1.24.2012

How Not To Enable A Friend or Family Member


"Enabling" refers to the unhealthy reactivity from those around a person making poor choices. While family and friends may think their behavior is "helping" the sick person, in fact, enabling prevents the sick person from getting better, learning new coping skills, and changing. In the most severe cases, enabling can also lead to dangerous results (incarceration and/or death).

Any extreme human behavior (i.e., overeating, compulsive gambling, spending, eating, drug or alcohol use) gravely affects our loved ones.

While a mother may believe that giving her drug-addicted son money for a motel room so he can "be safe for a night," it is more likely that her son will buy more drugs, possibly resulting in his overdose or arrest. How is that helping?

A wife who calls in sick for her husband, claiming a severe flu, when he is hungover, is simply breaking his fall and prolonging his alcohol dependence. These maneuvers avoid natural consequences and prevent change.

While making excuses for other people seems to pay off in the short run, it makes things harder in the long run. A loved one might say, "Its the only way I can help" or "I just love her so much."

Psychoeducation is the factual understanding of unhealthy behavior and mental illness.
These are things that do not help:
  • Crying
  • Shaming
  • Making them feel guilty
  • Threatening
  • Cutting off affection
  • Pleading
  • Becoming angry
  • Withholding love