You are ENUF

You just learned that your best friend’s husband died suddenly. She is grief-stricken and everything in you wants to comfort her, but how? What do you say? What can you do? Your words feel so inadequate in the face of such pain.

There is no shortage to the challenges we experience in life. Death, disability, divorce, infertility, kids who rebel, unemployment, addiction, miscarriage, mental illness, sickness, not having opportunity to marry, trauma… We want to support and comfort those who are hurting but our worry about saying the right thing may get in our way.

Psychologist Ken Moses, PhD developed an acronym to aid us in remembering an important way of being with people that promotes healing and growth. He calls it ENUF[1].

ENUF:

  • Empathic
  • Non-judgmental
  • Unconditional
  • Focus on the Feeling

Let’s look at each one of these:

Empathic– Often when I ask an audience for a definition of empathy, I hear comments such as “walk a mile in my shoes” or “understanding exactly what someone else is going through”. While these definitions come close there is much more to empathy. Consider for a moment that if you have lost a spouse and I have not there is no possibility that I will know exactly what you are experiencing. Does this mean then that I could not reach out to you with empathy? Of course not.

Researchers have identified nerve cells called mirror neurons in the brain[2] that allow us to see emotion expressed in someone else and actually feel it ourselves. This powerful capacity helps us to connect with others through the sharing of emotion. A definition of empathy might be to bring all of what we are feeling, seeing, and experiencing into the moment while making an effort to reflect back what we see in the other. We will not get it exactly right, but it is in the effort of expressing empathy that connection and healing can happen.

Non-judgmental– We all want to feel that one’s view of us will not change when we share difficult thoughts and feelings. When we get the message that we should not feel the way we do, we may feel shamed or judged. Non-judgmental responses are empathic responses that focus on the feeling, freeing us up to look more deeply at what we are experiencing and to feel emotionally safe in the sharing of it. It is foundational in a relationship. Non-judgment says, “What you share with me will not change the way I see you.” 

Unconditional– The message of unconditionality is this: “No matter what you say or do, it will not change the way I feel about you.” We stay present without withdrawing emotionally. Being unconditional in our regard for another person does not imply that we agree with their choices or behavior but rather that we are accepting of them as a person.

Focus on the Feeling– It is easy to get caught up in the details of a story as one relates it to us. While the content is important, for connection we must stay focused on what is being felt. The next step is to let the other know that the pain has been heard. Comments like “They are in a better place” or “Look on the bright side” dismiss feelings. To respond in acknowledgment of one’s pain provides support, comfort and understanding. Statements such as “This is such a painful time. I don’t know what to say but I am here for you” or “It makes sense to me that you feel this way” give the important message of  “You matter to me.”

Years ago, I attended a conference where the concept of ENUF was presented. I tucked it away in the back of my mind as something that might be useful at some point. I did not expect such a paradigm shift that would take place in my life just a few days later.

My then five-year-old daughter came running into the house from where she was playing outside with her brother. She was visibly upset. Tears were streaming down her face. With her hands on her hips, she stomped her little foot and through gasps for air spilled out the words “Brother called me the S word!” I could see how distraught she was and my heart went out to her but I had dinner cooking on the stove and I was talking on the phone with one of the kid’s teachers. I was not in a position to leave the room, get her older brother and pop him into time out which had been my method for dealing with situations like this before. I felt helpless and powerless.

Then I remembered ENUF. I had no confidence in that moment that it would make a difference at all but in my current situation I was limited in what I could do. I didn’t know that my life was about to change.

I put down the phone, looked at my little girl and said “Honey, I can see you are so upset! Your brother called you stupid and that hurt your feelings and now you are angry.” That was it. She looked at me, her tears stopped, her body relaxed and she said, “I…I…I…,” pause, “Yeah!” She threw her little arms around me, gave me a hug and went back outside to play… with her brother. I stood in the middle of the kitchen for I don’t know how long, having an epiphany that went like this: “That’s all they wanted?” At this point, I had been parenting for 10 years and this is all they wanted? To have their feelings validated? I don’t have to fix or control everything? This is what they want? Followed by a sweet voice within, “Yes. Isn’t that all you really want?”

It was the single most freeing moment of my parenting experience!

I finally remembered the teacher and picked up the phone. “Wow, nice parenting.” She said. It was validating that I was on to something important.

ENUF shifted the way I parented, interact with others, teach and love. All these years later I still work at it but perfection is not necessary. Our efforts are ENUF to support others From Heartache to Hope.

Adapted from excerpts in Supporting Others from Heartache to Hope by Stacey B. Thacker, MA, LMFT

[1] Moses, K. (1995). Transition Therapy, an Existential Approach to Facilitating Growth in the Light of Loss. 122- 137

[2] Ramachandran, V. (2009)., The neurons that shaped civilization. https://ed.ted.com/lessons/vs-ramachandran-the-neurons-that-shaped-civilization

Stacey B. Thacker, MA, LMFT

Stacey B. Thacker is a licensed marriage and family therapist, presenter, writer, educator, lifecoach and consultant who has devoted her career to walking with individuals and families during times of transition and growth. She is co-owner of Roubicek & Thacker Counseling in Fresno, CA. where she supervises associates in the art of psychotherapy. She specializes in sex addiction treatment, relationship betrayal trauma and food addiction recovery.

Stacey has provided From Heartache to Hope and Compassion Fatigue workshops for professionals in the helping fields since 1991. Her book Supporting Others From Heartache to Hope, based on these successful workshops, will be released soon. The Art of Ministering From Heartache to Hope for Latter-day Saints was published in 2018.

She has written the My Food Addiction Recovery Plan workbook and its companion My Transformation Journal. These self-help books are designed to be used by individuals beginning their recovery from food addiction. Additionally, Stacey has written the 13-part Lifestyle Transformation Workbooks designed for therapists and life-coaches working with individuals struggling with compulsive-eating. Stacey’s Author Page

Stacey teaches in the marriage and family therapy graduate program at the University of Phoenix and online for Brigham Young University- Idaho. She and her husband John have been married 41 years, raised 6 children and have 7 adorable grandchildren who fill their lives with love.