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Are You An Enabler?

Updated on August 29, 2014

The Enabler Personality - How to Identify It

How to Identify an Enabler

In today's world, the enabler personality is often linked to lack of personal fortitude when it becomes a destructive personality disorder. Maintaining balance between cooperation and enabling is difficult for some. The enabler is always the first to bend to the will of others even when they can see the outcome of such contortions of their sense of individuality.

As children, the enablers find it easier to "always go along" rather than question those who deign themselves group leaders. An enabler simply lacks the ability to march to the beat of their own drum. Enabling personalities prefer to remain in the shadows even when they are confronted with opportunities for success. Professionals in psychology tell us this is fear of success. Is it? Or, can it be that the now adult individual has grown comfortable with "not making waves?"

The Enabler and Narcissist Equation

For every enabler, there must be a supremely self-indulgent narcissist who demands "their way or the highway" from anyone who enters their destructive realm. An enabler isn't a bad person, left to themselves. But, the minute they encounter a personality bent on control, the enabler recoils in fear or trepidation and begins the cycle of enabling, which they understand to be "unacceptable" by societal standards. In other words, the equation is: Controller equals power equals support by enablers.

The Enabler as the Common Denominator

The enabler means well. They truly believe that allowing destructive behavioral patterns will bring peace to the enabler and the controller. This is rarely the case. To understand the needs of the sociopathic narcissist, it's important to note their inherent inability to judge their own limits. Narcissists believe the world is at their disposal when and if they should require reinforcement of their control status. A narcissist most always requires an enabler who smiles away inappropriate behavior or through a vague silence approves of narcissistic lust for power. Silence may work in the initial stages of enabling. When the limits are pushed past reason, silence becomes the operative by which the controlling personality is consistently fed approval.

The Human Factors in Enabling

Clearly, the early patterns of enabling are set when the two-year old toddler realizes he/she can amass a certain amount of parental control by exhibiting inappropriate behavior. Parents who laugh off the "Terrible Twos" and refuse to set boundaries are culpable in their own addiction to enabling others. The weak link with an enabler personality is the inability to adjust firmly to self-discipline. Without the strength of self-discipline, an enabler realizes how much easier it is to capitulate to a more powerful personality. Women tend to be enablers of spouses and children, as has been well documented numerous times over the past half century.

Early gender breeding has a lot to do with this. Most of the strong gender bias that exists is the result of perceptions that one gender is stronger and therefore, must be allowed to make all the decisions. Women are simply not perceived as having leadership skills equal to men. Yet, many men are also enablers. They find too late that enabling a spouse or a child to "do as they please" has destructive consequences.

Interestingly, women are more likely to enable alcoholism, drug addiction and other obsessive/compulsive disorders for a longer period of time than men. For example, male alcoholics may not seek treatment even when they've lost their jobs and societal respect. Their spouses enable the alcoholic behavior as a part of "men doing what men do."

Yet, when the situation is reversed, female alcoholics are viewed much less tolerantly. In society, a female alcoholic, drug addict or gambler is seen as a far greater problem. In terms of rehabilitation, men take longer to address their addictions or to seek rehabilitation than women. Thus, a double standard exists that enables men to continue their personally destructive behaviors. It's only when a crime has been committed that enablers begin to realize their part in the criminal's behavior.

Enablers are not responsible for the behaviors of others. They are responsible for silently enabling the behavior to go unnoticed.

Fear of Responsibility

In most cases, enablers are not devious personalities. They merely fear responsibility that includes disproving unacceptable behavior. The ease with which ignoring or refusing to openly acknowledge a problem even exists is the hallmark trait of enablers. When enabling go unabated for years in relationships, the end result is that the enabler grows comfortable with their "behind the scenes" role. In effect, the enabler proactively promotes destructive behavior to the point where its easier and more comfortable than "rocking the boat." Oddly, this is how enablers learn to control others.

Enablers as Cheerleaders

Parents often enable their children in subtle ways. The parent, as the mature adult, always has their years of experience to guide them in their parenting skills. Yet, many parents choose to maintain a "friendship" with their offspring. The result is that the child inteprets this as having equal authoritative status with the parent. The enabled child learns early that an adult is their equal and unruly behavior is perfectly acceptable in the child's view. Many observers can point out children who have "parent/friends." These are the children who balk at authority outside the home. When confronted with their child's unruly behavior or disrespect for authority, the enabler parent is likely to turn the situation around to where their child is the "victim." Often parents become cheerleaders for their "outspoken" child who runs interference with authority in schools, sports and a host of children's activities for which the child can no longer peaceably fit. After all, no matter what their child does, it can never be the child's fault. Playing down the consequences of bad manners, disrespect and refusal to accept rules is another operative of enabler parents.

The Enabled Child as an Enabler Adult

Children of enabler parents often possess an erroneous sense of entitlement and superiority. When these children become adults, they understand how to get what they want, when they want. They practice a daily routine of enabling under the guise of being "laid back" and "cooperative," to arrive at their most desired effect. They are aware of the power in being an enabler. It draws subtle control their way faster and with pre-emptive results.

The co-worker who keeps to him/herself may seem to be the least innocuous to the work environment. In essence, the enabler knows that controlling the flow of information or proactively taking part in team efforts increases their power structure. In a bizarre kind of dual personality, the enabler understands the power of minimal participation, while appearing to be the most flexible or cooperative member of the team. It's at this point that the true nature of the enabler becomes apparent.

Enabling and Cooperation

For those who feel they are oppressed by constantly having to "give in" to others, there may be an underlying need to examine their fundamental perceptions of self-discipline. Learning to speak articulately is a good beginning. Learn to use the word "NO" when its most needed. Learn the difference between enabling and cooperating. Cooperation is a strong facet of a unified effort to reach goals. Enabling is merely the perpetuation of others' goals to the exclusion of the goals of the enabler.


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