What Is an Enabler & What the Signs of Enabling
It’s been said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions.
The same could be said of enablers. Full of good intentions, they help someone with a substance use disorder (SUD) in various ways. They are the ones who call the office and say that their spouse has a 24-hour virus when in reality, they’re still sleeping off a bender. They are the ones who clean up the messes of an adult child and provide a roof over their heads.
Those kindnesses are a double-edged sword. The enabler may be trying to protect the person with the substance use disorder, but what they’re really doing is maintaining an unhealthy status quo.
That’s because alcoholic spouse keeps his or her job, but they also get another opportunity to drink. The drug-addicted kid wakes up safe in his or her own bed, maybe with breakfast and clean clothes waiting, but they also get a place to recover until their next wild party.
What Does Enabler Mean?
Codependence and enabling go hand in hand. Codependence is a relationship dynamic where one partner tends to give more, while the other takes more. The result is an imbalanced victim-rescuer situation.
An enabler can be a spouse, a parent, or an adult child. The enabler doesn’t have to be a member of the family, but typically they are extremely close to the person struggling with addiction. Sometimes there are several enablers in a family.
Enablers shield users from the consequences of their actions, according to Shawn Meghan Burn, Ph.D., author of Unhealthy Helping: A Psychological Guide for Overcoming Codependence, Enabling & Other Dysfunctional Giving.
What Does It Mean to Be an Enabler?
The addiction enabler tends to mean well. Advertently or inadvertently, however, they help preserve dependent behaviors. They’ll do things like make excuses to keep up appearances. To the outside world, all will look fine. Inside, they’re concealing substance use disorder and other secrets.
Typically, enabling behaviors prevent the needs of other family members from being adequately met. Sometimes it’s a case of continually explaining the absence of a parent who really is out drinking or gambling to excess. Sometimes it’s neglect because more energy is being dedicated to helping the family member with the dependency. Sometimes it’s bail money that instead could go for groceries or car repairs.
No matter how hard the enabler works to make everything look rosy, the cold hard reality is that the addiction is still there, like that little spot of mold on a loaf of bread. It looks like just a small part is spoiling the batch, but the rot has spread.
What Is an Enabler Personality?
The enabler is the person who wants to keep everyone happy. They also want to make everything look perfect, to the outside world, at least. To maintain appearances they make excuses.
There’s the saying, “codependents give until it hurts,” and it carries a lot of truth. They cover for unacceptable or illegal behaviors, delaying or preventing the person with SUD from seeking help. They also hinder their own pursuit of happiness by trying to live up to an ideal rather than paying attention to their real selves.
Enablers have a lot of positive personality traits. They tend to be:
- Good listeners
- Sensitive to others’ needs
There are some cons to the equation. Enablers tend to:
- Deny their needs
- Carry false guilt
- Ignore inappropriate behaviors
- Avoid or fear anger and conflict
- Suffer from anxiety or fear
How to Stop Being an Enabler
Knowing what an enabler is and does is the first step toward fixing the problem.
Some enablers aren’t even aware that they’re helping prolong addictive habits. Their goal is to
Covering for a drug addict or alcoholic isn’t in anyone’s best interests. Knowing this is a key step in how to stop enabling.
- The addicted person, by being rescued from bad situation after bad situation, is delayed or denied the experiences that may lead them to make changes for the better.
- Because the enabler continues to encourage dependence (consciously or unconsciously) the person being helped may never find freedom from his or her addiction.
- By continuing to serve as a savior for someone addicted to drugs or alcohol, the enabler allows them to keep on the course to self-destruction.
Keeping up a semblance of normalcy establishes roadblocks for addicted individuals and prevents them from facing the true consequences of their dependency.
The enabler may believe he or she is helping by making everything look normal, but the truth is they’re helping maintain an unhealthy status quo. Keeping up appearances can be dangerous, even deadly.
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