What is enbabling? Are you an enabler?
What if the steps you were taking to help a friend or family member through a problem or crisis were actually the very things hurting them most? And, what if the effects of your mistake not only harmed your loved one, but brought pain and consequences to your own life? An error so big seems like it would be quite obvious and certainly not repeated or perpetuated over and over again. After all, actions toward others are rather cut and dry; they either help or they don’t. However, life isn’t always that simple especially when it comes to the relationship between individuals with addiction and their enablers.
Enablers are people who help facilitate a person’s addictions by removing the natural consequences of addictive behaviors. Enablers are not necessarily direct supporters of addiction, but rather sustain a person’s addiction by eliminating incentives for change. It may be that they feel compelled to solve the problems caused by addiction, effectively taking on the responsibilities of the person they are enabling. It is often an attempt to help; when in actuality they are causing more harm.
For example, a person who is addicted to drugs may go to great lengths to purchase a substance, even neglecting utility payments or other bills in order to maintain their addiction. As a natural consequence, the utility companies will shut off the lights, gas, and water until account balances are brought current.
Unfortunately, enablers themselves even those with good intentions – are often the ones that end up suffering from their actions. It is often the enabler who experiences the most direct consequences of someone’s addictive behavior. As a loved one becomes more and more involved in addiction, enablers take on a greater role, over-compensating for the responsibility gaps.
Types of enabling
There are two major types of enabling
- Desperate Enabling
- Innocent Enabling
Desperate enabling causes every member of the family to suffer. Anger and disputes arise; blame is bounced from person to person, and the family unit itself is eventually damaged. Children are especially vulnerable to this phase of enabling. The adults in the family are so focused on keeping the alcoholic in line they don’t always notice what the children are going through. . In the desperate stage of enabling, fear is the primary motivator. Here we find enablers who are so concerned about the continuing consequences of addiction that they will do almost anything to protect the status quo. Ironically, there is a good deal of pleasure to be found in successfully outrunning the consequences and escaping the pain.
In the innocent stage of enabling, ignorance is the answer for all the problems. Enablers at this stage have plenty of love and concern, but they have no effective knowledge to guide them.
A young man with a wife and children is staying out too late. He is drinking with his buddies at a sports bar and occasionally using cocaine. The problem escalates over time and his behavior becomes erratic. He stays out all night. He begins to miss work. He spends the mortgage money.
His wife becomes frantic, and somehow blames herself for the problem. When he misses work, she calls in sick for him. When she is asked by his parents how things are going, she lies and says all is well. She is too ashamed and confused to reach out for help, yet she is unwittingly making things worse. Without knowing it, she has become his accomplice by averting negative consequences at work and smoothing over problems with his parents. She may even borrow money to cover the mortgage payment. Even though she begs and threatens cries and pleads, his wife is now enabling the problem to continue.
Signs you are an enabler
It is absolutely essential that enablers recognize their role and the ways in which they enable friends, family, or loved ones who are affected by addiction. By identifying this key problem, the enabler can stop doing what an addicted friend or family member is capable of doing for themselves
1. Do you take steps to cover up the addiction and help keep it hidden?
2. Do you make excuses for your loved one’s addiction or behavior?
3. Do you avoid confronting the addiction in an attempt to avoid conflict?
4. Do you believe your loved one is just going through a phase?
5. Do you believe the problem will eventually resolve itself without help?
6. Do you handle the responsibilities of your loved one?
7. Have you bailed your loved one out of jail?
8. Have you paid bills for your loved one, who likely used income on their addiction?
9. Do you have a parent-child relationship with your loved one even though they’re your spouse?
10. Do you enjoy the feeling of being ‘needed’ by your loved one?
11. Are you guilty of giving second, third, and fourth chances?
12. Do you ever participate in risky behaviors alongside your loved one?
Stop enabling behavior
It’s never easy to stop enabling behavior especially if you are the one who will be suffering consequences. You are sure to receive push back and possibly experience some degree of retaliation. You may even worry about the outcome, fearing something bad will happen to your loved one without your help. There may be short-term pain and difficulty, but it is nothing compared to the anguish and misery a long-term addiction can cause. After all, the person with an addiction will come to face the consequences of alcoholism or substance abuse at some point; enabling will only postpone that time, potentially making it worse.