Behavior: Making it Worse with Love
Enabling behavior is born out of our instinct for love. It’s only natural to want to help someone we love, but when it comes to certain problems – addiction, in this case – helping is like throwing a match on a pool of gas.
In the true sense of the word, to enable is to supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity to be or do something – to make feasible or possible.
In its true form, then, Enabling behavior means something positive. It’s instinctive.
However, when we apply it to certain problems in living – addiction, chronic financial trouble, codependency, certain forms of chronic depression – enabling behaviors have the reverse effect of what is intended.
Enabling begins with the little things – waking someone so they won’t be late to work (again) or loaning them money (again). The common thinking is that this is helping the person who has or is developing an addiction… but what it is doing is prolonging the reality that there is a problem causing negative consequences in their life. In reality, the best thing one can do is let the person experience the negative consequences… to see what their own behavior is causing.
Here are some examples… it starts innocently enough
- Ignoring the problem – because they get defensive when you bring it up or your hope that it will magically go away
- Joining them in blaming others – for their own feelings, problems, and misfortunes
- Doing for them what they should be able to do for themselves –
- Repeatedly coming to the "Rescue"
- Repeatedly bailing them out – of jail, financial problems, other "tight spots" they get themselves into
- Giving them "one more chance" – …then another…and another
- Joining them in the behavior when you know they have a problem with it – Drinking, gambling, etc.,
- Accepting their justifications, excuses and rationalizations – "I’m destroying myself with alcohol because I’m depressed".
- Avoiding problems – keeping the peace, believing a lack of conflict will help
- Softening or removing the natural consequences of the problem behavior
- Trying to "fix" them or their problem
- Trying to control them or their problem
Enabling behaviors directly and indirectly support the vicious cycle of never-ending problems and pain of addiction.
Continuing enabling behavior creates an addict within itself. Codependency… the enabler becoming addicted to helping the addict…is a vicious partner to someone struggling with addiction
Enabling Behavior – the Addiction of the Codependent
Take a look at how the signs of addiction match the signs of codependency.
- Relief Using or Enabling – Comfort eating, spending, working or "helping" someone with their problem in order to avoid an internal focus.
- Increase in Tolerance – for the behaviors of the problem person.
- Preoccupation – with the problem person or persons
- Loss of Control – over emotions or behavior (Excessive eating, yelling at the kids)
- Continued Use (of enabling behavior) Despite Serious Negative Consequences – to yourself as well as them
Middle or "Crucial" Stage
- Family Problems
- Social Problems – Embarrassment, avoiding parties where they may be "too much temptation" for your partner.
- Emotional Problems – Depression, anxiety, chronic stress
- Financial Problems
- Legal Problems – Domestic disturbances
- Occupational or Academic Problems – Loss of concentration due to preoccupation with the problem person or persons
Late or "Chronic" Stage
- Physical Deterioration – headaches, stomach problems, stress disorders, etc
- Serious Physical Withdrawal Syndrome – cannot stay away after a break-up or separation
- Obsession – preoccupation increases until it takes the majority of your thoughts
- Loss of Social Supports – stop seeing friends and begin to isolate, other people give up trying to get you to see what you are doing
- Collapse of the Alibi System – can no longer make excuses for yourself OR the problem person
- Drinking, Using Prescription Meds, Eating, Working, etc. to keep functioning or "feel normal"
- Hopelessness and Despair
Breaking the cycle:
Drug addiction is a disease that impacts not only the addict but also the family and friends. As we have just shown, often an addict is able to continue using because those who surround him are enabling him on some level by helping with money, legal problems or other related matters. In order to stop enabling the addict and help him recover, family and friends can follow these helpful tips… this is not to be undertaking frivolously and is best managed by having a third party (a counselor, minister or other person trained in Intervention) present and leading the process. It is best for all concerned if the leader of the group is not a friend or close to the addict… this prevents old behaviors from sneaking into the process.
As you will see below, some of these stages required pre-research/work on the end of the family/support group. Knowing available options for your loved one is important before beginning this work.
Plan an intervention. A time is scheduled to sit down with the addict and tell her/him frankly that you will no longer provide the support you have been giving.
The Third Party: to help you with al aspects including being able to get the drug addict into treatment. By incorporating a third party, such as a therapist or interventionist, you will ensure that the addict takes you seriously. This person can help clarify the reality that you are about to start withholding support from the addict and that his only alternative is treatment.
Be prepared for a fight. Be prepared for this to become emotional. You obviously care about the drug addict, but by offering support (monetary, emotional, legal), you are enabling her to continue on a path of self-destruction. The addict will put up a fight when you tell her you are going to withhold these supports.
Force the drug addict to accept responsibility for his behavior. By eliminating your support, you are making the addict own up to the consequences of his actions. This is the only way to help him stop taking drugs and get the needed help.
Eliminate your readiness to pick up the debris of the addict’s life, to bail him out or to supply her with financial assistance. The disease of drug addiction will kill the addict and you must recognize that you are not helping her by supporting her on any level with respect to her addiction. Treatment is the only answer, and your refusal to support her in any other choice is imperative.
For additional information, contact one of the Regional Prevention Coordinators listed on our contact page.To learn more about being a family member of an addict, educate yourself with the online Matrix Model Family Education Program videos