Healthy friendships are positive and satisfying on both sides, but what happens when a good friend is an enabler

Healthy friendships can be tricky. Do you have have best friends that you absolutely adore, but are not conducive to your health? Whether you are aware of it or not, all friendships carry cause and effect in our lives as a whole. Can you see how your friendships are affecting you in the long term? We all have the friendships we find comfort and security in … you know … that shoulder you always go to during a bad day or the cheerleader you confide in. But the true substance of a friendship is whether that person is going to enable you or be a good friend. Are they helping or hindering?

First, let’s get clear on the enabling definition. In its simplest form enabling is making something easier. Enabling can have the positive effect of empowering individuals when when enabling is defined as support and helping. But enabling in the negative sense encourages risky or dysfunctional behavior and makes the situation worse.

In healthy friendships, BFFs don’t help or make easier poor decisions and unhealthy activities. For the enabled person the hope is to resolve a specific problem, but the enabler influences the situation by perpetuating the problem. Or maybe a problem hasn’t come to light … yet.

Best friends don’t enable relapse

For example, I share openly about my relapse in 2016. Three weeks into my relapse, my “best friend,” Julie, walked in on me shooting up. She expressed her concern to me, but never told another soul. In fact, to my knowledge, Julie has kept that secret to this day. She also enabled me by giving me a place to party at her house with her husband during that time. Julie justified her enabling by thinking she was keeping an eye on me and therefore helping me. Her intentions may have been true to her, but her behavior enabled me to stay on my road to destruction for five more months. (I own my behaviors and consequences, please don’t misconstrue my rendition as blame. I am sharing for the sake of an example.)

In a healthy friendships, what would good friend do

What is a good friend? A good friend would have held me accountable and told my now fiancé or my family about my relapse. A good friend would have set boundaries with me and showed me tough love until I was able to get my act together again. A good friend would not have allowed me in her house or around her husband to party with.

Make sense? A good friend will implement boundaries and stay loyal to you through the good and bad times. A good friend will be there for you when you get help and cover you with love during your weakest moments. And my favorite, a good friend will tell you what you don’t want to hear because they love you.

“A healthy friendship is one that is a positive influence in your life. … A healthy friendship is like any other relationship, encouraging you to flourish and making you feel better and better about knowing the other person.”

My heart swells the most for the positive, loving, and enriching relationships in my life.

When helping hurts

Another example comes from a sober sister of mine. She had a roommate — we will call the roomie “Gina” and my friend “Amanda.” When Gina relapsed, Amanda let her stay at the apartment for less than half the rent to help her get back on her feet. Unfortunately, Gina wasn’t ready to get sober and Amanda suffered consequences from her enabling behavior. Gina trashed Amanda’s apartment and refused to leave. There were rolled up dollar bills and empty bottles all over the place. She ate everything in the pantry, lost the mail box key, broke the front door, and was entirely unclean. Amanda suffered a lot of financial and emotional consequences from the situation.

It’s important to remember that most enablers aren’t toxic friends, they just don’t make good friends. Their intentions aren’t typically malicious. They just might be too emotionally invested in a friendship, which makes them codependent and fearful to hurt the other person. They may not be confident to show tough love and may be suffering from sickness themselves. Amanda is a great example of this. She was trying to help Gina, not hinder her journey of getting sober. In the end, both parties got hurt.

We have the power to surround ourselves with healthy relationships. They say water seeks its own level, and I wholeheartedly believe this. The greater care we take of our well-being, the healthier and better individuals we’ll have the opportunities to surround ourselves with. Learn to pick and choose who you go to in need. Enabling friend will make you feel good in the moment, but good friends will help you feel good for a lifetime.

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Alexandra Ashe
Alexandra is a sober woman who loves animals, writing, nature, horror movies, fitness, and self-improvement. After suffering a relapse in late 2016, she revamped her lifestyle and has been sober since March 2017. She is also the CEO and founder of Kinkatopia, which is the only kinkajou-specific organization in the world. Alexandra literally lives and breathes kinkajous — in addition to working a full-time career, taking care of her health, and giving back to the world in other ways. She is a woman on a mission ... the Mother of Kinkajous. Follow Alexandra’s articles to relish her experiences staying sober and running a kinkajou sanctuary. There is never a dull moment, that’s a promise. Kinkatopia.org

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