An enabler is someone who, often with good intentions, unknowingly supports the destructive behaviour of an individual with a substance addiction, preventing them from facing the consequences of their actions. This person could be a family member, friend or co-worker, who by their actions—such as making excuses, covering up consequences, lending money or providing shelter—helps perpetuate the cycle of addiction. While these behaviors may seem helpful, they ultimately do not tackle the root problem of addiction. Recognising and addressing enabling behaviors is vital for both the enabler and the person struggling with addiction, as it is an essential step towards breaking the cycle of addiction, allowing the individual to face the natural consequences of their actions and move towards recovery. The concept of enabling is well-established in the addiction recovery community with professionals emphasising its importance in achieving successful treatment outcomes and sustainable long-term recovery.

While the intention behind enabling is usually to help or prevent worse outcomes, it ultimately allows the person to avoid facing the full consequences of their actions, potentially hindering their motivation to seek change.

Enabling is a complex behaviour that often starts from a place of love or concern. Many enablers are unaware of the negative impact of their actions, believing they are helping when they may be contributing to the problem. This behaviour is not limited to addiction but can extend to any detrimental behaviour in a close relationship, as identified by the American Psychological Association.

Distinguishing between enabling and empowering someone is crucial. Empowerment involves providing tools, resources and skills to help individuals make their own choices and solve problems independently rather than shielding them from the consequences of their actions or solving their problems for them.

Understanding the psychology behind enabling reveals that it often arises from a deep-seated desire to help, coupled with codependent tendencies. To break the cycle of enabling, it’s necessary to recognise one’s role in perpetuating the behaviour, establish and communicate clear boundaries and enforce consequences for actions that violate these boundaries.

Stopping Enabeling Behaviours

Stopping enabling behaviour involves assertiveness and setting firm limits, which may be challenging but is essential for the well-being of both the enabler and their loved one. Support groups and therapy can offer guidance and support for those struggling to change enabling behaviors.

Breaking the cycle of enabling involves shifting responsibility back to where it rightfully belongs: with the individual making the choices. This shift requires establishing clear boundaries, which means stepping back from managing or controlling the outcomes of a loved one’s actions. Instead, it’s about allowing them to face the natural consequences of their decisions, creating their growth and self-management skills.

Setting boundaries also means dealing with personal anxiety over not being in control and seeking support to manage these feelings. Stopping enabling doesn’t equate to withdrawing love or support; rather, it distinguishes between harmful enabling and healthy help. Healthy assistance focuses on offering guidance, resources and moral support without taking over control or decision-making.

Understanding the difference between enabling and providing healthy support is crucial. It transforms fear-based actions into genuine, constructive help, allowing individuals to learn from their choices. For those struggling with enabling behaviors, professional counselling can offer insights and strategies for change, supporting a move away from toxic patterns towards healthier family dynamics.

What is an Enabler? - Get Help for Enabling Relationships

Support and guidance as an enabler? - Discover effective strategies for breaking enabling patterns in relationships. Get help from qualified counsellors.

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    Founded in 2008, WeDoRecover has evolved from an advisory service for addiction treatment into a comprehensive provider of care, following its 2019 merger with Changes Addiction Rehab in Johannesburg. Specialising in connecting patients to top-tier addiction treatment centers in the UK, South Africa and Thailand, WeDoRecover supports individuals globally, including those from the United Arab Emirates and Europe. Accepting both South African medical aid and international health insurance our organisation facilitates access to high-quality treatment for substance and alcohol use disorders, offering individualised care that addresses the physical, mental and social needs of patients.

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