When our loved ones are in trouble, our first instinct is to help them in any way we can. This includes supporting them financially, covering up for them, and taking on their responsibilities. But are we really doing them a favor or does enabling keep our loved ones sick?
What is enabling and why is it bad?
If your loved one suffers from addiction, enabling is actually keeping them sick. Therefore, by enabling them, you’re absolving them of responsibility and shielding them from the consequences of their destructive behaviors.
By trying to protect them from their own actions, we can get the impression we are helping our loved ones. However, this is only a short-term relief. In the long run, their behavior is not likely to improve and the consequences can only get more severe.
In addition, by trying to help your loved one this way, you’re hurting yourself, too. You have to realize that you aren’t responsible for other people’s actions. You’re only responsible for your own actions. Don’t let the feelings of guilt and fear cloud your judgment.
If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t.
Try to think about the future. Looking ahead and being in touch with your feelings can help you make the right choices.
Sure, the consequences your loved one can suffer if you don’t step in can be severe. They can even affect your life. However, you need to think about what will happen if you keep enabling your loved one. Keeping the illusion of a perfect life has never helped anyone.
What makes people change their lives is the consequences they suffer because of their destructive behaviors. So, by enabling an addict, you’re preventing them from facing the consequences, and thus preventing them from realizing that something needs to change.
Enabling vs. helping
There’s a huge difference between helping a person with an addiction, and enabling them.
Helping means that you are supporting them to engage in positive behaviors and pursue healthy goals. On the other hand, enabling means supporting someone throughout a destructive process. There are no healthy goals and the path they’re going down is filled with examples of destructive behavior.
In the short-term, enabling can seem positive. You might be protecting your loved one’s reputation, job, relationships, and financial security. And it’s okay that you want to help. However, an addiction is always a downward spiral. The longer it lasts, the more severe the consequences can get. And at some point, you won’t be able to cover up for them anymore. Then, everything will fall apart.
Helping an addict is more difficult initially. And letting them suffer the consequences of their behavior and suffering with them is not pleasant. However, it’s a part of the process they need to go through.
They might hate you for it at first. Just keep in mind that this is the right thing to do in the long run. And at some point, your loved one will realize it, too.
Examples of enabling behaviors
There are many ways you might be enabling a loved one without even realizing it. Here are some examples of enabling behaviors you need to learn to recognize.
You might lead yourself to believe that the problem isn’t really so severe. After all, your loved one could still be showing signs of positive behaviors such as going to work and attending family events. They might even seem in control of their problem. But deep down, you know that the person is addicted.
Taking part in their destructive behavior
If you suspect your loved one has a serious substance abuse problem, you shouldn’t be using with them. Not even one drink. It’s the same with gambling and any other addiction. You’re not in control if they drag you into it.
Justifying their behavior
Coming up with reasons your loved one is showing destructive behavior is actually finding excuses. Stop rationalizing. If somebody you love has a problem, giving them an excuse to act out will only make it worse.
Protecting them from the consequences
Trying to make everything seem okay when it’s not is extremely strenuous. Not only that, if the addict doesn’t face the consequences of their actions and accept responsibility, they will never see the need to change anything.
List of enabling behaviors
Here’s a breakdown of enabling behaviors that keep your loved ones sick:
- Helping them financially
- Covering up for them
- Taking on their responsibilities
- Making excuses for them or buying into their excuses
- Believing they’re a victim and can’t help themselves
- Using with them
- Denying or ignoring the problem
- Suppressing your emotions
- Giving them “second chances” over and over again
- Only focusing on their needs and neglecting everyone else’s
- Blaming others, including yourself, for your addicted loved one’s behavior
- Avoiding confrontation
- Trying to take over control of your loved one’s life
- Continuing to rescue them or bail them out (even though they don’t really acknowledge it)
How to stop enabling your loved one and start helping
When our loved ones suffer from addiction, we suffer too. Addiction affects the entire family and even a circle of close friends.
You’re affected by the behavior and you’re codependent. Because you’ve accepted the addict’s view of reality, you play by their rules. This is preventing your loved one from facing the consequences and accepting responsibility. Thus, the disease is progressing and both the addict’s and the enabler’s quality of life is deteriorating.
What enablers need to do is break the cycle. There is a way to help loved ones get better. Letting them fall and then helping them get up is that way.
First of all, you need to embrace the fact that your loved one is sick. Secondly, you have to realize that you can’t control and shouldn’t accept responsibility for other people’s behavior. Everybody is only responsible for their own behavior.
With that said, you must accept that you can’t control an addict’s behavior. Therefore, you can’t stop them from using. You’ll need professional help. There are many treatment centers and support groups.
If you’re big on anonymity, there are online addiction treatment options that help you maintain privacy while offering tons of resources and unlimited access to peer support groups and mental health professionals.
Plus, these online options are much cheaper than traditional treatment centers so almost anyone with an internet connection can get help.
Now that you know what enabling behaviors are and how enabling keeps your loved one sick, it’s time to break the cycle. So stop making excuses and start helping!