Today is May 1, which means that in two days, I will fly back to VA for my graduation ceremony. I am so excited to be attending this wonderful 3-day event, and despite being swamped with grading and such, I am planning on enjoying my time there. This will probably be the last time I visit the campus for a while. I am faculty, part-time, but unless I have a reason to head east, more than likely, it will be a long, long while until I am able to take another expensive trip.
In fact, I just booked my summer trip to Indiana, and with the costs associated with flying there, staying for four days, and renting a car, well let’s just say, I am toasted right now financially. God has provided summer work for me, and for that I am thankful. But, I just paid my credit cards off (down in some cases), and I hate the fact that this quickly (as in just 1-2 months), those “numbers,” are back up to where they were this time last year. Sigh! I feel like a yo-yo. I really had hoped to have my credit cards zeroed out this summer so that I could be free from the monthly payment cycle.
Still, God is good, and He provided a way, at the least, for me to travel back to the Midwest with my parents. I believe this will be the last time this side of heaven that my parents visit Indiana (they intend to be buried there).
Plans for the Week
As I plan my days until I leave, I have a lot of work to accomplish. I have essays to grade for GCU, final projects to grade for ASU. In the mix, I have essays and discussion to grade for Regent. Ah, the life of the English professor! It is not really all that it is cracked up to be — if I can be honest for a moment. I am blessed to do this line of work, but the end of semester is always stressful to me. I don’t like to make students unhappy, you know, by failing them. Yet, they pretty much do it to themselves, and not a semester passes where I don’t have several who fail simply because they didn’t do the final work assigned in class. They just drop out, and they fail to show up for the big show. It always saddens me when this happens, and I don’t like to be the one to say, “I am sorry you didn’t do your best work in class. Maybe next time, you will apply yourself more, show up to class, and turn in all your work on time.” It is life, and life lessons hurt. I just don’t like to be a part of that learning process, you know what I mean?
In fact, I was saying this to my Mom yesterday, how one of the essays my students read in my Regent 101 course was all about life learning. The writer, Walker Percy, discusses the benefit of natural learning or learning through life experience in his short essay entitled, “The Loss of the Creature.” This essay is a difficult read for most students, but only because he uses rich language and speaks in symbolic contexts. I love it, and the more I read it, the more I realize that I am not doing my students any service by hand-holding them. I have taken a motherly approach, when in truth, I needed to take a more disciplined role in their life. I coddled them, caring for them like tender shoots or petunias. In reality, I came to see that for many of these students, the lessons of life are necessary reminders of that their actions count and that they have repercussions or consequences. I guess I have been blessed since my own son never really got into trouble. He never really did much to upset me, even though he did make some bad choices in life. I have taken a soft approach with him, and he has benefitted from it. Most of my students, though, came into my class ready to learn, and they followed the directions and submitted assignments as instructed. Some, though, simply blew off my class, and then showed up on the last day thinking they would get a “pass.”
Feeling Down and Slightly Depressed
My heart is troubled today, as it always is on the first day of end of year grading. I try hard all semester long, and still, I cannot save my students from failure. You know, I try to toss them a life preserver, and I hope they will grab it. Some do, and some don’t. The ones that do not grab hold, sink and often fail my course. The ones that struggle, often choosing not to grab on until mid-semester, sometimes do succeed. It is about 50/50.
As I write this, I am sitting here feeling the twinge of regret. I feel that I have failed my students because I was too nice on them. I was too gracious. I was too hopeful that they would do well. In fact, some did do well. Every semester, I have a handful of students who show up, want help, and succeed in class. These are the students who matter to me — they want to learn — and I will pour out myself to them. The other students take up space in the classroom. They do not listen, and they do not care about their grades or their progress. They are just passing through life.
I have decided that as a result of my final teaching semester at GCU, I am choosing to change my approach to grading. I hate being punitive. I hate being difficult or disagreeable. Yet, I also hate being a push-over, and being treated as if my word doesn’t hold any authority. I don’t want to be an authority figure in class, yet this is what I am. I lead by example, but for many of my students, they simply want to pass without any effort. They want to achieve without really working hard for the result.
This semester has been hard for me. Not only did I achieve a great feat — my PhD — but I did it while handling an incredible amount of pressure. I did it while caring for my aging parents and balancing a difficult teaching load. Yes, I did it while I taught 9 classes. In truth, this was an incredible accomplishment, and I am thankful that my hard semester is over. I realize that my approach did not set well with some of my faculty peers, and I also realize that I have been lax in discipline when I should have been much stronger, much more fair, just, and righteous in my approach. I should have said, “This is the line you cannot cross,” and then held my students to my word. I didn’t do that at all. I realize that the failure to do so was not anything they did, per se, but rather my own issues with authority and being an authority figure. Yes, I have learned the lesson of failing to lead when given the opportunity to lead in the classroom.
So what do I do now? Well, I march on. I solider on as I always do. I learn from my mistakes, and I continue to improve. One thing is for sure, and that is, I am going to study leadership from a biblical perspective this summer. Yes, I am going to learn leadership and then bring that leadership to the classroom so my students can have a strong figure to look up to and to count on. I have to be strong in the classroom, and I have to be fair. I have to mete out justice, and if a student fails, then so be it. I cannot take it personally, but I can do what I can to help — just not carry the ball for them. I know that I have been a ball carrier for so long — in my former marriage — and in life. I carry the ball for people who cannot carry it due to its weight (this is bearing one another’s burdens), but I make the mistake often of carrying the ball for people who choose not to carry it, if you get my drift. The former is a Grace thing, the latter is simply enabling. I am an enabler, co-dependent, and as such, I choose to make peace, to keep the level — level — even when I should let the “chips fall.” I get it. I understand it. I know better, and yet, I still do it. I need to step away from my codependency and my behavior that chooses to avoid conflict, pain, and hurt simply because this is the “old” me. The “new” me is powerful, in control, and achievement/performance driven. I am either one or the other. I cannot be both, though.
Codependency and Enabling
Codependency is a “type of dysfunctional helping relationship where one person supports or enables another person’s drug addiction, alcoholism, gambling addiction, poor mental health, immaturity, irresponsibility, or under-achievement” (Wikipedia, 2017). While I recognize that I am not codependent when it comes to addictive behaviors, I am clearly codependent when it comes to immaturity, irresponsibility, and under-achievement. This is me to a tee. I enable my students’ irresponsible behaviors, I support their immaturity, and I over-help when it comes to their under performance. What is key in this definition is the fact that this behavior is a dysfunctional type of helping relationship. Get this — it is a desire to help others — but it is acted on in dysfunctional ways.
Beth Gilbert writes for Everyday Health, and in an article written on codependency, she addresses the difference between being codependent and being an “enabler.” In true mental health definitions, codependency is very different from enabling dependent behaviors. Gilbert writes, “Enabling behavior, which is rarely seen in healthy relationships, includes bailing your partner out, repeatedly giving him or her another chance, ignoring the problem, accepting excuses, always being the one trying to fix the problem, or constantly coming to the rescue” (para. 8) This is not the same thing as being codependent, which Gilbert describes as “any relationship in which two people become so invested in each other that they can’t function independently anymore” (para. 3). In this way, people who are in a codependent relationship rely on one another for support. They feed off one another, and like the addict with his or her supplier, they cannot live without each other. Enablers, conversely, are individuals who overlook behavior out of fear of reprisal, rebuke, or retribution. Enabling behavior is a coping mechanism that is used to stall or put off the inevitable or to keep peace. I am an enabler. I have been an enabler since I was a child because I was raised in an environment where I had to perform in order to feel loved and accepted. The strong criticism I faced daily made me work hard to please people, to make people happy, and as such, I changed my personality, my approach, and my attitude in order to make sure that everyone in my family was always happy. If they were happy, I rationalized, then I would not be criticized or made to feel so unimportant. Thus, I became a people-pleaser, and I worked hard to make sure everyone liked me.
How to Stop Enabling Others
Martin (2016), in an article on enabling from PsychCentral, writes that enabling others is not the same thing as helping others. She says, "Enabling isn’t the same as helping. Helping is doing things that others can’t do for themselves. Enabling is doing for others what they can and should do for themselves” (para. 1). The first step in any recovery program, and yes, codependency and enabling is a mental health issue that needs recovery work, is to accept the truth and acknowledge that the dysfunctional behavior is an accurate descriptor of one’s personality. In my case, this means accepting and acknowledging that I have been trained through years of environmental influence to be both codependent and enabling. I have this personality trait, and what is more, because of the mental and emotional abuse I suffered for so many years, this behavior is ingrained in me. Thus, I mean that I am a long-time enabler. It is part-and-parcel with my psychological make-up. Therefore, in order to recover from this practice, I have to accept that the road ahead of me will not be easy. I will not stop enabling overnight. However, I can learn techniques and routines to prevent me from slipping backwards, and then with consistent daily practice, I can learn how to move forward in life without living this way anymore.
Step 1: Admit that you are an enabler
Step 2: Learn what it means to be codependent and to enable the behaviors of others
Martin (2016) writes, “Codependent relationships are out of balance and often involve enabling” (para. 2), which suggests that if you are in a codependent relationship, more than likely you already know that you have codependent traits. Martin says that codependent people often enable others — preventing them from taking responsibility for their own actions. In short, enablers “over-function, are overly responsible, or work harder than the other person in the relationship” (para. 2), and in doing so, they allow the other person to “under-function or be irresponsible” (para. 2) simply because, as she says, the enabler is “picking up the slack” (para. 2). She argues that “When you enable, you take responsibility for someone else’s behavior” (para. 2).
Step 3: Know the difference between enabling and helping
Martin (2016) stresses that sometimes enabling and helping can be confused. For example, helping someone in need is not enabling. If a friend needs a loan due to an emergency situation, this is not enabling them or taking on their responsibility; rather, it is extending a helping hand. However, if the same friend repeatedly asks for loans, and asks for the same purpose (to cover a debt that could have been paid, but wasn’t paid by choice), then this crosses over the line into enabling. Knowing the difference between the two is vital. Helping a friend in need is one thing, but helping someone who refuses to help themselves is not helping at all — it is simply avoiding the consequences of choice. Martin writes, “Enabling helps your loved one avoid the natural (and negative) consequences of his/her behavior” (para. 3-4). From a mental health standpoint, while the immediate action might provide temporary relief (as in keeping the peace), Martin concludes with the fact that, “Ultimately [enabling] prolongs the problems” (para. 3-4). What is more is the fact that when we enable, we help someone we care about avoid the consequences that could help them change. She says, “Enabling prolongs the problem by allowing your loved one to avoid negative consequences that would motivate change” (para. 4).
Step 4: Stop enabling others
Once an enabler, always an enabler, or so the thought goes. Yet, it is possible to stop enabling others. Martin (2016) says that it can be difficult to stop enabling behaviors, but it is not impossible. She recommends several ways to help enablers let go of their need to control other people’s behavior.
As a sub-measure, we must also detach ourselves from the person we are enabling. When we detach, we see our own being as separate, and in this way, we see what is ours or belongs to us and what is theirs or belongs to them, and as such, we recognize the boundary line separating the two people. Martin writes, "When you detach, you stop taking responsibility for other people and start taking responsibility for your own behavior and needs. Detaching helps you recognize that your loved one is not a reflection of you and you are not responsible for and did not cause the problems that they’re having” (para. 6).
Second, it is import to stop denying the behavior, and to be honest about the fact that you are an enabler. I get this part completely, because it is often difficult to admit that you have become an enabler or are engaging in enabling behaviors for other people. But, as Martin states, being honest is vital to helping you to begin to see the reality of your life. Often, we come to see our reality based on our experiences and perception of those experiences. We sometimes make excuses for our illogical behavior. Thus, we must accept the truth — the reality as it really is — and that means to come clean about being an enabler. She says that counseling programs or therapy can help.
Third, and this is vitally important, in order to stop enabling, it is imperative to accept the fact that anxiety, worry and fear will need to be addressed. Martin writes, "Enabling may be an effort to protect your loved one, but enabling is also an effort to manage your own anxiety and worry about the situation. So when you enable, you’re also trying to make yourself feel better in a very scary and out of control dysfunctional situation” (para. 8). Clearly, anxiety, worry and fear, can be reasons why a person enables someone else.
In my case, my worry about performance in the classroom, being let go for failing students, for example, is a driving connection to why I enable so much. If my students fail, I could be let go as a poor performing teacher. The solution is, therefore, to help my students succeed, even if I must enable them, so that I don’t receive a poor performance report and lose my job. It sucks, but there you have it. My motivation for enabling stems from my inability to control my students’ performance, and the fact that my performance in the classroom is directly tied to my adjunct contract status. Ta-Boom!
Martin (2016) sums up when she says, “Restoring balance to your relationship means you need to stop doing things for the other person in the codependent relationship. You can learn to stop enabling when you accept that you can’t fix it, get out of denial, get honest with yourself and others, and manage your anxiety and worry” (para. 9).
So what does this mean for me?
I believe that the reason I have taken an enabling role in the classroom this past semester (and previously) is to avoid my feelings of failure. As I have mentioned on this blog before, my performance has always figured centrally in my identity. Thus, as a performance driven person and a high achiever, I have struggled to let go of my control in the classroom. When I worked as an analyst, I had total control over my outcomes. I worked hard, did my best, and as was typical, I succeeded in my job. My performance was all about my effort, my work, my abilities. Now, though, since I am a professor, my performance is in large part attributed to my success in the classroom. My students performance is tied to my overall success in my job. Therefore, if my students choose not to learn, and in the end, fail my courses, I take it personally. I could suffer professionally as well, so what do I do, I try to control the uncontrollable by “over-functioning, over-helping” my students succeed. I realize this now, and while it has been a pattern since 2013 when I transition to teaching, it is not too late for me to change my attitude and my behavior. I don’t want to live my life as an enabler. I let go of the past, the hurt, and the mental and emotional abuse from my former marriage and life. I have been set free, but I must not indulge in dysfunctional behaviors as a result of my anxiety and worry over my own performance. In many ways, this action simply demonstrates my lack of trust in the Lord. I mean, do I believe that He has me covered, and that I will not lose my job based on poor student performance? I do. I say I do, but I am not living as if I really do.
My goal this summer is to establish a set of principles that will guide my behavior in the classroom. I will base these principles on the word of God, the Bible, and in this way, I will look to these guidelines and will know that my behavior and actions honor the Lord. If I seek to honor the Lord in all I do, then I can relax and not worry about my performance any more. I can simply let Him lead, guide, and provide for me. I will be fair. I will be just, but I will no longer cover for students who fail to meet the standard set by the school. I will no longer cover for their irresponsibility, immaturity or lack of time management. The chips will fall where they fall, and I will detach myself personally from my students and their outcomes. I will help, truly help, but I will not cover up for them, go the distance, or carry their responsibilities on my already heavy-laden shoulders.
In conclusion, I see how my enabling personality (from my childhood and adult years) has hurt me more than it has helped me. I have become someone who covers others faults, failures, and who did so simply to avoid the negative consequences of their flawed actions. I have taken on other people’s roles and responsibilities rather than focusing on my own plate, my own needs. I do this as a daughter, a mother, and a teacher. The time has come to break free, and in breaking free, I am choosing to live my life as a solitary individual, as someone who can only control herself. I cannot control others, thus, I let them go to lead their own lives. I will choose to control myself, and God be praised, in doing so, I will experience true freedom. Whatever the Lord determines for me will be His will for my life. I will simply let life come, experience life, and live life to the best of my abilities. God be praised, He is good. He is so very good to me.
Gilbert, B. (n.d.). Do You Have a Codependent Personality? | Everyday Health. Retrieved from http://www.everydayhealth.com/emotional-health/do-you-have-a-codependent-personality.aspx
Martin, S. (2016, December). How to Stop Enabling | Happily Imperfect. Retrieved from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/imperfect/2016/12/how-to-stop-enabling/