Changing Enabling Behavior




Fuzzy Boundaries

Enforcing Boundaries


The Pay-off


Q &A

Next Month:

We may have the best intentions by helping someone, but we also may be enabling them. There are very fuzzy boundaries between helping and enabling. If you’re enabling, you think that you’re helping, but what you’re doing is anything but helpful.

So that’s the topic of this month’s e-zine: Helping – Not Enabling--Don’t confuse the two.


When you help someone you are doing something that they cannot do for themselves -- but here’s where the line gets blurred. Ex: If I ask you to help me by mailing my letter, the nice thing to do would be to do it.

However, if I can do this myself and keep asking you, and you’re going out of your way to do it for me, you’re enabling me to depend on you to do it. I’ll expect you to mail my letters and probably get angry with you if you don’t. I’ve taken it for granted, that you've 'always mailed my letters' so why not now? But in actuality I should have been told that you're going out of your way to mail them and I should do it myself.


When a person is capable, and their responsibilities are handled for them, you’re enabling them. Enabling prevents the person from taking responsibility and receiving the consequences of their behavior – regardless of what the consequences are.

Fuzzy boundaries

Sometimes helping and enabling becomes confusing, Ex: your brother loses his job and can’t find work. He asks you to help him with money until he gets another job -- nothing wrong with helping. But you have to know when to stop.

If you don’t draw the line you may actually prevent him from actively looking for work. You have to set a deadline or you become an enabler not a helper.

Enforcing Boundaries

Enforcing boundaries is as simple as saying ‘no’-- but ‘no’ must mean ‘no’. If ‘no’, becomes ‘yes’, you’ve given in to pressure so it’s as good as saying ‘yes’ in the first place. If boundaries aren’t strong you’ll be enabling.


We can enable anyone: children, friends, family members, addicts – anyone we believe needs our help.

An enabler creates a dependent person.

The Payoff

Enablers get a false sense of superiority, and it makes them feel needed. They also guilt and control the other person by ‘helping’ them. However, enablers are resentful, frustrated and feel unappreciated when their action has been taken for granted.

An enabled person has a love/hate relationship with the enabler.

So is the payoff worth it? I don’t think so, but if you’re an enabler, here are 10 tips to stop.
1.Do not lie for anyone

2.Do not make excuses for others for not keeping obligations

3. Do not clean up after a substance abuser. Let them see what they’ve done.

4. Be accountable for your bills only. If it's not your responsibility, don’t pay.

5. Stand up for yourself, but don’t say anything you'll regret.

6. Don’t rescue. People should suffer consequences.

7. Don’t pay for lawyers or bail. If you must, take your time.

8. Stop trying to fix others. Work on yourself.

9. Get support of friends, family members get counseling or coaching join Al-Anon or other 12-step programs to help you change your enabling behavior.

10) Don't put so much emotional energy into the other person.

You’ll be stronger, more effective and have a happier life.

For more information on enabling



Hi Bev,

To cut a long story short my hubby of 12 years stopped drinking went back to it. Although he has not been drunk, he’s withdrawn, irritable, and generally negative.

I cried, pleaded, begged, talked sense etc, etc, - but finally I decided no more.

I am trying to detach for my own mental health. I love him and we have 3 children who love him but I have no control over his drinking. I have to control myself – ALL easier said than done. What do I do in these cases:

1. When he's nasty to the kids, do I tell him to stop it? Or is that enabling?

2. I always “hid” their drunken father from them. Is that enabling?

They are 9/8/4 – Is it OK to explain alcoholism to young children? If he was lying drunk on the sofa, should I let them see? I value your opinion


Sandra B.


Hi Sandra:

The children who are 9 and 8 are old enough to know that something going on.

Tell them that his temper is not their fault and that Dad has little patience right now. If they see him passed out on the sofa, you can say that he's had too much to drink. The youngest can understand that Dad’s not feeling well -- and he's not. But demand that your husband gets help. Here are the options:

It would also be helpful if you went to Al-Anon. These meetings are for families with an alcoholic member, and they will not only support you when you need it, but you will get ideas on how to handle your situation.


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