Do you have a son, daughter, sibling or friend that has come to rely on you to bail them out of their bad decisions? Do they come to you with sad stories of depression, failure, suicidal feelings, and general unhappiness and pull you into a pity party? Are these people in your life sucking your life blood, taking your money, and doing little or nothing to help themselves? Is failure a recurring theme? Is this dependent personality bankrupting you or hurting your family economically? Are they exporting all their trouble to you and disrupting what might otherwise be a happy home?
It is true that many people suffer from tough childhoods, have big emotional or mental problems, physical impairments, personality disorders and/or have a history of failure that makes it hard to write a good resume. Many of these people do need therapy from a qualified health care professional (which I am not). Some of them may even be at risk for suicide and other self destructive behaviors. However, most of them can be helped more to grow up and mature by some tough love than by an ongoing series of bail outs. If they come to depend on an ongoing cornucopia of unearned benefits and bailouts they will never grow up and learn to be a self reliant adult. Don’t we all hope for self reliance for those we love?
There comes a time when you realize that a relationship has created a dependency that is not going away. When you enable or foster dependency, you are not helping the person to grow. Or you realize that the person who has become dependent upon you is not willing to even try to carry any of their own burden. This is the time to ask yourself where you want the relationship to go, and what you hope for for this person.
Do you stay in a relationship where you have to constantly bail out the other person because you feel guilty if you don’t, or out of compassion, or out fear that they might do something to themselves or that they might starve? Do you wish that there was a way to lift this burden off of yourself and your family? Do you fear that if you don’t help them something bad will happen to them and you’ll be full of guilt forever that you didn’t bail them out once again?
It is usually better to be motivated by love than by fear or by guilt in your relationships. It is fine to feel compassion, but take a step back and ask what the compassionate thing to do for this person is. Ask yourself what love requires. Some might argue that real love requires that you be tough enough to make demands on this dependent person in order to help them to develop further towards full adult maturity. Or that you require that they make demands on themselves and that they progress towards self reliance (no matter what the circumstances–if they’re not in a coma they can probably do something for themselves). Show me someone with a malady and I can show you someone with the same or worse malady that is achieving and contributing towards their own care. Usually, I can show you someone who has had or does have even bigger challenges and has learned to be self reliant.
How do we strengthen the weak and dependent ones among us? Do we strengthen them by doing everything for them? Do we strengthen them when we do not hold them accountable for their actions? Do we strengthen them when we never let them feel any of the pain for their bad decisions or for their laziness because we always bail them out? Do we strengthen them when we never ask them to do anything hard or anything uncomfortable or anything that might require stretch and growth? Do we strengthen them when we accept all their excuses and don’t call them on their bad behavior? Or, do we keep them forever children; forever dependent?
Sometimes the best way to rescue someone who has become dependent upon us is to expect them to rescue themselves. Teaching them skills, introducing them to work, asking for a plan, requiring action, taking away excuses, compassionately acknowledging their challenges while demanding they stretch, and encouraging them to try that which is difficult or uncomfortable are all ways to strengthen the weak. As they become stronger, they can carry more of their own burden or even become totally self reliant. Isn’t this what you hope for for them and for you?
As you gradually reduce support and hold that person accountable for doing for themselves you will see them measure up to your expectations. It will not be without failure. You will need to continue to reassure and encourage and believe in their ability to progress, but you may not have to continue to bail them out of every mess. Sometimes if they reap the bad that they sowed it will teach them a lesson that will lead to a change to better future behavior. Let them learn that “what they sow is what they’ll grow” by experiencing the results that come from their actions. In the future they’ll be more careful about what they sow.
When these dependent people learn to do more for themselves great things happen. Their self esteem, confidence, abilities, skills, resumes, personal strength,and self respect all increase. The burden on you lightens. They grow, mature, and become more accomplished, and happier.
Remember that a muscle, a brain, a skill, knowledge and learning, and an ability is only strengthened by challenge, use, effort and stretch. Nobody becomes more self reliant by continuing to rely on others. If you want to strengthen a weak person, challenge them. Hold them accountable. Make tough demands on them. Ask them to stretch themselves. Sometimes the price of success is a few tears of frustration and effort and failure on the way to that success.
Men might have joy. But nobody guaranteed them joy. It’s a choice each person has to make for himself. Starting from where he is, he needs to flex his wings and venture out of the nest if he hopes to become an adult. Everyone has to decide whether they will chose life or death, success or failure, poverty or plenty, ignorance or knowledge, endless childhood or mature adulthood. We do people no service, and it is not real love, to enable their eternal immaturity and dependence.
My brother told me he heard someone remark: “God can’t steer a parked car.” Those who are dependent need to get going, take action, set goals, have a plan, work, work, work, and try, try, try. They need to develop dreams, goals, objectives, an action plan and then work the plan. Then, in their activity, as they are anxiously engaged in good work and good causes they can better expect God’s guiding hand. They need to stop making excuses and start taking action. Then they’ll start to learn and receive direction.
How can you help them? Be encouraging. Ask and demand stretch and action. Don’t get into pity parties. Take away their excuses. Give them examples of people with the same or worse challenges who have been successful. Help them to see how it was done. Help them develop a plan. Hold them accountable. Feed them truth (especially the hard truths), knowledge, love, example, encouragement and faith. Let them know that you believe in their ability to achieve. Many would like to believe life is a free lunch. It is not, not if we expect to grow and be happy.
Here are some other things you can do to help them to become self reliant. Gradually cut off some or all of the funds you are providing. Give them a date when they will have to take over and don’t relent on this. Praise them and recognize every success. Encourage them through failure. Most success starts with a series of failures. We must be tough enough to work through the failures to gain success. Nobody plays Beethoven the first time they sit at a piano. Help them to develop this toughness by encouraging their continued effort and endurance. Don’t do for them what they can do for themselves or you’ll rob them of growth and strength. They will atrophy if you do it all for them.
Many dependent people do not take care of even their basic physical requirements. Encourage these dependent people to eat right, sleep 8 hours a day, get plenty of exercise, and drink lots of water. A healthy body is part of what is required to feel confident and to be able to achieve at a higher level. As they get back into exercise they will receive that endorphin reward that will give them a greater sense of well being and peace of mind and confidence to achieve.
Sometimes your recognition of their triumphs can be as formal as a small trophy or plaque. At other times it can be as simple as a compliment or verbal recognition of success. Celebrate their successes with them. Money and bailouts are often less valuable than a little push and some praise for an effort or for a success.
Once the dependent has some dreams and goals, help them to realize that learning, study, work, faith, and endurance will lead to accomplishment and victories. Ignorance, disbelief, laziness, and quitting will lead to failure. Pity parties don’t lead to solutions or to accomplishment or to maturity and self reliance. End the Pity Parties and move into problem solving and solutions development and planning sessions.
Another thing that can help dependent people gain some confidence is the development of a success file (some call it an “attaboy file”). In this file they keep reminders of past successes, letters of recommendation, two dimensional awards they might have achieved, copies of diplomas, W-2’s showing a good income year, and other things that give them proof of their own value, of their own success, and of their ability to progress. The file can help them get a job, and it can buoy up their spirits when they are in a moment of self doubt or depression.
Label dependent behavior as dependent behavior. Help the person recognize what they are doing and why it leads to bad results. Don’t allow them to lie to themselves anymore. Help them to be honest with themselves, both of you will benefit from this effort. Call them on their bad thinking, and bad behavior. Help them to relate bad outcomes to the bad thoughts and bad behaviors that bred them. Help them to recognize that there is a direct correlation between our desires, our thoughts, our actions and our results….for better or for worse. Desires beget thoughts. Thoughts beget actions. Actions beget habits. Habits beget character and character is destiny.
Sometimes the best help is that help which may, initially be counter intuitive. Sometimes its the help that doesn???¦??t give, but the help that expects something of the person. In other words, if we give the person everything they will not grow. The person must learn to do for himself. ???What we give him is knowledge, problem solving skills, work skills, our best advice, our listening ear, our love, our encouragement….then we ask him to take that knowledge, that advice, the decisions and commitments he has made, those work skills and those problem solving skills and use them to do things for himself and for others. We want them to grow from a dependent child to a mature, self-reliant, contributing adult. We want them to stop being the problem and start being part of the solution, a contributor rather than a drain. Help them to recognize when they are falling back into dependent behavior and what they can do move back towards independence. Once they are weaned, don’t start with the bail outs again.
You may need the guidance of a professional counselor as you help the dependent person to disengage, grow and mature. Remember though, tough love still works.
Disclaimer: The author is not a financial counselor or mental health professional. Seek professional care when dealing with those suffering from behavioral problems, emotional problems, and mental challenges.