From Empathy to Enabling to Entitlement

In a previous blog, we looked at apathy, sympathy, codependency and empathy.

However, the story continues.

Continuing with the illustration of a well, let’s pick up where we the story left off.

The next morning you go back to the well and climb down the ladder bringing food, water, love and first aid.

You listen and tend to your partner’s needs.

Time passes.

This goes on for weeks, months, and now years.

You have gone down and back up the ladder in your empathy.

You are now exhausted.

In desperation, you plead with your partner and ask why they are not using the ladder to come out.

  • Question: At this point of the story, is Person A or Person B in more pain?
  • Answer: Person A, the person going down and up the ladder every day.

Person A asked their loved one, “Why are you not coming out of the D— Well?!”

The person in the well might respond in any of the following ways:

  • “I do not like black ladders. I want a green one.”
  • “I want a dramatic rescue.”
  • “I want those people who did not mark the hazard properly to pay!”
  • “I want justice! I am not leaving until I get it!”

At this point of the story, Person B is what I call the “ultimate victim.

[Read the Ultimate Victim Blog]

They do not want to get better.

The other problem is that you, being the very empathetic, kind, loving (aka codependent) person that you are, have made it very comfortable in the well for your partner.

You have built them a bedroom. They have WiFi, TV, and video games.

You have also built them a kitchen with granite and stainless-steel appliances along with a fridge full of food.

Person B in the well is not in any pain.

In fact, they know every day at a certain time you are going to come take care of them and supply all their needs.

They have no reason to come out of the well and have not had one for a very long time.

Your empathy…has now become enabling.

The only thing Person A can do now is get out of the well, leave, and show apathy.

This might seem harsh, but this is perhaps the most loving thing to do.

Things are going to get very uncomfortable between the two, as now their wants and needs are no longer being met.

They may get angry, threaten, manipulate, accuse, blame or criticize.

Behavior shows they believe they are entitled to you taking care of them.

This is now a very sick and unhealthy system.

A third neutral party will most likely need to get involved.

Generally, coming out of the well symbolizes some form of inpatient or outpatient treatment or intervention.

Typically, I have found Person B will only come out of the well and seek treatment for two reasons.

Either because they have to, or they want to.

“Have-to” people come out of the well, because they want to look good for a boss, a judge, or to save a relationship or marriage.

“Want-to” people come out of the well for themselves regardless what the judge, partner or others think.

“Have-to” people are about 90 percent of people in recovery.

They are externally motivated by circumstances and pain.

“Want-to” people make up the remaining 10 percent, who are internally motivated with a heart’s desire and make recovery a priority.

Change is difficult, scary, and unknown.

Addicts are about taking the path of least resistance.

So after a few weeks of inpatient or outpatient treatment, the pain they once had is gone, and life looks brighter.

They feel so much better.

Recovery work starts to become difficult, as they face that person in the mirror and take responsibility which is painful.

They decide to leave the program against medical advice (AMA).

Weeks, months, and years may pass.

Eventually, the pain of addiction is once again so great they look at treatment as less painful, so they take the plunge and jump (back into the well).

Time passes, and treatment becomes difficult.

Oftentimes, they leave again.

Life in the well becomes uncomfortable, and they start using again.

The pain becomes so bad they (get out of the well) and go get help.

Wash, rinse, and repeat.

You get the picture.

On average, insurance companies claim to pay out 7 different times for 7 different treatments for the same person with substance abuse issues.

Now for some, it is one and done.

However, I have had addicts report they have had 30 to up to 45 separate attempts in treatment, including both inpatient and outpatient treatment programs.

In different times and in different relationships, you may have played the role of Person A or Person B.

It is a dance of codependency that can become confused with empathy manifesting into enabling and ending in entitlement.



Cory Schortzman, Executive Director

Cory Schortzman, Executive Director

Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.

Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.

Kerry’s books include: Ashes to Beauty the Book and Ashes to Beauty the Workbook

Co-authored books include: 101 Blogs to Transform your Life, Volume I and Offended Deceived Addicted

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