When someone close to you—perhaps a loved one, friend, or family member—has a mental illness, knowing how to offer support can be difficult. You want to help in the best way possible, but not enable or make the situation worse.
The distinction between helping and enabling isn’t always clear, so it’s important to understand the differences between the two. 449 Recovery in Mission Viejo, CA will help us understand what helping versus enabling is and discuss ways to offer healthy mental support for those suffering from mental health issues. Let’s get started!
The Difference Between Helping and Enabling
It’s natural to want to help someone who is struggling with mental health issues. But before jumping in and trying to “fix” the problem, it’s important to take a step back and consider whether your help is helpful or harmful.
The key difference between helping and enabling is support. Helping someone involves assisting to empower them to manage their responsibilities and help themselves in the future. Enabling someone, on the other hand, involves bailing out that person from their problems without teaching them skills that are necessary for managing long-term change.
Enabling can lead to several dangerous consequences, but there are several ways to know if you are enabling. Keep in mind that enabling isn’t supporting. It does not address the problem at its root but instead shields the person from facing the full consequences of their actions, leading to a continuation or worsening of the issue. Supporting is about empowering someone to learn how to stand on their own two feet and take proactive measures toward their recovery. While offering healthy support for mental illness is challenging, it can be ultimately rewarding if done thoughtfully.
What is Enabling Behavior?
Helping someone with their mental health journey is important, but there’s a fine line between helping and enabling. It’s important to recognize if you’re inadvertently becoming an enabler so that you can make sure you’re offering healthy support and not inadvertently enabling negative behavior.
When it comes to mental health support, some behaviors that could be considered enabling include:
- Making excuses for someone’s behavior;
- Refusing to confront them about their actions;
- Taking away the consequences of actions instead of allowing natural consequences;
- Bailing them out financially all the time;
- Providing them with a safety net so they don’t have to face failure or difficult situations;
- Allowing addiction to continue during tough times when it should be addressed;
- Excusing lousy behavior with statements like “they mean well.”
Enabling is often done out of love. It typically leaves those in need feeling more powerless and unable to take care of themselves. Being aware of this fine line between helping vs enabling will ensure supportive and positive mental health relationships in your life.
Ways to Know That You Are Enabling
While offering support to someone facing mental health struggles is essential and admirable, it’s also important to make sure that you are not enabling them. Doing so can do more harm than good and be a dangerous coping technique.
So how can you tell when your helpfulness crosses over into enabling? Here are a few ways to recognize if you’re doing more harm than good:
- Do you feel like you’re usually the one who ends up picking up the slack?
- Do people often seem to be overly reliant on you?
- Are you putting aside your own needs to take care of theirs?
- Are you frequently making excuses or covering up mistakes?
If you find yourself answering, “yes,” to too many of the above questions, and you feel like your support is becoming more of an enabling role, it may be time to redirect it and focus on healthier ways to offer support.
The Dangers of Enabling Mental Health
Many people are unaware of the dangers that come with enabling someone’s mental health. When you rely on someone else for mental support, risk your emotional health and well-being, and provide a crutch in the form of temporary solutions instead of long-term solutions, you’re unintentionally enabling them.
Enabling behavior limits a person’s opportunity to grow, learn, and develop life skills. Furthermore, it can also undermine a person’s potential for fully recovering from the underlying cause of their mental health struggles. Ultimately, enabling behavior can lead to an unhealthy reliance on others. It prevents an individual from addressing and overcoming their challenges.
Additionally, enabling can also be harmful to the mental health of the enabler. It can cause feelings of frustration, resentment, and even guilt. Individuals who act as enablers may also struggle with their self-esteem because they feel responsible for the other person’s welfare and feel compelled to help them to feel needed or valued.
Unfortunately, it can be easy to mistake enabling behavior for helping behavior, but there are some key differences. By recognizing the dangers of enabling behavior and understanding the differences between helping vs. enabling, you can start to take steps toward offering healthy mental support to your loved one without risking your well-being in the process.
How to Avoid Enabling?
Avoiding enabling behavior is key to helping someone with their mental health in the long run. Here are some tips on how to do it:
- Make sure your support is empowering, not enabling. Empowerment is about encouraging people to take control of their own lives while enabling involves letting them rely on you rather than taking charge themselves.
- Don’t give too much advice or expect them to change just because you think it’s right. Everyone moves at their own pace and ultimately the decision needs to come from within. You can’t force someone to get better, so don’t try!
- Take time out of your schedule for yourself as well as for them. Don’t be their constant source of support. You need time for yourself to avoid feeling overwhelmed or resentful towards them for not getting better faster.
- Let other friends or family members help if they want to. Don’t feel like you have to take on all the responsibility of supporting your loved one—it’s okay for other people in their life to help out too! The more help they get, the healthier and happier they will be in the end.
What is Supportive Behavior?
Now that we’ve discussed enabling behavior, let’s explore what supportive behavior looks like. The goal of supportive behavior is to empower the individual you are supporting to take responsibility and make decisions for themselves. This involves being a good listener and providing guidance or advice if asked. It may also involve providing resources, such as information about mental health services or local support meetings.
Being emotionally supportive involves expressing genuine care and understanding for the individual in your life who is struggling. This can be done through open-ended questions to encourage dialog and affirmations that reinforce positive self-image and feelings of worthiness.
It’s also important to remember to set healthy boundaries when offering mental health support. For example, it’s okay to say no if you feel overwhelmed by the situation or if someone is asking too much of you. Setting healthy boundaries will help ensure that you are not enabling any potentially harmful behavior to maintain healthy relationships and best serve your loved one’s mental health needs in the long run.
Supporting & Empowering Your Loved One with Mental Health Awareness
Supporting someone who’s going through a mental health issue can be hard, and it’s easy to fall into the trap of enabling. It takes patience on both ends; since everyone deals with mental health differently, it’s important to recognize that there is no single way to help people with mental illness. You may need to adjust your approach depending on what works best for them at the moment.
Furthermore, it’s important to remember that taking time for yourself is just as vital—mindful breathing exercises can be helpful if taking care of your mental health becomes overwhelming. If your loved one needs professional help, be sure to find the best treatment and health resources.
It’s also advisable to provide education on mental health issues whenever possible. That might mean reading books or articles together or going over the information they need to know to understand their condition better. Knowing more can help your loved one find ways to cope with their mental health issues better, which will be beneficial for both of you in the long run.
The most important thing to remember when offering mental support is that you can’t fix everything. Your loved one may need to take the lead on their journey to mental wellness, and it’s okay to accept that not everyone has the same needs. The best way to support someone is to understand the difference between helping and enabling. Offer empathy, understanding, and guidance while respecting their boundaries. Remember that this is a journey, and it will take time and effort to reach the end goal.
449 Recovery is Here to Offer Support and Healing
At 449 Recovery, we understand the difficult and emotional journey associated with mental health issues. Our team is dedicated to helping individuals find healing and support through our comprehensive therapy and treatment plans.
We offer a variety of services to aid in your recovery process, including individual therapy, outpatient programs, and partial hospitalization. We also provide a variety of aftercare services to help individuals in their recovery even after they leave our program.
At 449 Recovery, we understand how overwhelming and difficult it can be to deal with mental health issues. We are here to provide support and healing every step of the way. If you or a loved one are experiencing mental health issues, please don’t hesitate to reach out for help today.