When Support Becomes Enabling: A Guide for People with Loved Ones Who Struggle with Addiction
Addiction is one of the most complicated problems to understand. When a loved one has issues with substance abuse, it can seem like their very personality has changed. While they may want help, it can be difficult to understand the best way to support them.
What Is An Enabler?
An enabler is usually a person who wants to help, but does not know how. This can be a family member, a friend or a significant other. While their intentions may be in the right place, an enabler can actually exacerbate the problem of addiction.
5 warning signs that you may be an enabler:
- Ignoring the problem
- Making excuses
- People pleasing
- Indirect communication
Ignoring the problem is often a knee-jerk reaction to addiction. This is true for both the person struggling with addiction as well as their loved ones. Addiction can often seem out of character for the person who is struggling. Their personality may not fit the standard stereotype of what an addict is “supposed” to look like. Turning a blind eye to the problem in hopes that it will get better, does not work.
Ignoring addiction can occur in many ways. Overlooking a pattern of unusual behavior can be one form of denial. Coming home late, lying about where they’ve been, missing money, erratic mood swings and job changes are all possible signs that addiction is running its course. Denying these issues will not make them disappear.
The Line Between Lying and Making Excuses
Addiction can sometimes blur the lines between truth and fiction. While an outright lie can seem obvious, there are other ways to evade the truth. If you suspect your loved one may have a substance abuse issue, you may have a lot of questions. Where have they been? Why do they need more space than normal? What happened to the friends they used to see? These are just a few questions that may run through your mind.
Unfortunately, asking these questions may not be enough to get to the bottom of what’s really going on. By willfully believing answers that do not seem plausible or truthful, an enabler subconsciously allows the substance abuser to lie so that life can continue as if addiction isn’t a problem.
What Does Perfectionism Have To Do With Enabling?
Enablers are usually well-meaning people who are afraid of what addiction is doing to their loved one. The desire to appear “normal” can, at times, outweigh their wish to ask the hard questions while facing a loved one’s addiction, especially if they are a high-functioning addict.
Those who struggle with perfectionism often compare themselves to others. Exterior success, such as going to a certain school or living in a specific neighborhood may be easy ways to measure one’s worth against another. Addiction can be embarrassing for those who do not understand it. While it may be instinctual to hide a loved one’s addiction in the process of trying to protect them from shame, perfectionism in the form of denial may actually make their recovery more difficult.
People Pleasing Is Problematic
Most people, whether they are enablers or not, want to please others. Enablers, however, may aim to please people despite the overall outcome of addiction. Those who are struggling with addicition may ask for a lot. They may ask you to believe them when they’re not telling the truth. They may ask for additional finances. They may ask for forgiveness or permission or an extension that you do not feel comfortable giving. An enabler will usually indulge in the people-pleasing behavior to keep the peace. An enabler may make excuses as to why they are doing what they are doing. They may even convince themselves that if they do not help the substance abuser with money or protect them by making excuses, that their loved one would not be able to survive.
Indirect vs. Direct Communication
Facing addiction head-on can be a terrifying situation. Whether you are struggling from substance abuse yourself or know someone who is, the problem can seem monstrous. For those who have justified certain behaviors or tried to ignore it, the situation can feel even worse. Direct communication is the first step to a different path. By acknowledging the patterns of substance abuse, everyone is on the same page. Facing addiction by refusing to ignore the problem does not have to be an act of judgement. Direct communication simply means you are up front about your emotions, the reality of the situation and what your expectations are. By setting clear boundaries, enabling is much more difficult to take place.
The Conflict of Being An Enabler
The enabler may feel both taken advantage of and extremely important. While enablers generally do not like to be put in the position of protecting or funding someone who is abusing substances, they must also understand if there is something that is benefiting them from indulging in this behavior. It is often uncomfortable to ask the hard questions when finding out if you are an enabler, but by breaking down the patterns that addicition forms, healing can finally take place during addiction treatment. Enablers often want to help and have good intentions for their loved-one. The burden that the enabler usually feels can cause resentment, stress and even depression.
Addiction is a complex problem that many families face. Recovery treatments designed for substance abuse usually take time and patience. With the right professionals, recovery can happen for those who are struggling with substance abuse as well as those around them. Addiction treatment can benefit not just one person, but a whole community. For more information, please contact us for more information.