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What is an Enabler?

Tricia Christensen
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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An enabler is someone who promotes a specific type of behavior in another person. The term is most often associated with people who allow loved ones to behave in ways that are destructive, but can also be used in a positive sense, as in the case of empowerment. People act as negative enablers for many reasons, ranging from childhood dysfunction to fear, so there are many types of enabling. All of them generally have negative effects both on the enabler and on the person he or she is enabling. It is possible to overcome this type of situation, though counseling or professional help may be needed.

Types of Enabling

Enabling can take many forms, but most of them come down to protecting someone from the consequences of his or her poor choices. For instance, parents might bail a child out of jail repeatedly because they don't want the child to be locked up, or they might write notes asking a school to excuse a child's truancy or tardiness due to hangovers because they don't want his or her academic record to suffer. In the case of spouses, this might take the form of a husband calling in sick for his wife who is too ill from drug use to go to work, or lying to friends about why he and his alcoholic wife don't attend parties, when the real reason is that he's too afraid that his wife will get drunk and embarrass herself.

Another very common type of enabling is paying bills for people or repeatedly loaning them money, even if they don't ever pay it back. Some people also finish jobs for those they enable, as in the case of a mother finishing her son's book report because he refuses to do so and she doesn't want him to get a bad grade. Others get angry or try to embarrass or shame the person into changing. This obscures the real problem, since the person may feel like the enabler's oversensitivity or anger is actually forcing him to continue the bad behavior.

Reasons for Enabling

Many people who enable do so out of a genuine desire to help, but there is a difference between helping and enabling behavior. Helping someone entails doing something for that person that he can't do for himself, while enabling behavior involves doing something that he's completely capable of doing, but chooses not to. Others enable out of a desire not to be the "bad guy," to exert a sense of control over the person, or out of denial, since they find it too painful or frightening to admit that a problem exists. Enablers may also simply be afraid of what would happen to the person or to themselves if they changed their behavior. Other people enable because of learned behavior from childhood — those who had immature or addicted parents may not be aware or comfortable with other ways of relating to people.

Results of Enabling

Enabling generally has negative results for both the enabler and the enabled. The enabled person almost always continues the negative behavior, and may in fact worsen his behavior, since his needs are still being fulfilled. The fact that the enabler is fulfilling all his needs, however, makes the enabled person dependent on him or her, which often leads to resentment. For instance, a child whose parents do everything for her would likely feel rebellious and unhappy because their actions make it impossible for her to develop a sense of personhood and independence. On the other side, enablers typically feel ineffective and put upon, since it seems that the person doesn't appreciate the help or takes it for granted. They may experience physical symptoms like nausea and headaches, as well as stress, depression, hopelessness, and anger.

Changing Behavior

Stopping enabling generally involves the enabler setting healthy boundaries for himself and letting the enabled person face the consequences of his or her actions. This may involve physically leaving the person so that the former enabler can take care of his or her basic needs without caring for the enabled person as well. Other people choose to remain in a relationship, but undergo an intervention or family counseling to learn new ways of relating to each other. When choosing to remain in the relationship, it is important that the enabler not fight with the person or react emotionally to his behavior, since this allows that person to react to the behavior rather than the consequences of his actions. In some cases, the enabled person may react violently to any suggestion of a change in the dynamic of the relationship, so it is important that loved ones consult with a professional if there's any potential risk.

Positive Enabling

Not all forms of enabling are necessarily negative. A person can be a positive enabler in a child's life by behaving in certain ways. For example, a father who spends time with his children, listens to them, and lets them know how wonderful and important he thinks they are is likely to enable the children to be confident and happy children. This is often termed empowerment, and is considered an important part of childhood development.

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Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By ydIdts — On Jun 12, 2014

I think I may be an enabler. I know I was in two past relationships and felt a huge ton lifted off my shoulders when I left them and got away from all that. This time, it’s my husband. He had a really bad childhood where his father was a molester, and he molested his sister and possibly him, he doesn't remember for sure, and the mother let this happen. Both parents are dead now.

When we got together, he told me about all this and I knew it bothered him. But now, six years into our relationship, he has taken to drinking all the time and he says it is to "deal" with this. He was dealing with it better before, and even tried counseling once but said no one will ever understand what’s in his head. Well, when he gets to drinking, there is no talking to him about anything. It turns into an all-night drugged out lecture, sometimes yelling match. Oh, and he’s "always" right. Now he’s gotten to where he is saying hurtful things to me, then says I don't care about him anymore because things have changed.

Well, hell yeah. Who is attracted to a damn drunk who says horrible things? There's no talking to him though, because, he’s always right.

He has now taken to telling me I’m just an enabler so what does that say about me? I love this man, but I’m at the end of my rope. I just can’t deal with this crap anymore. He doesn't want to help himself, and says he will never get "fixed" so who cares? He claims he was drinking like this and acting like this from the start, but he wasn't, or I wouldn't have married him if you paid me.

I’ve always had a standard I’ve lived by for myself. I’ve always been able to take care of myself, never relied on a man to be able to live (financially as well as emotionally). My biggest mistake was quitting my good paying job. I hated to go to school to be a nurse and now I don’t make enough to support myself if I did leave him. That scares the hell out of me, but I also can’t just sit here and let this go on.

Any words of advice, people? I’m getting to where I’m being depressed and not giving a crap if the next day even comes and that’s a scary place for me to be getting!

By anon949171 — On May 04, 2014

I have always grown up in an abusive home. My older sister has always verbally and mentally abused me, while my parents continued to cover it up and never come to my defense and make excuses for her actions.

I found out years later that my sister is bipolar and she has been on meds for the past nine years. She still is verbally abusive to me mostly and everyone. I have always had to defend myself verbally from her. At times I am her target and I still have no idea why. But yes, she is sick. It’s an illness. She has messed up her older boy and now he is a mess and into drugs/theft. My family makes excuses for his actions and enables him as well as her actions.

We are older now and I have to walk away for my sanity and my own family’s sanity. Everyone says we need to talk and work it out. Nope. She needs to work it out. I’m done. Any advice?

By anon939239 — On Mar 12, 2014

I have been enabling my 23 year old son for quite some time now. Just as the results of negative enabling state, the situation has gone from bad to worse. He blames me for everything bad that has happened to him and takes absolutely no personal responsibility for any of his failings.

However, realizing that my supposed good intentions were getting bad results, I have gone in the opposite direction and am determined to see it through. I am evicting him from my home even if he ends up homeless. I can't deal anymore with the threats of violence against my person and his continued disregard for rules I have put in place to not only keep the peace between us, but to ensure that he understands that I want to give him a hand up -- not a handout.

But none of it seems to sink in and the constant blame game has finally broken the camel's back, so to speak. Now, he can leave and figure it out on his own as I can't do this anymore. My mental and physical health have suffered as a result and I need to feel at peace and be in a state of mind where I don't cringe whenever he is around or arrives here after being away for unspecified periods of time. I feel horrible for asking him to move out, but not as horrible as I do when I know he is around.

By anon341988 — On Jul 16, 2013

@anon301496: Without knowing the entire story or you personally, I can only offer some generic advice and general observations as an outsider. I'm guessing that your daughter owns the home, or at least the lease is in her name. If that's the case, then she does have the right to ask other adult residents to leave if the circumstances aren't good. It can't be an easy decision to make, but my guess is it's the right one to make if you were in her place. She can't allow active drug users to spend so much time around her young daughter. What if she left her in your custody while she ran errands and you were too incapacitated by drugs to handle an emergency?

The problem with an enabler/addict dynamic is that at some point, the enabler may grow a spine or see the light. He or she is no longer willing to support the addict's destructive lifestyle. But the addict often knows how to manipulate the situation and get the enabler back on his or her side again. It's guilt over denying you access to your granddaughter, or shame over treating her own mother this way, or blackmail over one of her own indiscretions. Whatever it is, the only way to truly hit bottom and recover is to do it on your own and leave your daughter out of it. She's probably done way more than enough to keep you active in your disease, so isn't it time you cut her a serious break?

By anon301496 — On Nov 04, 2012

My 23 year old daughter has recently thrown me out of our home, where I lived with her and my three year old granddaughter. She's told my parents I am a junkie and says I will not see or speak to my granddaughter until I finish detox or treatment for the crystal meth habit I've maintained for the past eight years.

I am devastated. I don't feel this is a solution to the issue. I worry my granddaughter will have issues from the sudden disappearance of "Nana." Is my daughter in the right by making me homeless and giving me the silent treatment? I am very, very distraught.

By anon282942 — On Aug 01, 2012

My administrator at work went to school for psychology and recently pointed out to me that I am an enabler to my family.

My sister, who has a master's in education, has been without a job for the past two months. Me my mom, dad, sister and my sister's seven year daughter all live together. My sister had a job working with a mean rich lady for years. Everyone told her to look for another job and get out from under her, but my sister was too lazy to do it. The mean lady cut her hours down to nothing then finally just let her go altogether.

My sister had a job as a gas station assistant manager for three weeks but they let her go, "because it just wasn't working out." To make a long story short, I now have to take care of her bills, which include a car payment electric bill, cable, house phone and cell phone bill.

I just am tried of helping her when people told her years ago to find something else. Now it is my problem, especially since I live with her (electric bill, cable act.) if these bills are not paid then it can affect me.

But I decided that once she gets back on her feet and our lease is up that I am moving out so in the future she will have to make sure she is making better choices with employment.

By anon282493 — On Jul 30, 2012

I am also an enabler to my husband. But in my case it gets complicated because his family depends on him financially and his elder brother is also co-dependent, since being the eldest he can't dictate to him since he too is poor.

Last week he was arrested and needed bail but there was no one from his siblings or family to save him. He could have been beaten to death by the cops who caught him drinking and driving, without his driving license and for using abusive words against them. I had to leave my one month old child at home crying and had to follow him as he was taken away by the cops. If not for my elder brother who got up at 2 a.m. and came to compromise with the known cop and friend to let him go with a warning, he would have lost everything in that night.

I pray every day to the divine mercy of Jesus Christ on the rosary to help me gain peace and change in his life.

By anon271854 — On May 28, 2012

I just realized that I am an enabler. I also realized the correlation in codependency. Now I am ready for healing. I've been this way so long and saw it in my mother and grandmother. No more!

By AnneCalico — On Mar 19, 2012

Should the family turn its back on an alcoholic? My son has torn my family apart with his constant drinking. Part of the family says to turn our backs on him and the other, me included, say when he is sober enjoy his company and try to convince him to get help. What should I do?

By anon255539 — On Mar 18, 2012

I've enabled my brother since I was 14 - by staying quiet.

By anon253569 — On Mar 09, 2012

My mother in law is an enabler of my husband. It is so frustrating. It's not fair. My husband and I have been married a year now and for the first six months it was bliss. Then his drinking,verbal abuse, even weapons (threatening to kill himself) got worse. To the point that I told him that I had it. It was me or alcohol.

I even had him tell his mom because of the fact that she would pick him up every time we had a fight and let him drink to his heart's content over at her house.

So he agreed no more alcohol.

When he is at home, it is good. I haven't found any beer stashed away or sneaking away to the Mini Mart. But as soon as he hangs out with his mom. I find credit card charges for beer and bars.

It is so bad that one time I knew he was totally drunk and he was coming back from his mom's. He hung up on me cause I asked if he was drunk so I called his mom. She made excuses for him saying that he wasn't going to drink but his step dad insisted.

Then to top it off, she brings him home she expects me to be happy that he is home drunk. When I am not she has him get his stuff and leave and leaving me messages saying if you want your husband back, then you shouldn't fight with him.

It is really messed up and sad. I used to be best friends with her but now I don't even want to talk to her anymore.

By AnneCalico — On Mar 07, 2012

Should a family shun an alcoholic until he gets help for his addiction?

By anon251690 — On Mar 02, 2012

I suppose I might have filled the role of "enabler" when I cared for my alcoholic partner's daughter for years while he was out drinking. I ultimately left him even though I still cared, but I never left her. I will always be a part of her life if she wants and needs me.

This page on cutting alcohol tips might encourage and help people to stop destroying their own lives as well as hurting the ones that love them.

Ultimately, you have to take care of yourself and the vulnerable children of alcoholics.

By anon250916 — On Feb 27, 2012

Can someone tell me how to stop caring for a brother who has been crack addict for years?

He has cleared his bank accounts and has locked himself away, by taking coke and crack for years. He won't listen to anything I say and won't go to rehab or get any help! Where does this all end up?

How long will I have to fight him and his habit? I have done what could have been done but nothing works. He just takes more and now seems like a skeleton. He cannot even stand up straight.

How do I learn to forget him and accept that I have lost him in front of my eyes? How do I live with this horrific nightmare of a life without hope and future? I wonder if anyone feels the same and understands my deep pain and sorrow?

By anon243598 — On Jan 28, 2012

My father has a gambling problem. My mother passed away at 42, 14 years ago. Lately I've heard he has pissed away the majority of his equity in the family home from his concerned girlfriend when he promised the house would be left to his three kids, me being one.

I am 33, recently married, fighting to achieve a life with quality. I have a good job, rent, been through a separation before, bought and sold a house. I tried talking to him, but his ego and "enjoying life" comments really tick me off.

My father is 59, ready to retire with little or no savings in the bank account. I am worried about his effects on my family on a constant basis. What can I do if he won't listen?

His idea of having fun has been throwing his money away at the local pub for the last 30 years. Help.

By anon236403 — On Dec 22, 2011

I have married a man who has an adult daughter who is 40 something years old. She is an addict and he protects her like a bear watching out for his cub. I have a real problem here.

Her friends gave up on her and said she hit rock bottom, but my husband does not think she has a problem. I can't even bring up her name. He blames everybody except her. He told me that if I don't have anything nice to say about his daughter, then don't say any at all. She has two kids under the of 18 and is divorced.

She is getting worse. Children's Protective Services has been called to her apartment, among other things. Will he ever come to grips that his kid does not want to help herself? This is harmful to me. We have tried counseling to no avail.

By anon234587 — On Dec 12, 2011

I am an enabler to my 35 year old son. He came home drunk at 14 and has been drinking ever since. He now has two children and they are not his first priority.

I bought him a small house because he had nowhere to live. He is now drinking more than ever, having different women over every weekend. I have given, helped, bailed out, over and over. I'm tired of it. I want a life of my own and peace. I'm tired of worrying about him.

The mother of his two kids, my grandkids is as crazy as he is. I'm just sick of it all and I want peace, how can I stop? After all I have done for him, he still says I'm invading his privacy by coming over to the house I bought for him. My husband and I have always been here for him. He is an only child. He never even sends us a birthday card. I just want it to stop. Please help.

By anon232764 — On Dec 02, 2011

I am an enabler. My mother has three adult children. For whatever reason, when she was a child, her sister enabled her as a child.

I have come to the conclusion we were trained by our mother to do everything for her. We have our own families now. We don't want our children grandchildren/great grand children to have to endure the enabler cycle. My mother is now 79 years old and she sees everyone around her being the problem. I am taking a step toward becoming more aware of my enabling behavior and getting help for it.

By amypollick — On Sep 14, 2011

@anon214206: Please look in your local phone book for an Al-Anon meeting. This group was formed specifically to help those who have family members who have drinking problems. They can help you get some answers, and some perspective on your situation. Good luck.

By anon214206 — On Sep 14, 2011

My husband is spending an awful lot of "our" money on alcohol. Should I stop him by taking over the management of our finances? Would this be disabling him to drink or enabling him to drink by taking away some of his responsibilities? It is really confusing for me. Any ideas on this very much welcomed.

By anon189467 — On Jun 23, 2011

My wife has been diagnosed with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that presents itself differently in patients who are diagnosed with it. My wife experiences debilitating joint and back pain as well as severe fatigue.

Her weight ballooned considerably when the doctor prescribed up to 45mg/day of Prednisone to reduce inflammation. She is now, thankfully, down to 4mg/day, but has given in to being obese once again (she had lost over 140 pounds when we met).

Now to my point. I have been accused of being an enabler by someone close to me, but not for buying her ice cream and candy, which she consumes at unhealthy levels. Rather, I have been labeled an enabler for not expecting her to get a job and doing most of the cooking and the dishes myself. The person close to me resents that my wife has not worked outside of the home for some time now.

I am going to work on getting my wife to eat healthier and stop enabling an unhealthy diet. But am I really engaged in enabling behavior for not expecting my visibly fatigued wife, who is obviously in pain, to go out and get a job?

By anon171194 — On Apr 29, 2011

@ 54: Thank you. I am very aware of what enabling is. I have a son who is an addict. I recently advocated (hard) to get him out of jail and into a hospital to be detoxed off of suboxone. In the process I was called an enabler by the people who were not doing their jobs to do the right thing by my son. I am very okay with him having to do his time, but not when he's on a med with intolerable side effects, and I was not wiling to go with their plan of having him withdraw in jail in a small community where our ER docs aren't experts at detox in general, but especially from that drug. It's not even safe.

My gut response was to question my motives and feel guilty for "enabling" again. No, I'm not an enabler. Maybe there have been instances where I have enabled my son, but what mom hasn't? I realize now that the word enabler is, in this instance, an excuse for the ineptitude, laziness, and lack of caring that is rampant in the system that our addict kids find their way into. And it is certainly not helping our kids.

I am an advocate. I translate needs into attention getting language. I don't always make friends, but that's okay. I am strong enough to fight for my son even when the people with all the control, or so they think, call me an enabler.

By anon155826 — On Feb 24, 2011

To all who listen; I too knew what an "enabler" was for many years now, but just thought I was helping my son because if you can't help family who can you help. 8yrs later after the first offense, just marijuana, my son now is in jail awaiting sentencing with a 2nd felony, with a much more addictive drug on his back and theft charges. The first felony, I was at his side fighting it, paying for the lawyer etc.

But today, I step aside. I realize deep within my soul the wrong I did to him by "enabling" him not to fall down with out being there picking him up - and him never feeling the pain you need to grow mentally and emotionally.

Today I wrote him a letter telling him I love him dearly, and that I have accepted I cannot will him to change or tell him how to live his life or nag him to be what I would have wanted him to be. It is now his turn to take care of himself.

I will maintain hope and pray that he will have hope as well and that he will yield to a power greater than himself that isn't a drug. My prayer for all with a drug/alcohol or any addiction is please see yourself as worthy, find a way to get there for you, and know prayer does work. I can attest to that.

By anon150814 — On Feb 09, 2011

The term "enabler" has become over-used, is misunderstood, and is being utilized as a "catch all" by many people who don't have an accurate concept of its original intent by psychology professionals. Too many 12-stepper/"anon" subscribers,(as well as a host of others), are assigning the term to themselves and others willy-nilly, because they heard someone else use the term.

Often what underlies the use of this particular buzz word is, in truth, an unconscious attempt to displace or project feelings of unresolved guilt and shame associated with addiction.

We live in a culture where the stigma related to addiction is at an all time "high" (pun intended). If you are committed to learn how to be a healthy support for your family member (spouse, child, or other/loved one) who is struggling with addiction, your first order of business is to connect with quality, clinically-sound, evidence-based peer support. There is a huge waste of energy and time that occurs when one labels themselves or others with stigmatizing, overused buzz words such as, co-dependent, enabler, etc.

In order to accomplish the goal of making healthy change and increasing your skill set toward recovery-purposed actions and interactions with your addicted loved one, as well as in development of a sustainable sense of peace, you need to break free from the chains of guilt, shame and blame. Don't speak it. Don't assign it. Do educate yourself on addiction and mental health disorders like depression. Do set goals. Do develop healthy boundaries and expectations based on the reality of "your" circumstances. Do verbalize those things that will encourage self and others to increase their capacity for hope and build positive reserves for the long journey that is addiction recovery.

@Thirdbird: It obvious you are a thoughtful, loving mom. You know your circumstances better than anyone else. On the subject "Tough Love": It's another overused, misunderstood term. Today, leading scientist/researchers in the field of addiction, caution that some actions associated with "tough love" (which got its start in the 70's) can place an addict at increased risk for self-harming behaviors. Please engage the advice of a professional (not someone from a peer support group) when making the kinds of critical decisions you mentioned in your post regarding your daughter's release from jail.

Check with your local city government as to sober-living houses and programs designed to support recovery and independent living. Make as many calls as it takes to begin to develop a sense of "can do this" for your health and the health of your daughter. Never stop believing in, (or implementing strategies) that “enable” your daughter's ability to make healthy change. Let her know you love her and that you will support healthy decisions by her. Good luck to you. You're a super mom. Don't let anyone convince you otherwise.

By anon134588 — On Dec 15, 2010

My mother in law, i believe, is an enabler. she has a 24 year old son who still lives with her. His one year old daughter does as well.

Her son does not take care of his daughter. He is more like the babysitter while they are at work. He doesn't buy food or anything a child need to live! He is also very emotional always throws a fit about stuff, and i mean walks around yelling and screaming. All she does is make excuses about how she thinks he wasn't ready for his daughter and how he needs counseling. She even cleans his room and washes his clothes.

Is what I am describing an enabler?

By anon134007 — On Dec 13, 2010

Could an enabler be someone who constantly harasses one person making them feel mad and stressed out all the time? I know this one guy who drinks who constantly hit his girlfriend and her brother.

they were too scared of him to do anything so they moved and now he still constantly bothers her because he feels lonely and has no one to talk to? Could he be an enabler of anger and stress?

By amypollick — On Sep 30, 2010

@Anon115071: Congratulations on making the decision to attend Al-Anon meetings. If you work the program, it will change your life. God bless you as you start on this path to a better life.

By anon115071 — On Sep 30, 2010

I just called al-anon because I wasn't sure what meetings to attend as an enabler. After reading the other comments, I realize al-anon is appropriate for enablers. I will attend as soon as I can find out what the scheduled meetings are. So being a "nice" person is not all it's cracked up to be.

By anon106456 — On Aug 25, 2010

I have just found the definition for enabling and have realized that I am one. I am an enabler. Coming from a house of two alcoholics I thought I was ahead of the game. Recently I've found out that my husband of six years has a porn addiction and it has progressed to him talking dirty on the phone to other girls and who knows what else.

This is not all. I have complete control over our finances and I give him enough money for a week, but it is not enough. He has to have this, and that and wants more money and I give it to him because I don't want to fight. I don't want any hard words between us. I thought it was just his problem but it is mine, too.

There is hostility in the house now, all the negativity I was trying to avoid I have helped to create. I feel better now having gotten that off my chest.

By anon96862 — On Jul 17, 2010

Thirdbird, If your daughter is into drugs, just being in jail did not rehabilitate her and a job and a place to live won't either.

My son said over and over that all he needed was to get a job and have a place to live. He would do well for a time and then go back out and start using again, eventually losing his job. I would encourage you to tell her to figure it out on her own.

Give her information about drug treatment options and ways that you will help her in "positive enabling" ways. Giving her money, figuring things out for her, etc. will only prolong the problem.

By yyur12 — On Jul 13, 2010

I have been told that I am an enabler to my wife's alcohol addiction (24 Years married). I have been harping on her day in and day out, for a couple of years, about her drinking and driving.

She keeps going in and out of the hospital every six weeks, or so, to detox (not voluntary). I have called in her family for support and nothing has worked out so far. She knows she has a problem and has asked for help in the past.

Now I have noticed a new trend in her behavior toward this addiction. She seems to be using the idea of her addiction (an involuntary condition) as an excuse for continuing her addiction.

How does one deal with this situation? I am losing my mind here and on the edge of divorce. Any ideas?

By anon90030 — On Jun 14, 2010

I am a sober alcoholic, and I have been going to AA for most of my adult life -- that is, until I kept hearing "I am the problem".

People started standing up, saying I am the problem and every time I'd ask advice or for support, I'd hear that same phrase, and after a lifetime of being abused by men, which led to my alcoholism developing in the first place, to be told I am the problem, not alcohol, was devastating and led me to three suicide attempts.

I went to them for help with my alcohol problem, only to have every abusive statement ever made to me reinforced.

I have had enough. So I've left.

By anon88669 — On Jun 06, 2010

my ex girlfriend cheated on me with an alcoholic. he raped her and she still kept seeing him for a year. i was told by someone that she is an enabler. i really loved this girl and i would like to get back with her but i don't want to risk the same thing happening. she also has a brother who is a schizophrenic. what should i do? is she really an enabler?

By anon88215 — On Jun 03, 2010

I was a heroin addict for many years and have been clean for almost 10 years. I now live with my elderly mother and it is so difficult because I work and am responsible but she enables my brother.

I am surprised he can wipe his butt to be honest. She pays his child support, buys his cigarettes, and his beer. He doesn't work, collects food stamps and he is trying to get social security disability.

I get so angry with my mom for doing this because he takes advantage of her but sometimes I think she likes it. He makes her life miserable until she gives in and buys the beer. But I think the thing that really upsets me is that she is a liar. She thinks that no one knows what is going on but I see and I know everything.

I am going to move away from here and I can tell you I will not visit. My mom takes him everywhere and he is like 45 years old. He sits around the house and eats all day so he is close to 350 pounds. I have to get away from this nonsense. I am starting to hate my mother.

By anon86745 — On May 26, 2010

my sister is a pill addict, does crack, smokes weed, and snorts coke. I'm sure there are other drugs that she dabbles with but these are the ones that i am aware of.

she is in an on and off physically/emotionally abusive relationship with a drug dealer who never has a real job. her addictions have gotten so bad that she had even ended prostituting to support her addictions.

there were many times she has contemplated suicide when he has cheated on her or broke up with her and many times when she has been drunk out of her mind and told me she hated herself for everything she has done. i love my sister and i have tried to tell her she needs rehab and i have offered her a room in my home to start over but she only uses me for everything she needs to recuperate then she's gone and i don't hear from her for weeks and sometimes months.

i don't know what I'm supposed to do or how i am supposed to handle this. i have gotten very upset with her recently and told her that if she wants to continue stealing from me then she can stay out of our lives. am i doing the right thing?

By anon85760 — On May 21, 2010

I looked up enabler. I first found the definition that my two ex-daughters-in-law found. The one that says the term enables is associated with people who allow loved ones to behave in ways that are destructive.

Out of love you are trying to help or protect a person and making a chronic problem like an addiction worse. They don't face the consequences of his actions and bail them out of trouble and continue to enable this behavior.

My grandson is now in a detention center because they don't want to be the enabler that allows his behavior, such as missing school, don't want to get up in the mornings, disrespecting, etc.

Now the other definition, which I think is right in this situation, is a person can be a positive enabler in a child's life by behaving in certain ways. For example, a father who spends time with his children, listens to them, and lets them know how wonderful and important he thinks they are is likely to enable the children to be confident and happy children. This is an enabler in the best sense of the word. And this is the case with my grandson. His father gives him no attention. Promises to come and get him and doesn't because he has misbehaved.

I feel he is being punished too severely and emotionally deprived of the care and nurture of mother and father.

But they have accused me of being an enabler in the negative way.

By anon83788 — On May 12, 2010

my sister wants to go and be sneaky with my husband and run off with him to the casino and god knows what else. what would you do? help, need advice.

By anon83416 — On May 10, 2010

my son has been on drugs for 14-plus years and in and out of rehabs. He's also a pathological liar and manipulator - very good at finding out what someone wants to hear and telling them exactly that.

A very close family member of ours passed away (drugs) and he still did drugs, even at the wake! Then checked into rehab. Although the family isn't giving him money anymore (used to do that all the time) they do let him 'stay' at their homes.

Someone is always "taking care" of him - he's 35! He has four kids of his own - none with him right now - all passed out to family members, who are actually thinking of giving them back again, once he's finished with rehab (already can tell you he's used again). Think he's either bi-polar or borderline personality.

Everything and I mean everything is about him and to the extreme - whether good or bad.

How can I stop them from giving back the kids for the fifth time? These kids still have a chance but not if this continues! Please give me some advice! Now!

The youngest, 5, already is displaying a lot of his characteristics. It's scary. how many chances is he going to get to destroy these kids before someone stops it for them for good? Even if he does get better - they need a permanent, healthy home life. Why is he more important than they are? I do not understand! Please help.

By anon77163 — On Apr 13, 2010

continued from comment number 37:

and by "adjective" i mean "verb" (pardon me!)

anon of london

By anon76702 — On Apr 11, 2010

i totally relate and need help as well. I'm the mother of two, and their father is an addict and alcoholic. I've allowed him to lie to me and manipulate me into believing that nothing is going on.

I finally went through the couches and found 24 empty drug bags and had $5000.00 missing. I guess the evidence is as clear as day but why is it so hard to care enough for myself?

How could I still feel empathy for this horrible person who has beaten me down to nothing. I know his addiction is not my fault but I feel like his recovery is. Help.

By anon76494 — On Apr 10, 2010

"Enabler" is effectively a made-up word. The adjective "enable" has existed quite legitimately for a long time but its use in noun form is a recent development if it can be glorified as such.

Presumably it's supposed to mean "to enable" or, to allow someone to do something or other. the only person to whom the term wouldn't apply would be someone who doesn't allow anyone to do anything. that's why its use, whether with a positive connotation or otherwise is pretty much meaningless. you might as well call someone a "breather".

it's part of an annoying trend that has recently sprung up in the USA, to make up words to lend mundane situations a gravitas and officialdom they don't particularly warrant, hence: "de-planing" "beverization" (the latter of which usually takes place about an hour after "planing")

well that's my two-Bobs' worth anyway.

-anonymous of london

By anon72872 — On Mar 24, 2010

I have been married legally for five years and living together for 20 years, and nine years ago I found out about the drug use, and it got worse. He had affairs, got an addict pregnant, spending on large ticket items, constant shopping, left home for 10 months, and returned with an apology and gifts.

He has very possessive and obsessive behavior, so where does it stop? He goes to rehab, but is still using.

I now understand I am an enabler. but I take care of myself, and the house; he's just here. He owns a large company and we keep it running. Any advice?

By anon72141 — On Mar 21, 2010

My husband is in jail and unknown as to what that outcome will be as of yet. He goes before the waived trial by jury, to a judge.

I have not answered his calls, nor read any of the letters he has sent and not visiting him either.

He has been verbally abusive, physically abusive, mentally abusive, emotionally, financially and sexually. he has had numerous affairs, one even got her pregnant and took her to get an abortion.

His family are major enablers and have believed his lies and I am made to look like the bad guy as I have stood up to all this. But this time, I have stood for months until a miracle happens or he gets tired of my stand to not enable him and goes to find someone who will. It's his choice.

I love him, but I have numerous times detached and this time I say no more!

His destructive lifestyle has affected his daughter and sadly she has many of her dad's ways. She is in a program too. I took her in and would not let her stay here. Time for some changes.

By anon72066 — On Mar 21, 2010

Dear 52615: I went out with a guy who was heavily into porno for almost six months. He liked movies about urination and masochism.

This guy is really sick. He was also verbally abusive. He's a misogynist; did I mention that also (man who hates women). I found out after we broke up that he had been involved in corporate fraud and helped his company to go bankrupt. I believe he is a schizophrenic.

We had a fight and I never called him again. It was hard for me not to, but I didn't and I believe I also enabled him to treat me like this. I wanted to break up with him sooner but I kept going back. He victimized me.

The disgusting porno he looked at is very deranged. Who knows what else he has done?

By anon71313 — On Mar 18, 2010

i sometimes feel like an enabler as i have a friend and she is like my best friend and i am scared of losing her. She is kind of aggressive and does everything on an impulse and i just keep going along with her! it is nothing serious, but small stuff like ticking her husband off by kissing me in front of him and things like that!

By dewriter — On Mar 14, 2010

anon38770: My 25-year-old son is bipolar. My friend just told me I'm an enabler. I've been going to Al-Anon meetings. They really do help.

My son went off his meds for the first time and has been in and out of four hospitals. My husband and I told him we can't take him back. He refuses to take his meds and is psychotic. I had to call the police on him this week. It's a nightmare. I hate this disease. Al Anon helps.

By yislifehard — On Jan 31, 2010

I am an enabler. I am 21 and he is 27 and we have three beautiful kids. He is an alcoholic and a pain pill addict. He has been to two different rehabs and didn't finish either.

He used to do the hard core stuff and now just does the pain killers which is not any better. He does so many I don't understand how he is alive. He went in to rehab this last time the day before I went into labor with our last son. He left two weeks after and it's been the same ever since.

His drinking is what sets him off but he won't quit drinking. He will not work and provide for his family and if he does work, the longest has been for three months and most is just a couple weeks and he quits.

It has been mostly me working our entire relationship. All his paychecks go to drugs and alcohol and i have to do everything else.

He lies about working and having good jobs so that his parents will give him money and it goes to drugs and nothing else.

I am the dumb one because i am so in love with the father of my children that i feel the only way I can make him happy anymore is to feed his addictions.

I feel the only reason he says he loves me is because after i give him money he treats me like he loves me and things are great like when we first got together.

I know what i am doing is wrong because i don't do any of these things. i know they're wrong. I have finally started to wise up and stand up to him and now its made our relationship worse.

I feel like the reason we are so bad it because of me and my codependency. The more i stand up to him the more our relationship is getting worse. We can't stand each other anymore and I'm so confused on what to do.

Are there any classes out there that you can go to for enabling? If so please let me no i need help.

By anon63201 — On Jan 31, 2010

Am I enabling the enabler? My husband's 35 year old son is an alcoholic and drug abuser.

His latest escapade included coming into our home when we weren't there, and over the past few months, drinking every drop of alcohol in our cupboard. There were about nine of those big bottles - most of it years old because we really don't drink. I discovered the theft and told my husband I want to start locking our home.

He went on a verbal rampage and accused me of not being a caring person, of locking our own children out of our house, and just being plain mean. I still want to lock our home. The kids come and go as they please, eat whatever is in the fridge, obviously drink all the alcohol, take money out of my cookie jar, take a shower, leave a mess and then take off. I feel invaded. Please help.

By anon62056 — On Jan 24, 2010

My son has had a drug problem for 13 years. I just discovered that I'm probably the reason. I am an enabler. I was unaware that my actions were the problem. He would get in trouble, I would bail him out. I always made sure that I would bail him out before he could feel the pain. That was the wrong thing to do.

He's now 26 years old. I was forced to sell my house, move in with my oldest daughter, and kick my son out onto the street. He's living in a homeless shelter and has several warrants for his arrest, and has numerous fines and court costs unpaid.

I have finally got it in my head that I'm tired of working for a paycheck and giving it to him. I feel sorry for him, I love him, but my gosh there's a limit to what my brain can take. My nerves are shot. He constantly finds a telephone and calls me, and when my phone rings, my body tenses up. All weekend, I have to turn my cell phone off, just so I can get some sleep.

I'm not sure what made me wake up. But, I'm glad I did.

By anon59828 — On Jan 10, 2010

another type of enabler, is a child sex abuser enabler. they know what their husband is doing but do nothing to stop it, they make excuses for him, like, he is sick, or he does it because he misses something, or he is not drinking right now, so my little girl must be OK (not). they protect him, and not the innocent child. the child grows up thinking this is the way it is. I know, I was that child.

By anon55923 — On Dec 10, 2009

I am a 46 year old female, with three children. I have been with my husband for 31 years.

He is a wonderful man, but he has always gone out to the clubs on weekends saying he was with his friends. He come home in the mornings about 3, 4 and sometimes 5:00 a.m. I would be mad but not say anything, but a couple of months ago, I found out he had gone out and had sex with a young woman he did not know.

He has an infection or something, and silly me feels sorry for him. I really don't know what to do. I want to leave him but I really don't have anywhere to go.

I work and have a job that I love but the money is not there for me to take care of my two sons that are left at home. What should I do? I need someone with wisdom, to help me.

And tell me why or why not I should stay or go.

Need help right now!

By anon52615 — On Nov 15, 2009

I went through the internet looking for "enabler" terms. I found your site. I so feel for all who have written in. From alcohol to drugs to porn, as wives, girlfriends and husbands try to find an answer to this, the term "enabler"!

I also have been married to a man for 24 years. and he has been heavily addicted to porn and all that goes with it. We have tried marriage counseling and he went to addiction recovery. It didn't last! Now he is more sneaky then ever and when I do catch him it is "so what"!

I enjoy sex and always have but he doesn't want me. He wants the "other". How do you fight that? I really don't have anyone to talk to who understands the full scope of this. So, I live with the where is he now syndrome and why is he late.

What do you do when this is all around you? Everything is sexual these days. Anyone out there who has been married for a long time with this problem? I have been told to leave him but that isn't as easy as you think or maybe it is and I am just scared. Any feedback would be appreciated.

By anon47196 — On Oct 02, 2009

I'm trying to find all the information possible on how *not* to be an enabler. My boyfriend had a relapse on last friday and took my bankcard and car and went on a cocaine binge. I called the bank before he could wipe out my account and notified the police of my car being taken without permission. I later found my car with the keys and bankcard hidden in the armrest, and he later called me after checking himself into our local VA hospital. Nevertheless, I've found myself being more empatheic towards him instead of angry and now I'm afraid I'm headed down the road of being an enabler since I've been there for him every day since he's been in the hospital! I don't want to become an enabler but I don't want to be a non-supportive person in his life also! Can someone please interject and tell me if I'm headed for enabling. *I told him he couldn't come back to my house* That he needed to seek additional help once released from the hospital.

By anon45797 — On Sep 20, 2009

I was looking for information about enabling in order to understand a friend of mine. I read all of these posts. Folks, you've just got to find someone to help you believe in yourselves. God did not make you to be so unhappy and your relief is actually within your grasp. It might be a baby step at first just to say no. But the steps will lead you to freedom. When you understand you cannot help your loved one by saying yes -- you will undesrtand that *no* is more powerful for change. Some of you will get into another destructive relationship if you don't understand the patterns. You have got to love and respect yourself. That's vital for recovery. Vaya con Dios

By anon45418 — On Sep 16, 2009

To those of you that have an alcoholic in your life, there is a group that parallels AA and it's called Al-Anon. It teaches you how to take care of yourself, not to engage in the addict's behavior, and it gives you a better outlook on life. My mom and I have been going to Al-Anon because my dad is a recovering alcoholic and my soon to be mother-in-law is a full blown alcoholic. I promise you, go to these meetings. It takes time to "get it" but you will feel so much better.

By anon45379 — On Sep 16, 2009

They say that I am enabling my daugther. She had a child at 18, another at 19, she is on and off with one of the dads He beats her and threatens both kids. She knows I will care for them, then leaves them here with me. What am I to do? Let the kids get hurt, or be left alone? The state has taken them and placed them with me. She visits but just sits here and watches tv. Her therapist and other workers say that I am the problem, but I just want what is best for the kids. She is not it. She has no motherly concern for them. How can you enable one child and not the others? Boys are not like this. Yes I was addicted to a lot of stuff way before I had the kids, but they never knew that person. It is hard to let a baby cry when its mother is right there and not taking care of their needs. She won't even answer the oldest when he says mom mom, he even screams at her. I tell her to answer him but lately I have just answered him. This makes her mad at me but he wants something. I am so lost about what I am to do. I have not let her visit at our place, and have stopped buying things she needs. Pack all her stuff here again. She now gets more help from welfare now than I do with both kids. How fair is that?

By anon39599 — On Aug 03, 2009

If my Mother-in-law does not stop enabling her 43 year old son, our marriage is not going to survive. He has a drug problem and Mommy bails him out of everything. Need a car? Here you go. Need shoes? Here you go. Need a water heater? Here you go. She does this under the guise of "helping" him and she "feels sorry" for him. He works part-time while I work 60 hours per week. The drug comes before our kids. I am more angry at her than him. She did not teach him to grow up. I am seen as the "bad guy" because I am not soft and sweet with him. Disgusting. He needs to grow up, take responsibility, and be a man.

By anon38770 — On Jul 28, 2009

I *am* an enabler, my husband is bi-polar. There is nothing wrong with him. Everyone else is stupid or crazy. I give him his medication (I say it is for me). I do things I know are irrational to keep him from being mad. Why can't I *stop*?

By anon37188 — On Jul 17, 2009

Hi, I just need to get this off of my chest. I am a mother of two children 21 and 18. The eldest used to have a problem with drugs but has been clean now for four years - very proud. I just kicked my 18 year old son out of our house this morning after giving him numerous times to get help for his drug abuse. He has been snorting Ritalin for the last 8 months and just found out that he got into my sleeping pills and has taken 15 of them in the last three days (they were hidden so he had to really do some searching in my bedroom to find them) This was the last straw. He was told what he needed to do and didn't get help, still doing drugs, etc.

Why do I feel so guilty? I did what I told him I was going to do if he didn't seek out help with his problem. FYI - I am a codependent - Mother was an alcoholic.

Thanks for listening - just needed to vent some.

By anon35290 — On Jul 03, 2009

I'm been married for 6 years and it has been something else. I am an enabler and I need help. I put my foot down today and said that the bank was close. If he don't have the sense God gave him to help himself then I can't help him no more. He gets a job but when the check come it goes right to the drug dealer. Now everything is past due and I'm tired. I've had 9 heart attacks in the last 2 years and I've had enough. He won't even buy toilet paper to wipe his butt but he expect me to buy it for him. No more I'm done. I just don't want to go into the next relationship doing the same thing. If any one have a solution I'm willing to listen. Thanks.

By anon34079 — On Jun 16, 2009

Thank you. I am scared--divorcing a man after 20 years. He's a recovering alcoholic, but I enabled and cannot go on doing the same thing. He has continuing addiction to on-line porn, will not give it up. I have to leave. It is the hardest thing I have ever done. Thank you for all the comments--it helps.

By anon33465 — On Jun 06, 2009

i understood the concept of co-dependency a long time ago... but that didn't stop me being in an enabling relationship for the last 8 years. i have ended the relationship now, but as friends i still exhibit the same behavior. i buy him alcohol... he drinks it... I used to drink it as well, but stopped my bad habits because i wanted to change... i can't change his ways, and now i have to end the friendship as well because he has to stop using and abusing people... i have to be strong enough to love myself and not get lonely in the process... which is why i stayed there so long... fear of being alone vs spending way too much money and forgetting about health by drinking too much... i now prefer to be alone, even if it is hard at times. hopefully i can recognize my habits and not be an enabler in future relationships.

By anon30218 — On Apr 15, 2009

I just realized I need to stand up for myself or he will never have to grow up. I also recently realized the definition of an enabler, which is what I now am. He spends his money, not usually on the bills for our household, but on what, I have no idea. But as usual, when he then needs money for important things, like gas to get to work, I am there, unwillingly giving him money so that he can get to work to make more money to help me pay bills that he never pays.

Today I know I have to stop enabling and I will.

By anon29546 — On Apr 03, 2009

I think that sometimes we are so busy looking at the other person that we forget or don't realize to look inside. The fear is what causes us to be enablers. Look at the fears you have the fears of what could happened if you just say no. They are just that fears, fears that drive you to be an enabler. Also one needs to go to the past and realize when you started being an enabler or when something happened that caused you to not be able to say no.

By anon27246 — On Feb 25, 2009

She will not leave him because she is busy making excuses for him.....like we all have...

She also has a low self-esteem and probably feels just the way he wants her to....that's how codependency works....Hello..

By lanigarver — On Feb 25, 2009

Dear anon27227,

why don't you leave him?

By anon27227 — On Feb 25, 2009

I have been married for 20 years. Although my husband says he loves me I do not feel loved. If I have a different idea or opinion or even express myself in a way that he does not like I am belittled or demeaned. "What would make you think like that" or "your weird" or "naive". He withholds sex so that now he is unable to function without pills. And now even though I used to have a healthy sexual appetite I could care less about it and especially having sex with him. He is arrogant and lacks humility. He "knows" everything. He has gotten worse over the years.

When we first got married there was some sensitivity and listening to me. Now he doesn't even pretend that there is value in my words or thoughts. He literally puts his hand up when I talk or over-talks me. I *am tired* of trying to express myself because either it is a confrontation or he bows his head and is quiet and acts all sorrowful, etc. But it does not mean that he believes/accepts anything that I have said because he absolutely does not change his behavior.

It seemed like he was getting better a few months ago, but his old behavior has returned with a vengeance. My daughter used to ask me, "Why did you marry him, Mom?" This is her biological father that she has always known. He does not share himself and i don't know that he is capable of doing so. There is no "real" conversation. Every conversation is the same because he turns everything into the same conversation no matter how it starts out. So, I really don't want to talk to him because there is nothing to talk about. I have heard it a thousand times before. Absolutely no freshness, no connection to context. Just the same thing over and over again. He cannot be anything, but right. It is impossible to have an "honest" conversation with him. Other than that he is a good provider and cares about our finances, etc. But I am growing increasingly unhappy with him, but I don't want to because we are now retired and I don't want to shake up my life. Most of the time I try not to talk or voice an opinion different than his to try and have peace in my home. He's angry in his tone about almost everything. It's so hard. What do I do?

By lanigarver — On Feb 24, 2009

I've just gotten out of a relationship where I was an enabler to my boyfriend. I allowed him to verbally and emotionally abuse me, as well as helped him to abuse alcohol.

Here's what I've learned. You *can't* stop being an enabler if you're afraid to make someone (the person you're enabling to continue their harmful/destructive behavior) angry. You have to be willing to face conflict and aggression. Basically, you have to stand up for yourself and your right to be treated as a human being. I've realized that with everything I do for my boyfriend, he has not gotten any healthier or happier. Quite the contrary. The more i give, the more he demands, the more unreasonable the demands become. I love him and I want him to heal, and the best thing I can do for him is to stop letting him take advantage of me.

By dmcmains — On Feb 03, 2009

Enabler I am, enabler I've been...when will I ever learn? Married for 23 years with a man who was a buzzaholic prior to his death...7 months later end up with a drug addict who binges every quarter or more...I am tired of caring to the extent that has caused the demise of someone who continued to be a buzzaholic. The relationship I have currently...with the drug addict is also dysfunctional; if I care enough...I need to stop! Live and learn or continue to Care and allow their demise...What a tough pill to swallow...

By anon24312 — On Jan 10, 2009

I myself have a problem, and my mother is my biggest enabler. She pays my bills and gives me money and then complains all the time about it.

I tell her to not do this and maybe I would get myself together that I want the structure and want someone to make me accountable but that is her sickness she needs to be needed. So even if I was to get help, would the cycle continue? I think maybe she does it because she is afraid I wouldn't need her, so in a sense am I enabling her?

By anon22377 — On Dec 02, 2008

It's hard to stop being an enabler because that "caring" attitude is part of your nature. The trouble is, the caring has been abused. An enabler has to stop every tiny thing, giving any kind of support, be it money, conversation, advice, bed and breakfast, whatever. Even harder is telling the person you have stopped being an enabler but it has to be done and it has to be stuck to. The person with the problems has to seek authentic help outside of his or her relationship with you...a therapist, a rehab facility, a hospital ... And the enabler has to improve his or her self image!!! I know. I've been there.

By busylady — On Jun 23, 2008

how can i stop being an Enabler?

By anon12548 — On May 08, 2008

I feel like i am an enabler because it's so hard for me to say no. And tell it the way it is to people. My son is the one that i can't say no to. I am saying help for help to say no without making problems.

By thirdbird — On Jan 26, 2008

My daughter is in jail for drug possession. She will get out in two months. She has received no rehab while incarcerated and will not get any help from the county when she gets out. I do not want to be an enabler, but I would like to see that she is provided the means to get a place to live and a job. I don't want to be those means. Is this considered enabling? Does anyone have any advice as to where we should look for help?

By olittlewood — On Jan 25, 2008

i feel like i'm an enabler because it's so hard for me to say no. although i'm not necessarily enabling dangerous behavior like drug or alcohol use, gambling, etc., it's annoying that i am a little taken advantage of. i need help saying no without causing trouble with my family! i think that they're so used to me being this way that i think they would be mad if i started refusing them. any advice?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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