It’s an age-old debate… When am I being a loving and supportive friend or family member and when am I being an enabler? Where is the line? Is there a line? Or am I perhaps the one person alive who always finds the healthy balance between being supportive and not enabling?
Enabling isn’t just something that happens with family members of alcoholics. Enabling can happen under many circumstances: your friend, co-worker, or loved one is struggling with a mental illness, an injury, a disability, physical illness, or a lack of motivation… you name it.
You don’t want the one you’re concerned about to suffer any more than they already do. But when should you step in? When should you stay out of it?
This is the most important question to ask yourself: “Am I doing things for this person that they realistically are capable of doing for themselves?” At the beginning of (insert your circumstance) the answer may have been no. Maybe they could not work or care for themselves. Maybe they did not know how to manage their situation and needed assistance.
As time goes on, though, people heal and/or learn to cope. However, the problem arises when they either don’t take the time to manage on their own or they don’t want to. (Because, let’s face it, having you support them is pretty awesome!) This is where the person crosses the scary line from “I can’t” to “I won’t,” and you, the family member, friend or co-worker, may feel pulled to cross the line into enabling.
The good news? If you are an enabler, it’s because part of your personality is to be caring and loving! However, sometimes the most caring and loving thing you can do for someone is allow them to thrive and survive independently. After all, if you don’t help them to be better on their own, you are only helping them to stay sick or impaired. And finally – perhaps most importantly – you deserve a break! Allowing the other person to become more independent gives you more time to focus on yourself and improve your own well-being. You deserve it – and so do they!
~Tiffany A. Tumminaro, LCSW, CADC