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Are You an Enabler?

Are You an Enabler?

The term enabler is often used when we talk about addictions, but it also applies to all sorts of other problematic behaviors.

An enabler is a person who encourages or enables negative or self-destructive behavior in another (Google Dictionary). For teens, this could look like lying for a friend so they don’t get in trouble with teachers or parents, doing someone else’s homework for them, letting a friend sleep at your house when they are intoxicated, giving money to someone who spent all of theirs, or even cleaning up after a drunk parent or lying about it. There is a difference between being helpful and supportive and enabling. So how do you know if you are an enabler? Here are some signs that you are an enabler:

  1. You tend to ignore, deny, or minimize problem behavior, such as telling yourself that he only drinks at parties on the weekends, so it’s not that bad.
  2. You make excuses for the problem behavior, such as “it’s because her parents are getting divorced,” “he’s been under so much stress,” “she’s been having a problem with her parents,” or any number of other excuses.
  3. You lie to cover up the problem behaviors, such as denying or withholding information from your friend’s parents or school officials about something bad that they did.
  4. You tend to blame others or a situation, rather than holding the person accountable for the problem behaviors, such as believing your friend didn’t do his homework because the teacher didn’t make it clear that something was due tomorrow, or he only drinks or smokes pot because things are stressful at home.
  5. You are the kind of person who typically put the needs and desires of others before your own. You go to great efforts to please others and try to avoid disappointing people, such as not saying no to doing your friend’s homework because you don’t want him to be upset with you.
  6. You are afraid to speak up or push back because you want to keep the peace and avoid any negative situations, such as losing a friend or having a fight with a parent.
  7. You are seemingly suffering and in more pain the person demonstrating the problem behaviors.

You might be wondering why someone becomes an enabler. The truth is, nobody makes a decision to be an enabler. Most enablers don’t even realize how they are part of the problem. They are simply trying to help in the ways they know how. These ways, however, prove to be faulty and counterproductive. It is hard to allow someone you care about to suffer. Unfortunately, though, this is often the only road to recovery.

If anything above has resonated with you, and you think you might be enabling someone’s addiction or problematic behavior, there is hope. You can learn how you are making the problem worse, and you can make some changes to stop doing it, while still being supportive of the person. You can support and love a person while not supporting certain behaviors. Here are some tips for to get yourself out of being an enabler:

  1. Let the person deal with the problem or mess that they created. No more swooping to rescue them from their own bad decisions.
  2. Ask yourself if the short-term “help” you are giving makes the long-term outcome better or worse. Even if it means everyone has to be a bit uncomfortable for a while, focus on the outcome.
  3. Speak up. Learn to set appropriate boundaries. Say, “No” when someone is trying to drag you into their mess. Walk away when you are witnessing inappropriate behavior.
  4. Don’t step into someone else’s problem unless someone’s safety is at risk. If someone is in danger, call 911.
  5. Remind yourself that nobody changes without understanding the consequences of their choices. Don’t continue to pick up the pieces for them.
  6. Show and offer loving support in the way of getting them the help they might need.
Lori Freson Lori Freson is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Southern California. She has been working in the mental health field since 1997, and has been a licensed therapist since 2002. Lori currently works in her own thriving private practice in Encino and Sherman Oaks, where she serves the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles areas.
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