the point that you’re handling most of his responsibilities, can you ask yourself – “Am I enabling”?

Emotional over-involvement happens when thoughts become focused on the other person in ways that are unhealthy for both the individual and the relationship. Over-involvement can lead to feelings of anxiety, agitation, helplessness, depression, anger, and even resentment.


And, what are the exceptions?  Really, for me, I guess I’d have to say each situation is different depending on the age of the ETL, the diagnosis, the personal situation and so much more.  Some ETLs and people with various issues will always require help in order to be successful with daily responsibilities.

For myself, personally, I’ve just reached that pivotal point where I have to ask myself, “Have I been enabling and taking on situations that aren’t mine, instead of giving independence even if it means failure?”

This is a scary thing, because letting go of some of the things I’ve been doing to help and teach for so many years is so uncomfortable; I’ve taken steps in one way or another so many many times.  This writing isn’t about judging where a caregiver is at a particular point with actions taken, but just a thought to consider situations more and check motivations.

Only each person in their own lives could openly consider whether the help they give makes steps to independence or if things have gone too far creating a negative pattern.  And, only each person could look at and determine if independence is even possible or if the person he or she is caring for will require life-long care.

But, – what if the person you’re caring for is making decisions that negatively affect themselves and others – repeatedly.  And, there is simply nothing you can do to improve the quality of life for that person or those involved.  Would you really knowingly want to keep yourself in that cycle?

Honestly, I probably would have kept going, because I would have continued to think it was the right thing to do.  I made it a moral issue instead of an issue of personal choice and care for oneself involved with an illness.  Yes, this sounds like the steps involved with someone who has a substance abuse problem.  And, it is, but it also involves any problem that a person isn’t taking responsibility for and handling in a healthy way.

Mental illness is a serious issue for many based largely in the physical body along with heredity.  With that, what if that person refuses medication, counseling or other coping mechanisms that may help him function and become independent?  What if that person has a pattern of putting himself in harm’s way, but does not take the advice given to prevent crisis in the future.  And, the whole thing just keeps happening again and again and again.

If this sounds too familiar and change isn’t happening, you could be enabling.  These situations are very individual, but I myself must admit to being an enabler.  This is a difficult thing as I’ve always wanted independence for my ETL.  I’ve always wanted him to succeed – to be the best he could be – to be safe – to follow the law – to take care of himself. My heart hurts with the love I have for him.

So, what happened?  Really, I don’t know, but the truth of the matter is that the situation isn’t changing.  The pattern is there.

I don’t want to have a go around in this cycle anymore.  I’m dizzy.  I’m tired.  I’ve been around enough to know that it doesn’t work out well.  Something different has to happen.  Even though it’s very hard, I have to step outside the circle and try to make healthy choices, even if he can’t.  Does that mean he’ll crash and burn?  I don’t know that, but I do know that could happen even if I stay in the cycle because I’ve watched it.  Too many times.

How do you know if you’ve been in these cycles too many times yourself?  According to Mental Health Minute, some of the signs are:

  • You keep suggesting solutions but the troubled person  does nothing different
  • He or she keeps turning up distressed – or behaving in the same maladaptive ways – no matter how much supportive listening or practical (or financial) help you provide
  • The troubled person denies that he/she has a problem  and consistently blames others when things go wrong
  • He/she resists getting professional help even after  serious consequences result from his/her problems (e.g., a suicide attempt, an episode of violent behavior)
  • The troubled person starts making unreasonable demands  on your time, energy or other resources
  • He/she seems consumed with self-pity, or just a little too gratified by the attention of others who are trying to help
  • You find yourself feeling burdened, preoccupied or overwhelmed by the other person’s problems – which could provoke your own      symptoms of anxiety or depression
  • You recognize that the relationship with the troubled  person has become entirely focused on his/her needs with little or no      reciprocity
  • It starts to seem like the troubled person is a “bottomless pit” – no matter how much help and support you provide, he or  she still demands more….

Whether you’re helping someone with mental illness, an addiction, a disability or something else that’s become unhealthy, it’s important to continue to make healthy choices, ourselves, and not become part of the cycle.

You know you’ve likely crossed the line into enabling when the person you have been helping becomes increasingly dependent instead of increasingly independent and/or one or both parties have resentment resulting from this arrangement.


The process of looking at things objectively with open eyes is a painful one, but one that will lead you toward healing.


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