If you have a friend, partner or spouse, child or close family member who is struggling with addiction, it is likely you want to help them as much as possible through supporting them during this challenging time. And while your support and presence is an integral part of a successful recovery, it’s important to remember that there is a rather fine line between helping your loved one and enabling behaviors connected to addiction.
What is an enabler?
According to an addiction counselor, “Enabling is an act in which one’s behavior, though generally well-intended, further contributes to [a loved one’s] addiction to alcohol or drugs.”
It makes complete sense that you would want to help your loved one suffering from addiction by providing them with things to make themselves more comfortable, that is, a space to live, food and perhaps even money. While you intend for these actions to communicate to friend or family member that you are there for them during this time, the odds are that they may be taken advantage of instead.
A crucial part of addiction recovery is learning that one’s actions have consequences and these consequences need to be addressed in the proper way. If you, for example, provide your loved one with a place to live after they’ve been evicted because they can’t pay rent as a result of frivolously spending money, you’re not letting them face the consequences of their actions. In other words, you are enabling behaviors rooted in addiction.
Signs of enabling
Because so many people accidentally enable their loved ones, it’s good to know what these signs are — that way, you can be sure that your actions are actually helping your loved one recover, not making it easier for them to satisfy an addiction.
You prioritize keeping them comfortable over holding them accountable
This one manifests in a variety of different ways. One example may be opening up your home to your loved one, providing them with a safe place to stay, but not setting any boundaries, ground rules or expectations. Especially if your loved one has no responsibilities in the household or doesn’t help pay any of the bills, you’re not doing anything to hold them accountable for their life choices. Additionally, you’re likely to quickly come to a place of actually resenting your loved one for doing little to contribute to the household.
You’re willing to compromise to keep the peace
Addiction is a heavy topic, and certain behaviors motivated by addiction can be harmful to both the one struggling and those close to them. However, if you are hurt by your loved one actions and never speak up, you start to compromise your peace of mind in order to avoid confrontation.
Everyone, all the time, in every aspect of life needs to learn that their actions have consequences, including your loved one. By speaking up when things are not going well or when you’ve been hurt, you can show your friend or family member that their well being is more important to you than maintaining an illusion of peace in the relationship.
You stop meeting your own needs
Anyone who sacrifices for another person in need is admirable, but how are you supposed to pour from an empty cup — meaning, you’re not going to be able to meet the needs of anyone else if you don’t first meet the needs of yourself.
Even though it may not seem like it, neglecting your needs — whether you’re skipping your gym time, showing up to work late or altering any part of your routine — is one of the most common signs of enabling. You’re failing to set boundaries, allowing the person to encroach on territory that is not theirs. Again, this can quickly build resentment on your part, and teach your loved one that they can take advantage of the kindness being shown them.
You take on their responsibilities
While offering to do certain tasks for someone when they’re really struggling can be very helpful and a beautiful way of caring for someone, it’s important that this does not become a habit that allows them to get out of all responsibilities.
For example, if you notice your loved one really needs to get their oil changed in their car, but hasn’t had the time between meetings with their therapist and looking for a new job, you can help relieve some of their stress by taking their car in for them. But, if they come to you repeatedly, asking you to take on responsibilities that simply are not yours to take on, it’s crucial to set a boundary and simply tell them no. It’s okay if you don’t have the time or the means, because, at the end of the day, they need to learn to accept that responsibility.
How can I prevent enabling?
Knowing the signs of enabling is the first step in preventing it from happening; once you recognize that you’re slipping into some of these behaviors, you’ll quickly be able to pull yourself out. Additionally, you can take care of yourself by meeting with a therapist who can help you come up with healthy ways of supporting your loved one and show you the best ways to set boundaries in this situation.
To get in touch with a therapist today, Contact us online or by calling 724-268-4858 anytime to learn more.