If you have tried unsuccessfully on your own to deal with either denial or enabling (or both),
or have tried to help someone else, and feel in need of assistance, there is help here to help you find
long-term resolution for your problems - and assist you in your Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Healing.
Klaas Tuinman MA
Deerfield, (Yarmouth County) Nova Scotia, Canada, 2000-2017
|Healing & Empowerment: Mentoring,
Seminars, Workshops & Retreats
Why do people keep on enabling? In part, it is due to those admirable human qualities of
caring, and hoping, and wanting so much for that person to snap out of it, and heal and recover.
So they see what they're doing as attempts at helping. But they're over their heads, without fully
realizing it. Only when the problem has reached a critical stage (has not gone away, but gotten
worse), do they think that they should do something. By then, however, denial has already set in
and it will be much harder to help
Often, they act this way, because they do not know much about such behaviours: or reject (deny)
what they do know; they don't want to deal with it, and they “play along”, and thus enabling the
person to continue with it. Families' (partners') non-acceptance (denial) of the problem does not
help the people with behavioural problems. Families may think they are helping them by protecting
them. However, they soon realize that making excuses won't help.
Making excuses, rationalizing and trying to keep the problem hidden only lead to more trouble.
The family (or partner) may attribute the behaviour to a number of things: a bad childhood,
marital problems, or other everyday problems that may happen to everybody, but that particular
person just can't cope with it.
Or . . . they too, may re-label it as an illness or disorder, and thus remove responsibility (and
choice of other options) for the behaviour from that individual.
It is NOT an illness or disorder: it is a CHOICE!
This in turn prevents him/her from receiving the proper help (and responses), but this also gives
support to the denial system. If you are allowing that behaviour to continue you are an Enabler.
Not only that, you become an accomplice in the con-game. Denial and Enabling in most cases also
result in Codependence.
Addiction counsellors, and often "sponsors" to alcohol "addicts", are often caught in being
"enablers", too. They know that they are doing so - but they continue, because at the same time
they are talking to that person, about things they could give a try at: pointing out underlying
issues that may have caused this and are perpetuating it. They do this in the hope of getting their
client/sponsee to see the light and take that first step back into the light. It works; but not with
everyone. I have been "caught" in that situation many times: because I refuse to give up on
people. There is always hope, and time . . . we never know when the seeds we plant may take
When we compare this to the other, positive use of the word "enable" as the process of helping someone
learn to function better and make better choices, and engage in more functional behaviours, while healing
or recovering from a challenge - or in some cases, help them adapt to the reality of a challenge that may be
permanent - we can readily see how the wider sense gets lots in the restrictive form.
Returning to the other, restrictive form: a frequently asked question is: why do people "enable":
quite simply, because they love the addict/dysfunctional person (in the case of alcoholism, the some-time
affable, clever and witty alcoholic), they act to protect them by covering for them: doing the work that
they don't get done, paying the bills that they don't pay, rescuing them from their scrapes with the law and
other incidents, and generally taking up the responsibilities they have abandoned.
The others cover for them by making excuses: For example, in alcoholism, "S/he can't come in to work
today, s/he's got a, err, virus . . . We've got to get him/her out of jail, s/he'll lose his job! Then what will
we do . . . It was my fault, officer, I said some things I should not have said . . .”
Please note: enabling is not only just connected to alcoholism: it can apply to any inconsiderate, anti-social,
dysfunctional activity, habit, etc.
By doing these things, they are protecting the addict/perpetrator from the consequences of their actions.
S/he never has to feel the real pain caused by his/her drinking.
These well-meaning, but people rush in to put "pillows" under him/her so s/he doesn't hurt her/himself in
the fall. Consequently, the addict/perpetrator never finds out how it feels to fall. Together, they become
Thus, by the time the "disease" has gotten to the crisis point, the "addict" has developed a support system of
family and friends. These people that are close to the person who is developing an unacceptable behaviour
pattern, become adept at overlooking or avoiding the evidence.
This negative for of enabling is a delusion - with everyone pretending that the "problem"
doesn't exist! Although the dysfunctional behaviour (substance abuse, or other) has placed them (in
their minds) in a helpless and dependent position, the addict/perpetrator can continue to believe s/he is still
independent because s/he has been rescued from his/her troubles, and absolved from ownership and
responsibility, by her/his well-meaning family, friends, co-workers, employers and sometimes clergymen
The roles these enablers play to "help" the addict/perpetrator can be just as obsessive and harmful as the
alcoholic's drinking. With these enabling devices in place, the addict/perpetrator is free to continue in the
progression of his/her dysfunction, with her/his denial intact, until s/he perhaps reaches the point of hitting
bottom, at which point even the most dedicated addict/dysfunctional perpetrator must finally admit there
is a problem. But there is no way for them to ever hit bottom when it's always covered with pillows.
Enabling hinders someone from admitting to, and changing a self-harmful behaviour like an addiction,
self-neglect, or a disabled true-Self, by not confronting them respectfully.
The line between short-term compassion and long-term enabling can be hard to see.
Has anyone ever impeded your growth by withholding some important feedback about you? Have you ever
been enabled and kept from growing and healing? Are you an enabler?
It is better to become the other kind of enabler- the healing facilitation one.
|ENABLING: facilitating the status quo for Addicts.
Helping them avoid Ownership and Responsibility
|A Dawn Cove Abbey Information Resource, and support
for Adult Children of Alcoholic/Dysfunctional Families
|Providing Roadside Assistance for your Journey through Life
- Dedicated to helping people return (and maintain) sanity and decency to life -
From, "One! The Journey hOMe", the eBook by Klaas Tuinman MA, © 2007-1
Questions and comments welcomed.
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To "enable", means to activate, or make something possible, or to help someone
function more capably through a personal challenge of some sort or kind - or to
find, or provide something for them that will help them do so (including "bad"
habits and addictions).
"Enable" is one of those words in our language that has a somewhat broad range
of meaning, and thus like so many others that are that way, become indistinct,
and frequently misused (and/or misunderstood). Mostly, their "meaning" is meant
to become evident in the context of the sentence - yet they often fail to do so.
The word "enabling is a perfect example of the danger (and limiting aspects of
"labels", because there are often more than one possible meanings of it. Related
"Enable" in restrictive form - a "label":
In recent years the word "enable" has virtually become more and more like a label,
a restrictive one that is used when speaking about, or dealing with addictions and
dysfunctional lifestyles. And the problem with labels is that quite quickly after
adopting them, most people can't see past them, and thus lose the wider, more
In that context, its meaning describes reactions and actions that "over-look", or
"excuse" the activity or behaviours - it is also used as a synonym for "rescuing",
in that context, and those who do so are referred to as enablers.
As commonly used, enabling refers to the other participants in the "Let's pretend"
- their part is the "I'm pretending he/she isn't. . . " one. In in this usage, enabling
is making excuses: a case where the others accept the lying, and play along as if it
wasn't so: a game of pretend; - a very sick game - actually, it's their own form
of denial. This “enables” (makes it possible for) the one with the problem to “get
away with it”. It used to be called “sweeping things under the rug or carpet”. It
is also known as "cover-up".