Where is the line between support and enabling?

Support means you’re doing something because someone can’t do for themselves -- caring for a two-year-old, or preparing meals for your elderly grandmother, for instance.

Enabling is giving assistance that makes it easier for someone to continue on the wrong track -- like paying credit-card bills for a shopaholic, making excuses for work absences caused by drunkenness, or supporting a person who uses drugs.

If you’re close to someone with problems, you’ve probably wondered, from time to time, ‘Should I help him again?’ ‘Is she taking advantage of me?’ ‘What will happen if I don’t (choose one): give him money; watch her kids while she’s out on the street; call in an excuse for her missing work; loan him my car – and so on, and so on….

You love this person, yet you know he or she is taking advantage of you, and is not serious about changing their ways. Why do you keep supporting their destructive behavior?

1) It helps you avoid confrontation.
2) It may protect both of you from adverse consequences.
3) It makes you feel important/ loyal/ loved.

Enabling is not loving.

Enabling is a form of love, but it’s destructive love.

Enabling is disabling.

You are sending a message that their behavior is acceptable, even when it’s not.

You’re sending a message that they are helpless or incompetent.

Enabling comes into play when we don’t trust this person to do the right thing-- and it will indefinitely prolong their ability to do the right thing. Are you a partner in these destructive activities-- i.e., you drink with them, or do drugs, or go to a gambling casino?
Or you may feel like a helpless bystander -- their only friend-- trying to protect them.
You may agree with them, nodding when they complain about cruel spouses or bosses who don’t appreciate them. You may also cut them too much slack by feeling ‘sorry for them’.

What can you do?

You can wait until he or she reaches a point of no return (death, detox, suicide, jail, bankruptcy) . . . or you can STOP enabling, which pressures them to get help.
Even if you are involved or you feel somehow responsible for their troubles, you can exert some control to help both of you.

Get out of denial convince yourself that the problem is real.
Understand that your support is not helping, but only worsening the damage.
Stand firm because they will fight you but you have to convince yourself that you’re doing the right thing for both of you. It won’t be easy, but you can do it.

If you keep enabling, you will eventually end up sick or broke or both – just like them.

You can help most by forcing the dysfunctional person to confront their problems.
Don’t lift a finger until they: get counseling, get sober, and show that they are serious about changing.

We learn by the consequences of our actions. So without consequences, there’s no reason to change. It’s not easy to stop enabling someone you love, but keep in mind that by not enabling, you’re helping. You’re doing the right thing for your loved one, as well as for yourself.

Author's Bio: 

I am a Psychotherapist and Internationally Certified Addiction Counselor, specializing in all addictive behaviors: alcohol, drugs, food, compulsive sex, gambling, compulsive shoplifting, codependency and relationship/family issues.

My private practice in Montreal, but I work with people all over the world on the phone or on Skype:


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