Thursday, March 6, 2008

What Is Enabling

What is enabling? For addressing alcoholism and addiction, for the codependent, Al-Anon members. For spouses and parents of addicts. For the alcoholic, as well

Lessons Learned: We all do it. A great way to recognize you are doing it. How to learn to stop.

What Is Enabling?
Let's start with the definition of "enabling" first:

"Enabling is doing something for someone, that they could, and should be doing themselves."

This definition came from the Family Meeting last night. It is a "classic" definition. I looked it up on the internet this morning. I heard this definition many times before at these Wednesday night meetings. The difference last night was - I carried a notebook and I wrote the definition down. I know the people in the room thought I was nuts (Nuts for the notebook this time. The newcomers couldn't tell if I was nuts, because I didn't talk. I think they thought I was a spy. I just want to accelerate my learning. And spy. And steal good ideas.)

I asked the difference between the "fine line" between "enabling" and "helping."

And actually there is not a fine line. The difference is very clear.

First note the emphasis on the word "should" in the definition above.

Here is the definition of the word "helping";

Helping is doing something for someone that they are not capable of doing themselves.

Note the emphasis on the words, "not capable."

Is This Cruel?
We are so used to helping people we are now confused what the difference is between enabling and providing this help. This is so sad. So many of us sat around that circle last night helping our spouses and children for so long, that it seemed so natural, that when we talked about stopping, some people talked about how this might be cruel. This word cruel did not come up. It was right under the surface of the conversation however.

I believe, that it is more cruel to allow a child to grow up not knowing what responsibility is and not taking it. Responsibility is almost the flip side of enabling - at least in my eyes. Without taking and wanting responsibility and being accountable for their decisions, some children never grow up. That is cruel, at least in my mind.

We don't want our children to fail or get hurt. Of course. Who does?

But what if you kept on helping your child to try to walk when they were two years old. What if you enabled them to get around and not allow them to stand because they might fall? And therefore never learned to stand and walk because of your fear of them falling?

What About Us? What About Our Adults?
We often try to "help" alcoholics. These times of "help" are actually "enabling" (look at the definition again). We make it easier for them to continue down their path of self-destruction and eventual death because we don't allow them to fail.

So they don't feel the consequences of their actions (another key word, this consequences). So, as time goes on they expect you to help them. They have fallen into a habit pattern of relying on others, coaxing others, decieving others, charming others, just to get the "help" to get by. in the progression of the disease. They have learned charm and lying to get what they want. Action/behavior ---> Reward. Pavlov's dog salivating right here. Cause, effect.

Consequences (By the way, can be positive and negative, not just negative)
Just when we think we are being good samaritans, good parents, good spouses, someone comes along ans says, "You are not helping you are actually hurting."

The disease of alcoholism is baffling, cunning and powerful. Don't forget it. And don't for a minute think that alcoholism is just the alcoholic's disease. Alcoholism is the disease of the entire family.

Enabling, which takes many forms, all of which have the same effect; It allows the alcoholic to avoid the pain and problems (the consequences) of their actions. By avoiding pain, why stop? There is nothing wrong with this behavior, so the thinking of the alcoholic goes. No matter how small of large they screw up, someone is there to bail them out.

There is not learning from his or her mistakes.

And, if you are a student of human growth, we learn more from our mistakes than we do from our successes.

Why do we do this?

  1. We fall into the habit slowly. The slow-boil analogy. Doing it a little bit at a time, every day, for years.
  2. We also learn it from our parents, who learned it from their parents, who . . . . It has become a normal way of life.
  3. We want to help!
  4. We get lied to. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . .
  5. "We'll do this, just this once . . . " (or so we say)
  6. "It's only a small thing, it's just gas money." (or money for food, a pizza, a dentist, etc.)

In the Office? Or At Home. It's Still The Same:

By the way, we carry these habits into our office. We help. Or we enable. Next thing we know is we are in the office late and everyone else has gone home. And here we are doing someone else's work, while they are eating dinner with their family or at the ball game watching their son play, while we are missing ours. Does this sound familiar?

See codependency - click here


Anonymous said...

My name is anne and i have been helped with dealing with all my tears and fears through a friend well-aquainted with Al-Anon. I left my jusband a while ago, but I never really left the disease at all. it is a terrible illness and now i face my eldest son having the same disease.
still ... all the principles of Al-Anon have saved me from going under, or going insane.

I tried hard to learn to forgive, but i failed at that ( or I am still learning, i think)
at present, however, i get enormous help from just trusting my Higher Power - to 'Let go and Let God' For some reason, at the moment, that is working easily for me ... which is weird because in the past, I was a real control freak - trying to control my husband's illness and then just trying to 'control' every damn thing in my life. i have been pretty good at driving myself nuts.

take care everyone and God bless

Syd said...

The pamphlet A Merry-Go-Round called Denial is a good one that discusses enabling behavior. To me it means that I have made someone else my HP and that I no longer am practicing Step One. I am practicing insanity when I enable.

Anonymous said...

For me I had to begin action with the following:

Clear, Healthy Boundaries. I never had them, thus I never really thought, or believed my enabling was anything out of the ordinary. I work hard on these everyday, and it has changed my life.

Being honest with myself, and others in regards to my feelings. I used to "hold them in" and the resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear only grew bigger. When I popped, it was like a volcano erupting, and usually around those that had little or nothing to do with the build up.

I am not responsible for others, and their decisions, behaviors, or actions. I used to carry these for others, and I no longer am willing to do so. I will offer genuine help when genuine help is needed, but being able to say "no" with a loving and caring heart is a very freeing feeling for me these days.

Peace this Thursday.


Anonymous said...

This is anne again.
You know, i have thought and thought and worried and worried about me being 'an enabler' and ' a codependant'. how have i done these things? what do i do at age 56 to rectify these problems/issues?
i realised that it is all just what i call ( from a feminist perspective) 'psycho-babble'. i just reckon that i married an alcoholic. he did not know he had the disease. his parents did not know they had the disease and i definately knew nothing about the disease.
Al-Anon tells us that it is a disease and equates it with diabetes. well, if my husband was a diabetic and i fed him with high carbohydrate foods and gave him tons of sugary foods and induced a diabetic coma - then i think that i would be more than 'an enabler' or a 'codependant'. the doctors who did not diagnose his diabetes/alcoholism - also 'enabled' him. the courts where he was judged for DUI certainly 'enabled' him to keep on doing just as he was doing. the taxes that were raised by the governments that allowed the alcohol to be sold clearly 'enabled' him.
But me???? I was a victim of this disease ... not an 'enabler'!
who is benefitting from this labelling nonsense?? is it some middle class psychologist, pondering as to why he/she can be of no use to anyone suffering from this disease and then blaming all the victims of the disease???
we no know that people who suffer from addictions have complex problems, stemming more from neurological problems, rather than all of this crazy psychological babble.
please avail yourselves on the enormous wealth of information coming from medical science on the nature of addictions and DO NOT BLAME THE VICTIMS - this is cruel - really cruel stuff and is not worthy to be associated with Al-Anon.

Anonymous said...

thank you anne, I was called an enabler by another AA because I am still with my husband and did that ever piss me off, you hit the nail on the head for me. just because this guy has been in AA for 15 years does not give him the right to put a label on me. The whole enable label is a crock of you know what - living with an alcoholic can be pure insanity, you never know which way to go, they are making up the rules they impose on you as they go, while holding you to your word. All I have to say is spend a day in my shoes then tell me how it's done. Thank you, your comments were the best I've ever seen on the topic.

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous:
Re: labeling / enabling
this is anne
please keep yourself well and do as many things as you can to keep yourself happy and well.
i stayed with my husband for 28 years and i never won any great accolades for either staying or leaving.
i think. especially as a woman, you are not expected to leave; and as an 'ego loving' human being you are not expected to stay either. with family, friends and others you just can never win - whatever you do.
Suffering is enough, but being given all of this 'psycho babble' terminology to deal with, to try to come to grips with - is just giving more suffering to the victims of this awful illness.
i come from australia, but now i am living in japan. in australia, drinking and aclcohol are part of the undercurrent of australian culture and society. they even have an old song called "The Pub with no beer" ... a song of lamentation. everyone around my age know the song as part of our australian heritage.
therfore, i think that the aussie culture and society are the 'enabler of all enablers'!!!
Keep hanging in there and never ever blame or criticise yourself, because there are dozens of them out there who will happily criticise you.
keep smiling and God bless always,

Maresie said...

for me it all came down to boundaries. Everyone in the world could tell me what I "should" do but they didn't live it. I don't judge anyone who chooses to stay. I don't request anyone leave on my account. That is something I have learned, I can't walk in anyone's shoes but my own.

There are a lot of reasons to stay and a lot of reasons to go.

As I grew up in a dysfunctional home through social learning of course I learned to be tremendously dysfunctional. I can learn otherwise.


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