Wearing the Label
No one wants to wear the label of an enabler. Seriously. Who wants to have this label plastered on the front of their chest?
An enabler often is convinced he is helping his loved one in addiction, when, in reality, he is enabling the addict. The two are distinctly different.
Understanding the Label
Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves.
Enabling is doing for someone things that they could, and should be doing themselves.
Why do family and friends enable the addict? Many for years?
Any time you assist/allow another person to continue in their unproductive/unhealthy/addictive behavior, whether actively or passively, you are enabling. Even when you say nothing you are enabling the behavior to continue. Sometimes you say nothing out of fear, fear of reprisal, fear of the other person hurting, hating, not liking you; or fear of butting in where you don’t think you belong. Perhaps even fear of being hit or worse.
Sometimes enabling takes the form of doing something for another that they should do for themselves. It also takes the form of making excuses for someone else’s behavior. Example: There are situations where the spouse of an alcoholic will call in to the boss to say that person is “sick,” when they are really too hung over they can’t make it to work.
TAKE THE QUIZ TO SEE IF YOU ARE AN ENABLER:
After taking the quiz you may be in shock to discover you have been enabling.
You may even be saying “Help! I’m an enabler! Please say it’s not so!
How Am I Enabling?
Do you rescue the addict?
The “rescuer” doesn’t let the incident become a “problem.” Since she has been waiting up for him anyway, she goes out in the yard, gets the alcoholic up, cleans him up, and puts him into bed. That way the neighbors never see him passed out in the flower bed! She never mentions the incident to him or anybody else. If anyone else mentions it, she denies there is a problem. She lies for him, covers up for his mistakes, and protects him from the world. As the problems increase and his drinking gets worse, she takes on responsibilities that were once his. She may get a job or work extra hours to pay the bills. And if he gets in trouble with the law, she will move heaven and earth to come up with his bail.
Are you a martyr?
The “martyr“ is ashamed of the alcoholic’s behavior and she lets him know it by her actions or words. She cries and tells him, “You’ve embarrassed us again in front of the whole neighborhood!” She sulks, pouts, and isolates. She gets on the telephone with her friends and tearfully describes the misery that he has caused her this time! Or she is so ashamed of it she avoids her friends and any mention of the incident. Slowly she becomes more withdrawn and depressed. She may not say much about it to the alcoholic, but she lets him know with her actions that she is ashamed of him. Quietly she tries to make him feel guilty for his behavior.
Or a provoker?
The “provoker” reacts by punishing the drunk for his actions. She either waits for him to wake up the next morning and gives it to him with both barrels, or she goes out and turns the water sprinklers on! She scolds, ridicules, and belittles. She nags. She screams insults at him loud enough for everyone to hear. She gets on the telephone and tells all her friends he’s a loser. She is angry and she makes sure that the alcoholic and everybody else knows it. Or she gives him the cold shoulder and doesn’t speak to him. She threatens to leave.She doesn’t let it go, either. The anger and resentment continue to build as these incidents become more frequent. She never lets him forget his transgressions. She holds it against him and uses it as a weapon in future arguments — even months or years later.
An added note here: If you are married, have a spouse who is an alcoholic/addict, and have this question: “What if my husband is not loving me as he loves himself or as Christ loved the church?” Or if he is not a believer? Am I still suppose to respect him?
Just b/c your husband is not leading or is maybe not a believer, does not negate the fact that you are to still respect and honor him. Even if he is an alcoholic or addict.
Respect him by not belittling him to others. Respect him by not screaming, yelling & tearing him down privately or publicly. Honor him by not using his struggle against him, or to manipulate or control him. Do set boundaries in the relationship. You will have to determine those boundaries. Get help yourself with someone who is knowledgeable and skilled in the area of dealing with an addict. Al-Anon is a good start, even if you do not agree with the “disease” philosophy of AA, they offer good practical help. What you should not do is what is described above in the different scenarios.
Shedding the Label
I hope the following steps will get you started shedding the enabling label. They are by no means all inclusive of halting your enabling traits, and you may even reflect on your own pattern of enabling, and then devise a plan of your own.
Beginning Steps to Stop Enabling:
- Cease doing anything that allows the addict to continue their current lifestyle.
- Do nothing to ‘help’ the addict that he could or would be doing himself if he were not drinking.
- Stop lying, covering up, or making excuses for the addict.
- Do not take on responsibilities or duties that rightfully belong to the addict.
- Do not give or loan the addict money.
- Don’t ‘rescue’ the addict by bailing him out of jail or paying his fines.
- Do not scold, argue or plead with the addict.
- Do not react to his latest misadventures, so that he can respond to your reaction rather than his actions.
- Do not try to drink with the alcoholic addict.
- Set boundaries and stick to them. Don’t make threats.
- Carefully explain to the addict the boundaries that you have set, and explain that the boundaries are for you, not for him.
Beginning Steps to Stop Enabling
Putting on the Label of Christ
Putting on the new and shedding the old is a day to day process of dying to self and living to Christ.
Colossians 3:10 tells us to: “Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.”
Shedding the label of an enabler may be tough. That is not to say today you can not begin to change. As you focus more on your relationship with Christ, draw near to Him, and nurture your relationship with Him, you will find strength for the road, and hope for tomorrow.
May your faith prompt you to let your identity (and label) be in Christ.
What practical steps have helped you work towards shedding enabling tendencies?
VIDEO on enabling (short-2 minute): Christian Counseling Education Foundation (CCEF):