Why Enabling Someone Is Never A Loving Act

When You Only Want To Help

Addiction is hard on everyone. If you watch your loved one continually abuse their body, you fear what they’re doing to their health. Abusing drugs and alcohol creates a potential for legal consequences and may interfere with your loved one’s ability to make a living. They make choices that cause unhealthy relationships and drain your bank account. When you see them make mistakes, your instinct is to protect your family from embarrassment and your loved one from pain. You want to help, but you end up making it comfortable for them to continue abusing their substance of choice.

Blurred Lines

Enabling often starts with the best intentions. As habits and behavior patterns become ingrained, it can be hard to separate what actions are helping from the ones that shield loved ones from the consequences of their mistakes.

Enabling means doing something for another that they should do for themselves or stepping in to handle penalties meant for them. For a parent, if their child is arrested for drugs or alcohol, they feel a protective desire to safeguard their future. For a spouse, when their loved one causes arguments or makes a mess, it feels compassionate to protect relationships by covering up what happened.

Examples of enabling behavior include keeping secrets to protect reputations, paying money for overdue rent or bail, or blaming circumstances when the individual gets drunk or high. Loved ones also enable when they threaten to enforce negative consequences for the bad behavior, but don’t follow through.

Enablers don’t start out trying to make it easy on their loved one. Oftentimes, in the beginning, they don’t realize the depth of the problem, and they only intend to offer temporary help. It comes from a place of good intentions, but spirals out of control. Over time, they become the person who the individual relies on to function in spite of their addiction. It actually will encourage and reinforce bad behavior, allowing it to thrive.

Enabling Isn’t Loving

Enabling is the opposite of loving, because it provides what’s comfortable, not what’s needed. The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reported that in North America there are 23.5 million people ages 12 and older who need treatment for alcohol or drugs. At the time of the survey, only 11 percent (~2.6 million people) were receiving treatment at a specialized facility.

As individuals destroy their lives because of their addiction, their loved ones wonder why they don’t seek help. When they ruin so many family gatherings that they’re no longer invited, when they lose that job that was the opportunity of a lifetime, when they create one legal and financial disaster after another, it’s hard to understand why they don’t come to hate the substance that causes it. Often, it’s because enabling encourages toxic behavior.

Enabling keeps individuals from facing the pain they cause so they can continue to delay treatment. It doesn’t just encourage more substance abuse for the individual, but it also hurts everyone in a relationship with them. Siblings feel neglected when parents spend their time enabling a brother or sister. Children receive less nurturing from their parents and keeping secrets chokes outside relationships.

Understanding Codependency

Codependent relationships develop when one person has an unhealthy reliance on another to fulfill their needs. It can be especially complex in the parent-child relationship. Codependency usually involves avoidance, enabling, enmeshment or controlling behaviors.

Avoidance occurs when family members don’t want to face the problem. They tell themselves their child is just going through a phase or that dropping academic achievement will get better soon.

Enabling behaviors happen when parents realize their child has a problem, but they worry how it will affect their future, so they try to protect their child from consequences. They hide bad behavior and offer any necessary legal representation.

When parents draw their own self-worth or identity from their children, they often exhibit enmeshment codependency. They hide their own disappointment and sadness to keep their child from feeling pain.

Other parents respond by being controlling. They seek to regulate all their child’s activities to keep them from obtaining drugs or alcohol. The child never becomes responsible for their own self-control and often does not receive treatment.

How To Tell The Difference

Most people are raised to help those in need. It helps to find the line between helping and enabling by looking for telltale behaviors.

If you regularly make excuses for bad behavior, you protect your loved one from conflict. It’s better to allow them to communicate on their own. You may notice you often step in to do things they are responsible for, like picking up kids or gathering materials for school assignments. If you tell lies to your child’s teachers about why they didn’t complete their project or show up for rehearsal, you cover up their behavior and help them continue to make bad decisions.

Enabling can look different depending on your relationship and family dynamics. Try checking your behaviors against a codependency checklist for an objective evaluation.

Family First Intervention understands how difficult it is to wait for loved ones to seek help. We have accredited interventionists who help individuals seek treatment and find hope. We support family members throughout the process, with experts in every state.


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3 Responses to Why Enabling Someone Is Never A Loving Act

  1. Cheryl says:

    As the mother of an addict I have learned that what is required of us as parents to help our child goes against everything that was required to be a “good parent.” Tough Love will be the most painful experience you will ever endure explaining why it takes us so long to resort to that extreme. It is a process getting to that point. A last resort because we are still trying to be good parents and in our minds a good parent would never say go away then close the door if their child showed up on a stormy wet night, cold and hungry seeking shelter. In our case we knew our son would have to come up against something serious before he would consider sobriety so that’s what we prayed for. 10 years into his addiction he was arrested and charged with 2 felonies then given the choice of prison or recovery. He chose 1 year of in house recovery. The actual time he would have spent in prison would have been less than a year. It has been a year now and we cherish every day we have with him. We’ve learned to just take it one day at a time and there is a life after an opioid addiction.

  2. NicoleClarke says:

    Hi Cheryl, thank you for sharing your story. I agree with how you described tough love as going against our instincts as a parent – that’s SO true. We want to comfort and help our children in any way, shape or form. Doling out the “tough love” and reconciling with their behavior is incredibly hard. I am so happy your son is OK, and his recovery story is amazing. I would like to emphasize your point that there IS a future after opioid addiction, and your family is living proof of that! Thank you for commenting.

  3. lauren says:

    My one friend is suffering from an addiction, and he parents just keep giving her money. They are fueling her addiction and making it worse. It’s hard for parents to get control of a situation like this.

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