“Am I enabling?” is a question people often ask when dealing with loved ones struggling with addiction or recovery. What is enabling? We want to help and support and encourage but often we promote the very behaviors we want to end. People have many excuses for enabling, so it’s a really good question to ask yourself, have you ever said something like this: “Oh, he’s just had a hard day at work and needs to unwind with a few drinks.” Or maybe this, “My son is very sensitive, so I need to take care of that for him.” We take on the role of an enabler for many reasons and often aren’t aware that it’s a problem.
Helping Vs. Enabling
Enablers believe that pardoning the misbehavior of a loved one, or stepping in to fix something, is just helping out. And who wouldn’t want to help a loved one. A wife makes excuses for a drinking husband; a mother thinks she is helping by doing something for her child rather than having him do it for himself. When we’re enablers, we support poor choices and inhibit personal development in ones we love. We are constantly moving boundaries trying to facilitate their change. Ask yourself, Is it working.
I had a friend who really believed she was being a good wife by buying alcohol for her alcoholic husband. She made excuses when his drunken behavior was noticed by others. She saw this as loyalty. In reality she was enabling his drinking without consequence, and he ultimately died from alcoholism. This may sound like an extreme situation, but it is a result of the simple daily decisions we make to allow others to make poor choices, or in the case of the mother mentioned above, in not allowing others to make their own choices at all.
Generosity and acts of service are the hallmarks of an enabler, controlling is the dark side of that.
On one hand benevolence is the motivating factor for helping. On the other, is the fear of losing control. When we take on the choices of others as if they were our own, we control and we disable. We decide that our choice for them is better than the ones they make for themselves. Being an enabler is often an unconscious behavior, it is just something that we do. We slide into the role with nary a thought to the ramifications for our loved ones.
The solution empowers everyone.
It is far more empowering to stand back and be supportive of the choices of others – whatever they may be – than to direct their lives in the way that we think they should go. Enabling in a positive manner can come through support of loved ones’ decisions that allows them to take responsibility for their own actions and consequences. Empowerment for everyone is moving from “doing for” and “making excuses for” to allowing loved ones to experience their own personal development. It won’t always go well, but it is the process of growth that recovery requires.
co-written by: Kathleen Benzaquin