We welcome back guest writer Trevor McDonald to The Purple Jacket
It’s never easy to watch someone you love struggle.
Naturally, you want to do everything in your power to make them feel better. You only have the best intentions.
But how can you know when your helpful attitude is crossing a line? It’s quite difficult because enablers usually don’t realize they are enabling.
Enabling always begins innocently enough, but it can develop into desperation.
Typical behaviors that loved ones enable
When someone mentions the term “enabling,” your mind probably goes straight to addiction. With addiction, enabling is extreme and can be quite dangerous. However, there are other ways we enable our loved ones without realizing.
Imagine, for a moment, that you’re caring for a family member who is morbidly obese. She derives a great deal of happiness from food, so you pick up her favorite chocolate cake when she’s having a bad day. This is an example of enabling.
On a smaller scale, some parents enable their children to adopt bad habits. Let’s say, your child despises cleaning, so you never make him do it. You’re enabling him to become a lazy adult.
In every case, you have the best intentions. You don’t want to see your loved one unhappy or uncomfortable. Maybe you even want them to associate the happiness they get from negative behaviors with you. So you enable.
The problem with enabling behavior
In every case of enabling, you are encouraging damaging behavior. Enablers usually realize this fact, but they justify their actions in various ways.
- “He would use drugs anyway; may as well do it in my house.”
- “What harm could a little piece of cake do?”
Each excuse justifies the bad behavior and encourages the person to continue.
- “Pot can’t be that bad or mom wouldn’t let me smoke in the house.”
- “My caregiver encouraged cake yesterday. Why not today?”
It’s easy to enable. We’ve all been there at one point or another. But we should instead be encouraging our loved ones to make healthy, productive choices – especially when a behavioral problem is present.
How to stop enabling
Stopping enabling behavior isn’t for the faint of heart. If you’ve been enabling a loved one for some time, an abrupt end can seem like you’re being mean or uncaring – even thought this is the furthest thing from the truth.
People are afraid to change their behavior because they fear their loved one may push back. Or they could fear other consequences. If you’ve been picking up someone else’s mess (literally or figuratively), there will be some fallout when you stop.
Here are some tips to help make the transition smoother:
- Talk openly about your plans – Instead of going “cold turkey” without explanation, talk to your loved one about how you plan to stop enabling, and how it’s for her own good. When she exhibits behavior that you previously enabled, remind her of your new role in her life.
- Get support – Talk to someone you trust about what has been going on and how you’ve been enabling. This should be someone you can talk to when you’re feeling weak. This person may also help you identify situations where you are enabling without realizing.
- Get other adults on board – If you and your spouse or another family member have been enabling together, it’s important to get on the same page about stopping the enabling behavior.
- Let your loved one experience consequences – This is the most difficult part of the process because it can be painful for you and your loved one. However, if someone repeatedly gets into trouble knowing you’re going to bail them out, you must step back and let law enforcement do their job. We do this with the hope that our loved ones will finally learn to take responsibility for their own actions.
Enabling is a difficult and painful behavior to stop, but it is for the good of yourself and your loved one.