Expecting and then receiving empathy, sympathy, support and love from Cain is like donning a pair of cement shoes, jumping into the Hudson River, and waiting for his help when the Enabler starts to sink. He only has thoughts for himself. The Enabler experiences his selfishness time and again, but each time she hopes for a different response only to be disappointed again.
That’s because she is a highly cooperative person with an overly forgiving personality that puts her at high risk for emotional injury by uncaring people, especially cainists who have no shame about continued exploitation as long as they get their needs met.
She doesn’t think like he thinks. She has no desire to make him jumps through hoops of fire like he treats her. Then, she actually forgets how much she’s been hurt by his cruelty and insensitivity from incident to incident and, thereby, gives him second, fourth and fiftieth chances. Due to her trusting nature, she’s wounded over and over. She becomes his scapegoat, and he counts on that. She’s simply far too nice for him.
Then a double whammy occurs when the Enabler finally sees the light, leaves the cainistic relationship, and expects her friends to support her in the aftermath, only to get smacked across the face with a cold, arrogant lecture or exaggerated optimism intended to set her straight and let her know how wrong she is. Didn’t she get enough of that judgment from Cain? Why would she ever continue to accept it from friends during her recovery? The question then becomes: Are they friends?
After being triggered by one of Cain’s ploys to “look good,” I tried to discuss it with a friend. Instead of empathy and understanding, I was told I should be more positive, that I had written positive articles in the past for others and “You seem to be the only one who can’t follow your own advice.” Wow. Bam!
Frankly, I was stunned. Bitter, harsh comments are indicative of a person’s inability to empathize. Telling an Enabler she is wrong about the abuse, after she has been told she is wrong for years, is similar to telling a battered woman to buck up, be more positive, and just forget it. Seriously?
Immediately, I realized this person didn’t understand the Cain and Enabler relationship although I had explained it on several occasions. It is a complicated relationship so I gave her the benefit of the doubt, but I’m still baffled why a person who calls herself a friend would automatically take Cain’s side when I tried to share my upset? Her criticism was really no different than all the criticism I’ve taken from Cain for years. One of his main ploys is to take the opposite point of view so he can look right and make the Enabler look wrong…again. But why would a friend do that?
Because she had arbitrarily decided that my recovery was finished, and from here on, my emotions should never again be triggered by anything Cain did. “I just wanted you to look at it another way,” she said, as if she were the expert. The amusing part is that that I was looking at it in a new way. Instead of forgiving it, and thinking I had to go back to it, I had changed. I no longer had to look at it through rose colored glasses and say Oh, that’s OK. Walk on me again. No I was remembering to keep me safe.
The image on the top left of this post portrays the reality of recovery. It’s not a straight line by any means determined by a set number of hours, days, weeks, months or years. Only someone with a low level of understanding could ever think he or she understands the length of recovery for another person? It’s up to every Enabler and determined by the depth of her trauma–how long she was used and abused like an object, and how many times she’s willing to return to it. Being used like an object is an extremely demeaning event. It basically says: You are not a human being. You are in this world to serve my needs, and you should never argue about it.
If the Enabler grew up in a cainistic household, it may take a long time to believe in her truth again–that she is an excessively compassionate, caring person who was used (and put down) for the sole purpose of elevating the self-esteem of a selfish person. And she will continue to be exploited however or whenever Cain sees fit which can be quite infuriating indeed.
Interestingly, an Enabler should never forget the abuse because that is what will keep her from returning to it again. She does not want to live with it every day, but she never wants to forget it. It’s the old saying–never forget history or you’re doomed to repeat it.
The Enabler, like the cainist, is hard-wired with specific personality traits. Cain’s traits are negative and self-absorbed, people unable to feel empathy, while the Enabler’s traits are warm, loving and excessively empathetic. These are not traits changed through six easy steps; they are innate personality traits that one has for a lifetime. For the most part the Enabler is a very loving person who forgets and forgives too quickly and too easily. She has forgiven Cain one too many times already.
That’s because Cain’s mistreatment is concealed, cunning and circuitous, and he goes to great lengths to hide his abuse in public. She always needs to remember the harm so she will not return to it. Each time he contacts her, she must recall all the manipulations of other times where she was drawn in only to be hurt by his low levels of empathy and impulse control.
In the last decade neuroscience has shown that the Enabler’s genetic traits include excessive empathy with high levels of tolerance and a highly cooperative nature. Although her personality traits are excessively positive, they put her at risk for cainists who use and abuse. Sandra Brown, M.A. author of Women Who Love Psychopaths: Inside the Relationships of inevitable Harm With Psychopaths, Sociopaths & Narcissists labels them “super traits.”
Cain continually runs “tests” to see how much empathy the Enabler has–before, during and after the relationship. He’s looking for high empathy people who will fill his selfish needs, or if the relationship is over, if he can worm his way back in again. If the empathy response is low, he moves on to someone else because he’s looking for people he can manipulate and who will accept his unacceptable behavior. He plays the empathy card, and if she shows high levels of empathy, he’s sure she will put up with his shenanigans and hopefully give him whatever he wants when he wants it or be intimidated by his anger if she utters that horrible two letter word: no.
Moreover, he targets the Enabler based on her excessive empathy, compassion, helpfulness and high tolerance for bad behavior because these are the areas where he is deficient or wants to gain something. He has no empathy and needs a cover, especially when he has to present himself in public.
It’s extremely difficult for the Enabler not to be helpful. But as Sandra Brown, M.A. points out, at the end of the relationship, Enablers often don’t recognize themselves. Where she was once empathetic, giving, helpful, warm and loving, she is depleted and destroyed by Cain’s constant needs and abuses.
Normal relationships do not cause this level of depletion in another person, points out Sandra Brown and Jennifer Young at the Institute for Relational Harm Reduction and Public Pathology Education, but Cain takes the Enabler down to bare bones by abusing her goodness at every turn. If she tries to get up and feel good about herself, he takes her down again and again. By keeping her down, he thinks he elevates himself. Superiority is the only way he feels good about himself, and he’s incapable of caring whether others feel bad about themselves. He only knows he has more power when they do. Imagine the jealousy he feels over the fact that the Enabler has super traits. That’s just one reason he works so hard to put her down. He must be superior, not her.
Eventually, the Enabler is in the clutches of compassion fatigue and has nothing more to give. Every Enabler who stays in a Cain and Enabler relationship too long understands that statement. Some women have taken four to five years to recover from this devastating relationship.
Those who fail to understand the Cain and Enabler relationship erroneously think that if something bothers you, then you merely change it. But the personality is innate, and the Enabler was born with these excessive, positive traits. Compassion is who she is. She can learn to change her behavior and reactions eventually, but this takes hard work and often much time. It doesn’t happen the minute she steps out of the Cain and Enabler relationship.
In fact, the trauma she suffers during this chaotic and complex relationship actually qualifies her for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) therapy. She can’t sleep or concentrate. She’s always looking for ways to protect herself against harm. She might seem paranoid (although clinically she’s not) because she has been hurt so many times behind her back, and she doesn’t know who she can trust anymore.
Many women literally can’t function when they first leave the relationship because their thought vacillates between believing in someone and distrusting what is said and done. Functional MRI’s now show that she suffers brain changes as a result of the constant emotional trauma and abuse. It takes time to feel safe and to trust that she won’t be manipulated back into a damaging relationship yet again.
The first step for the Enabler is to acknowledge that she has these positive traits. She is not all the negative labels Cain has foisted on her to take her down to the gutter. She must remind herself of this truth every day. Friends who put her down are either extremely insensitive or a cainistic friend she hadn’t identified yet.
Next, she needs to reign in these positive traits and filter where she directs them. She has to stop giving all her
compassion and empathy to Cain. He’s a compulsive liar, and she must accept that. He’s a fraud, and he’s been using her like an object to make himself look good, then putting her down so she won’t think she’s good enough. What a clever but mean trick.
Reigning in her excess compassion is very difficult for the Enabler. It’s her innate desire to be helpful. She feels like a bad person if she doesn’t act on her compassion. She suffers unnecessarily when she refuses to give what he wants. He calls her selfish, and she feels selfish when, in fact, it is Cain who is the excessively selfish one. She has a natural tendency to give more than her share and she gives until she’s a rag doll laying in a heap on the floor.
Finally, she must watch what people say and do and determine if they are trustworthy. Cainists are not. That’s the hardcore truth. The sooner she accepts that fact, the sooner she will get on to a healthier lifestyle. Cainists will use and abuse and walk away in anger when she has nothing more to give him. He’s all about looking good to others and getting what he wants with no boundaries whatsoever. Imagine how the abuse toward the Enabler increases when there is no one around to monitor him, when he doesn’t have someone looking over his shoulder to keep him in line? Shiver. Behind closed doors there are no boundaries and the Enabler is at high risk for whatever he wants to dish out.
She’s afraid if she refuses to give to him, she’ll lose her compassion, but that’s impossible because it’s her innate personality. It’s who she is. Once she heals from this relationship, she will once again be the warm, compassionate giver she was born to be.
Instead, she needs to re-direct her compassion to other areas. Find a cause she is passionate about–helping abused children or animals, painting, traveling, dancing–whatever makes her heart sing–and direct her empathy toward those outlets and not at the cainist who will only use her up and spit her out and move on when she’s depleted. Interestingly, Brown points out that many Enablers are in the helping profession such as doctors, nurses, social workers, counselors, and others who “give” for a living. They are capable, competent women who are emotionally beaten until they don’t recognize themselves any more.
The Cain and Enabler relationship is very complex. She must start to filter out who she will and won’t trust. The next time an alleged friend criticizes her for not having it all together about this unhealthy relationship, maybe it’s time to put that friend on her list of former friends?
Once the Enabler leaves the cainistic relationship, she might need to leave other relationships as well, especially if they continue to support Cain and his behaviors. It’s a grieving process, but if friends are not willing (or able) to empathize with what she’s been through, if they are not willing to support her in her recovery however long that takes, if they are not interested in understanding the devastation she’s been through, she might have to move on without them. She removed herself from one abusive relationship. It makes no sense to keep other abusive relationships in her life. She must weed them out so there is no pollution of criticism in the new life she needs to create. She must replace critical, harsh friendships with positive ones who value her assets and care enough to support her recovery.What she does not need is more criticism from those who call themselves friends.
It’s similar to the drug-addicted lifestyle. Those who come clean can’t hang on to the old friends and remain “sober.” She must watch what people say and do, and then decide if they are for her or against her? She’s been through horrendous criticism with Cain. Now she needs friends who will be kind and gentle and support her. She needs friends who will praise and appreciate her excessive positive traits, and stand beside her during her continued recovery.
If she doesn’t want to throw out the baby with the bathwater, there is another option.
The Enabler might need to realize that she can’t discuss all things with all friends. Some people live with rigid values; they see only black and white and all must abide by their views. Alienated from their own emotions, they are unable to support the Enabler in hers.
If she is certain she can find some aspects of the friendship that bring reward, she might continue with it by setting boundaries and refusing to talk about the Cain and Enabler relationship with certain friends. Perhaps she attends movies or discusses books, sports or crafts, but she never discusses the Cain and Enabler relationship in any form with friends who live in a black and white world.
It might be risky, and it definitely won’t be as intimate as some friendships where the Enabler feels free to discuss whatever is on her heart. But only she can decide whether to save or walk away from a former relationship. Some relationships might be saved even if they aren’t one-hundred percent intimate.
If it brings expectations of heartache, it might be time for a change.