ENABLING IS OFTEN TOXIC TO RELATIONSHIPS
Enabling: to provide somebody with the resources, authority, or opportunity to do something.
Enabling is a term used to describe behaviors that allow other behaviors to continue. It’s often used in the addiction world to describe the endless ways a non-addict partner enables or assists the addict’s addiction. Enabling behaviors can include: putting the addict to bed after s/he passes out on the floor, calling in sick for the addict because s/he is too hung-over to go to work or paying the court costs for an alcoholic’s DUI.
In essence, enabling softens the blow of the natural consequences of behaviors. Subsequently, the person behaving badly doesn’t feel the sting of his/her mistakes. Without the sting, the behavior continues undaunted and often escalates.
Enabling occurs everywhere, not just in the world of addictions. Parents, teachers, politicians, churches, bosses and friends have all been known to enable unhealthy behaviors. Some examples include:
• Catholic churches around the country enabled the sexual molestation of countless children each time they quietly moved one molester onto the next parish. The molester did not have to feel the consequences of his behaviors. The move wiped the slate clean parish after parish after parish. This practice didn’t stop until the world stopped enabling the Catholic Church and instead held the institution accountable.
• Johnny’s parents were called into the school after he beat up a fellow student. The parents said they would sue the school if Johnny was suspended. They further stated they would pull their financial support out of the school if any action was taken. The principal caved. Apparently the parents donated a little too much money for the principal to risk it. The school continued to enable Johnny’s bullying. His bullying escalated.
• Sally likes things her way. She runs her business, as well as her home, like a tyrant. She’s in charge and if anyone questions her, she becomes angry, reactive and threatening. People have learned to stop questioning. After 15 years of enabling his wife’s tantrums, Steve is miserable…as are their children.
Enabling occurs all the time for all sorts of reasons. We may enable out of fear, a desire to be liked, or even because we think it’s the right thing to do. Unfortunately, even with the best of intentions, enabling is seldom the right or best thing to do. In the long run, it leads to a lot of hurt and extensive collateral damage.
Mistakes are often life’s best teachers. They are only effective, however, if we feel their consequences. The greater the negative consequence, the greater the lesson learned. In our attempt to not have our children, spouse, church, etc., feel the natural sting that results from poor choices, we rob them of much needed lessons. Consequently, we fuel the fire of toxic behaviors and the world pays the price.
Stop enabling poor behaviors—your partner’s, child’s, boss’s, etc. Don’t fold under the pressures of fear, threats, wanting to be liked or (fill in the blank). Do the right thing and allow people to feel the natural sting of their toxic behaviors. Don’t throw them a lifeline by rescuing them from the consequences of their actions. You can support them while they are held accountable. Don’t, however, protect them from accountability -- that’s being irresponsible on your part.
CHALLENGE: Scan your life for any enabling behaviors. Are you enabling your partner’s rage, drinking, disrespect, ongoing unemployment or the like? If so, stop it. Allowing it to continue does not help you or the other person. Stop enabling your children, partner, boss, friend or anyone else in your life. Step up and allow the person to feel the consequences of his/her behaviors. When you protect them from the consequences, you block an amazing opportunity for them to learn a much needed life lesson. You also often increase the misery in your own life.