Enlightened Living

Meaning and mindfulness in everyday life

The Enabling Relationship and Not Giving Yourself Away

Ultimate enabling: Losing yourself to another

Losing our sense of self and/or our sense of place in service of maintaining a relationship is one of the greatest social perils that we face. It is a reflection of the epic struggle between the authentic and inauthentic self, pitting who we are against who we believe that we should be in order to then be in the world as we see it. This state of being is nowhere more poignant, nor perilous, than in the enabling relationship.

An enabler is one who - well - enables. S/he is quick to create a context in which another person can play out his/her own script. S/he is the clean up crew, the bank, the Great Mother (or Father), the counselor, coach, confidante and priest. S/he is the unwavering refuge from the big, bad world who creates herself to be, not only ultimately dependable, but virtually indispensable to the continued behavior of the enabled.

We typically think of enablers in terms of addictive relationships, but they can be found playing out their own script most anywhere it might be lent. In truth, while apparently helping, the enabler tends to have poor boundaries, trusts too easily, has a poor sense of their own value and seeks validation through their actions. The potential suggested here leads us to consider the idea of maintaining one's sense of oneself and place in the world within the context of relationship - any relationship.

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One of the most significant challenges we face with regard to relationship is how much we are willing to compromise who we are in service of maintaining that relationship. If we give up parts of ourselves, or allow ourselves to be absorbed into the life of our partner, playmate or workmate without bringing our own social identity along, we set up a situation that will either immediately or eventually engender some level of resentment, ultimately stealing our self-respect and our personal joy.

It is critical to recognize that relationship is not about compromise, it is much more about cooperation. The enabling relationship, by definition, is all about compromise - specifically, the compromise of self.

When we compromise, we give something away, and that something is often charged with a certain degree of personal value. When we cooperate, we come to a balance point where we are much more likely to be satisfied with any mutual outcome that is agreed upon. This attitude of cooperation and balance, simply by virtue of its presence, not only invigorates self-respect, but also promotes the development of a mutual respect and regard.

Being vigilant about how much we are investing of ourselves in a relationship -- and whether that investment is feeding us or bleeding us -- is key to creating balance and not losing ourselves. The wisdom teachings suggest that relationship is about two souls becoming one, but not so much so that the "winds of heaven may not pass between". Truly conscious relationship, then, is a partnership that builds in a healthy separateness, promoting balance and mutual evolution -- and not a place where one partner gets carried away on the wind.

© 2009 Michael J. Formica, All Rights Reserved

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Michael J. Formica, M.S., M.A., Ed.M., is a psychotherapist, teacher and writer. He is an Initiate in the Shankya Yoga lineage of H.H. Sri Swami Rama and the Himalayan Masters.

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