Thursday, January 6, 2011


Unconditional love does not mean being a doormat for other people ~ unconditional love begins with loving ourselves enough to protect ourselves from the people we love if that is necessary
Codependence: The Dance of Wounded Souls

According to the dictionary, enabling means to make possible, to empower, to allow or permit.  In the field of alcohol/drug abuse the term enabling has acquired a negative meaning.  No one dies from alcohol without the help of at least one well-meaning person.  Individuals suffering from the disease of alcoholism are typically surrounded by very caring, concerned people who unknowingly, unwillingly and unintentionally help to keep the alcoholic sick.  The enabling individual uses an elaborate system of ideas, feelings, attitudes and behaviors when dealing with the addict.  This system blocks consequences of the addiction; therefore, the addict cannot see and is not aware that changes need to be made and help needs to be sought.  This system is called ENABLING, and when examined closely it promotes illness not health.  Enabling is denial, rationalization, minimization and avoidance. An enabler often suffers emotional, physical and spiritual bankruptcy.
Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves.  Enabling is doing for someone things that they could, and should be doing themselves.  From Enabling: Sometimes Helping Doesn't Help at All

No one knowlingly encourages the continued use of drug/alcohol.  Enabling usually happens because people think they are doing the appropriate thing to help the individual or the current situation.  In understanding enabling and what to do about it, family members must realize that addiction is a disease.  It isn't something that anyone who uses chooses fully and freely.  Most people who struggle with enabling believe that their actions are helping or supporting someone.  An enabler is a person who reacts to an addict in such a way as to protect him from the consequences of his behavior.  An enabler struggles with denial as much as the addict does.  Examples include a spouse calls the addict's office to explain that the addict is home ill rather than addressing the fact that the problem is a hangover.  The enabler tells others that the addict uses alcohol to unwind or to calm the addict's nerves.  Family members take on responsibilities of the addict. 

Rather than addressing the behavior for what it is, the enabler looks to soothe the individual with the lowest level of conflict.  The enabler is often acting out of fear. He is often concerned how the problems surrounding the addict will affect the family, so they try to shield the family from the consequences.  Enablers lacking alternative skills will continue to act based on this misguided kindness and sympathy.  The enabler often falls prey to the use of rationalizing ~ excusing the behavior as unusual, but still normal.

As the disease progresses and the addict continues in his self-destructive behaviors, the enabler progresses in his codependent behaviors.  As feelings of decreasing self-worth increase, the enabler becomes more compulsive in reaction to the addict.  The addict's use becomes a symbol of the enabler's internal guilt and sense of inadequency.  The more the addict uses, the more the enabler feels responsible, guilty and inadequate.  The enabler begins to believe that the only way to feel any positive self-worth is to make sure the addict's use doesn't get out of control.   As this relationship progresses it becomes increasingly obvious that the enabler's entire reference for his life is dependent upon the actions of the addict.  The enabler ends up trying to control the situation by adopting reactive behavior such as cancelling social events where substances may be possible or calling home at midday to determine whether the addict is sober.  This relationship continues in a vicious cycle as both the addict and the enabler become increasingly alienated and dysfunctional.
Enablers tend to struggle with issues of codependency

caregiving ~ think and feel responsible for other people and their feelings, thoughts, actions, choices, wants, needs, and well being; feel anxiety, pity and guilt when other people have problems; feel angry when their help isn't effective; anticipate other people's needs; find themselves saying yes when they mean no; doing things they don't want to do; overcommit themselves; believe other people are making them crazy

low self-worth ~ blame themselves for everything; get angry, defensive, self-righteous and indignant when others blame and criticize them; wonder why they can't get anything done to their satisfaction; take things personally; feel like victims; have a lot of shoulds; reject compliments or praise

obsession ~ feel terribly anxious about problems and people; think and talk a lot about other people; check on people; try to catch people in acts of misbehavior; feel unable to quit talking, thinking and worrying about other people or problems; abandon their routine because they are so upset about someone 

controlling ~ have lived through events and with people that were out of control, causing them sorrow and disappointment; become afraid to let other people be who they are and to allow events to happen naturally; don't see or deal with their fear and loss of control; try to control events and people through helplessness, guilt, coercion, threats, advice-giving, manipulation or domination; feel controlled by events and people

denial ~ ignore problems or pretend they aren't happening; pretend circumstances aren't as bad as they are; tell themselves things will get better tomorrow; stay busy so they don't have to think about things; get confused

weak boundaries ~ keep letting people hurt them; regularly say they won't tolerate certain behaviors from other people; increase their tolerance, gradually, until they can tolerate and do things they said they never would; become totally intolerant

anger ~ afraid to make other people feel anger; place guilt and shame on themselves for feeling angry; feel controlled by other people's anger; feel very scared, hurt and angry; feel increasing amounts of anger, resentment and bitterness

miscellaneous ~ tend to be extremely responsible; become martyrs, sacrificing their happiness and that of others for causes that don't require sacrifice; find it difficult to have fun and be spontaneous; laugh when they feel like crying; cover  up and lie to protect the problem
Enabling must be stopped.  It sounds crazy, but every time you take away harmful consequences from a chemically dependent person, you are depriving him of an opportunity to see the problem.  In the end you are keeping them sick.

Family members are encouraged to develop their own support network and focus on recovery for themselves.  Just as the addict is encouraged to attend AA/NA, family members are encouraged to attend Families Anonymous or Al-Anon.  These are both 12-step based programs that focus on family members accepting that they are powerless over the addict, the disease and events.  The focus is on helping family members detach from the addict with love. This will allow family members to be supportive individuals in the addict's life without feeling a need to rescue/save the addict from himself.  Educate yourself and give yourself time to break from enabling habits.  Detach.

Common roles played by those close to an addict

the chief enabler ~ the spouse or parent who takes on the responsibilities of the family and covers up for the addict

the family hero ~ the hero tries to make things better for the family; he often becomes a perfectionist and has a hard time owing up to mistakes

the scapegoat ~ the scapegoat pulls away from the family and looks elsewhere for a sense of belonging; he draws a lot of attention to himself and away from the addict through negative behaviors

the lost child ~ lost children learn that it is safest not to draw attention to themselves; they suffer loneliness and pain

the family mascot ~ mascots are often fun to be around and use humor to survive; people assume that the mascot is fine, but he is often unable to deal with stress and become addicts themselves

Enabling an individual with an addiction is like buying the person his next drink.  The individual does not experience the consequences of his actions and has no real incentive to comply to treatment. 
Dr. Rev. Bill Lenters, Chaplain, Rosecrance

To care is healthy, to enable is not xo