Q: In your last column you advised the person not to enable their Alcoholic son. My husband always accuses me of enabling my son. Can you tell me more about enabling?

A: Enabling is defined as helping another person avoid the negative consequences of the unhealthy or problematic behavior. Those that enable are often emotionally and financially tied to the person they enable. Frequently, because of their own needs or fears, they unintentionally become part of a cycle of behavior that helps the person with the problem escape consequences and become worse. When asked about their enabling behavior, many answer that they care about the person. After all, who wants to see their son get arrested, or get permanent felony charge, or have to go with out lunch because they accidentally forgot it? Who wants to see their spouse loose a job, look stupid in front of friends, have their parents find out their a drunk, or get sent to a rehab clinic?

The key for breaking the cycle of enabling is to let go of your fear of what will happen to the person if you are not there to rescue them. Many enablers fear that certain destruction and disgrace will occur if they are not there to save the person they enable. So they maintain their role in an unhealthy relationship rather than risk it by choosing healthier behaviors. Over time this pattern becomes more established often leading to a decline in the mental and physical health of the enabler as they try to constantly cover the problematic behavior.

Many times it takes a severe crisis to occur before they will seek help. Some questions to ask yourself to see if you need help breaking a pattern of enabling behavior are:

Do you feelings about the person you enable alternate between love and hate?
Do you fear that no one would be there for the person if you stopped enabling?
Do you fear the person's life would fall into certain ruin and destruction if you were not there for them?
Have you failed to keep promises to yourself about stopping the enabling behavior?
Do you argue with others who point out your enabling behaviors?

"Yes" answers indicate that it may be helpful to speak with someone about how to deal with enabling behavior. (Adapted from the APS Healthcare Brochure, "When Helping is Hurting.")

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