What Enabling Means for You and Your Loved One

Peeking slowly around the corner you see your son or daughter passed out on the couch, TV blaring, surrounded by bottles. You had gotten up in the middle of the night to get a glass of water and was hoping this was just another dream… When your child (they’re technically an adult now, but you still see them as a child) said they needed to move back home you were ecstatic. It had been so long since any of the kids were home and you missed seeing them and being a part of their daily lives. You jumped at the chance to help as you knew that they’re having a rough time and you didn’t really approve of who they were hanging around with anyway. You knew they just needed a little time to get their lives together and some support to start moving forward. After all, this was your child. You knew how much potential they had. You knew how bright their future was going to be. This was just a rough patch. Everyone has rough patches and needs time to process on occasion. You could give it a little longer They won’t always be staying up all night drinking, you won’t always wonder where your medication was disappearing to, you won’t always be telling them to at least smoke outside. This is your baby. You love them so much it hurts sometimes. You hate to see them like this but you keep telling yourself it won’t be forever. At least they’re home and they’re safe…

What is Enabling Behavior?

Substance use disorders do not just affect the person that is using. They affect everyone around them. Friends can often disappear but family often don’t want to leave. They love the person that is facing addiction and want to help. The problem is when it goes beyond helping and into the dangerous grounds of enabling behavior. So what is enabling behavior? Do you find yourself:

  • Making up excuses for your loved one?
  • Taking on chores and responsibilities that should be theirs?
  • Making sure they are up for work?
  • Working longer or more hours because they aren’t contributing anymore?
  • Loaning money that you know you won’t get back?
  • Lying to cover their problem?
  • Buying them alcohol or drugs so they aren’t “in pain”?
  • Compromising your morals?

All of these are enabling behaviors. Enabling comes from a place of love and it prevents the person with the addiction from experiencing the natural consequences of their actions.

Who is an Enabler?

Anyone can be an enabler but it usually is someone that has a deep personal relationship with the individual that has an addiction. Parents, spouses, children, and other family and friends can find themselves in this situation. They love the person that is having issues with addiction and just want to protect them from anything bad that could happen. Then the enabler becomes afraid that they will lose their loved one or drive them away, causing them to be in an unsafe situation if they stop enabling their loved one to use. Because enabling comes from a place of love, people often end up sliding into the position of “enabler”. It is a slippery slope and most people don’t realize how bad things have gotten until they look back or something serious happens. The sad part is this behavior often leads to resentment. After all, you have done everything for them and they are not getting better. You know that they are using you and their behavior could end up having serious consequences not just for them, but for yourself as well! Resentment, however, is the last thing that a person in the throes of addiction needs. They need your love and support. What they don’t need is to keep using. We are waiting to talk to you, RIGHT NOW. So if you or a loved one needs help quitting, call us today: 855-529-2506

Warning Signs of Enabling Behavior

There are warning signs that you can watch for that may indicate that you are in a co-dependent, enabling relationship. If you find yourself: Putting their needs before your own. It is natural to want to help your loved one, especially if they are going through a rough patch, but you have to take care of yourself as well. If you feel selfish for denying them something or they try to make you feel bad for not “helping” that is a huge red flag. Fear. If you find yourself living with the constant fear of not knowing how your loved one will act if you tell them “No” to enabling acts, then there is a problem. Enablers often find that they are afraid that the person will leave or get into even worse trouble. So they act to avoid these fearful consequences and confrontation. Lying. Enablers will often lie to themselves and others to protect their loved one. They want to protect their loved one, so they often cover up bad behavior or downplay it so it doesn’t seem as bad or as serious as it is. They will also lie to keep them out of trouble in legal matters and other situations. Compromising morals. Along with the lying, enablers often find themselves engaging in other behavior and actions that they never thought they would allow. Letting the person use in their home so they are “safe”. Holding drugs so the person won’t get in trouble. Enablers want everything to go smoothly and they don’t want to deal with drama so they gradually start compromising their morals so they don’t have to deal with it. Ignoring bad behavior. Enablers will often ignore bad and dangerous behavior to the point of denying the problem even exists. They often remember how their loved one used to be and don’t want to admit even to themselves that there might be a problem. Playing the blame game. They want to protect the person with the addiction so they will blame other people for causing the addiction. “Well, if his wife wasn’t such a nag he wouldn’t need to drink” or “She’s just stressed out from work, she deserves to have an extra glass or two of wine”. Difficulty communicating. People who are enabling often start to find that they can’t share their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. This is especially true if they know that there will be negative repercussions. If you or someone you know is experiencing some or all of these warning signs, then it is likely they are engaging in enabling behavior. This is a difficult subject because they often see themselves as “helping” not “enabling”. There is a huge difference between the two however, but how do know which is which?

What is the Difference Between Helping and Enabling?

You know that your loved one is already going through a lot just dealing with their problems so you try and take on more and more responsibility so they can focus on themselves. This doesn’t lead to them getting better, however. A person with a substance use disorder relies on the resources that they have around them, and addiction is a selfish disorder. As the person falls deeper and deeper into their addiction, that is what their life starts to revolve around. When you enable them to keep acting in that manner without having to face any consequences, then they have no motivation to get better. They will continue to go to you for “help” because they know that you will be there. The problem here is that enabling is not real help. It’s putting a band-aid on the real issue so you don’t have to deal with the immediate discomfort of dealing with the addiction. If you want to actually help, YOU can help with things they are incapable of doing on their own. Help them to set up a schedule, help rewrite a resume, help by taking them to meetings, treatment, or their job/interview. Continue to love them and offer emotional support but facilitate them in getting their lives and behaviors back under control.

Why Enabling Hurts Instead of Helps…

Many people start down the path of enabling because they want to help. They don’t want to see their loved ones hurting, in pain, or in trouble. Enabling, however, is only a short term fix to avoid the discomfort that is only going to get worse with time. By solving all of their problems for them, the person with the addiction becomes more reliant on the enabler and this creates a negative dynamic in the relationship that can lead to feelings of resentment. Enabling makes the person feel important, a part of the relationship, and needed. This becomes important to the enabler and gives the person with the substance use disorder more time to focus on their addiction. It becomes an unbalanced co-dependent relationship. This kind of “help” doesn’t help anyone. It will not encourage people to seek help for their addiction and can lead to further abuse. Since enabling discourages people from seeking help, it can lead to emotional, physical, and psychological harm. As hard as it is to break the cycle, it CAN be done.

How to Stop Enabling

This a difficult process with the easiest of answers. In short, you just have to stop. Sounds easy but there are a lot of psychological effects that come with enabling. You need to deprogram yourself from this kind of relationship. You can start by asking yourself questions when you think you might be enabling.

  • Will (not) doing this allow my loved one to stay sick?
  • Can they ultimately do this themselves?
  • Is that my responsibility?
  • Am I considering their needs first?
  • Am I lying or compromising my morals or beliefs?
  • Am I (not) doing this to help or protect my loved one?

Setting clear guidelines and boundaries can also help you to stay on the right path. Refuse to loan money or bail them out unless they are ready for help. You have to stop cleaning up their messes. Let them witness, first hand, the chaos that addiction can cause. Refuse to lie or cover for them. You can only be accountable for yourself. Take care of your own, and only your own, responsibilities. Don’t pay their bills, don’t  pay for their lawyer (at the very least, set up payment plans for them to pay you back). You have probably come to a point where their life has overtaken your own. You have to start living for yourself. You have to remember that you can’t fix everybody. They have to take responsibility for themselves if they ever want to get better and you have to stop enabling them if they are to get to that point. All of this, of course, is easier said than done. It can be a very painful process with feelings of guilt, shame, and selfishness. Sometimes it is beneficial to seek out counseling or guidance from professionals that have experience dealing with this.

When to Get Help…

If you find yourself unable to stop enabling, or if you have trouble setting and keeping boundaries and promises to stop this behavior, it may be time to seek out help. At Promises Behavioral Health, we can help your loved one regain control of their lives. We have many different programs with treatments that we can tailor to your loved one so they get the best treatment available. To find out more click here:  Call to talk to a specialist today. We are here to help you. 855-529-2506

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