Are You an Enabler? 4

Enabling is a way that we knowingly or unknowingly protect an addict-- which actually helps the addiction get worse, instead of helping the individual learn to become healthier.  Today we will finish discussing different ways we enable another person:

  • Protecting them from negative consequences.  It's difficult to see a loved one suffering consequences, even if they are obviously the direct consequences of their addictive behavior.  Sometimes it's the most difficult to see how we might protect someone from negative consequences when it doesn't seem to be related to addictive behavior.  Either way, protecting someone from negative consequences means that they never have to feel the impact of their unhealthy choices.  For example, if your drug addicted son or daughter can't afford to pay their cell phone bill, so it gets shut off and you pay to get it turned back on.  This might not seem to be directly related to their use, but if they are using their money for drugs and not paying their bills, you are protecting them and enabling.  Another example would be if your spouse is too hung over to go to work or a family function and you call his work or smooth things over so no one is angry with him/her.  Or maybe your wife or husband hits a car while driving drunk, and you get the car fixed on the side and lie to the police so they don't get in trouble with the law.  Natural consequences are how we learn to change.  If an addict doesn't feel the uncomfortable feelings as a result of their choices, they will most likely stay exactly like they are.
  • Avoiding social functions.  When you make excuses to avoid social situations because you are embarrassed by your loved one's addictive behavior, you are enabling them to keep their behavior a secret.  This causes you to become the one in the relationship carrying the weight of shame that belongs to the addict.  It also isolates you and decreases your support system, keeping you even more dependent on your relationship with the addict (even though you aren't getting your needs met).
  • Offer the addict a job.  This is a way that rescues the addict from once again facing the necessary consequences to their actions.  Maybe they have lost their job for addiction related reasons (poor attendance, viewing pornography at the workplace, coming to work while still under the influence, etc.).  Providing them a job is like handing them money to go use, which is enabling.  It doesn't allow the addict to take full responsibility for finding their way in life and being an adult, which only feeds their addictive behavior.
  • Pay for school.  Many times, it's easy to become so hopeful that if an addict only gets what they need, they will be happier and stop using.  This can make a parent or loved one step in and offer to pay for things, such as school, that seem like providing them the "tools" to succeed.  However, when an addict is still using, they will most always pick their drug of choice over the day to day responsibilities of adulthood.  Doing this takes away the addicts sense of ownership for the decisions to get better, and can prevent them from feeling the pride of accomplishment for going through something difficult to make a better life for themselves.  It can then leave the enabler angry and bitter when the addict isn't following through with investing in classes, homework, or attendance.
  • Pay for alcohol or other drug use.  Sometimes the fear of what a person might do (or how they might feel) when they are without a substance can cause an enabler to actually provide the very thing they hate the most.  Maybe you are afraid your child will start selling their body for drugs or fear they will harm you in anger, threaten you or steal from you, so instead of setting boundaries with them and being firm, it's "easier" to give in and buy them what they are addicted to.  It might also be the only way you know how to feel close to them-- since drugs or alcohol are the most important thing to them, you "join" them to feel as though you are a part of their life.  However this manifests, it only shows the addict that you aren't willing to set the boundaries necessary to take care of yourself and that you don't really believe in them or their ability to get clean.  It also can create a great amount of shame for the enabler, knowing you are helping their addiction thrive.

Did you recognize any of the enabling behaviors this week?  Loving an addict can be a very difficult thing, and it's something that most of us can't do without a healthy support system and the help of others to hold us accountable.  If you are struggling with addiction in your family or with a loved one, we encourage you to seek out the help of a professional to work on your enabling behaviors and learning healthy boundaries.  The positive changes of one person in a family system can have a dramatic impact on the rest of a family system.  Even if the addict continues using, you will feel healthier, happier and more whole because you are taking care of yourself-- and letting them take responsibility for their own life. 

Joleen Watson, MS, LMFT, NCC, is a therapist at Imagine Hope Counseling Group. She enjoys doing marriage counseling, relationship counseling, couples counseling, and individual counseling.  Imagine Hope also specializes in family, child and adolescent counseling and serves Indianapolis area including the surrounding areas of Carmel, Noblesville, Zionsville, Westfield, and Fishers.