How can you tell the difference between supporting someone and enabling them? This can be a slippery slope of ambiguity; you may have good intentions but potentially harmful outcomes. Recognizing the difference between supporting and enabling can help make the difference in whether or not your loved one seeks treatment for their mental health and addiction issues.

What Is Enabling?

Enabling someone means not allowing them to experience the consequences of their actions. When a loved one struggles with addiction, this could mean giving them a place to stay when you are aware that they are still active in their addiction. It could mean loaning them money to fuel their addiction, even if they claim it isn’t.

Many family members will find it easier to become ignorant to the situation for their own peace of mind. Many family members may be unsure of how to actually support a loved one. They may also be scared that if they do not enable their loved ones, they will disappear. However, not confronting the problem at hand can have detrimental outcomes.

What Is Codependency?

Codependency refers to a set of maladaptive, compulsive behaviors learned by family members and loved ones that are used as coping mechanisms in response to emotional pain. According to the study “The Lived Experience of Codependency: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis” published by SpringerLink, codependent behavior often involves four main themes:

  • Self-sacrifice
  • A tendency to focus on others
  • A need for control, which may fuel conflict
  • Difficulty recognizing and expressing emotions

When someone struggles with codependency, they struggle to put their needs ahead of the needs of other people. Ultimately, enabling is a direct result of codependency.

Signs of Codependency

Common signs of codependency typically include:

  • A deep-seated need for approval from others
  • Self-worth that depends on what others think of you
  • A habit of taking on more work than you can realistically handle, either to earn praise or lighten a loved one’s burden
  • A tendency to apologize or take on blame in order to keep the peace
  • A pattern of avoiding conflict
  • A tendency to minimize or ignore your own desires
  • Excessive concern about a loved one’s habits or behaviors
  • A habit of making decisions for others or trying to “manage” loved ones
  • A mood that reflects how others feel, rather than your own emotions
  • Guilt or anxiety when doing something for yourself
  • Doing things you don’t want to do to make others happy

With codependency, the need to support others goes beyond what’s considered healthy.

How to Stop Enabling

It can be challenging to unlearn enabling behaviors and step away from codependent tendencies. However, there are multiple practices you can put into place to work toward supporting – instead of enabling – your loved one.

Set Boundaries

Establishing boundaries is a great way to start creating a healthy relationship between you and your loved ones. Boundaries are invisible barriers that facilitate healthy relationships. They can help in weeding out enabling behavior, such as being overly concerned with the actions of others instead of dealing with the actions occurring in your own life.

One example of a boundary may be telling your loved one, “I will no longer give you a place to stay while you are still using drugs and alcohol.” The most important part of boundaries is making sure you stick to them. When your loved one sees you are serious about not helping them anymore, they may be more motivated to change.

Find Support

The best way to stop codependent behavior in its tracks is to learn how to take care of yourself. Support groups can help you start this journey of focusing on yourself. Common support groups include:

  • Co-Dependents Anonymous (CoDA)
  • Nar-Anon
  • Al-Anon
  • Parents of Addicted Loved Ones
  • The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Family Support Group

When trying to support a loved one, remember that you cannot pour from an empty cup. Make sure you take action to fill your cup.

How to Support Instead of Enable

Learning to support your loved one instead of enabling them can help encourage them to seek the help they need. It’s important to have compassion for your loved one while not crossing the line into codependent behavior. This can look like recognizing that addiction is a disease and your loved one is not themselves. However, despite this, you must still enforce boundaries to protect yourself.

You can also support your loved one by encouraging them to seek treatment. However, when doing this, remember that treatment must, ultimately, be the other person’s choice. Let your loved one know that you will be there for them when they are ready to seek help and can help them find a facility that meets their needs. When your loved one seeks treatment, you may choose to engage in family therapy to facilitate overall healing.

When a loved one is struggling, it is natural to want to do everything to help them. However, this need to help can quickly turn into enabling behaviors. When you enable your loved one, you risk becoming codependent and harming yourself and them. Learning how to effectively support yourself and your loved one can make all the difference and encourage your loved one to seek the help they need. If your loved one is ready for treatment, 449 Recovery is here to help. 449 Recovery is a mental health treatment center for individuals who suffer from maladaptive coping skills such as addiction. Located in Mission Viejo, CA, we will focus on helping your loved one heal in a safe, family-oriented environment as we provide care for the whole person. To learn more about how you can support your loved one and how 449 Recovery can help, call (949) 435-7449.