Author: Charles Frank

Enabler: Definition, Behavior, Psychology, Recognizing One, More

what is enabling behavior

Even if you personally disagree with a loved one’s behavior, you might ignore it for any number of reasons. The following signs can help you recognize when a pattern of enabling behavior may have developed. This is an obvious red flag that their alcohol or drug use is affecting you enough to cause pain, and they are unwilling to change their substance use. It can be difficult to say no when someone we care about asks for our help, even if that “help” could cause more harm than good. You might feel torn seeing your loved one face a difficult moment. This is opposed to providing means and opportunities to continue engaging in self-destructive behaviors.

what is enabling behavior

This can make it more likely they’ll continue to behave in the same way and keep taking advantage of your help. But you also work full time and need the evenings to care for yourself. It also makes it harder for your loved one to ask for help, even if they know they need help to change. You may choose to believe them or agree without really believing them. You might even insist to other family or friends that everything’s fine while struggling to accept this version of truth for yourself. By pretending what they do doesn’t affect you, you give the message they aren’t doing anything problematic.

Renewal Center for Ongoing Recovery

While you might know that there is an issue, it is sometimes easier to let yourself believe their denials or convince yourself that the problem really isn’t that bad. A 2021 study found the risk of becoming codependent is 14.3 times more likely if the family or loved one lacks coping resources. Enabling may be part of a larger codependency issue taking place in the relationship. This may look like a loved one over-functioning to compensate.

  1. Many times when family and friends try to “help” people with alcohol use disorders, they are actually making it easier for them to continue in the progression of the disease.
  2. It’s difficult for someone to get help if they don’t fully see the consequences of their actions.
  3. By pretending what they do doesn’t affect you, you give the message they aren’t doing anything problematic.

“Enabler” is a highly stigmatized term that often comes with a lot of judgment. However, most people who engage in enabling behaviors do so unknowingly. It doesn’t mean someone else’s harmful behaviors are on you, either. But even if all you want is to support your loved one, enabling may not contribute to the situation the way you might think it does. In this case, an enabler is a person who often takes responsibility for their loved one’s actions and emotions.

Here are five of the most common patterns found in codependent relationships where partners enable their loved one—and a few suggestions to change the dynamic. Instead of focusing on what you feel you did wrong, identifying concrete behaviors that might have excused your loved one’s actions could help. Sometimes it may mean lending a financial hand to those you love. However, if you find yourself constantly covering their deficit, you might be engaging in enabling behaviors.

Signs of an Enabler

When the other person can’t fulfill their daily duties, you might take over to cover for them. This might involve doing household tasks such as cleaning, laundry, or child care. Enabling can also involve excusing or covering up their behavior so that they don’t have to face the consequences. For example, you might call their employer and say that they are sick when they are really too hung over to go to work.

When you’re not sure if you’re doing the best thing or what to do next, try coming back to the concept of boundaries. Enabling behaviors lack boundaries and perpetuate the problem. Supportive behaviors empower a person to make choices toward their recovery.

For example, you might find evidence that they have been drinking or using drugs in your home but ignore it and avoid confronting them about it. Even though you keep finding ways to protect your loved one from the consequences of their alcohol or substance use, your resentment for having to do things may continue to build. This can lead to feelings of anger and irritability, which can interfere with your health and relationships. While the term is often used in a negative or even judgmental way, people who engage in enabling are not always aware of the effect that their actions have. As a positive term, “enabling” is similar to empowerment, and describes patterns of interaction which allow individuals to develop and grow.

But you don’t follow through, so your loved one continues doing what they’re doing and learns these are empty threats. Missing out on things you want or need for yourself because you’re so involved with taking care of a loved one can also be a sign you’re enabling that person. Your partner has slowly started drinking more and more as stresses and responsibilities at their job have increased. You remember when they drank very little, so you tell yourself they don’t have a problem. It’s often frightening to think about bringing up serious issues like addiction once you’ve realized there’s a problem.

American Addiction Centers (AAC) is committed to delivering original, truthful, accurate, unbiased, and medically current information. We strive to create content that is clear, concise, and easy to understand. The person you love may begin isolating themselves and withdrawing from social contact with you, making it more confusing and challenging to know what to do next. Over time you become angrier and more frustrated with her and with yourself for not being able to say no. This resentment slowly creeps into your interactions with her kids.

Family and Children’s Programs

Providing financial assistance that maintains the problematic behavior is also a sign of enabling. You might pay their bills that they forgot to pay or even give them cash that they then use to buy alcohol or drugs. Enabling is often used in the context of alcohol or drug use. However, it can apply to any type of behavior within a relationship that supports and maintains a harmful behavior pattern. Enabling can be destructive, but it isn’t always easy to recognize.

Enabling behavior is often unintentional and stems from a desire to help. In fact, many people who enable others don’t even realize what they’re doing. You may also feel hesitant or fearful of your loved one’s reaction if you confront them, or you could feel they may stop loving you if you stop covering up for them. This may allow the unhealthy behavior to continue, even if you believe a conflict-free environment will help the other person. As with other behaviors, you can manage and change enabling tendencies.

Individuals who have substance use disorders are not the only people who can benefit from treatment interventions, including various behavioral therapies. Therefore, family members often need guidance to differentiate between helping and enabling. Oftentimes, when a loved one is ill or in recovery, it’s difficult to find a balance between providing support and giving space. You may even find yourself struggling with the desire to control their behaviors.

Learning how to recognize the signs of enabling can help loved ones curb this tendency and deal with the problem rather than avoiding it. Helping friends, family members, or other loved ones who are experiencing mental health conditions or substance misuse can be challenging and confusing. In this scenario, the person with a mental health condition or substance use disorder loses their independence and isn’t empowered to recover or make necessary changes.

Making hard choices involves avoiding enabling while still being supportive of your loved one. Research suggests that people who have substance use disorders often have fewer social supports, which can undermine their recovery. For example, tell them that they cannot come to your home or be around you when they are drinking. Having boundaries minimizes enabling behaviors and protects your mental health and well-being.