You may have heard of the term enabler, but what does it really mean? Enabler describes a person who enables, condones, or tolerates the bad behaviors of a loved one. They have a personality called ‘enabler personality’.
The term enabler may be stigmatizing because there’s a negative message attached to it. However, let us keep in mind that a lot of people become enablers without being aware of their actions. For some, it is intentional, and they don’t even realize they’re doing it.
On the other hand, some people who turn a blind eye to enabling relationships may have good intentions. Not knowing these good intentions may have negative consequences. The term is often used to describe the loved ones of people with substance abuse.
When the loved ones are called an enabler, it can mean they are tolerating the addicted person’s actions. It may come in the form of making excuses for their loved ones and perhaps turning a blind eye to what’s happening. Some may simply not acknowledge that there is a problem with substance abuse.
However, keep in mind that the term enabler is not only limited to the drug or alcohol context. Generally, enabling relationship means patterns within close relationships that condone, accept, allow or support negative behavior, and allowing a loved one to continue that bad behavior even though they are aware of the negative consequences that may arise in the future.
Let’s get this clear; not all enablers support bad behavior. Some may not support it; however, they do not acknowledge the situation, for instance, to avoid arguments. Even though they may not support it, it is still an enabling relationship because the issue at hand is not faced.
So you have landed this page for two reasons: either you think you’re an enabler or you know someone who is an enabler. So what do you do next? You’re trying to find answers on how to stop the enabler personality. Read further as you will find the answers here.
But Wait… What Is the Difference Between Enabling and Empowerment?
Before we proceed further, let’s clarify the difference between enabling and empowerment, as some people may find the two terms confusing. First, let’s define the terms on separate occasions:
Enabling a Loved One
Enabling a loved one may mean taking control of the situation because the enabler doesn’t want their loved one to face conflicts. So they manage the situation on behalf of their loved one or make up excuses for the bad behavior.
Empowering a Loved One
Empowering another person means loving them by limiting your desire to stop them from doing what they want to do. Even though you don’t get what you want, you give your loved ones the freedom to do what they wish to do. It means allowing a loved one to pursue what they want, even if it hurts you. In short, you give them the power to make their own decisions.
Enabling and empowering are subjective. Don’t take it the wrong way; some enablers have the intention to help. In fact, most cases of enabling relationships start with the desire to help. Oftentimes, these are seen as helping behaviors with the best intentions in mind. Not knowing these enabling acts may cause more harm than good.
Most people who enable loved ones don’t intend to cause harm. In fact, enabling generally begins with the desire to help. Enabling behaviors can often seem like helping behaviors. You may try to help with your best intentions and enable someone without realizing it.
Both are empowering and enabling a loved one has their good intentions. But both approaches may end up on the same road. As you can see, when you empower a loved one, you allow them to make their own decision. In the case of an addicted person, allowing them to do what they wish to do, it’s a step in the wrong direction.
Are You an Enabler? Characteristics of an Enabler
So the million-dollar question is — are you an enabler? Or do you know someone who you might think is an enabler? The truth is, some may not even be aware that they’re enablers. Because as silly as it may sound, being an enabler is sometimes unintentional. So here are the characteristics of an enabler, be aware because you might just tick off several boxes.
You Ignore or Tolerate Bad Behaviors
Here’s the catch, even if you disagree with the bad behavior of a loved one but still ignore or tolerate the problematic behavior, you may be an enabler. Not addressing the problem by tolerating or ignoring the issue at hand is also being an enabler.
For example, you know your sister is a shopping addict. But because you’re trying to avoid conflicts or arguments, you avoid the topic. Or you altogether ignore or tolerate the behavior for the sake of avoiding quarrels. Perhaps you’re too scared to say anything because you’re afraid to lose your loved one’s affection. That is being an enabler too.
Not saying anything or not intervening to cut out the bad behavior is a trait of an enabler. Because if you just ignore or tolerate a loved one’s bad behavior, this will give them the encouragement to continue with what they’re doing. When no one says or does anything, the situation will just worsen.
You Provide Financial Assistance to the Enabled Person
An addict who does not have the financial means to fund their addiction has no choice but to cut out the act, especially when the funds have dried out. But, if an addict is provided the financial means for personal finances, that is an enabler.
For example, a loved one with substance abuse which is unemployed does not have the financial means to fund their addiction, so they have no choice but to stop. But if you give money to an addict, you know where they’ll use it, which is an enabler.
Another example is a family member who is irresponsible with their finances. For instance, your sister always struggles with her finances. She always falls short on rent and is buried in credit card debt. She’s well-compensated in her job. It’s just that she doesn’t know how to handle her finances and spends too much money shopping.
When she falls short on rent, you always lend her money. Not once, not twice, but all the time. Giving her financial assistance means you’re enabling her bad behavior of being irresponsible about money. Yes, you’re just trying to help her not get kicked out of her apartment, but you’re also enabling her bad money habits or her behavior of not spending wisely.
You Cover up Their Mistakes or Make-Up Excuses for Them
When you’re concerned about your loved one, it’s a natural mechanism to make up excuses for them or cover up their acts. You don’t want other people judging their negative behaviors as this may be the talk of the town. That’s how we protect the ones we love. But is this protecting or enabling?
For example, your loved one’s addiction is always questioned on family occasions or gatherings. You are well aware that it’s still ongoing, but what do you say when other people ask? You lie that your loved one is sober or is now recovering. That is covering up their acts or making excuses for them. Yes, you’re protecting your loved ones from harsh comments, but you’re also enabling them not to change.
Another example is parents covering up the mistakes of their child at school. For instance, the child could not submit a project on time. The teacher reprimanded the child. What does an enabling parent do? Go to the teacher, ask for an extension, perhaps bribe the teacher. What will the consequences be to the child? The child will think that not submitting a project on time is okay, that their parent will always be there to cover up their mistakes. As a result? This may make a child lazy at school.
You Take Over Their Responsibility
Do you take over your loved one’s responsibility or perhaps their daily task? This is an enabling behavior as well. For example, a family member with an unstable job always quits their world. Let’s just say this loved one’s behavior is why they can’t stay long in that job. It reaches that point that this loved one cannot provide for a stable home for their family.
As an enabling person, you take over the responsibilities. For instance, buying groceries, doing the household chores, perhaps paying for the monthly rent, or being the one actively looking for a job for them. By your actions of helping, you are enabling that person.
You solve their problems for them. As a consequence? They rely on you. That no matter what happens, you will be there to catch them. What happens? They become lazier, and this will be a cycle that will go on and on if there’s no intervention.
Even if you’re aware that the consequences of their actions will do more harm than good, but you still continue to take over their responsibility out of love, you are not helping; you are enabling the bad habit.
You Are Avoiding the Issue or Brushing Things Off
In typical situations, if you see a loved one committing a wrong act, you will confront them sot the bad behavior will stop. But an enabler isn’t the same. Even though the bad behaviors are too apparent, they choose to avoid the issue. They may justify the situation as avoiding conflicts or saving the relationship, which is a valid point. But in reality, this is an act of an enabler.
For instance, you caught your addicted loved one with a liquor store receipt in the pocket. You caught them red-handed, but what do you do if you’re an enabler? You avoid the issue and act the next day as nothing happened.
Or, for instance, you caught your teenage child on CCTV stealing from your wallet. Even though you’re aware of the situation, you don’t confront your child. Perhaps you’re tired of having arguments with your child. Instead, you change the hiding place of your wallet. Avoiding the issue or brushing the things under the carpet is a form of enabling as well.
Your Personal Happiness Gets Affected
Does your teen avoid chores because they’re simply lazy? Do you always look after your drunk partner after a night of blackout? Do you always take over your loved one’s responsibility because they can’t do it themselves? Have you been an enabler for a long time that even your own needs to happiness get affected? Even you struggle financially?
This is not the life you want. When your personal needs and happiness are already gets affected, there should be changes. You can’t live like that forever. Yes, at times, we have to make sacrifices for the people we love.
But can you fathom the thought that your sacrifice is being abused? Up to the point that you lack time for yourself, for your own happiness, and even your financial state gets affected. If you don’t solve the problems at hand, you may stay stuck in this situation forever.
You’re Not Following Through on the Boundaries You Set
Granted, you have set boundaries to put a stop to your loved one’s bad behavior. But weeks and months pass, you don’t enforce the boundaries you set, then that’s being an enabler. Not following through the consequence allows your loved one to make one wrong decision after the other. It will be a cycle.
For instance, you set boundaries for your child to do the household chores, or else you take away their phone for a week. But then you get preoccupied with work or have simply forgotten the arrangement. So what will your child think? “It’s okay not to do my household chores, my mom always forgets about it”. You may be taken advantage of if you’re not lenient about the boundaries you set.
If you state a consequence, it’s important to follow through. Not following through lets your loved one know nothing will happen when they keep doing the same thing. This can make it more likely they’ll continue to behave in the same way and keep taking advantage of your help. The enabled person will only think of your boundaries as empty threats.
You Feel Resentment Towards That Person
When your loved one displays negative behaviors, and you enable what they do, at the end of the day you may feel resentment towards them. When these feelings of disappointment pent up and develop into resentment, this may damage your relationship.
You make sacrifices, and you even change your own behavior, for what? What do you get in return? In the long run, your resentment towards that person may sting for life. There can be no forgiveness, there’s hatred, and you become angrier as time passes.
How to Stop Being an Enabler
Do any of the characteristics of an enabler ring a bell to you? If you think you’re enabling a loved one, here’s what you need to know: Your own actions need to stop now. Stop enabling family members, an addicted person, or even your adult child.
Solve problems, set healthy boundaries, and do not make excuses. Instead of enabling, start empowering. You need to remember some things if you want to stop being an enabler.
Bring Up the Issue
Do not brush off things or avoid the issue. Sit down with your loved one, talk calmly, seek a solution and aim for resolution. Confronting the enabled person lets them know that you do not support their bad behavior. At the same time, let them know that you are present and willing to help.
Set Boundaries and Stick To Them
Always set boundaries to stop problematic behavior. It may be hard at first as boundaries may mean punishment, but it will be for their own good. You are helping them find the right path. As you set these boundaries, make sure to be consistent and uphold them.
Learn How to Say No to the Enabling Behaviors
When you truly care for a person, it’s hard to say no to their requests. But you have to learn how to say no and be firm. Stop condoning to the enabling behavior, so you can put a stop to it.
Stop Being Their ‘Safety Net’
This means stopping giving them financial assistance, stop covering up for their mistakes, and stop taking over their responsibilities. Stop being their safety net if it means putting an end to their bad behavior. It may be hard at first, but remember that this will be for their own good at the end of the day.
Encourage Your Loved One to Seek Professional Help
Whether your loved one is battling substance abuse disorder or if you think they need help changing a bad habit, seeking professional help, especially with a mental health therapist, can help.
Seek Therapy Yourself
A mental health professional can give an insight into your situation. If things are left unchanged, your own mental health can get affected. You may get exhausted and develop resentment towards your loved one. That’s where a counselor can help you. Always prioritize self-care and take a break from all this toxicity.
Enabling a loved one doesn’t mean you support their bad behavior. At times, out of love and the intent of helping, you’re starting to become an enabler. Now that you’re aware of the negative consequences of being an enabler, you should learn how to put a stop to this.
Suppose you or your loved one want to recover from all these difficulties. If there are issues you want to confront but cannot settle, a counselor can help. If the issues also affect other family members, a family therapist can help.
With therapy, you can start identifying your enabling behaviors and learn how to address them properly. Kentucky Counseling Center can help you address these issues. Book an appointment now through the KCC Direct Services and stop all of these.