What is an Enabler?

An enabler, also known as a codependent, is a person who by their actions, make it easier for an addict to continue their self-destructive behavior by criticizing or rescuing. The term codependency refers to a relationship where one or both parties enable the other to act in certain maladaptive ways.

Many times, the act of the enabler satisfies a need for the codependent person because his or her actions foster a need from the other person or persons in the relationship. In many ways the enabler who feels they have to rescue and take care of an addict is just as dependent on the addict as addict is on the particular drug or alcohol.

To enable the individual with the addiction, the mutually dependent person makes excuses and lies for the addict, which enables the addiction to continue. Codependency is reinforced by a person's need to be needed. The enabler thinks unreasonably by believing he can maintain healthy relationships through manipulation and control. He believes he can do this by avoiding conflict and nurturing dependency. Is it normal for someone to think that he can maintain a healthy relationship when he does not address problems and he lies to protect others from their responsibilities? The way a codependent person can continue to foster this dependency from others is by controlling situations and the people around them. The ongoing manner of a codependent home is to avoid conflicts and problems and to make excuses for destructive or hurtful behavior. The codependent does not consciously attempt to increase the addicts dependence, but because they view the addict as out of control they increase the dependence by taking over.

Why does enabling cause so much hurt in a relationship? The power afforded to the mutually dependent person in a relationship support his need for control, even if he uses inappropriate means to fulfill his need to be in control. A second and overlooked reason centers on the contradictory messages and unclear expectations presented to the addict by someone who is codependent. These characteristics tend to cause these relationships to be chaotic and become filled with irrational thoughts and behavior. give to a relationship filled with irrational thoughts and behavior. This kind of relationship has no clear rules for right and wrong behavior. The person(s) unhealthy patterns you enable may be increasing one or more of these behaviors:

  • Drinking too much
  • Spending too much
  • Overdrawing their bank account/bouncing checks
  • Gambling too much
  • In trouble with loan sharks/check cashing agencies
  • Working too much/not enough
  • Maxing out the credit cards
  • Abusing drugs (prescription or street drugs)
  • Getting arrested (especially when you bail him/her out)
  • Any of a number of other unhealthy behaviors/patterns of addiction.

Any time you assist or allow another person to continue in their unproductive/unhealthy and addictive behavior, whether actively or passively, you are enabling. Even when you say nothing you are enabling the behavior to continue as long as you stay in the relationship. Sometimes you say nothing out of fear, fear of reprisal, fear of the other person hurting, hating, not liking you; or fear of butting in where you don’t think you belong. Perhaps you even fear being hit or worse.

Sometimes enabling takes the form of doing something for another that they can and should do for themselves. It also takes the form of making excuses for someone else’s behavior. Example: There are situations where the spouse of an alcoholic will call in to the boss to say that person is "sick," when they are really too hung over so they can’t make it to work.

It is quite likely that you enable due to your own low self-esteem. Enablers or codependents haven't gained the ability to say no, without fear of losing the love or caring of that other person. People who learn tough love have to learn that their former behaviors have been enabling and that to continue in them would represent allowing the other person's pattern of behavior to continue and to worsen.

It is difficult to stop enabling. And it's not easy until you know you deserve to stop. Until you know that you are endearing regardless of what the person you've previously enabled says to the contrary and until you raise your own self-esteem enough to be that strong you will still act in codependent ways. You may think it's the other person who needs all of the help, in truth, you both do.

Darlene Albury, LMSW


6 thoughts on “What is an Enabler?”

  • Cristina Dinchak

    The power is within. Step by step you learn how to stop these influences in your life.

  • J. Brooks

    My husband always calls me an enabler when we fight about our son. He is failing a class he is trying and we constantly get on his case. My son has told me on a number of occasions that he can not learn from this teacher, and his grades have not improved. We have spoke to the teacher and have found out that our son does not pay attention in class and is easily distracted. He cries to me that he tries really hard but there is no improvement. He wants to be moved to another hands on teacher . When I suggested that all teachers are not for all students and maybe he might do better in another class that's when I was told I was an enabler. He uses the term in a negative way and consently throws it in my face. It is very hurtful to me because I try to be supportive of our son but when he makes that comment all I feel is him deep criticism of me and not the love I have on wanting to help. I felt like because it has been 9 weeks and he is doing fine in all his other classes that maybe there is another issue here but he wants to blame me.

    • Tia

      I am so sorry that this is a situation you are in. I am sorry to say that I do think you are enabling your son because if he isn't paying attention then it is very likely that a different teacher and while I understand as a mother you want to do what's best for your son and be helpful and attentive but , by moving him to another teacher that could possibly reinforce that he doesn't have to pay attention because he is in another class like the last time. That being said your husband should not blame you and he DEFINITELY should not be throwing that back in your face, and if he is doing that you need to confront him and tell him not to do that.

  • Patricia

    You are in a tough situation as this is both your son and your husband. I wish you well with what you may or not decide.

    I know two people who are indeed enablers for sure. One a professional who is in a domestic violence relationship and has been there for a very long time and brought me into the middle of it until I woke one day and sought help to get away from the situation which in my mind is quite volitile today.

    The other recently, I called out an individual who absolutely enables a friend to "dictate" her life and she pushes away people around her and it is quite hurtful. It has happened more than once and if it were not for my own self respect I would fight it, but I decided to walk away until if it ever presents again, I will deal with the situation then.

  • Enabler Husband
    Enabler Husband March 26, 2016 at 1:06 pm

    My 18 year old stepdaughter, her husband, and baby live with us. The stepdaughter has a middle school education. My husband tried to get her to do online school but he ended up doing the work because she didn't care until finally he stopped. She does not have a driver's license. My husband states that it won't be much longer that he can take her and the baby to their doctor's appointments. The husband does work and although they do not pay any rent or utilities, he deems it necessary to spend a good bit of money on his mixed martial arts classes. The stepdaughter does watch 2 of her sister's kids for a few hours each week for a mere $70 a week. My problem is she is not nor does she show any desire to even study for her GED, get her license, or a decent job. My husband says that she will do what she wants when she wants and that he cannot force her. I tell him that I did not sign up to keep adult kids and their kids at home for as long as they wish. He says that them being at home makes him happy. He asks me if it's a monetary thing. I try and explain but he tells me that I just don't care about his happiness. I love him very much but why would she ever leave? He is a very intelligent man except when it comes to his kids. I told him that I am not saying that I want them out in any certain time frame, that I just need to see that they are working toward goals. The only goal she has told me that she has is that she doesn't want her kids to be more than 3 years apart.

    Please help!

  • Love or addiction?
    Love or addiction? May 5, 2016 at 12:19 pm

    Thank you Darlene! Aside from the last paragraph,, I mostly read about the symptoms and behaviors of codependents and addicts. "This is what's happening in your life, and probably this too." All hits close to home. Can you provide more help or links on how to start changing this? I've been in a relationship for 4 years with a woman. We both claim to love each other very much, and most of the time we get along well, until she snaps and has anxiety attacks about me and the relationship and where we're going and why I'm not "doing s**t to fix anything". Thats usually when I clam up and just let her vent. Occasionally I will jump in with both feet and join the yelling. Its been the same cycle for 4 years. Find something to attack, I try to defuse it, things calm down for a while, repeat. She works from home compulsively as an entrepreneur and I work a 9-5 that supports us. But thats wrong and I should quit my job so we can be together 24/7 and become successful together. That scares the c**p out of me.

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