The Enabler That Was: An Exercise in Rewriting Our Stories

We’ve enabled them from taking responsibility for choices, rescued them from the choices they made, and buffered them when these choices should have had consequences. Our skillset may come complete with talents like putting a drunk person to bed without breaking more hearts or furniture; ducking words or objects with the grace of a dancer; or making excuses to others and ourselves (especially ourselves) about how their outrageous conduct is really a sign of love. Tired of this being your story? In The Enabler That Was, I’ll introduce a rescripting exercise for bringing these stories to an end and teach you to create a new story for yourself.

Chances are, life as an enabler began for you as a method to manage friction in your early life. As I often say, humans are extremely flexible in responding to even terrible environmental conditions. People survive abuse, neglect, peer violence, all sorts of things. Enabling was our method for adapting to problems that people brought us by doing whatever we could to stabilize things. Maybe we learned to distract a violent family by being the clown; or perhaps we were the problem solver for a caregiver who had limited coping abilities. We took care of others as a way of caring for ourselves; and did this so successfully that we lost much of our understanding of who we are, what we want. We came to believe that we must be fixers of people if we expect them to love us.

Whatever circumstances you’re presently in that have you believing you must always be the compassionate one; the forgiving one; the person whose loving presence is boundless, constantly available with few or no requirements of the other person, your decision to change things can happen now. The old scripts that had us believing we must fix the broken people of the world were yesterday’s news. It’s time to write a new script that moves away from the toxic people I described in last week’s blog.

Using pen and paper, a Word document, or whatever works for you, write out in some detail your journey as the Rescuer. Give yourself as much detail as you want, but it’s probably valuable to trace your story back as far as you can and note the places it took you. I suggest writing this in third person because it allows you to exist as both observer and participant in the story you tell, empowering your ability to make change.

Pay particular attention in your narrative to both the gains and the losses. Whereas it’s very easy to focus exclusively on the bad things that came your way from rescuing, there was also good. Somewhere along the way, you may have rescued people and animals that gave you love back in abundance.

Begin your story in past tense, something like:

Jeannette learned to rescue when she was six years old. Her parents would fight and her father would throw things and yell at her mother. By acting silly, dancing around and singing a song, Jeannette learned that she could distract her parents from their fight by making them laugh. 

Kevin learned that by being the good kid who could put his mom to bed and then fix his own lunch and get his little sister Sam ready for school, he could take care of everybody and everything.

Let the story follow its natural progression:

When she was 16, Jeannette met Eddie and knew he was in pain because he did drugs and cut classes. She fell in love with Eddie and thought that if she showed him love, he’d pull his life together. She devoted herself to him, wrote poems about him, and bought him little snacks and gifts she thought would cheer him up. She gave her virginity to him, and he broke up with her two weeks later…

Even after she keyed his car, Kevin thought he could love Letha enough to make her happy, normal. He thought he could give her the stability she’d always needed and that this would make her whole. It didn’t.

For the first time in her life, Monica felt attractive. Karen was the first person to tell her she was beautiful, smart, funny. Monica believed whatever Karen said because she wanted to, even when Karen told her things that Monica knew couldn’t be true.

Be sure to find the good points:

Kevin bought the hungry dog some food, and decided to take him home and name him Shoestring. Shoestring loved Kevin every day from then on.

She gave her cousin a place to stay and a job lead, and within 8 months, Diana was back on her feet. They’ve always been like sisters, and Diana even let Monica’s kids stay with her during the divorce.

And bring it up to yesterday:

Jeannette still hurt for Nathan. She had a special tone on her phone and waited to hear that he’d texted her, just as she’d done every day. She believed that if she loved him enough, he’d come around and stop lying/cheating/meth/deserting her…

Pause and read through the journey you narrated. It’s important to honor the past and be clear that what was is not what is.

Now it’s time to make space for today, using only present tense:

Jeannette now realizes that Nathan needs to stay in yesterday because he isn’t good for her. Jeannette’s not his plaything, his therapist, his fool. She’s not his punching bag. She’s given him enough compassion, and will now give this to herself. So today, she’s walking away. She’s blocking his number from her phone, Unfriending him, and making herself completely inaccessible to him forever. Here’s what she’s going to do with her time instead….

This is where I hope you’ll spend the majority of your creative space. Be indulgent. What is it you’ve always wanted to give yourself? What would you wish to do now that you won’t be giving all of your time and energy to someone who doesn’t deserve it?

As a final activity, give your story a name that evokes the change you want: “Jeannette’s Story As the Woman Who No Longer Believes Lies,” “Kevin Decides to be Really, Really Happy,” “How Monica Learned to Celebrate Her Body,” or whatever works for you.

I hope you’ll next devote yourself to doing the these you’ve listed. I hope you’ll also share this blog with someone who needs to read it.





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