"Compassion and Enabling"
"Sometimes there is a very blurry line between feeling and expressing compassion, and enabling someone. Showing compassion is giving someone space and understanding so they can work through their predicament whilst remaining at a healthy emotional distance. This healthy emotional distance can be hard to judge in close knit relationships such as marriage and families. For should one fall over the edge of compassion and into the field of pity, neither party will benefit. Pity serves no one in relation to creating the desired changes within relationships of any kind.
Somewhere in between the blurry lines of compassion and pity lies the process labeled as enabling. Enabling is an overdose of compassion. When compassion distorts into pity, the individual is assisted in continuing with behavioral traits that clearly do not serve either party with regards to emotional, mental and psychical health.
People become enabled to continue their damaging behavioral traits via beloved others wearing the mask of compassion. The beloved other becomes drawn into the vacuum of the sufferer’s reality. Unknowingly, they begin to slip into pity, whilst believing that they are still expressing compassion. Once a person becomes drawn into the illusion of the other person’s reality they begin to make excuses for themselves as a means of justifying the abuse they are committing. They are enabling the sufferer, therefore abusing the sufferer, whilst they wear the mask of compassion. For anyone who is assisting the abuser, via allowing the abuser to continue on their discourse without obstruction, using (false) compassion (pity) as a reason, is ultimately abusing and damaging the abuser even more. And they are also damaging themselves.
Now this sounds all good and fine in theory from the clear perspective of the unattached observer, but what of the person in the eye of the tornado. What of the mother whose daughter is severely addicted to drugs? And what of the husband who must cope with the severe depression of his wife?
Compassion and pity become extremely difficult to distinguish in such circumstances. One’s own belief systems become strained and one starts to question the integrity of their own reality. Little by little people begin to compromise themselves in order to compensate for the others distorted behavioral traits. This is pity and pity is abuse. These self compromises come from one’s own false belief that they alone are responsible for ensuring that the abuser is healed. They take the false responsibility on board based on ethics and morals they have adopted from society or other people, meanwhile their intuition, (their inner truth) screams at them telling them that this does not feel right.
When one indulges another’s reality long enough via pity, one cannot help become exposed to deteriorating emotional and psychological states. This is the clearest sign that you have been enabling someone. If you are showing someone genuine compassion then your psychological and emotion health will not be affected.
When you find yourself constantly dwelling over another’s situation as well as altering your psychological and emotional states to compensate for another’s predicament, then you are enabling someone. This for most people is too harsh a reality to admit, especially when the person is very close to you. Usually one’s entire belief system is based on giving love and helping another, yet when love and compassion distort into pity and enabling, we are simply forgetting to love ourselves first, and in doing so, we hurt the other instead.
On the surface this may sound selfish, yet the underlying truth is that we cannot help another, unless we love ourselves correctly first. Another harsh reality is that you are responsible for no one but yourself. Compassion allows someone the opportunity to realize this even in the mist of immense suffering. Pity enables another to disperse responsibility away from themselves and onto another, which helps and heals no one.
There are no definitive guidelines to judge whether you are expressing compassion or enabling someone. But perhaps the question you could ask yourself is; if I continue to live with my present emotional and mental states, will this affect my overall health in the future? If you can honestly answer ‘no’, then you are expressing compassion. If you can’t honestly say ‘no’, then perhaps you need to step back a touch and love yourself more, and then you will have a clearer perspective in regards to the other, and what the other really requires."
"Compassion is not at all weak. It is the strength that arises out of seeing the true nature of suffering in the world. Compassion allows us to bear witness to that suffering, whether it is in ourselves or others, without fear; it allows us to name injustice without hesitation, and to act strongly, with all the skill at our disposal. To develop this mind state of compassion... is to learn to live, as the Buddha put it, with sympathy for all living beings, without exception."
- Sharon Salzberg