There’s a thing I found on Reddit. It’s been referenced in a few forums I tend to frequent because it just so beautifully describes the dynamic between enablers and abusers. The title of the post is “Don’t Rock the Boat,” and it’s a reflection on that phrase, and what it is that people are really saying when they use it.
I wish I knew who to credit this to, because it so well-articulates how abusers/people who behave badly don’t always act alone or in a void. There are often people around them who are aware of their bad behavior, but make it their duty to be the stabilizing presence. It also reflects on how “boat stabilizers,” as this author terms enablers, come into existence – often, it can be within a family environment where there are multiple family members who work together to try to minimize the rocking caused by one person.
It amazes me, honestly, how human ecosystems can conspire to protect toxic elements.
What I like about this post is that it points out something about “boat stabilizers” – that is, enablers – that I sometimes forget: For an enabler, being able to placate and mediate and stabilize is integrated into their identity. I think sometimes they get painted as brainwashed sycophants, but having interacted with multiple enablers in my life, I’m beginning to realize that they internalize that role. They work really hard to make sure everything is okay – essentially, it’s like managing symptoms instead of treating the disease.
When someone on the boat breaks away from the boat stabilizers and says, “Hey! Why don’t we just stop letting someone rock the boat like this?” or, to use my analogy, “Why don’t we treat the disease so the symptoms go away?” – that’s a threat to their identity and to what they do. Someone saying, “This is wrong,” and walking away doesn’t just rob the abuser/boat rocker of their victim, I’m betting it also feels like judgment to the enabler.
In my life, I’ve found that sometimes it’s the enablers working to try to get you back on the boat. Someone who’s adept at abusive tactics can turn any situation to their own advantage – mine likes to go into martyr mode, and uses our estrangement to get attention and pity. And then the enablers swoop in and try to get me back on the boat, because I’m not just upsetting the abuser and rocking the boat, I’m kind of fucking with their entire identity as well.
It’s almost like…the enabler is the boat.
I know, I know…I’m so deep. But that is what it feels like.
Kudos, internet stranger who wrote this Reddit piece. It rings very true.