The word “enable” refers to the positive act of helping someone accomplish something they could not do by themselves, thereby empowering them. But if this doesn’t apply to the way the word enabling was used, and you’re still wondering exactly what does enabling mean, keep reading. It also refers to the act of helping someone in such a way that rather than solving a problem you, in fact, perpetuate the problem.
In this scenario, enabling behavior is any purposeful action or inaction that allows a person struggling with addiction to continue their bad habits without having to assume any responsibility for the outcome. When a spouse covers for his or her partner who is too hungover to go to work, he or she is enabling that behavior. This not only promotes unhealthy behavior, it can have dire consequences as well.
Signs of Enabling
When you are close to the person struggling with addiction, it can be difficult to accurately assess the role you play in his or her life. Are you enabling his or her poor choices? These are some signs that you may be acting as an enabler to a loved one struggling with addiction:
- Do you trivialize bad behavior? When your loved one struggling with addiction commits hurtful acts, or forgets about his or her obligations to others, do you brush it off as a minor infraction, even when it keeps reoccurring? This is enabling behavior.
- Do you prioritize the desires of the person struggling with addiction above your own? You enable them by prioritizing their demands more seriously than the needs of the rest of the household. This can be a financial issue as well as a time issue.
- Is it difficult for you to say no? Often an enabler will be prepared to say no right up until the moment when his or her loved one begs for a favor, or for forgiveness, or for just one more chance.
- Do you often make excuses for your loved one? You may find yourself explaining away bad conduct as if it were an anomaly, whether it is with the person’s teachers, spouse, or boss.
- Do you blame yourself for his or her behavior? Often, an enabler feels guilty, as if he or she were the reason for the person’s addiction. This feeling of guilt can be at the core of the motives for enabling destructive behavior.
- Do you financially support the person who is struggling with an addiction? This can be a drain on family resources. As long as an enabler is willing to “help out”, there is little chance that the person suffering from addiction will feel the financial burden that addiction has on their life.
- Do you help cover up his or her actions? When excuses won’t do, an enabler may try to cover up the behavior of the person struggling with addiction. If the enabler can’t hide what happened, he or she will often accept some blame as a shield.
- Do you continue to put up with his or her behavior? An enabler has few boundaries and does not guard them well. Time and again the person in the throes of addiction can flout rules and exhibit bad behavior, but the enabler will patiently endure.
Enabling hurts the families of those who struggle with addiction, because it prolongs the addiction and the suffering of everyone involved. The more someone enables, the more he or she encourages toxic behaviors, and delays the day when treatment can start and recovery can get under way.
Enabling can mean that someone struggling with addiction commands too many resources and attention. It can mean the family’s budget is in jeopardy, which hurts everyone. It can mean all the enabler’s attention goes to the one with the addiction problem, while other family members are neglected.
How to Stop Enabling
Enabling sacrifices the long-term happiness of an individual for short term satisfaction. In the end, you can hurt yourself as well as your loved one. If you have identified any of these behaviors as your own and want to quit, follow this advice on how to stop enabling.
- Find support for yourself. There are support groups for people with loved ones who struggle with addiction. You can go and sit quietly; no one will force you to share anything you do not want to. It can be helpful to know there are others in your situation, and the support group will help to teach you coping skills.
- Consider an intervention. You are unlikely to be the only person worried and hurt by the person struggling with an addiction. By presenting them with a caring but unified front of people who care about his or her welfare, you can encourage the person to get the help needed.
- Cut off the financial support. Funding a habit allows addicted people to avoid the full consequences of their behavior. Sometimes a person needs to run out of money before a treatment program seems like a viable option.
- Do not tolerate abuse. People struggling with addiction can be verbally, emotionally and even physically abusive. It is time for you to draw a line in the sand. If the addicted person is your spouse, you may need him or her to move out until he or she can start to heal. If this is about a friend, you may need to sever that relationship.
- Get comfortable with the word no. This is about boundaries. This is about you prioritizing your own life. An addicted person often needs to hear the word no, to face the finality of it, before fully realizing how much he or she needs help.
Enabling may seem like a kindness in the moment, but in reality, it prolongs the process of coming to terms with addiction and finding help to recover. The best thing you can do for a loved one who is struggling with addiction is to put up boundaries and offer real help. If you identify enabling behaviors in yourself, take the necessary steps to change your behavior for your own good, as well as the good of the person you care about.