What Is Enabling and Why Is It Bad?
“Get Your Loved One Sober” by Robert J. Meyers, Ph. D, and Brenda L. Wolfe, Ph. D.
“Boundaries” by Henry Cloud and John Townsend
“The New Codependency” by Melody Beattie
(This article is the first of a two-part series about how to stop enabling a loved one who struggles with substance abuse. This article helps you understand how actions you take to help your loved one might actually encourage them to use. The second article provides alternative strategies to get them to stop using.)
Imagine a loved one has fallen off the side of a boat and cannot swim. You would toss them a life preserver, wouldn’t you? Of course.
Now, imagine that same loved one can swim, has access to a shipside ladder, and fell overboard because they were goofing off too close to the edge. Forcing them to swim over to the ladder and haul themselves up would be a helpful lesson, wouldn’t it? Yet, some people just cannot resist throwing the life preserver.
This is called “enabling,” and it is often a symptom of codependency. These people may think they are doing their loved one a favor by cleaning up the mess caused by their unhealthy behavior, but they are really creating a safety net for that person to continue their destructive habits.
What does enabling look like?
Here are some examples of enabling behavior:
- Calling in for them when they are too hungover to go to work
- Cleaning up for them after they’ve gotten drunk and been sick somewhere
- Keeping alcohol in the house so they will drink there instead of going out
- Bailing them out of jail
- Sending them money when they cannot pay their bills
- Letting adult children live at home indefinitely, even though they do not contribute to the household
Why is enabling bad?
When someone you love is in trouble, you help them. So why are the actions listed above unlikely to actually help? Destructive behaviors are meant to have consequences. “Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path; the one who hates correction will die.” (Prov. 15:10 NIV) As this verse reminds us, God designed life to help teach us right from wrong, and keep us safe. Fire burns us when we touch it, which helps us to avoid the danger it poses.
So what happens when you remove these consequences? The person persists in their destructive habits because they have no reason to stop. Also, you appear less committed to getting them to stop using because you so often make it easy for them to use. Take the example of the wife who calls in sick for her husband every time he is too hungover to go to work. Yes, it may seem like she is doing her family a favor by helping her husband keep his job. However, she is keeping him from the shame of having to lie to his boss that might motivate him to stop drinking.
Christian Counseling for Dealing with Substance Abuse
Believers often struggle with enabling destructive behavior because they think they are doing what Christ asks of them. However, Scripture makes it clear consequences and punishment are a necessary, instructive part of life. Consider this verse from Proverbs, “A hot-tempered person must pay the penalty; rescue them, and you will have to do it again.” (Prov. 19:19 NIV)
You might do some of your protective actions out of a fear they might hurt other people. A professional Christian counselor can advise you about how to avoid that, while also encouraging them not to drink. Take a look at the following article in this series for strategies about how to motivate your loved one to get sober.
Substance-abuse-christian-counseling Freedigitalphotos.net user graur codrin
Help-alcoholic-christian-counseling Freedigitalphotos.net user Grant Cochrane