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How to Stop Being an Enabler

Updated on January 31, 2013

Enabling is a word that has double meaning. In the positive sense, enabling means to be part of interactions that lead others to grow in one way or the other. For example, a parent may enable their child to go to school by paying the tuition. In this way, enabling is setting someone up for success. Negatively speaking, however, enabling means taking an action that may be intended to help someone but actually encourages the continuation of an adverse or dysfunctional behavior. Today the world enabler is used in the negative aspect in most cases.

An Example of Negative Enabling

The most classic example of a negative enabler must be the parent, family member, or friend of a known drug abuser who provides continues to provide for the addict despite their continued drug use. We have all heard this scenario. Many enablers in this situation provide the necessary food, shelter, clothing, and even monies these individuals need to survive. They sometimes resort to purchasing drugs or providing money for the purchase of drugs to prevent withdrawal and sickness. In this way they consider themselves "helping." But are they really?

Another example of a classic enabler is the person who continuously pays bills for a friend or loved one based on a promise to repay when they have never been repaid in the past. The enabler probably thinks they are being a real help to their friend but many times they are actually encouraging dependence and discouraging self sufficiency.


Why Do People Enable?

The main reason why most people find themselves enabling others is simply because they want to help. Most people fail to realize, however, that there is a difference between enabling and helping. To help someone typically involves getting involved in a task that the individual cannot do for themselves. Unlike helping, enabling often involves taking on a task that the individual can really accomplish on their own. Enabling is often spurred by the fear of what may happen if the enabler were to say no. It is often rooted in a sense of guilt or obligation. In addition, enabling can make you feel responsible for someone that really should be responsible for themselves.

The Consequences of Enabling

The major consequence of enabling is that the person who is enabled has not cause or reason to change their destructive or dysfunctional behavior. Why should they? They have everything they need and suffer very few if any consequences of their behavior. These type of individuals will often surround themselves with people who will enable them in an effort to make sure their needs are met. They may be grateful to the enabler and encourage their continued "support." In this way they can avoid decision making and responsibility. They can continue their path of destruction without worry. The enabled often lack the self esteem and self confidence that often comes with independence and self sufficiency. These things are very difficult to develop if you never have cause to practice them.

How to Avoid Enabling

The best way to stop being an enabler is to draw very strict and concise boundaries. You must become aware of your enabling tendencies and truly analyze whether you are helping or hurting the person or their situation. The enabled need space to succeed or to fail. They need and deserve the opportunity to face issues on their own and to learn through their mistakes trials and errors. Give the issues back to their true owner. This is how we move forward. This is how we progress This is how we grow.


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    • profile image

      starFlame 17 months ago

      I have been an enabler for a long time. In my last relationship of 15 years and now my new relationship of 1 year both with addiction problems. The issue with this new relationship is they have a crack problem. They truly want to stop they know it's a problem. But they refuse to stop weed. So I compromise and allow weed... To only get a relapse later for crack. I don't know where to draw the line they get upset and make threats to go somewhere else to smoke weed and so I continue to allow it at home. All I want is really for them to stop crack. We've been trying to get them a great support program but they say "I only have a crack problem and now they want me to stop everything" I'm lost and really don't know how to help without feeling guilty. Please help.

    • LQWILLIams profile image

      LQWILLIams 4 years ago

      Thanks for reading and commenting. People are constantly trying to control the behaviors of others and are always taking the responsibility for the "stuff" that other people create. It makes for a very frustrating life.

    • denise.w.anderson profile image

      Denise W Anderson 4 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      The statement "Give the issues back to their true owner" is the best advice ever. When we realize that feelings and behaviors belong to the person doing or expressing them, we are able to let go of our desires to help the person get better by controlling actions and outcomes. Once we are able to let go, and let them experience the consequences of their own feelings and behavior, more often than not, they decide they want to change them by themselves.