Today I met a mother whose college-aged daughter had become belligerent and rude. When the daughter asked for something like a glass of water, the mother either complied, bringing it to her with a "Here you go, dear," or denied the request explaining that she was just too tired to get up from the couch at the end of her long day.
In the first scenario, the daughter rarely thanked the mother and, sometimes, didn't even acknowledge her. The mother felt invisible, like her daughter was acting all entitled. But if the mother did not comply, the daughter pressured her relentlelssly, sometimes even treating her to a litany of explosives which criticized and demeaned her. The mother was appalled at what she perceived to be her daughter's lack of empathy.
She knew, "I'm an enabler" but her alternative strategy, to disengage, seemed to be doing more harm than good. What to do, she wondered...
The mother came from a family where you either cared for others or looked after yourself. She never learned how to engage needy others without enabling them. Not surprisingly, the mother's two gears for dealing with her daughter's requests were: enabling or disengaging. Lo and behold, she created a monster!
But there is an alternative.
The mother could make her service to others dependent on their respect. She could do this by enabling civility, at the very least by inviting them to say "please" and "thank you" before and after doing something for them. This disables rudeness without disengaging, a pretty simple way to turn this mother's situation around. She may not be able to control her daughter, but she is always in charge of herself.