What is the Difference Between Enabling and Helping?

When someone you know and care for is struggling with addiction or mental illness, it is only natural to want to reach out and help them. While your actions may be well-intentioned, many individuals that try to help their loved ones with these issues often end up enabling the person rather than providing real support that can help them get better. Knowing how to spot enabling behaviors can help you avoid this and adequately support your loved one through this challenging period. 

What is Enabling?

Defining enabling can help you recognize it in your own life. Enabling is when a person partakes in actions that frequently solve others’ problems or minimize the consequences of a person’s actions. Many individuals often do not realize they are enabling a loved one because they are merely trying to help them get better. It is also common for individuals struggling with addiction to use enablers to their advantage to allow their addiction to continue - they know there will be no consequences to their actions. 

Examples of Enabling

  • Making excuses for the person’s behavior
  • Lying to yourself and others to minimize the consequences of the person’s behavior
  • Providing financial support that directly enables their addiction or other problems
  • Taking up the other person’s responsibilities to minimize consequences (paying bills, taking care of kids, doing their chores, etc.)
  • Ignoring the person’s problematic behavior
  • Avoiding discussions of the issue at hand
  • Not upholding your own boundaries
  • Putting the other person’s needs before your own

How to Break Out of Enabling

To stop being an enabler in your loved one’s life, you must first recognize that your actions are doing more harm than good. It can be challenging to admit you are in the wrong when your actions come from a place of worry and care. It is important to remember that even with the best intentions, you can still engage in negative behaviors. 

Ask yourself questions to help realize if you are enabling your loved one. Such questions may include:

  • Am I making excuses for my loved one?
  • Have I lied to help my loved one avoid the consequences of their actions?
  • Have I been taking on their share of responsibilities to avoid any problems?
  • Do we talk about the issues at hand or ignore them?
  • When my loved one is in trouble, am I always the first person they call to bail them out?

If you answer yes to one or more of these questions, you may be an enabler to your loved one’s behavior. Taking steps to break out of this cycle and begin properly helping them will allow them to heal in the long run.

From Enabling to Helping

Once you have recognized your enabling behaviors, you can begin to change them into helping behaviors. Instead of engaging in actions that promote your loved one’s problem, helping is more about supporting the person’s choices and positive actions that lead to their betterment and recovery. It can be challenging to say “no” when your loved one asks you for money or to help with their responsibilities. However, when you minimize the consequences of their addiction, you do nothing to show them its impact on their lives. Having them experience the obstructive impact that addiction can have on their life can serve as a motivation to get better.

Examples of Helping

  • Recognizing you cannot control your loved one’s behavior
  • Admitting that you covering for your loved one will not help them get better
  • Not providing financial support but rather love and moral support
  • Holding them accountable without shaming them
  • Providing a safe space for them to vent when they need it
  • Putting your needs above the needs of others

Looking After Yourself

During this challenging time in your life, the most important thing to remember is that you cannot pour from an empty cup; you cannot expect to help others without taking care of yourself first. Coping with a loved one going through addiction can be difficult and exhausting. Going to therapy can help you learn coping methods to get through this period. 

It is also essential to educate yourself on addiction and the proper ways to support your loved one. Consider reaching out to a local treatment facility or going to support groups for loved ones of individuals struggling with addiction to learn the difference between enabling and helping. 

Over time, things will get better. However, you cannot expect improvement without looking after yourself and learning how to provide proper support. Do not give up hope, for healing is possible.

Loved ones of individuals struggling with addiction often want to support the person in the best ways they know-how. This may involve engaging in behaviors that minimize the consequences of addiction in their loved one’s life, such as lying for them, taking up their responsibilities, and continuously providing financial support to keep their loved one’s head above water. However, these enabling behaviors do more harm than good in the long run. Learning how to properly support your loved one can help them get better by showing them that there are negative consequences to their actions. It will also show them that they are strong enough to get better independently. Through treatment, recovery is possible. Northstar Transitions is here to help you and your loved one navigate real-life treatment. Contact our team today to learn more about our comprehensive treatment program and how we can help you as well as your loved one. Call us anytime at (303) 558-6400.

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