You know someone suffering from addiction; you scold, you cry, you punish, you continually step in to help pay the rent, make excuses for missing school or work—the seriousness of your behavior, though motivated by love and compassion, leads the addict toward death. Does that sound harsh? If you understood how enabling, how rescuing, how stepping in to protect the addict from the consequences of his or her own choices, you would know that you hurt the addict and lead him or her deeper into the addiction. Would you alter your behavior?
The answer may seem obvious, but it is not. Despite the warnings, our instinct to protect those we love from harm is great. The truth of enabling someone with an addiction is counter-intuitive. Your efforts to help are indeed suspect. What you think is protective behavior is not! Let’s examine the psychological make-up of the enabler —you, and the addict—your loved one.
Psychology of Enabling or Co-Dependent Behavior
Addiction is known as a family disease. It may reflect a dysfunctional family unit already in existence, or it may create a dysfunctional family dynamic. The person who seeks to help the addict by forcing control, and stepping in to stop the logical consequences of the addict’s behavior, takes power into his or her own hands. Thus, the addict is relieved of personal responsibility for his or her actions. The enabler may begin to feel superior, or better than the addict because the enabler has rescued the addict. However, when responsibility for one’s actions is taken away, the burden rests on the one who took power. Most often, the enabler will find he or she is suffering as much as the addict along with grave consequences which including a break down of healthy relationships, loss of motivation, an unhealthy attachment or focus on the addict creating emotional, mental, and physical illness.
Here is a series of questions from an article in Psychology Today about enabling behaviors. Look at the list and see how many reflect your own behavior.
Do you often ignore unacceptable behavior?
Do you find yourself resenting the responsibilities you take on?
Do you consistently put your own needs and desires aside in order to help someone else?
Do you have trouble expressing your own emotions?
Do you ever feel fearful that not doing something will cause a blowup, make the person leave you, or even result in violence?
Do you ever lie to cover for someone else’s mistakes?
Do you consistently assign blame for problems to other people rather than the one who is really responsible?
Do you continue to offer help when it is never appreciated or acknowledged?
If you look closely at the questions, you can see a pattern emerge. The enabler or co-dependent does not place his or her own well-being first. He or she will sacrifice a great deal to “help” or perhaps control the addict. If your life has been consumed by handling the addict you are at risk of endangering the addict and yourself.
According to an article on WebMD, “Codependent relationships signify a degree of unhealthy clinginess, where one person doesn’t have self-sufficiency or autonomy…One or both parties depend on their loved ones for fulfillment.”
“Co-dependents have low self-esteem and look for anything outside of themselves to make them feel better. They find it hard to “be themselves.” Some try to feel better through alcohol, drugs or nicotine – and become addicted. Others may develop compulsive behaviors like workaholism, gambling, or indiscriminate sexual activity.” Or they become obsessed with doing everything themselves as only they can do it correctly. They may overeat, they may rage, they may be hyper-critical under the guise of caring about others.
When we subvert our needs to take care of another, we are bound to be caught in an unfulfilled relationship. In a co-dependent relationship, both the enabler and the addict have lost a sense of personal boundaries. If you seek to hide the addict’s problem, you are an enabler. If you are depressed because of the addict’s problem, you may be struggling with co-dependency. If your circle of friends has shrunken, you are in a co-dependent nightmare. What you might want to consider is the addiction you are suffering from—addiction to your codependent relationship with the addict.
Addiction is most often associated with changes in the brain as result of a substance that interferes with normal decision making, learning, memory, or impulse control.
As the enabler takes more and more control of the addict’s consequences, the addict becomes more indebted to the addiction and in many cases resentful of the enabler. The complexity of the dynamic must be unraveled. It must be simplified, and both the enabler and the addict must receive help to break the cycle of addiction in all directions.
Years ago, doctors who were treating alcoholics noticed that addicts partners were not necessarily thriving with the recovering addict. What they also saw were emotional, physical and mental distress symptoms from the alcoholic’s partners. It was during this phase that doctors began to understand that family’s needed treatment as much as the alcoholic. Families go through a different type of trauma than the addict or alcoholic but they too require help. It is not unusual for an addict to go into treatment, emerge to rejoin his or her family, friends and co-workers only to relapse. The cycle of addiction must be broken, and that includes the behavior of the family or the enabler.
It should be recognized that there is no blame in the recovery process. Honesty is crucial, kindness and love are the essences of a successful recovery. Rebuilding self-esteem and boundaries, appropriate expectations, and personal responsibilities are critical. The first step in codependent recovery is to look openly at your behavior.
Codependent treatment can help both you and the addict heal. It can give you insight into your own behavior, tools to cope with the addict even if he or she continues to use, and resources for additional support. You do not have to drown in addictive behavior. Treatment works and generally includes group therapy, individual therapy, family therapy, education and the opportunity to rediscover one’s own strength, love while developing healthy behavioral patterns. Call today and speak with a representative who can tell you more about addiction treatment and family therapy.