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Healthy Relationships
April 23, 2023
The Honest Truth About Enablers

Olivia Vander Vloet

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Have You Ever Wondered If You’re an Enabler?

Do you have a loved one who is struggling with an addiction? Do you often find yourself wondering how to support them? Do you find yourself wondering if you are actually helping them or if you’re actually hurting them? These are very common questions we have when we have a person in our life who is struggling with an addiction. The good news is, you can learn the signs of enabling and find more helpful ways to support them.

Let’s start with learning about enabling. Enabling is a very common reaction to addiction. Enabling happens when we react to our loved ones’ behaviours in ways that protect them from feeling the full impact of the negative consequences of their addiction. As family members or friends, we might find ourselves lying, taking responsibility, covering up, or making excuses for our loved ones. We do this because we love them and want the best for them, but in the end, it keeps the addiction cycle going. One of the first steps in changing our enabling behaviours is being able to recognize when we are enabling.

What are enabling behaviours?

Rationalizing and accepting

This is when we attempt to normalize or explain away the symptoms of addiction. We might hear ourselves saying things like “Everyone lets loose sometimes” or “It's those new friends they’re hanging out with”.

Avoiding and shielding

This is when we protect our loved ones from the real consequences of their addiction. We might find ourselves making excuses for them or hiding the problems like unpaid bills.

Attempting to control

This is when we act in a way that attempts to take control over our loved one’s addictive behaviours. We might find ourselves threatening to leave without following through, throwing out their substance of choice, or sending others to check in on them.

Taking over responsibilities

This is when we do things that take over the responsibilities of the person in addiction. We might find ourselves managing loans, appearing in court, or arranging treatment on behalf of our loved ones.

Cooperating and collaborating

This is what we often think of when we hear the word “enabling”, anything we do that actively supports our loved one’s addiction. We might find ourselves loaning them money, joining in their substance use, or being dishonest with them about the impact of their addiction on you and their family.

Rescuing and sub-serving

This is where we over-protect and look after our loved ones. We might find ourselves waiting on them, isolating ourselves, and keeping their secrets.

What can I do instead?

Here are 5 quick tips on what you can do instead of the behaviours we just talked about:

  1. Set limits (and follow through!)
  2. Let them experience the consequences of their behaviours
  3. Stop doing what they are capable of doing for themselves
  4. Start focusing on your own needs.
  5. Focus on what is really in your control.

If you would like more support to learn how to care for yourself and support your loved ones in addiction, check out our amazing therapists at Shift!


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