ad collaborative post // When people use the word “enabler” it is often with a negative, and accusatory connotation. However, the role of an enabler is vastly complicated, and it is not simply a person who helps someone continue bad behavior. More often than not, enabling begins as an effort to help a loved one who is in need, or to hang on to a relationship they aren’t ready to let go of.
What is an Enabler?
An enabler is someone who constantly interacts with an individual in their life in a way that supports unhealthy behaviors. An enabler may justify or indirectly support a person’s choices and lifestyle, and enforce the idea that this toxic behavior is normal. Toxic behavior can include alcohol and substance abuse, manipulation tactics, unlawful actions, self-harm, and more.
Enabling is common in codependent relationships, when one person is taking responsibility for their loved one’s actions and emotions. Even in cases when intentions are good, or the enabler thinks that they are helping the individual, enabling toxic behavior can be very damaging to a person’s ability to get better. Enabling can also come in the form of money and material goods, which limits the consequences of that person’s unhealthy choices.
Signs Someone is Enabling
People enable in different ways depending on their specific relationship and the behavior of their loved one. Here are some common signs someone is enabling:
When a person in your life acts in a way that is unhealthy or damaging, it can be natural to make excuses to cover up what they’ve done, or justify it. For example, you may excuse your partner’s behavior by saying that they had a rough childhood or are currently going through a lot. When you make a habit out of making excuses for someone, it allows them to continue acting in a specific way.
If a person in your life is making toxic decisions or their behavior is harmful to others, by making excuses you are not encouraging them to make any changes. Instead, you are justifying their actions to yourself, those around you, and them so they do not have to face the full consequences of their actions.
Whether their behavior is harming you or others, if you do not react appropriately they are going to believe that this is an acceptable way to live and won’t see a reason to change.
Ignoring Their Own Needs
In general, it is important to put your needs first in situations that could be harmful to you. However, often enablers will find themselves putting the needs of the other person above their own. When you make a habit of putting that person before yourself, it can heighten your stress and anxiety about the situation and you may find yourself feeling forgotten.
Ignoring your own needs also signals to this person that what they want and need is more important, which allows them to continue behaving poorly at your expense.
Setting boundaries and having difficult conversations can make people feel very uncomfortable, especially when the person is likely to react poorly. If you are not expressing your needs in order to avoid conflict this could be a sign that you are enabling behavior. By not setting boundaries or bringing up behavior that you did not like, you are signaling to that person that nothing is wrong.
In some cases, individuals will avoid conflict because they are afraid that the other person will stop loving them or leave the relationship.
Feelings of Resentment
Resentment can form over time when you are constantly putting more into a relationship than you are receiving. It can begin to feel like your efforts are not reciprocated, or appreciated by the person in your life. Feeling resentful can add strain to your relationship, and affect your mental health.
When you are enabling certain behavior you might have a difficult time confronting the other person about it, which can leave you feeling trapped. You may also begin to feel resentment for this as well, because you feel there are no good options and blame your partner for it.
A lot of enabling is about emotional support, however financial support can also enable a person to continue destructive behavior. For example, if your partner is addicted to substances, you might continue to provide financial support like a place for them to live or food to eat. By supplying these things, that person is not feeling the consequences of their behavior and they are going to be less likely to seek any addiction treatment.
Many people provide financial support to their partner because their alternative is seeing them suffer, however more often than not this is only encouraging them to continue living a toxic lifestyle.
How to stop enabling
Once you have recognized that you could be enabling your partner, it is important to understand the ways that you can stop. One of the best ways to stop your enabling is to set boundaries with your partner. Although you may be fearful of their reaction, you are not helping yourself or your partner by keeping your feelings to yourself.
If you are struggling with how to make this kind of change, speaking with a mental health professional can be very helpful. A therapist will be able to guide you through your relationship, while also delving deeper into why you enable in the first place.
Veronica Davis is a writer, blogger, and legal assistant operating out of the greater Philadelphia area.