Often when a member of the family is suffering from an addiction, a common dysfunctional pattern of the other family members is to enable that addiction. When the relationship is between a parent and teen, the parent is often the lead enabler.
To enable means to assist, facilitate, or make possible. However, the pattern of enabling in families with an addict can be indirectly harmful and unhealthy. Instead of helping the one who is addicted to alcohol or substances, a spouse or sibling might do things for the addict that he could be and should be doing for himself. To help someone is to assist in a task that he or she cannot do alone, such as calling the pharmacy when your spouse has lost his voice from strep throat. Enabling is completing a task that he can do on his own, such as paying the bills for an addict who hasn’t or can’t work because of his addiction.
Enabling often exists in co-dependent relationships, where feelings of powerlessness exist. With this, there is often a belief among both or one of the partners that it would be impossible to make in life without the other person. The belief in being powerless in life leads to a dysfunctional relying on the other person for things that one can and should do on their own, such as being financially stable. This underlying belief in being powerless seems to attract an enabler who in turn believes that no one else can perform a task as well as they can. Enablers tend to take control of a situation thinking that they are being helpful without seeing that it would be more healthy to allow the other person to do that task on his or her own.
Although enabling is common among families with addictions, it is a dysfunctional pattern that can occur in any family or relationship. The following are questions to ask yourself to determine whether you are enabling the powerlessness and possible addiction of someone you know:
- Have I ever called someone’s boss or supervisor and told her that he had the flue when he was really hung over?
- Do I find myself making excuses for my loved one’s unacceptable behavior?
- Have I dismissed my teen’s drug use “as just a phase”?
- Have I withheld the truth from a teacher, friend, or even the police in order to cover for my teen’s mistakes?
- Does my teen belittle me if I don’t comply to his or her wishes?
- Do I take on more obligations than I should and feel overwhelmed by all the responsibilities I have?
- Have I ever kept quiet in order to avoid an argument or because I fear emotional lashing out?
- Do I feel a sense of guilt when I stand up for myself?
- Am I more invested in the needs of others than in my own?
- Have I ever identified myself as a people pleaser?
- Do I minimize my emotions in order to not “rock the boat” of the relationship?
Enabling is pattern that once recognized, can be changed. However, it takes a conscious recognition of patterns and learning about yourself and your interactions in relationship. Fortunately, all relationships are like a dance. If you change your steps, the other person has to change too. The first task, however, is asking yourself the above questions and uncovering whether or not you are indeed enabling your child’s behavior.
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