When you love someone who is struggling, you want to do anything you can to wipe the hurt away. However, we often enable a loved one’s destructive behavior without realizing it because we think we’re helping them.
Enabling is facilitating the progression of a problem by protecting others from the consequences of their own actions. That means that by paying the bills, making excuses or shouldering responsibilities—all which seem loving and helpful—you are actually implicitly condoning destructive behavior and encouraging denial. In essence, enabling prolongs the cycle of addiction and prevents the solution.
So, how can you truly help your loved one? How can you use your resources to influence them to get help instead of enabling them? How can you protect them without protecting the addiction?
Tough Love: Detach yourself from the problem
According to Love Does, detachment is the opposite of enabling. Detachment simply means we stop managing the alcoholic’s problems.
When we are focused on the alcoholic, we are focused on the problem. As long as our energy is spent managing the addiction, we are part of the problem. Detaching from the problem opens the door to solutions.
This type of detachment, however, is an action that takes both wisdom and courage—wisdom to recognize the real problem and courage to stop trying to “fix” it. When we enable, we are enabling from fear that their lives will crumble if we don’t help the alcoholic or addict. When we detach, we view the consequences as an opportunity to propel them toward treatment.
Suppose your child calls you up after being kicked out of his apartment, desperate for a place to stay for the night. Although your knee-jerk reaction is to rescue him, detachment will prompt you to step back from the problem and ask yourself, “What choices do I have?”
Here is a sample response:
“Son, I love you very much and I want to help you. But I’ve seen the effect drugs have on your life and I don’t want to see where this addiction will take you should you continue to use. Moving back home is only a temporary solution. I will be happy to have you home only if you agree to commit to internal change by seeking professional help and treatment. Will you be willing to accept treatment as a solution to your problem?”
If he says no, stop trying to convince him further. Simply say,
“It is your choice. If you change your mind, call me. I am willing to help, but only in the right way.”
Even if he refuses help, you know that you did the right thing: you’ve approached him with love, offered help, resisted enabling the disease and left the door open for him to change his mind.
Although it is heart-wrenching to return these responsibilities to the hands of our loved ones for fear of what might happen to them, sometimes this might be just what they need to hear in order to truly help them. Letting them see the natural consequences of their addiction may be just what they need to break the walls of denial.