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?
- We fall into the habit slowly. The slow-boil analogy. Doing it a little bit at a time, every day, for years.
- We also learn it from our parents, who learned it from their parents, who . . . . It has become a normal way of life.
- We want to help!
- We get lied to. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice . . .
- "We'll do this, just this once . . . " (or so we say)
- "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