Enabling Behavior - Loving Too Much

Enabling behavior is born out of our instinct for love. It's only natural to want to help someone we love, but when it comes to certain problems -- helping is like throwing a match on a pool of gas.

Definition of Enabling

In the true sense of the word, to enable is to supply with the means, knowledge, or opportunity to be or do something -- to make feasible or possible.

In it's true form, then, Enabling behavior means something positive. It's our natural instinct to reach out and help someone we love when they are down or having problems.

However, when we apply it to certain problems in living - addiction, chronic financial trouble, codependency, certain forms of chronic depression -- enabling behaviors have the reverse effect of what is intended.

Here are some examples...

  • Repeatedly bailing them out - of jail, financial problems, other "tight spots" they get themselves into
  • Giving them "one more chance" - ...then another...and another
  • Ignoring the problem - because they get defensive when you bring it up or your hope that it will magically go away
  • Joining them in the behavior when you know they have a problem with it - Drinking, gambling, etc.,
  • Joining them in blaming others - for their own feelings, problems, and misfortunes
  • Accepting their justifications, excuses and rationalizations - "I'm destroying myself with alcohol because I'm depressed".
  • Avoiding problems - keeping the peace, believing a lack of conflict will help
  • Doing for them what they should be able to do for themselves -
  • Softening or removing the natural consequences of the problem behavior
  • Trying to "fix" them or their problem
  • Repeatedly coming to the "Rescue"
  • Trying to control them or their problem

How to Stop Enabling Behavior

Unless we are addicted to enabling behavior (see information below the video), then all we need are some "how to" guidelines for ending enabling. This video provides many useful guidlines for how to stop enabling:

Enabling Behavior -- the Addiction of the Codependent

If we find it very difficult, if not impossible, to stop enabling behavior then it is time to look at the possibility of being "addicted to the outside." Read on to explore the stages of Codependency, aka "Addiction to the Outside" (of Self), and how these stages parallel the stages of addiction.

The need for an external focus, along with other lessons of childhood prepare a person for addiction to enabling behavior. Take a look at how the signs of addiction match the signs of codependency.

Early Stage

  • Relief Using or Enabling - Comfort eating, spending, working or "helping" someone with their problem in order to avoid an internal focus and experience the "payoff".
  • Increase in Tolerance - for the behaviors of the problem person.
  • Preoccupation - with the problem person or persons
  • Loss of Control - over emotions or behavior (Excessive eating, yelling at the kids)
  • Continued Use (of enabling behavior) Despite Serious Negative Consequences - to yourself as well as them

Middle or "Crucial" Stage

  • Family Problems - Drama Triangle or a variation of it that I like to call the "Punishment/Forgiveness Cycle"
  • Social Problems - Embarrassment, avoiding parties where they may be "too much temptation" for your partner.
  • Emotional Problems - Depression, anxiety, chronic stress
  • Financial Problems
  • Legal Problems - Domestic disturbances
  • Occupational or Academic Problems - Loss of concentration due to preoccupation with the problem person or persons

Late or "Chronic" Stage

  • Physical Deterioration - headaches, stomach problems, stress disorders, etc
  • Serious Physical Withdrawal Syndrome - cannot stay away after a break-up or separation
  • Obsession - preoccupation increases until it takes the majority of your thoughts
  • Loss of Social Supports - stop seeing friends and begin to isolate, other people give up trying to get you to see what you are doing
  • Collapse of the Alibi System - can no longer make excuses for yourself OR the problem person
  • Drinking, Using Prescription Meds, Eating, Working, etc. to keep functioning or "feel normal"
  • Hopelessness and Despair
  • Untimely Death - accident, suicide, illnesses secondary to the Codependency

By Don Carter

Check out our Transforming the Inner Family of Self (TIFS) Coaching Program

Read Angie's Article, "Am I helping or Enabling?"

Read Angie's Article, "The Chaos of Codependency"

Read Angie's Articles on Denial, Enabling, Stinking Thinking and More


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Need Help 
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A Chronic Enabler 
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Thank you 
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I have had to come to terms with the legacy of enabling that has been passed along in my family for several generations. I recall in great detail how …

Boundary Setting with Teens - Not that Easy! 
There has been much talk about boundary setting when it comes to dealing with teens or other loved ones who are dependent on alcohol, substances, or other …

Mr. Fix-It 
For years all of my helping behavior has only helped others stay stuck. I have deprived them of the opportunity to be accountable.

Enabling behavior 
A friend of mine is going through a terrible time with her husband, she continues to catch him talking and texting other women. He is also an alcoholic …

DENIAL 
I have learned that when I am in denial, I cannot see that I am. I attend Codependents Anonymous, where I share and listen to others. Sometimes my …

How to change things . .  
My step-son is bipolar and he has a volatile temper. If you disagree with him or try to ask him what caused his present depression state of mind he blows …

Enabling 
I'm 28 and have been with my husband 10yrs. We have two kids. Through the years our marrige has been rough. It took many years for me to even realize what …

stepson will never leave the house Not rated yet
my problem is this, My wife will not make her son of 23yrs old look for a job. she lets him have free roam of the house. hes up until 3am playing video …

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enabling my daughter has only hurt her. how can I stop ? Not rated yet
21 year old daughter has always been a spOiled brat..she has 2 married siblings who have children..the 21 yr old is jealous of any attention we give the …

i stopped enabling my 45 year old son, who is addicted to meth. Not rated yet
I am a 65 year old mother of an adult son, and adult daughter who has blessed my life with 3 grandchildren. I am disabled, and physically unable to respond …

Realizing I was raised to be an enabler Not rated yet
I am 60 years old and have just recently realized that I was raised to be my mother's enabler. Dad got his fill of it after about 10 years. My brother …

Son thrown out but now in council flat refuses to acknowledge any bills and may land up homeless Not rated yet
Our son (22 years old) has been thrown out of family home for lying, stealing, and getting into serious debt, and refusing to acknowledge his mess! i therefore …

how can i get my 26 yr old daughter put in a hospital/detox/rehab for help?  Not rated yet
Hi. My daughter is 26 and has 3 kids. she is bi polar and on heroin (2-4 bags a day)i tried to have her 302 in a mental dual unit and they denied it cause …

Feel Alone Not rated yet
I feel no one really cares about you, or your pain of what your going through. My adult mentally, drug addict son still lives at home regardless of the …

I wish I knew what to do Not rated yet
My daughter (1st born) is a beautiful 24yo who has a degree in digital communications. She has never lived away from home. Her father and I bought her …

Loving grandfather overly protecting grandson Not rated yet
My grandson is 25 , we have raised him since he was 7. His mother was going tp put him in foster care because he was ADHD and other problems. He was constantly …

Stop Enabling 101 Not rated yet
Visitors to this website email me with questions now and then. I regret to say that I have not been able to keep up with posting on these forums as much …

estrangement Not rated yet
Suffering from alcoholic adult child

estrangement-2 Not rated yet
Suffering from alcoholic adult child

My 25 year old refuses to get a job!!!! Not rated yet
Help!!!! My 25 year old daughter still lives at home and always says shes looking for a job but to no avail. the problem is that me, (her mother) has …

you're a grown man, be grown  Not rated yet
My husband has been supporting his brother financially most of his life. The brother has been living in our rental house for two years and we pay all the …

Trying to be Superman! Not rated yet
My husband was EXTREMLY co-dependent!!! I knew there was something wrong with how my husband interacted with his family and friends but I didn't know what …

Stressed out family Not rated yet
My son is in his 30's lives at my husband and I house. He is very intelligent held a job 4 years ago at a very high prestigious company , got into drugs …

Enabler who works in the helping profession Not rated yet
I think I do pretty well in my profession in trying to avoid enabling others. I've seen first hand with many of my clients that they must learn to do …

18 year old wanting 16 year old girlfriend to move in with us Not rated yet
I have a son that just turned 18. He has been dating this 16 year old girl for 9 months. I am relocating to another city and he wants her to move in with …

What about Bob? Not rated yet
I have a brother named Bob. He is 50 years old. For the last 25 years he has been on drugs, alcohol and a mess. He ruined my parents business years …

Wife is an enabler to her THREE meth addict sons Not rated yet
They are her sons from a previous marriage. They are poster boys for all the meth stories. They are not young, 38 to 45 years of age. In and out of …

No consquences Not rated yet
I was given custody of my twelve year old brother When I was 18 raising a 6 month if my own. Throughout the years he got into trouble with the law , …

The Next Chapter Not rated yet
I guess I am in the third stage. My "breaking point " was just that, a broken shoulder. Seven years together and he is an acoholic. "Third stage and …

My Mother the Enabler Not rated yet
My mother (Vera) has enabled my 55year old brother his entire life. He is a lazy pathetic excuse for a human being. Mom continues to financially support …

Surviving in an enabling situation; living among it! Not rated yet
I am the spouse of some 36 years of an otherwise wonderful woman who has had a tortuous marriage (before me) and, I believe, some sort of sexual abuse …

Drop out child with child, pregnant, no job, living on our dime  Not rated yet
My daughter, who is 20, has a 15 month old daughter. She ran away from home multiple times, and finally showed up, pregnant, with her (then) boyfriend. …

The Greatest Accomplishment Not rated yet
"One of the greatest accomplishments in any person's life is if he can trust someone other than himself, wholeheartedly, and sustain it faithfully all …

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enabling behaviour Not rated yet
I got to the chronic stage of enabling behaviour with a sex addict as a boyfriend. As he kept wanting me back I thought he loved me. But he was using me …

My daughter is 28 does not live at home and thinks I'm respinsible for her Not rated yet
My daughter will have nothing to do with me if I cannot do things for her. She's 28 and calls me mommy dearest and says f()@ you to me if I can't do something …

I thought I was going to be a Super Hero Not rated yet
Tried to help someone through H addiction for a long time,got her on Methadone,watched her kids paid for everything, was there through distribution charges …

Frightened as to what may happen Not rated yet
My 32 year old son suffers from generalized anxiety disorder and I am overwhelmed with how difficult it is to get timely and proper help from the mental …

Family Feud Not rated yet
I have a brother-in-law who has married a woman who has done nothing but constant attempts to destroy his family's well being.. (myself being a target …

I feel helpless... Not rated yet
...to know how i can help my 38 yr old daughter that lives on her own and can't seem to hold down a full time job. I am so frustrated because she has no …

18 yr old kicked out Not rated yet
My son dropped out of school when he was 16 became addicted to weed, started drinking. I'm a firm believer in tough love, but my mom has always enabled …

Wake-up of a senior serial enabler Not rated yet
I have excused and rationalized my husband's financial insanity by bailing him out over and over, remaining married through two bankruptcies, and have …

Sibling Financial Sinkholes Not rated yet
My mom has been financially supporting my 2 brothers, age 49 and 52 for probably 30 years now. She does not have the money to even take care of herself …

Here I am.... again.... part 2 Not rated yet
So, for two years, I stopped calling and just lived with the abuse. And you want to know what he says about keeping me from calling the cops when he …

Here I am.... again.... part 1 Not rated yet
I think I went by xmkx on here.... I don't remember. Either way, I am back. Again. *sigh* My diagnosis has changed. Again. First it was bipolar, …

Trying to enable a passive aggressive woman. Not rated yet
After ten years of living with a female passive aggressive I now fully recognise I was an enabler. As would be expected with a passive aggressive I am …

Husband Help Us Not rated yet
My husbands son 22 yrs old is enabled by my husband to sit and watch tv and play i-phone games all day. NO JOB! He tells him he has to get one but he's …

enabling my daughter Not rated yet
When my daughter called me today she had an intake counselor on the phone. I felt he was trying to guilt me into paying 300 a day for treatment because …

Am I enabling my daughter to fail? Not rated yet
I am afraid my daughter is on a path to destruction and I don't know how to help her. I have spent too much time not talking to her about this because …

The Way To Run A Long-term Relationship Not rated yet
A relationship that has lasted for a longer time could be a marriage, a friendship or a family related friendship. Love is usually the main center of …

Enabling Dad  Not rated yet
How do you help a 17 year old, whose father is an enabler?

my 46 year old husband runs home to his mother whenever I confront him about his drinking Not rated yet
my 46 year old husband keeps running home to his mother especially after any confrontation about his drinking.we also have a four year old daughter whom …

My WIfe Not rated yet
My wife has been addicted to opiates/heroin for 6 years. During the first few years of our marriage, I was deployed overseas in the Army. She did stick …

Love my sister too much Not rated yet
Realizing what an enabler I really am. My sister is an alcoholic, I'm a recovering drug addict who still drinks occasionally, my dad is an alcoholic (dry …

I say NO and cave when it comes to my 19 year old son Not rated yet
I completely relate to what Felicia wrote about her 20 year old son and felt some relief to see a similar experience except my son isn't as functioning …

Mother enabling with food and money Not rated yet
My beau gets drunk and his mom does nothing and never has no matter what my pleads are i have been so desperate and she hangs up on me and then she buys …

recovering from Co dependence Not rated yet
My sister left a message that my dad died today. The problem is that I have never been close to my dad. They got divorced when I was 4 years old. He has …

23 year old son and mom Not rated yet
My son could get partial unemployment, but he says he would have to go through too much to apply. I carry all the bills and he doesn't pay towards anything. …

TORN Not rated yet
My daughter is 21 and has been drinking behind my back since she was 14. She now has a pretty good tolerance for alcohol. I do believe she has a problem …

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Marital Problems Not rated yet
have had 2.5 years in recovery from addiction and now believe I'm married to a codependent. He is stubborn and seriously suffering from symptoms of co-dependency...won't …

advice? Not rated yet
Hi. I have been told I am an enabler by a friend of mine. she's had a tough past year- tough to the extreme, and we'd talked about enabling behavior before, …

Hell Not rated yet
David is finally, after being ordered by the court, to get treatment for crack addiction. I didn't know he was an addict until after I had fallen in love …

Looking back Not rated yet
Don't play " Foxes and Rabbits" when you're the rabbit. I remember my mother telling me it was a game. I never knew how to play the game. Now I understand …

I unconditionally love my husband Not rated yet
My husband had a revelation that the missing passion in his life is a problem he doesn't want to live with. I'm a passionate person but my husband doesn't …

I am in an emotionally abusive marriage, so what about change? Not rated yet
I have realized that for about the past 9 or 10 years,I've been in an enabling, co-dependent marriage. Thinking everything was my fault, I've brought nearly …

Hands tied.... Not rated yet
I am the sister of an enabler, it is breaking my heart to watch her life even from 12 hours away! She has allowed this man to drag her down, mentally, …

I am a Classic Enabler. Not rated yet
I can't believe I have enabled my girlfriend for so long. It's getting worse. After a long separation 6 months, we are together again and have a …

Am I really an enabler? Help! Not rated yet
I am raising my son who is 21 y/o. Since his father and I split up, I tried to me a mom and dad for him. At age 8, he was exposed to immoral behavior …

Dear Livinginhope Not rated yet
I am not going to give you advice, as the 12 step program that I attend teaches me not to do this. I will only tell you that your decision to not have …

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Enabling Behavior -- the Punishment/Forgiveness Cycle

The following is a variation on the Drama Triangle I refer to as the Punishment/Forgiveness Cycle. The "Punisher/Forgiver", usually the Codependent, is the Persecutor/Rescuer...the "Punished/Forgiven", a problem person, is the Victim.

Click the Image Below to Review the Punishment/Forgiveness Cycle:

Enabling behaviors



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This information is not a substitute for professional evaluation and/or treatment. Reading the information contained here may trigger strong emotional reactions. If you have an emergency, call 911, other local emergency contact, your local emergency room, or law enforcement agency.

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Thaw Adult/Child Syndrome Adult/Child Syndrome