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  • Writer's pictureKrista Bontrager

When Helping Isn't Helpful

Guest: Kat Elias; When well-meaning empathy degenerates into enabling unbiblical behavior

Sponsored by: Family 210 – Buy a shirt and support the show!


Segment 1: Interview with Kat Elias

Kat Elias is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) and the founder of BeYOUtifully Rooted, a mental health organization that looks to promote spiritual, physical, and mental health, specifically, in Christ. Kat helped us understand the concepts of empathy vs enablement. She helped us understand and recognize unhealthy patterns of behavior and ways to pursue positive growth.

These are the main topics we discussed:

What is empathy?

Being able to pick up on and sense another's emotions, being able to feel for another person in a way that you're feeling for them (to some degree), being able to see from their perspective.

It's like sympathy, but different. Sympathy is feeling sorry for someone, but empathy is more interpersonally connected...really feel for someone and moved to do something about it.

What is enablement and how is it different from empathy?

Enabling is an "extra empathy"--to make possible, practical, or easy.

In general, enablement is not positive or negative in itself; however, in the medical or therapeutic realm, it has a negative connotation to it...aiding and abetting somebody in some sort of dysfunctional, unhealthy behaviors, addictions...overcompensating, lacking boundaries, lacking accountability, etc.

What is the difference between positive and negative enablement? How do we know when we have gone too far?

For example, enabling someone to come closer to God or being encouraged to live to their full potential are positive forms of enablement or EMPOWERMENT.

Being over-involved or caring more than the person does or pulling people away from God would be negative forms of enablement.

Is it wrong to be empathetic?

No! It's a Christian can't have a healthy relationship without some sort of empathy. People without empathy have personality disorders, such as narcissism or anti-social/sociopathic behavior. It's a GOOD thing to have empathy, but it must involve discernment.

What are some of the factors/red flags where empathy is leading toward an unhealthy place of enablement?

A lot of times it shows up in parenting or in addiction/self-destructive behaviors. For example, parenting has shifted from austere, boundaries-focused, and more parent-focused to an emphasis more on the child and the child comes before the marriage. As a result, children are coddled; they aren't made to pull through tough feelings; they don't have the confidence to pull through tough times; they don't connect their actions with consequences, and they also have a higher view of self, which leads to entitled behavior.

Any tips on growth for someone who may be the product of an enabling family structure?

These are behaviors that have been learned, so they have to be re-learned.

Counseling, support groups (specific links listed below), learn new/healthy boundaries, become rooted in identity in Christ and become rooted in the Word.

How can we recognize when we've crossed the line and we're in an unhealthy place?

Worrying more than the other person, resentment, withdrawing, experiencing negative feelings, a desire to avoid the person or spending massive amounts of time with the person, hiding facts from other people/protective, stop being honest with yourself or them/withholding truth, feeling depressed/anxious.

How do we know when to walk away from unhealthy relationships?

First, it depends on the relationship (spouse, friend, co-worker, child).

Then, go through a process of 1) verbalizing/talking to the person about what is going on, 2) give them a chance to respond/fix it 3) give consequence if no response/change, 4) set limits/boundaries.

Special considerations for abuse, detriment to mental health

What about microaggressions? Do microaggressions have any relationship to enabling?

Yes, we live in a highly emotional society! We want to have empathy with discernment; we don't want to get caught up in a system of victimhood. Cooperating with microaggression conversations could be seen as a form of enabling a victim mentality, which might not actually be helping the person.

Is helicopter parenting a form of enabling?

It can have benefits, but parents should/need to taper off their involvement. We need to be firm and have boundaries, but we need to allow our children to experience emotions and to learn how to pull through tough emotions.

Kat is going to be one of the speakers at our UP Conference! She'll be speaking on four ways the Church might be enabling its members, such as:

  • allowing people to continue in sin

  • inhibiting spiritual maturity

  • responsibility of self/personal growth

  • responsibility in life, such as work


Kat's recommended resources:

Connect with the guest


Segment #2: Announcements and Mo's Moment!

The 2nd annual UP Conference is coming on September 9-11!! We are going to provide practical, Biblically focused conversations on justice.

Check out the promo video:

Krista is in the midst of teaching her latest Bible class entitled, "God's Big Story." It's a look at the whole Bible in just 8 weeks! If you missed the sign-up, go check out Krista's website to find out about upcoming classes or how you can register for the online, self-paced courses.

Mo's Moment:

From a Facebook post by our ministry friend, Edwin Ramirez: "The Bible is the ONLY rule for faith and practice."


Be sure to check out our sponsors and show your support by liking, sharing, and picking up some merch!

Family 210 Clothing. Tonight's featured t-shirt "Cross Word Cloud" from the first two chapters of Ephesians.


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