We’ve all got them.
People in our lives who live in a chronic state of financial mess. When it comes to money, they habitually make poor choices.
There’s the friend who overspends. Despite his big salary, he’s got even bigger debt. There’s the parent who under-saves. The sibling who comes to you annually for “just a little help” because they lost money—again—in some sketchy investment.
It’s agonizing to watch, isn’t it? It kills you to see loved ones struggle. You want to help—get them to meet with your financial planner, read that book that was so helpful to you, anything.
Occasionally it happens. They show up and say they’re ready to get their financial act together. So you step in—again—and help. And nothing changes.
Here are a couple of things I’ve learned: First, it’s not enough for people to NEED change in their lives. They have to really WANT to change. Second, when you help people who don’t really want to change, you actually hurt them.
It’s called enabling. It’s not your intent, but you actually enable them to continue down the road of financial foolishness.
I won’t kid you – situations of the type I am describing rarely turn out well. The person in the enabler role continues to hope, plead, and give . . . and the enabled person continues to deny reality, play the role of manipulator, and take. The dance often doesn’t stop until the enabler crashes.
And guess what the irresponsible person does then? He or she goes and finds someone else to take from.
I know. This isn’t easy to hear (it’s even harder to do). But if, in a genuine effort to be helpful and loving, you’ve actually been enabling someone, you need to do three things:
1. Be honest with yourself. Look hard at what you have been doing. Call it what it is, enabling. Stop rationalizing what your friend/loved one has been doing. It’s manipulation, pure and simple. They’re taking from you—and probably others too.
2. Draw some financial boundaries. Easier said than done, I realize. But if you want to save yourself (and maybe…just maybe…your sibling/child/friend), decide now that you have given your last dollar to them.
Even if he’s late on his bills. Even if she loses her car to repossession. Even if they say they’re about to lose their house. Honor that boundary!
Because if you don’t make that kind commitment to yourself, a skilled taker (and talker) will keep working you till kingdom come.
3. Let your loved one experience natural financial consequences. This is the heart of the issue. Many people have created lives for themselves where they never feel any pain for their financial misbehavior. They can always find one or two “soft touches” to shield them or bail them out.
Listen, the only way enabled people can be motivated to live differently is for them to have to face the natural consequences of their actions (or inactions). True transformation only comes when we confront—and wrestle with—hard things (like the financial messes we ourselves have created.)
A warning: When you draw a firm financial boundary and stick to it, your enabled person will likely declare that you no longer love him. He’ll play the victim and try to make you feel guilty. He may even go find someone else to be his patsy. As painful as that is, it’s still better than the enabling relationship that exists now.
You can’t change another person. But you can change your own behavior. You can stop doing things that are keeping the one you love from experiencing needed change.
The only question is: Will you?
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