Are you an enabler?

September 7, 2015

enablerIt’s always a surprise to me when people–parents, friends, anyone, really–fail to set limits for themselves or for their children — or for anyone in their lives. They “put up with” some of the rudest, most unhealthy behavior, often claiming it’s in the name of love, or helping, or some other excuse.  It’s astonishing how many people don’t see how their failure to set limits simply enables the other person to continue their own unhealthy behavior ad infinitum.

Enablers do a lot of damage in the name of love.

What is “enabling?”  It’s removing the natural consequences of a behavior.

So when I ran across this explanation of enabling I knew I wanted to share it far and wide:

People who “enable” tend to see their behavior as an expression of devotion. But enabling is its own form of dysfunction because the enabler is avoiding the discomfort that results from saying “no.” It is … a function of being afraid and insecure.
~Amy Dickinson

This makes a lot of sense.  The enablers I know are people-pleasers, folks who just can’t say “no.”  They think they’re “being nice” but the fact is, they’re hurting the person they are enabling. Enabling parents (and I do know some of those) do more harm than they can even imagine because children of any age need to know that adult life requires dealing with limits. When none are set, maturation is stunted.  It’s hard to be an adult if you’ve been catered to for most of your life.

Dickinson says enabling is rooted in being afraid and insecure, and while I’d never thought of it that way, I think she’s right.

Are you an enabler?  Here are the the top signs that you are:

  1. You take over the other person’s responsibilities when s/he doesn’t do them.
  2. In an attempt to “keep the peace” and avoid conflict you don’t confront the issue.
  3. You don’t say “no.”
  4. You ignore and endure their behavior.
  5. You make excuses for them.
  6. You put your own needs aside so they can do what they want.
  7. You don’t allow them to face the consequences of their behavior.

Most enablers fail to recognize that thin line between helping and enabling.

So, are you an enabler? Do you know any enablers?

8 comments on “Are you an enabler?
  1. Liz Clayton says:

    These are good reminders! The power of boundaries cannot be over stated. Setting healthy boundaries not only teaches family and friends to respect us but also to respect themselves and learn to set the same boundaries in their own lives. Ironically, I have found that it is often harder to set firm boundaries with my adult children than when they were young because I do not get to see them as often! This only leads to frustration and bitter feelings that do not benefit either of us. Thanks for sharing!

  2. We tried really hard not to be enablers with our children – sometimes you do it just to keep the peace, but ultimately you don’t do anyone any favours. I called in to a friend’s home the other day and her children ran riot while we talked & she ignored them or made excuses when a firm word would have done a lot more good. Tough love is what is needed in our world today. ~ Leanne

  3. Jennifer says:

    Interesting! I’m an enabler less than I used to be but have more work to do. There are situations where my boundaries are more firm than others. But letting people learn from the consequences of their behavior is critical to their growth.

  4. Diane says:

    Ohmygoodness. I’m an enabler. I totally am. Now what to do about it . . .

  5. Ines Roe says:

    This post is so totally on target. When someone fails to set limits they do much terrible damage and they believe they are just being kind. This is one of my favorite topics to address because it is so rampant in our lives. Thank you so much for bringing light. I too wrote about this topic a few weeks ago which shows us just how it is hard for us to establish and maintain boundaries.

  6. The whole issue of enabling comes from the addictive disease process and occurs when the enabler decries her partner’s drinking, for example, and still buys his beer, which was something I saw growing up. I was a tough mom and it was really frustrating when all the enablers in my daughter’s life undermined my limits on her behavior. That being said, I’m probably not as good at setting healthy boundaries as I should be.

  7. I think all of us are in some degree. Sometimes is better to give up then to be too strict. Even if is just to keep the peace.

  8. This is absolutely right. My second career was in the field of ‘behaviour modification’, a term I do not like now. I studied and worked with young people from 7 – 18 who were labelled a ‘problem’ in school. Without exception, every child I worked with was a victim of poor parenting. And some of the worst offenders where the affluent ‘super mummies’ who allowed their little darlings to do as they pleased. It was the parents I needed to work with, not the children. Tough love is definitely the best thing for raising emotionally stable people who respect themselves and others. But it takes time and dedication. I do not include physical punishment in that because striking another human can never be right. Using tough love effectively is a real skill that needs to be learnt.

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