We all want to see our loved ones succeed, but problematic enabling can create more damage than support. Furthermore, enabling often perpetuates chronic issues rather than solve them.
That said, the signs of enabling aren’t always obvious. Well-intentioned loved ones might not even be aware of their toxic patterns. Let’s get into what you need to know.
What Is Enabling?
Enabling refers to any action (or lack thereof) that permits people struggling with addiction to continue their damaging behaviors. Enabling essentially protects people from reaping the full consequences of their decisions.
Enabling comes in many shapes and forms. Some behaviors can be extremely blatant, such as buying drugs for someone complaining of withdrawal. Other behaviors are far more covert, such as telling your friend a white lie about missing their party instead of acknowledging that your partner is hungover.
Most enablers aren’t malicious. If anything, they often care deeply about their loved ones. They want to protect them from pain. In some cases, they feel guilty or responsible for the addiction and decide to take responsibility for it themselves.
What Are Some Common Signs of Enabling?
Enabling refers to specific actions that remove responsibility from someone else’s decisions. Your efforts to enable may be subconscious or planned, but they inadvertently reinforce someone’s addiction.
Denial: Denial can mean minimizing, downplaying, or making excuses for someone’s addiction. Instead of recognizing the full impact, you might dismiss the behavior as “not that bad.” You may also compare your loved one’s addiction to someone else’s.
Lying: Loved ones may enable by lying. They might, for example, lie to their loved one to avoid triggering their desire to drink or use. They may also lie about their behavior to others.
Blaming: You may blame yourself for some or all of the addiction. In response to this blame, you might avoid setting boundaries or implementing consequences with your loved one.
Lecturing: Some people try to preach or educate their loved one about addiction. While your motives might be excellent, this guidance is typically ignored and disrespected.
Staying silent: Instead of confronting your loved one or setting boundaries, you might choose to avoid the topic altogether. This enabling tactic often comes from a place of hoping things resolve on their own. You also probably don’t want to cause more friction, so you don’t say anything at all.
Drinking/using together: You might falsely assume that you can responsibly oversee how your loved one drinks or uses. This sign of enabling is common with spouses and parents. They believe they can essentially “control” the addiction if they are there to observe it.
Unable to say no: Even if you have rules, you may avoid being consistent with them. You don’t want to hurt your loved one’s feelings. You also don’t want them in danger. Even if the addiction is running both your lives, you don’t know how to set limits.
How to Stop Enabling
Addiction is undoubtedly complicated. In addition, breaking enabling behavior can be challenging, but it’s an essential step for your recovery and emotional well-being.
Get your own support: Consider seeking therapy or attending a support group, like Al-Anon or Codependents Anonymous. These groups offer a sense of community and practical tools for stopping enabling behavior.
Identify your boundaries: You are allowed to set limits for yourself. Define the non-negotiable boundaries in your life. Aim to stop tolerating any physically, emotionally, or financially abusive behavior. Write down these boundaries as a reminder of your priorities.
Practice saying no: Even if it’s hard, you have the right to say no at any time. It may enrage your loved one, but continuously setting limits conveys self-respect and demonstrates that you can’t be taken advantage of anymore.
Be consistent: Above anything else, consistency is critical. If you set a boundary, you must follow through with it every time. Keep in mind this will feel painful, but the more you stick with it, the easier it may become.
Practice ongoing self-care: Don’t neglect your physical and emotional well-being. Addiction can be consuming, but you need to take care of yourself. Despite what’s going on with your loved one, make sure you build time to focus on your own needs and happiness.
If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, please contact one of our addiction specialists and call (866) 578-7471.