Are you an enabler? I was, and still am, in some ways, though I try not to be, and I now usually recognize when I have crossed the line between supporter and enabler. Most parents are enablers to some extent. Mom rushes out to buy poster board at 9 pm when Junior announces he has a science fair project due in the morning, saving his bacon and his grade. It’s hAdmittedly, it's hard, especially as a parent or spouse, to resist the desire to take over for someone we love. We don't want to see them fail. But, making a zero on an important project teaches a life lesson to your child, while running out for that poster board reinforces his irresponsibility.
In the case of addicted loved ones, we would do anything to rescue them from their self-destructive behavior. But when we do so, we are unwittingly reinforcing their addiction. We are keeping them from experiencing the consequences of the poor choices they are making. We are encouraging them to continue to be irresponsible. Dr. Phil says we enable because it makes us feel better ourselves; he sees enabling as our effort to avoid the pain of seeing our beloved suffer. There is some truth in that, I think, but I also know that we want desperately to help and support them toward recovery – to remove their pain. But most of us are going about in in the wrong way. So, what is the difference in supporting and enabling? The following behaviors, as illustrated in the article “What is Enabling?” from the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation website, spells out enabling behavior that is counterproductive. When we do these things, instead of helping our loved one recover, we are reinforcing their addictive behavior. I have listed the enabling behaviors, following each item with specific examples of my own actions that have hindered, rather than helped, my daughter to recover.
Makes excuses for the addict's behavior (with teachers, friends, legal authorities, employers, and other family members)
Blames others for the addicted person's behaviors (friends, teachers, employers, family, and self)
Her boyfriend, who introduced her to heroin. Her junkie friends. They lured her back into the fold immediately when she returned from rehab. And how many times did we ask ourselves, “Where did we fail?”
Sees "the problem" as the result of something else (shyness, adolescence, loneliness, broken home, ADHD, or another illness)
We questioned the cause so many, many times. Was it a result of her bipolar disorder? Was she even bipolar? What about her friends rejecting her in middle school? Were we too hard on her? Did we expect too much from her? Did we make a huge mistake when we had her hospitalized in eighth grade? Should we have kept a better eye on the people she chose as friends? Was it the stress of being a teen mom? There HAD to be something or someone to blame besides her.
Do you recognize yourself and want to truly help your loved one, instead of enabling him/her to continue with his/her
destructive choices? How do you draw the line? How do you recognize what is helping and what is hindering? www.hazeldenbettyford.org/ recommends Al Anon. You can also read books, talk to professionals, research the Internet, join social media groups, join Meetup groups. And remember…you’re not changing your loved one’s behavior, you’re changing your own. And feel free to email me at any time – firstname.lastname@example.org. I don’t have all the answers, by any means, but I’ve been in your shoes, and I care.