When to stop enabling and start disabling

The Merriam-Webster logo.

The Merriam-Webster logo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Madeline Laughs

I always associate the term Enabler with Alcoholics Anonymous because for a very long time they were the only folks that seemed to use the term on a daily basis. If you were to believe everything they teach, you’d think a majority of the people in an alcoholic’s life were enabling him to be a drunk. Somehow I don’t think that’s true.

What is an Enabler?

According to the online Merriam Webster an enabler is one that enables another to achieve an end; especially : one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.

This word was first used in the English language in 1615 so it seems people have been enabling others for quite some time.

My next question is; who are all of these Enablers? I paid a visit to one of my favorite websites for a good answer: AsktheInternetTherapist.com. Here’s what she had to say: 

To enable the individual with the addiction, the mutually dependent person makes excuses and lies for the addict, which enables the addiction to continue. Codependency is reinforced by a person’s need to be needed. The enabler thinks unreasonably by believing he can maintain healthy relationships through manipulation and control. He believes he can do this by avoiding conflict and nurturing dependency. Is it normal for someone to think that he can maintain a healthy relationship when he does not address problems and he lies to protect others from their responsibilities? The way a codependent person can continue to foster this dependency from others is by controlling situations and the people around them. The ongoing manner of a codependent home is to avoid conflicts and problems and to make excuses for destructive or hurtful behavior.

Why does enabling cause so much hurt in a relationship? The power afforded to the mutually dependent person in a relationship support his need for control, even if he uses inappropriate means to fulfill his need to be in control. A second and overlooked reason centers on the contradictory messages and unclear expectations presented by someone who is codependent. These characteristics give to a relationship filled with irrational thoughts and behavior. This kind of relationship has no clear rules to right and wrong behavior.

The term Enabler does seem directly connected to a relationship with a substance abuser, however I have heard the term used in other situations too. I think that anyone that continues a relationship/connection with another person on the grounds of having control through manipulation can be called an Enabler. A person classified as an Enabler is just as mentally unbalanced as the person with the addiction/problem. Enabling is all about control, manipulation and codependency.

She continues:

Any time you assist/allow another person to continue in their unproductive/unhealthy/addictive behavior, whether actively or passively, you are enabling. Even when you say nothing you are enabling the behavior to continue. Sometimes you say nothing out of fear, fear of reprisal, fear of the other person hurting, hating, not liking you; or fear of butting in where you don’t think you belong. Perhaps even fear of being hit or worse.

Sometimes enabling takes the form of doing something for another that they should do for themselves. It also takes the form of making excuses for someone else’s behavior.

You more than likely enable out of your own low self-esteem. You haven’t gained the ability to say no, without fear of losing the love or caring of that other person. People who learn tough love have to learn that their former behaviors have been enabling and that to continue in them would represent allowing the other person’s pattern of behavior to continue and to worsen.

It is difficult to stop enabling if you’re trying to do it with all authority. And it’s not easy until you know you deserve to stop. Until you know that you are endearing regardless of what the person you’ve previously enabled says to the contrary and until you raise your own self-esteem enough to be that strong. You may think it’s the other person who needs all of the help, in truth, you both do.

Darlene Albury, LMSW

I have to admit that reading this is somewhat of a relief. At one time I thought that I had become an Enabler. I might have dipped to that level on the brief occasion, but I know myself well enough to recognize when it’s time to start saying No. That is key. Knowing yourself, believing in yourself and never being afraid to take the unpopular route in order to mirror back someone’s destructive behavior so they might take pause and try to seek help. It doesn’t always work, but that’s not your problem.

I think a new term is in the works for the future.

The Disabler.

What is a Disabler?

There is no online definition because there is no such word. However according to the Spread Information online dictionary a disabler is one that disables another to achieve an end; especially : one who disables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by not providing excuses or by not making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.

A Disabler will point out your bad behavior and call you on it.

Who would you rather be? A codependent, needy, manipulative control freak Enabler? Or a strong minded, independent, self confident Disabler? The choice is yours. I hope you make it a good one.

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About Madeline Scribes

A writer with a sense of humor. If anyone can laugh at life, it's me.
This entry was posted in All kinds of Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to When to stop enabling and start disabling

  1. Pingback: Letting Go… Easier Said Than Done « Newlywed and Already Crazy

  2. Pingback: Codepedence is not just an issue for partners of addicts « My Perspective

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