Enabling 101: How Love Becomes Fear and Help Becomes Control

 Welcome matThe term “enabler” has gained widespread recognition and use in popular culture and media over the past several decades. It is a label that can result in a great deal of anxiety and guilt for anyone who has been accused of being, or suspects that they may be, an enabler.

In its original context, enabling refers to a pattern within the families of people addicted to alcohol and drugs, wherein the family members excuse, justify, ignore, deny, and smooth over the addiction. This notoriously allows the addicted person to avoid facing the full consequences of his or her addiction, and the addiction is able to continue.

In a wider sense, enabling can describe a pattern of behavior that becomes organized among the family and friends of not just an addicted person, but any person who is exhibiting poor choices that harm themselves or others and for which they are not being held responsible.

Who are enablers? Enablers can be romantic partners, ex-partners, parents, adult children, siblings, or friends. The one thing that all enablers have in common is this: they love someone who is out of control, and they find themselves taking more responsibility for the actions of that person than the person is taking for themselves.

The one thing that all enablers have in common is this: they love someone who is out of control, and they find themselves taking more responsibility for the actions of that person than the person is taking for themselves.

Who is enabled? The enabled person may be one who is refusing to take on responsibilities he or she would otherwise be expected to take on in the course of age- and stage-appropriate development. The enabled person may be exhibiting a range of poor choices with alcohol and drugs, ranging from abuse to addiction. This may also encompass poor choices around so-called “soft addictions” such as gambling, pornography, or excessive video gaming. He or she may refuse, or appear unable, to fulfill normative roles of adulthood. If a parent, he or she may underperform or disregard the responsibilities of parenthood. He or she may frequently disrupt romantic partnerships. The enabled person often displays poor money management, as well as disorganized academic and/or career-planning choices. He or she may quit or be fired from a series of promising jobs and educational or training programs. The enabled person often describes himself/herself as a victim of circumstances or of other people.

The enabled person’s behavior elicits a great deal of anxiety within the people who love him or her. This creates a dysfunctional system into which people who are close to, love, or care for the person can become enmeshed: compelled to organize their own behavior around the needs and choices of the enabled person.

Some who use the term “enabler” do so with a heavily negative judgment against the person who fulfills the role. It is commonly believed that enablers are knowingly, even willingly, complicit in the actions of the person they are enabling; that enablers support and condone the negative choices of the person they are enabling.

This is far from true. Enablers do not like or feel OK with what the enabled person is doing. To the contrary, enablers are often the ones most affected by, and most disturbed by, the negative behaviors of the enabled person. They feel extremely anxious about the destructive consequences that the enabled person could face.

Consider the following quotes from self-described enablers in therapy:

  • “If I kicked him out, he would be homeless. He’s so irresponsible with money, he could never make it on his own. What else am I supposed to do?”
  • “Every time I’ve tried to talk to her about her addiction to those pills, she’s gone on an even worse binge, and I’m afraid she will overdose.”
  • “I know I shouldn’t have paid for his lawyer after the third DUI, but if he went to jail, he would lose his job.”
  • “Every time she and her boyfriend fight, she crashes here. I let her because I know he can be violent, and I don’t want her to be hurt. I wish she would leave him for good.”

In other words, enablers detest the behaviors of the enabled, but they fear the consequences of those behaviors even more. They are locked into a lose-lose position in the family. Setting boundaries feels like a punishment, a rejection, or an abandonment of the person they love. Enablers may struggle with the guilt they would feel if the person they’re enabling were “left alone” to be hurt and damaged by the real consequences of their actions. In some instances, enablers are also protecting themselves and/or children from those consequences.

Enabling, therefore, is a distorted attempt to solve problems. Enablers desperately desire to find a solution to the issues at hand, but their attempts to do so are severely limited by the dysfunctional family system.

Enablers frequently find themselves thinking things like:

  • “If only I can keep this person going through their current crisis, it will buy us another day.”
  • “If I can’t change what they’ve done, at least I can help limit the damage of that choice.”
  • “Maybe my loved one will wake up and come to his or her senses. Maybe a real solution is waiting right around the next corner.”

Enabling has the effect of releasing the enabled person from having to take responsibility for his or her behavior. Enabling means that someone else will always fix, solve, or make the consequences go away. When someone is in the throes of an addiction or other grossly dysfunctional behavior pattern, he or she begins to rely on the resources available. Enabled persons will come to expect that their behaviors are disconnected from consequences or negative outcomes. Enabled persons may even begin to hold their enabling family members in “emotional hostage” in order to keep this pattern going. They may learn to manipulate their enablers in order to ensure that the help and support keep coming.

In this kind of a system, everybody loses by inches. The enabler is desperate to prevent one enormous crisis, but winds up experiencing a constant state of stress as he or she attempts to manage each smaller daily crisis. Enablers generally are aware that they are being taken advantage of in some way; they often report feeling frustrated, unappreciated, and resentful.

The enabled person becomes stuck in a role in which he or she feels incompetent, incapable, disempowered, dependent, and ineffectual. He or she may gradually accept a self-concept that includes these negative traits, destroying self-esteem.

How, then, does the enabled person also “lose”? The enabled person may wish he or she felt in control of themselves, particularly with regard to addiction; but lacking the life experience and lessons that facing consequences brings, they may not know how to break those patterns. They may not have had the benefit of true self-reflection and self-evaluation of their behaviors. The enabled person becomes stuck in a role in which he or she feels incompetent, incapable, disempowered, dependent, and ineffectual. He or she may gradually accept a self-concept that includes these negative traits, destroying self-esteem and rendering the person even less likely to suddenly do a 180 and become responsible and self-sufficient in the future. The enabled person may essentially be prevented from building the skills and motivation he or she needs in order to practice responsibility and reach his or her full potential. Because the enabler(s) will always solve problems for them, the enabled person does not learn how to solve their problems themselves.

By this point, you may be thinking, “I can see some of the ways I have been enabling my loved one. What now?”

You must accept that while your enabling behaviors come from a place of love, enabling is an ineffective way of solving problems at best; debilitating to all involved at worst. You may buy another day or prevent another emergency, but in the end, you are only postponing the real solution.

The key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. This involves setting boundaries between yourself and your loved one. You can no longer attempt to take on responsibility for anyone else’s actions but your own. Your loved one’s choices are (and have always been) his or hers. Your loved one’s outcomes and consequences, as well, belong to him or her alone.

The enabled person lives in the same world, with the same rules, as everybody else. Managing their world for them means that they don’t learn to manage themselves within the world. He or she is very likely to have untapped internal and external resources which have not been utilized because the enabling pattern has short-circuited their growth.

When you set boundaries, you release your need to control the outcomes that your loved one experiences. You allow your loved one the chance to connect his or her own choices to the positive and negative experiences that naturally follow. Their choices, their consequences, and what they do or don’t learn from them are all on their side of the boundary.

On your side of the boundary, this means that you must learn to cope with, and internally manage, the anxiety of not being in control of your loved one. Many recovering enablers find that they must rely on their own sources of support to help them overcome the urge to control and enable. The fear of your loved one being hurt can be so overwhelming that setting boundaries and stepping back can be panic-inducing. Receiving counseling for further insight and support in this area is highly recommended.

When you stop enabling, this does not mean that you stop loving the person. It does not even mean that you cannot help him or her.

When you stop enabling, this does not mean that you stop loving the person. It does not even mean that you cannot help him or her. There is a difference between healthy help and enabling. Healthy help involves providing information, encouragement, and coaching to your loved one. You may give your loved one contact information for doctors, counselors, lawyers, or rehabilitation programs, without feeling the need to force him or her to accept this help. You may discuss with your loved one what the possible consequences of actions might be, without feeling as if you must make sure they make the choice you want them to make. Healthy help puts your loved one in control and allows you to take a secondary role.

Enabling is essentially love turned to fear, and help turned to control. The effects of enabling are toxic to all involved. With a solid understanding of what enabling is, and what it is not, there is hope for families who are acting out this pattern. An experienced individual and/or family counselor can be a valuable source of support for anyone who is looking to break enabling patterns.

© Copyright 2013 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Kyle S. King, LMFT, LCPC, Family Therapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Jack l

    October 19th, 2013 at 4:42 AM

    I have for years watched my wife enable our son to continue to drink and do drugs although she would never see it this way. She would dsimply see it as she is making sure that he doesn’t end up on the streets, but she doesn’t see that all the money she gives him ends up going toward keeping him sated with his drugs of choice. Oh he plays the game well and there are times that even he can fool me enough to think that he won’t get back into those old habits again but I think that I am wise enough to know better now. It is hard when it is your child, your own flesh and blood, butt here comes a time when you have to let them fall, crash and burn, for when will they ever decide they need help if they aren’t allowed to fail?

  • Kay. A

    October 19th, 2013 at 9:18 PM

    We gave our son choice..rehab…or just leave…no money…he overdosed and died 3days later. I still believe rehab is only way…but you have to be able to accept consequences…I often wonder….maybe if we tried one more time??..t

  • Shannon Krause

    October 21st, 2013 at 12:57 PM

    That is what I fear! I’m 38 years old and my mom is addicted to Xanax. She overdosed last week and went to the ER. They admitted her to the psychiatric ward but she left after 3 days. Now she is at home having withdrawls and constantly texting and calling me to help her in some way. I’ve helped her in the past. In 2008 I contacted the television show intervention and she went to a facility for 3 months in Dallas. I have a husband and two wonderful boys ages 6 and 8 that need me. I don’t know what else I can do to help my mom. This has hurt my family for a long time and I need to be here for my husband and kids! What should I do? Thanks

  • Mona

    December 8th, 2014 at 4:56 AM

    Al-anon or Nar-anon is a good place to start. I’m going back to counseling to learn more ways to set boundaries. I don’t have the energy to keep up with this dance.

  • Tanya

    August 5th, 2016 at 1:51 AM

    Dear Kay. My heart truly feels for you. I can relate bc my son is addicted & I continue over & over again to enable him bc I fear one day he may take his own life. I am seeking support & counseling. My son was picked up tonight by law enforcement to go to a 90 day lock down facility for psychiatric evaluation. It kills me inside to think I can’t help him when I know he is in the safest place right now bc if he were here with me I’m afraid it would keep going & get worse. I sometimes feel I love too much & I think of when he was young & free it hurts. Right now I know he is probably so scared & angry but I have hope & have a sense of relief knowing that he can get the help he needs & I can work on myself. If I was able to visit I know it would destroy this chance he has. I’m counting as blessing. Thank-you for sharing about your son. A mother’s love 💓

  • Laura

    September 14th, 2016 at 4:31 AM

    Oh Kay my heart breaks for you. I am so sorry. You could not have made rehab successful.

  • Carolyn O.

    January 14th, 2019 at 10:27 PM

    Kay my heart goes out to you, I know what you mean it is a vicious cycle full of deceit and don’t know what to do’s I lost my oldest son age 32 he had been in the USAF, then he got out and I think at one point was dabbling in drugs but I was not aware, he died of a brain injury accidentally hit his head no one knows truth too many stories told by gf. I have two children now whom are in addiction adults, and been in and out of so many rehabs, I am at a loss, they do not have insurance and go to state funded programs and also faith based, well they get out and do great for a while and there they go again, I do not know what to do how to treat them and where to turn anymore, my one daughter has a heart full of love but the drugs make her mean, she has a child that lives with the other . Loves her son dearly and of course those of you who do not understand the complexity of addiction will not understand or want to, but loves him very much. It seems she gets so close to getting her son back but then 4 steps forward ten back and she cannot seem to stop this merry go round she loves her son I know she is sick I am taking her to a therapist out patient this week she wants help but seems to fail miserably, I lost my mother to a murder a man had bludgeoned her to death ( when my five children were growing up he was the handy man, lost my dad some years ago, and lost a cousin, Uncle and nephew to suicide, I am at the end of the rope and my heart is broken each of us have had our share many people have gone through worse, I have a great faith but I am so heart broken and I feel helpless and hopeless, Please pray for me any of you as I will pray for All of those in addiction and their families as well. Those in addiction are human and deserve the best care out there to save their lives, money or no money there should be scholarships with these institutions and I do believe there are but The entire United States need to wake up and take a hard look at what the drug crisis is doing to our nation as I understand we have lost more people to overdoses than the Vietnam war. I am sorry for all whom have lost their families to this terrible epidemic and death trap called DRUGS and it is only getting more complicated and no help to those in need. Can’t we all do something?? I pray that we can join together this fight and stop this cycle. I am sure it cannot all be stopped but we surely can try all we know to do so, Thank you

  • Kristy

    October 20th, 2013 at 7:48 AM

    This was quite helpful in my problem. I was thinking I was just out of control with jealousy, but after reading this, it seems that my love has just turned into fear that my husband will be fantasizing about other women. I have try to control the chances of him seeing a lot of women but it just causes more problems and does Noooo good. I need to accept that I am not responsible and let him make his own decisions, then whatever the consequences may be. Pick up the pieces and move on. No matter what fears I have of either one of us being single.

  • Shelli

    October 21st, 2013 at 2:15 AM

    I have been going to Nar-Anon for 2 years. It was there that I learned how to stop enabling my family members. I have been able to do it with every body except my boyfriend. My enabling him is destroying me and my life.I have set boundaries and they are respected for the most part but I am at a point where I am losing self respect and losing myself due to denying how I truly feel.

  • tina c

    October 21st, 2013 at 3:52 AM

    It becomes this endless cycle of wanting to help the victim, then the victim wants to break free too but then he is using you to get his needs met. Such a horrible situation for any family to find themselves in.

  • jake

    October 21st, 2013 at 10:35 AM

    You start out with the best of intentions and then they quickly snowball into unintended things, but by then, who can stop it? Everyone gets caught up in it.

  • Andre

    December 14th, 2013 at 11:24 PM

    I have been recovering from alcoholism for almost 24 years now. I have lapsed into a dependent situation. I am on disability. My room mate was helping me and he had a little part time job when we met and was going through a divorce. When he relapsed I thought he would meet some girl and move on but I made things much too comfortable. We both have taken our comforts in life. The cobblers kids had gone barefoot around here way too long. My father has 13 grand children. I tried to finish my Graduate degree online among other endeavors to know avail. We are both addicts now and our spending is out of control in my estimation.

    I also tried to sponsor a woman with narcissistic tendencies who refuses to grieve her failed attempts at motherhood who is controlling, overly sensitive and domineering who resents my buddies affection.

    My father was a care giver for his girlfriend with a terminal illness. I tried to play a support role and attend AA meetings. I sleep on the couch when my Dad is here almost half the year, and my buddy lays around in the living room watching TV all day… so really I have to go visit my lady friend.

    Most of the people I know are in some form of active abuse, or OCD. I run to my meeting almost every night just for someplace to get away 10 minutes late. Sometimes I just go shopping or get a cup of coffee. That is my hour. I have to compete with everyone just to get there at all. I don’t know if its martyrdom; people pleasing or over-giving. I really don’t have a choice.

  • Ginny

    December 27th, 2014 at 11:49 PM

    I am a Certified Alcohol Drug Counselor and Codependency Counselor. I would recommend Alanon/Naranon Meetings and seeing a codependent counselor to help you in setting limits and boundaries. With support you can stop enabling your loved one and encourage them in getting the treatment they deserve.

  • Santana

    November 19th, 2016 at 9:06 AM

    I have a 22 year old that at the age of 13 has been acting up. My mother took him but could not deal with her husband who is bipolar and my son was who kept answering back to him. My mother sent him back I tried till 10th grade where he got out of school and I sent him to job corp. he was thrown out after a year of not even getting his high school degree. He has been going from home to home getting thrown out. He has been smoking marijuana for several years not sure when it started. I’m at my ends wits now he is in california in a county wher there is no homeless shelter and was thrown out of his uncles house now for 3 days. He called me the first two days where I refused to send and or pay for a motel. My mother agreeded to help him but I think in his head, he thought if he stayed long enough his uncle would take him back. Which he won’t because my son tried yesterday. So he stayed in the streets waiting after leaving his uncles house I have not heard from him, have not slept and want to keep this tough love act but it’s hard. The weather is getting colder up to 30 degrees at night and will be raining for 3 days straight. I’m exhausted don’t know what to do, have called the hospital and all the hotels, motels even shelters over an hour away cus there are no homeless shelter where he is, they have one bus that comes out of there, no taxis no uber not much of anything. But then I think of his behavior how sweet and nice he is at the beginning and then he changes becomes rude, lazy and feels entitled which is where he gets thrown out. I’ve felt for years that he has a mental problem and the other day when he called he said mom something is wrong with me, I feel like I’m going crazy. Now is this sincere or is he telling me what he thinks I want to hear. What do I do? I just lost my nephew 6 months ago for doing the something he was bipolar and was murdered. Please this is a desperate mother seeking advice and or help. Ask me any questions and I’ll answer as sincere as possible. I don’t want something to happen to him. Please I’m begging I need help! Thank you!

  • GoodTherapy Admin

    November 20th, 2016 at 12:50 PM

    Dear Santana,

    If you would like to consult with a mental health professional, please feel free to return to our homepage, https://www.goodtherapy.org/, and enter your zip code into the search field to find therapists in your area.

    Once you enter your information, you’ll be directed to a list of therapists and counselors who meet your criteria. From this list you can click to view our members’ full profiles and contact the therapists themselves for more information. You are also welcome to call us for assistance finding a therapist. We are in the office Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time; our phone number is 888-563-2112 ext. 1.

    Kind regards,
    The GoodTherapy.org Team

  • Mary

    January 14th, 2017 at 5:19 AM

    My boyfriend is 31, at age 13 he was diagnosed with bipolar, anxiety and depression, bad allergies and asthma. As a kid his mom coddled him, took him to all his appointments, excused his behavior. She got him a car, helped him get in and out of rentals. He always managed to be good at first but would bend all the rules, slam doors, being rude, feeling entitled.
    I met Kenneth and that’s about the time his mom stopped helping him. He was poly addicted. Alcohol, kolonopin, much more. I got him sober, but now he can’t cope with anything. I now am doing everything, he demands I take him places, I have to lock up his bipolar medication because he over takes it then I have to find ways to get him a Dr appointment, then I pay out of pocket for medications. I feel like I’m taking care of a patient. I am a caregiver. I just told him I’m falling out of love with him, that we need to move apart. I need to break this cycle. I feel I picked up where his mom left off. He is threatening suicide now. I feel I need to hold my ground or he will never be self sufficient. I feel depleted, I don’t want him to relapse, or die. I really don’t like doing things for someone who is rude, selfish, demanding, and manipulative. This has been the worst relationship I have ever been in.

  • Gigi

    February 6th, 2017 at 1:41 PM

    Santana, hope you have gotten help for your son. I too have been there with my own son. He is 24 and has been sober 1 yr 5 months now. After several attempts in helping him myself, he obviously hit rock bottom and sought help on his own without my knowledge. I believe your son was sincere in telling you he thought he was going crazy whether he felt he was due to his behavior or the drug addiction itself… Doesn’t matter both make them feel that way….Don’t give up if you are all he has but only help if he’s willing to go to rehab or needs money for food…But make him work do chores for food…And purchase food only.

  • Deb

    March 31st, 2015 at 2:49 PM

    Love this site . Would you do more on boundaries ? So many friends with this issue . I’ve worked on it with a counselor for three years ! Gotta do it !

  • nora

    May 31st, 2015 at 7:43 PM

    My husband’s son called me an enabler because my husband is an narscisistic alcoholic. My question is, when I do my weekly grocery shopping and he tells me to put on the grocery list wine or liquor, am I enabling him when I buy it? Or when we stop at the grocery store and he tells me to go in and get some liquor because he can’t walk in himself due to his arthritic knees, am I enabling? I feel that he is old enough to make his choices. I refuse to argue with him about his drinking, what he should and shouldn’t do, etc. I end up being sicker. Its not worth it for me to go through that. So am I an enabler?

  • Marijana

    June 1st, 2015 at 9:43 PM

    Hi Nora, I am a counsellor as well and I have specialized in addictions for over 10 years. This is definitely enabling behaviour. If you were to set a boundary and express to your husband how his drinking makes you feel and how it impacts you and that you will not purchase it for him any longer he will have to figure out another way to obtain it. He may still choose to walk to the store despite the pain from his arthritis but that is his choice and his pain to bear. It allows him the time for “true self-reflection and self-evaluation of their behaviors. The enabled person becomes stuck in a role in which he or she feels incompetent, incapable, disempowered, dependent, and ineffectual.” …ALANON or counselling would be so good for your own support with the feelings you have about dealing with this. Your own fear of the conflict between you and your husband is just as important for you to deal with as his drinking. My best!

  • jay

    August 26th, 2015 at 9:13 PM

    My husband is addicted to heroin. He gets angry and starts cursing at me and calling me names when I don’t give him money for it. He spends about almost $200 a week. He’s lost job after job with different excuses, no stability so I end up paying rent and bills. His mom and I both enable him. He treats his mother horribly, he’s disrespected her so many times, but when he needs money he’ll lie and say it’s for other things and almost forces her to give him money. We have a toddler and he plays with him and loves him but spends the rest of his time nodding off. We had a car accident already because of it. I’ve caught him even trying to talk to girls…i don’t know what to do anymore, for the sake of our child. It’s a horrible addiction.


    August 27th, 2015 at 4:53 AM

    What an interesting article. I really enjoyed reading this.

  • Pam

    November 7th, 2015 at 3:11 PM

    It took years for me to realize this! Self Esteem is the hardest to rebuild, only self reflection can do that. This was a great article and seeing it in print has verified that ALL I HAVE LEARNED.. can be shared..Thank You.

  • mary

    April 9th, 2016 at 9:11 AM

    I have been enabling my daughter for years, mostly out of fear for my grandchildren and her safety. I don’t know how know how to stop, it is getting worse. I have given her so much money, its out of control

  • Anon3101

    August 8th, 2016 at 8:42 PM

    This really hits home in more ways than one. My wife & her parents have been enabling her brother for 7 years (he is not an addict, but has made poor career choices and has no real steady employment – only a series of sporadic jobs, mostly under the table). He was divorced 5 years ago (his ex is BPD & NPD) and has 2 boys, 7 & 15, the older one of which has a chronic illness. My wife had bought him a house with the understanding he would build a suite & rent it out but 7 years later it remains unfinished. This has resulted in us living with my wife’s mother (who is also an enabler) and being forced to look after my wife’s elderly father so he can stay in his own home (he should be in a nursing home at 92, but my wife was using his money for her brother and he agreed if he could stay in his own home). My wife does not want a home with me (she has been willed her mother’s house) and will not contribute to household expenses if I were to buy one (she says she has to look after her brother). She also refused to do any help with housework if I bought a house (she said she would be spending it at her mother’s & father’s homes). This mindset has nearly cost me a marriage, and may yet. It has already cost me 2 months away from work (and will probably cost close to 2 more as I will need surgery in the near future). Yet this family still expects me to look after their needs. I already resent her family deeply but she doesn’t care. She is going to the point of trying to keep me from my parents as she thinks they pushed me to leave her, but she blatantly ignores the major role her own parents & brother had – and their enabling behavior. This article described my in laws to a T.

  • AtlantaGA

    July 13th, 2017 at 4:27 AM

    What ever happened? I see all the stories here about people not wanting to be enablers anymore but I don’t see any follow up on the results of changing. Is there hard evidence and proof that if you leave someone to help themselves they were better off in the long run?

  • Martha

    December 19th, 2016 at 6:14 AM

    I’m an enabler in recovery. For years, I enabled my 26 year old daughter by taking responsibility for her behaviors. Always trying to rescue her. Addiction now is in the picture which makes it even worse, wanting to rescue her.
    This article helped me understand how toxic it is for both, the enabler and the enabled.
    “Enabling is essentially love turned to fear, and help turned to control. The effects of enabling are toxic to all involved.”
    We are so used to being part of a dysfunctional family system. It takes a lot of pain and suffering to emotionally detach from the enabled. It is a process. It takes courage to know we deserve better. It takes courage to learn how to say no. It takes courage to see that I had gone to hell and back with her addiction trying to rescue her. It also takes work to learn how to set healthy boundaries. It is all well worth it.

  • diana

    March 21st, 2017 at 4:12 PM

    My heart goes out to Kelly, to all of you. I am so sorry Kelly that you went through this, must be so hard. I don’t know if what I am going to share would help. My ex mother in law was addicted to pills. In several occasions she made me take her to the emergency room. When I would take her to the emergency room, at the emergency room I would find out there was nothing wrong with her. She did this to me a few times usually during my days off, on the weekends. After the second time of taking her to the emergency room. I had started to feel something weird was going on, I had started to feel like she was faking this; exhausted, I started questioning. I started fallowing her every where. I saw when she went to the bathroom one time leaving the door semi opened. I was watching her, I took a pick through the door that she had left semi opened (on purpose) to find out she was there planning something, I saw she laid on the bathtub cautiously , pull the curtain towards her and started screaming “help, help, me! she didn’t know I was watching her through the door the whole time. I decided to play along with her, to go along. I pretended I did not see her “faking” I came to her “rescue”. She asked me to take her to the emergency room, I took her to the emergency room but this time I decided to share with the person at the counter in the emergency room exactly what I saw my mother in law doing. The person at the counter suggested for me to leave, to go home and rest which I did I left, I went home. My mother in law started calling me around mid night telling me to pick her up. I did not pick her up till around 5:30 am the fallowing morning, when I arrived at the emergency room she was there waiting for me so angry. She screamed “how dare you to this to me” I felt guilty a little, but I kind of felt good, I felt I got my groove back! But i still ask me the question. Do addition turns into manipulation, attention seeking? all of the above? a cry looking for love?

  • Mohlie

    May 8th, 2017 at 5:20 AM

    I too am an enabler. I realize now that instead of trying to help my son, I need to help myself. Last night I prayed to God, and I believe this website was the answer to my prayer. I kept feeling like I had done wrong as a parent. Now I know that this is very common and there is help. My only concern is that there are children involved and I don’t want them to struggle. (ages 3-14) He also has a wife, who is no better….maybe even worse with her upbringing. I fear now I may never see my grandkids again.

  • joan

    March 6th, 2018 at 7:18 PM

    I am an enabler and this article helped me realized it. For the past years, I was enabling my live-in partner. I even suffered PPD and anxiety after I gave birth to my second child. I am the breadwinner and he doesn’t look for job. His excuse is that he has asthma. He just helps on the household chores. Until now, I am the one working. I’ve always told him to look for a job but he does nothing. I am the one who provides food, and other basic needs for our family. I am the one who provides money for his medicines too. I hate myself sometimes because I feel like I am being abused but I couldn’t do anything. I’ll do my best to set boundaries starting today. Thanks a lot for this article. I can see myself in it.

  • Lorraine

    September 21st, 2018 at 2:47 AM

    It’s 5AM and I didn’t get up early. I am awake all night, lots of nights. My family is dysfunctional and I can’t handle this anymore. I am an example of what NOT to do. I am 75 years old, my daughter is 55 years old. I am still enabling her. It’s too late for this family to get help but my post may help other families. I know exactly how you feel. I am afraid she will kill herself by drinking too much, taking Xanax or driving drunk.
    When my husband was alive it wasn’t this bad as he would not accept anything less than respect. I always thought it was easy for him as they were his step-children. To me, my kids were my life. I felt I would die if anything happened to them, if I didn’t protect them. I am, I’m sure, parenting out of guilt and have done so for years. At this time my daughter has not worked for two years due to being unable to walk after an accident. This situation, to me, is not enabling but I pay every bill she has, pay health ins, buy gas, cartons of cigarettes, car ins, her rent, spending money every week and on and on. I use every dime of the pension I get for her. That’s $1000.00 a month and then, some of my social security. I have, over the years, whittled my 401K down from 150K to 50K and I didn’t spend most of it…I spent it on her. I realize that THIS situation is different, it’s helping family, but this is now. I have been enabling her since she was 14 years old.
    Recently we had a disagreement. I am putting it lightly. She asked for money to fix a car and I said to her, very nicely too, “Look, I am in trouble with money these days and I shouldn’t be. I have enough to live but I think I might have to die quicker than I had expected cause I’ll run out of money before I run out of breath.” I was being (I thought) funny. She exploded on me screaming that I am the meanest person she’s ever met, said her brother feels the same way (they are like twins in every bad way) she HATES asking me for money (I honestly never say anything to her about it) and says her brother says I use her as a slave and call her for every little thing. Not true at all. I am ill, had a heart attack, am diabetic, have lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, Atrial fibrillation and I could continue. Had lyme disease and it affected me permanently. I always thought that when I became unable to take care of myself she would help. Since we had that argument I KNOW I was wrong. She actually hates me. She thinks I control her because I give her money. I do NOT with hold money when she doesn’t do something for me but, since reading these articles I see that this IS a form of control. Even though I have good intentions and don’t wish her to hurt in any way she despises the fact that I give her money. I think I can understand that now. Because she comes to me for money she feels bad about herself. She just said to me, “I am starting a job in a week and I won’t need your money any more.” I am so happy. However, I always thought I was helping and that she really appreciated it. I just realized she doesn’t even like me..at all. I thought she was just ungrateful but I see I did more harm than good, for years. What I asked for, in return for helping, was when she felt better she could clean my house once a week. I thought she’d feel better if she felt she were working for the money. Guess not.
    Parenting out of guilt was because I had divorced, had no money and they had a hard life, we were very poor until I married again. The irony is that my husband’s money; pension, 401K is taking care of her. He would die again if he knew.
    So, everyone who’s posting. If I had this to do over and I was as young as some of you, I would take my advice, send them off with a nice graduation present (first month’s rent and security) and cut my apron strings that I have had around their necks. Do yourself a favor. DO YOU! Let them do them. I wish I had practiced what I preach. It will never, ever change. Get out now!!

  • Joan C.

    March 18th, 2019 at 6:21 PM

    Hi Lorraine,
    Thank you so much for the advice. I am 28 years old. And my husband is 32.
    I am thinking of doing the sending off with a nice graduation present but I don’t know how to start, what to do first, etc. He has asthma, should I still finance his medicines? We have children, is it okay that my kids would grow up seeing me and their father separated? I don’t know. I really need help. Sometimes, no, always, I build resentment.

    I’ve purchased this book Backbone Power from backbonepower.com (hope i’m right) and also listened to the audiobook and the author says a lot about how to love myself more. I hope I can apply those advice.

  • CelticsGirl

    March 20th, 2018 at 6:26 AM

    This is very good article, however, where it excels in describing the enabler/enabled, it lacks in HOW to set boundaries.
    – How do you return responsibility to the enabled?
    It would be great to give concrete examples on how to deal with the enabled who can be master manipulators.

    “The key to breaking the pattern of enabling is to return responsibility to the person it belongs to. This involves setting boundaries between yourself and your loved one. You can no longer attempt to take on responsibility for anyone else’s actions but your own. Your loved one’s choices are (and have always been) his or hers. Your loved one’s outcomes and consequences, as well, belong to him or her alone.”

    The enabled person lives in the same world, with the same rules, as everybody else. Managing their world for them means that they don’t learn to manage themselves within the world. He or she is very likely to have untapped internal and external resources which have not been utilized because the enabling pattern has short-circuited their growth.

  • Agape Moms

    December 5th, 2018 at 7:55 AM

    These points relate to so many different kinds of relationships, even those in which the abuse is of the spouse, rather than a substance. Consequences are a loving and effective way to help someone, but it can be very difficult to wrap our minds around that! We incorporated suggestions like these and more on our domestic violence support blog.

  • lala

    March 18th, 2019 at 11:02 AM

    Does anybody know any good books about this topic? Most of them are about alcoholics. I’m trying to find some about other types of people who aren’t responsible.

  • Joan Cabras

    March 18th, 2019 at 6:23 PM

    Hi Lala,
    I have found this book, purchased it and currently reading it. Backbone Power by Dr. Anne Brown.
    I’ve listened to her audiobook as well. I got it at an affordable price. You should check it out too, I think her website is backbonepower.com


  • JayLee

    October 10th, 2019 at 8:51 PM

    Wow! This article describes my family to a T! Except in this situation, the enabled isn’t a drug or alcohol addict. I do believe the person suffers from some kind of mental illness. Undiagnosed of course. The enabled as well as the enablers have all experienced trauma of which none have ever addressed. I know that is the first step. But how do you convince the enabled they have a problem if they don’t think that they do? Or even if the enabled knows they have issues but refuse to get the help available to them. I know that going forward I need to set boundaries but again bc the enabled is mentally unstable I fear that setting boundaries may cause a suicide attempt. I’ve already experienced one successful suicide hence the trauma. I appreciate this article and all of the responses. While I still haven’t found the answer to how to set boundaries or what to do if the enabled is suicidal but refuses to get help, I did find some comfort in this. Thank you and good luck to everyone here.

  • jo

    June 3rd, 2020 at 11:43 AM

    I have to finally admit I am an enabler, I did not see it for all this time but I am. Why, to have another day with a roof over my head. But that would not explain through out all the years that I’ve known my husband. He has always been an abuser just not so anyone would notice, I help him hide it. I am ashamed that he does not love me as though it is my fault. Last year 2019 I survive cancer but what I found out was that my husband was not only disappointed that I was not dying but he was angry. He actually admitted that he had tried to sabotage my car on more than one occasion, I could have been killed and he did not care. This is crazy to go on with him and act like nothing has happened, I can not go on like this so I guess I may need to go without a roof at age 73. I must because eventually he’ll be successful in one of his attempts. Don’t I care for myself? Who will if I don’t?

  • Caroline

    August 19th, 2020 at 10:18 AM

    I have just discovered I am an enabler through this page! My bf of ten months is a ketamine addict and I have tried everything to help him get off it, from turning a blind eye to walking away , keeping him busy during periods he has attempted to stop using, making his food and dropping it off to him, looking after his every need , buying him gifts to show him I care …. all ok as long as I didn’t complain if he “slipped” once I tried to assert myself he used bullying tactics to demean me or make me feel like there was something wrong with me … I have walked away because it was ruining me and my family but I know if I don’t address this it will happen again with someone new. I struggle to be alone and since being widowed two years ago have bounced from needy man to needy man! I am an enabler

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