When you see someone struggling, do you feel impelled to make it better and fix it, to stop the discomfort? This can look like; doing your child’s homework for them, fighting your friend’s battles on their behalf, taking on another person’s workload to stop them from getting in trouble at work, etc. If this sounds like you or someone else you know, it’s important you know this…

Helping someone to avoid the consequences of their actions is enabling…

Enabling teaches people to feel helpless, anxious and lose confidence in their own problem solving abilities. Enabled people will often turn to alcohol, food, drugs and avoidance behaviours to cope with life. Interrupting cause and effect (consequence) means that people lose their learning feedback mechanism. We only really learn we’re capable by solving problems ourselves. Experiencing the struggle, the challenge and then the ‘breakthrough’ high, helps people to know they can do it!  and when we rob people of these opportunities to learn, we stop being helpful. Instead, we actually cause harm by our good intentions. Being overly responsible and helpful is not helping someone else.

Michael Yapko, PhD. (2016) states that one of the best questions we can ask ourselves to stop feeling guilty and overly responsible is, “How do I know if it is or isn’t my responsibility?” He suggests checking in before taking action and reflect:

  • Whether the situation or role you’re in requires you to take responsibility
  • Whether it was your words, or actions or someone else’s, that generated the outcome
  • You are clear about what each person should be and is capable of doing for him or herself
  • You recognise that each person bears the consequences of his or her choices and actions
  • You recognise when other people avoid responsibility by blaming others, including you

So, the next time you feel an urge to jump in and save someone, think about whether it is really going to help them long term or whether you’re robbing them of a learning experience which may be valuable to them.

It’s more helpful to listen to the struggle and offer belief in the person’s capacity to cope. Let them know you trust them to be able to get through this. Be a helper not an enabler.

Have a great week.


Yapko, M. PhD. (2016) The Discriminating Therapist: Asking “How” Questions, Making Distinctions, and Finding Direction in Therapy, Yapko Publications, Fallbrook, CA.