When we see a friend or loved one harming themselves through excessive and destructive substance abuse, we want to do anything we can to help that person recover. But, at what point does our help end up hurting? For those in codependent relationships, especially with addicts and alcoholics, the line between healthy support and harmful enabling can be a fine one.
Enabling refers to two different behaviors. In a positive way, enabling refers to a type of empowerment, or an interaction between people that promotes development and growth. But in a negative way, enabling is a dysfunctional approach to helping solve a problem, which ultimately exacerbates it. Enabling is often observed in relationships between addicts/alcoholics and codependents: one partner mistakenly believes that they are helping the other by making excuses for the other’s conduct and by cleaning up the wreckage of their destructive behavior. In reality, this type of behavior is not helpful-it is harmful.
Enabling hurts all people involved; it prevents psychological growth in the person being enabled, and it can contribute to anger, sadness, and resentment in the person doing the enabling. In a general sense, enablers tend to have weak boundaries, low self-esteem, and difficulty with communication and assertiveness. Therefore, rehabilitation and behavior modification is crucial to both the addict and the codependent in order for successful recovery to take place.
Rescuing someone or solving someone’s problem for them seems like a caring, supportive thing to do, but it in fact hinders growth and development. Because being codependent on someone else can easily lead to enabling-and through the process of enabling the codependent often ends up feeling overly responsible for someone, then shamed for their behavior, and then, ultimately, victimized-a solution to codependency and enabling may be the act of disentangling, or detachment. By establishing boundaries and limits to what a person can and will do for another, detaching from someone’s destructive behavior allows both the addict and the codependent to become accountable for their actions and to psychologically grow.