Are You An Enabler?

Written by on December 10, 2012 in Family - No comments | Print this page


Enablers are well meaning individuals who, through their actions, make it easier for loved ones to continue living with negative behaviors. Enablers constantly shield people in their lives from the natural consequences of their actions, thus ensuring that unhealthy behaviors continue unchecked.

The cycle of unhealthy choices and enabling can only be broken when the enabler stops making excuses for bad behavior and allows their loved one to face the proverbial music for his or her actions.

People fall into many different sorts of enabling, often without realizing it. There are a few textbook scenarios where enabling becomes a real problem, often resulting in burnout on the part of the enabler and escalated negative behaviors in the enabled party. Recognizing the early warning signs of enabling is the best way to arrest the behavior before it gets out of hand.

Here is a list of the top 5 relationships in which enabling occurs, along with early warning signs to look out for:

#1 – The Addict

Whether the issue is drugs, alcohol or compulsive sexual behaviors the addict is dependent on an outside substance or act to keep them happy. Enablers are often privy to the unmasked dysfunction of the addict, yet they continue to:

  • Keep the behaviors a secret from the world
  • Take responsibility for keeping the addict at a high functioning level
  • Purchase drugs or alcohol for addict
  • Feel personally responsible to change the addict

#2 – The Gambler

Gamblers typically go through cycles of big wins and crushing losses, leaving themselves and their loved ones in a perpetual state of financial crisis. Enablers in this situation tend to:

  • Justify the problem on basis of big wins
  • Pay off gambling debts
  • Keep financial problems secret from others

#3 – The Workaholic

The friends and families of individuals with an uncontrolled impulse to overwork can often feel neglected, unimportant and fearful for the well being of the workaholic. Yet, enablers often continue to:

  • Make excuses for partner cancelling social commitments
  • Pick up the slack on the home front responsibilities
  • Constant nagging and threats
  • Overspending to fill emotional needs

#4 – The Abuser

Physical assault causes wounds on both the inside and outside of a person. Enabling individuals in an abusive relationship tend to:

  • Feel the abuse is his or her own fault
  • Make excuses for the abuser
  • Hide physical cuts and bruises
  • Threaten to leave without following through

#5 – The Irresponsible Aging Child

Once a child reaches a certain age, it is natural to expect him or her to start taking responsibility in life. Any parent would be frustrated with a child past the age of 18 who refuses to get a job or go to college, yet an enabling parent would continue to:

  • Provide rent-free housing
  • Pay for food and clothing expenses
  • Provide spending money on a regular basis
  • Continue doing their child’s laundry and chores

Enabling behaviors do not help individuals with unhealthy life patterns. In fact, enabling only serves to make the problem worse. Enablers need to come to terms with the fact that their displaced sense of loyalty is hurting themselves and the ones they are attempting to help. Recognizing early warning signs is the first step to ceasing unhealthy patterns of enabling.

This is a guest post.  Lillian Sanders is a freelance writer from Florida. She works closely with Best Rehabilitation Centers helping people battling with addiction.

Image courtesy of Grant Cochrane /


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