I have had to come to terms with the legacy of enabling that has been passed along in my family for several generations. I recall in great detail how my maternal Grandmother enabled all those around her. Her husband, who was an alcoholic who sexually abused one of his daughters, and his grandaughters. Her cocaine addicted son who still cannot hold a job or kick the habit. And her daughter who could not manage her own finances.

Now my mother is doing the same for my youngest brother, and my niece. She feels that she is helping them out of tough situations beyond their control. My brother is addicted to alcohol, can't keep a job because of anger issues and lack of ability to yield to authority. My niece, who got pregnant out of wedlock at 17, married and used up her college funds that were set aside after her mother died in an accident, and had yet another child she cannot afford. She has moved about using people for as long as they will allow or can afford. When the resources are gone, she calls my Mom for help and of course Mom bails her out of her financial troubles. The niece refuses to get a job saying her place is at home with the youngest of the boys (ages 6 and 4). Her husband has a high school diploma and antisocial disorder tendencies. Therefore, he cannot find adequate employment either. However, they have all the money in the world to blow on tattoos, cigarettes, and entertainment while allowing my mom to meet their monthly bills.

Mom is blind to this craziness. I have tried repeatedly to get her to stop, but she says she can let the boys suffer for their parents poor choices.

What is the best way to approach this? I have confronted the niece...pushed all the wrong buttons by stating the truth. I have spoken with my step father who is powerless over my Mom's desires to keep enabling them. It has grown to cause a rift between them. They are in their 70's and he can't see divorce as a solution, so he stays in that hostile environment.

Any advice would be helpful.


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Nov 18, 2009
I Have to Agree...
by: Don Carter

Let me start by saying how sorry I am that we won't be able to give you the "magic bullet" that most of us have sought at one time or another in our lives.

Having lost my own mother to the depression of growing up in a dysfunctional family, I can empathize on the sense of urgency you must feel. The sad fact is, however, that the only person we can change is ourselves.

YOU have made a decision to not participate in the "crazy-making" behavior of others and are on a path to break-the-chain that has been your legacy. They have not gotten to that point yet. And until they do, they will not be able to see or hear what you are trying to tell them.

The best way I can think of to describe it is from a scene in the movie "What Dreams May Come"... Robin Williams made a trip to Hell to try to "get through" to his disillusioned wife who had ended up there because she committed suicide. He had to get his wife to see, hear and/or feel his presence in order to "break the spell" and get her to come to Heaven with him.

In her delusion, she could not see or hear matter how hard he tried. (I won't ruin the movie by telling you how it turned out). My main point is, your mom, your brother and your niece are all living in another world and are under a spell -- a delusion. They cannot hear you and therefore cannot respond in a healthy way.

The most powerful thing you can do for them is get well yourself, tend to your own emotional & spiritual growth, and PRAY for them -- just as I will be doing! It may come about that your recovery eventually attracts them to recovery.

While you may not be able to change the family legacy, you can certainly have an impact on future generations in your family by blazing a trail out of the wilderness!

God Bless,

Nov 18, 2009
Just Focus on YOU!
by: mxkx

The other commenter is right. You can't do anything to "help" them really. I mean, you can try subtly recommending this site but chances are they're going to think you're implying that they're crazy no matter how much you try to reassure them that you're trying to share some of the truths that have helped you.

The best thing you can do is apologize for your enabling behavior and then stop enabling them. If you find this hard to do distance yourself a little. Some family members may even be so far gone that you need to distance yourself completely from them just to be able to successfully keep yourself out of the drama triangle. Personally I am having to do this with my mother in law because most of the time it is impossible to even say hello to her without getting a string of accusations and insults of some variety that are either aimed towards you or others.

Ultimately though you need to focus on healing yourself. Who knows? Maybe your family will see you some years down the road having a happy and successful life and they will get curious as to why you're able to be so serene. Unfortunately, there is a flip side to this... you may very well end up getting blamed for "thinking" you're "better" than them.

Case in point - my mother in law thinks that her sister thinks she's better than her even though her sister is probably one of the kindest and most caring people I have ever met and has kids that are beautifully well adjusted. The fact is that she probably feels "crazier" around her peaceful sister so she blame shifts to get rid of the guilt/shame, completely unaware that if she just let go of her rigid attitudes and got honest with herself she might not have to blame shift because she won't feel so out of control any more thanks to the internal conflict getting resolved.

The bottom line is you can talk until you're blue in the face but until people are ready to admit that nothing is working to get rid of the pain and that they really need help, they are just going to turn a deaf ear and maybe even blame you for "making" them feel uncomfortable with themselves.

Nov 18, 2009
Oh! My!
by: dgodbear

Sounds like your family put the 'dys' in dysfunction. My family is the same way. What has helped me the most is attending codependents anonymous meetings. It's a 12 step based program for us to help ourselves. I did not how crazy my family was, nor how crazy I had become with them, until I went to treatment and got sober, then to CODA which has helped restore me to sanity.

I am not cured....but I am SO much better off than I was. I learned the only thing I can change is me. No matter how hard any of us try, and no matter how noble the cause, no matter how much sense we make, we are powerless over other people. CODA has helped me to stop banging my head against the wall.

I have learned that in a dysfunctional family, everyone has a role to play. As you noted, it is handed down through generations. It is like a family tradition. The family circumstances may be hurtful, violent, indifferent, poverty stricken or anything else that appears to be something to get away from. But the truth is, the family works to keep things the same. They don't know that they are trying to prevent change. It is below their level of awareness.

I would guess you are the family hero. When people meet you they are impressed with your accomplishments and graciousness. They may say to themselves, "This person must come from a really good family."

It was hard for me to accept the fact that all players in the family drama were necessary to keep the dysfunction going. If even one member stops playing, then things have to change. Things might get worse before getting better. I learned a wonderful thing. It is called "detachment with love." I had to get my head wrapped around the idea that could step back and say, "I will not participant in this craziness any longer." Note how I said that. I had tried saying I "can't" participate any longer. That did not work, because, obviously I "could" continue to play the game. And I did. I had to decide that I "would not" continue. I had to say to my family, "I love you but I will not continue to be involved with this family dysfunction. I also am learning to love me. I release each of you as I step back and nurture my own mental and emotional health."

There was much backlash. It was not easy to stick to my guns, but I managed with the support of my CODA group. The effort has been worth it x 10,000. This may be hard to hear, but your own behavior is helping to keep the family stay unchanged. Let them go. Let them fall. Let them feel the consequences of their own actions. It is the only way they might ever become responsible for themselves.

Peace and Light to You.

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