When I first heard the term “enabling”, I felt really sorry for the people who were classed as the “enablers”. It felt to me like a negative label attributed to someone that’s trying their best, day in, day out, to help someone they love with a substance misuse problem. “How mean”, I thought!
Now, I’ve realised that my attitude to this was all wrong. Enabling actually means unknowingly “making something possible or easier”. The family and friends of people who use drugs and alcohol go through a wide range of emotions themselves and are not trained therapists, so end up trying anything and everything to help their loved one change. This is a perfectly natural thing to do!
When a loved one shows signs of recovery or a glimmer of their old self and behaviours, a relaxed and sympathetic approach ensues. As they move back into their ‘selfish’ drinking or drug using behaviours, angry reactions are to be expected. If they put themselves in danger, panic, or worry, desperate measures are called upon. It’s a rollercoaster of emotions every single day and if you’re in this situation, you’re just doing your best. See my blog on the cycle of change for more detail of the road to recovery.
What is enabling?
Disabling enabling is one of the four Vesta Programme principles. In my programme, we will tune you in to any ways in which you and others have perhaps been (unknowingly) making it a bit too easy for your loved one to drink or use drugs. Don’t worry! Everyone does this out of the love and care for their family.
In order for your loved one to change, we make a plan for this to stop these behaviours and replace them with better ones. Why? Because until you and others around your loved one stop “helping”, the chances of them stopping misusing drugs or alcohol are slim to none.
There is no judgement here. Enabling, helping or whatever you want to label it is a lovely, kind thing to do. It’s just not going to change anything.
Why does enabling matter?
If we want to influence substance misusing behaviour, there are a few things to consider. What does your loved one get out of their substance use? What do they like about it and what does it allow them to avoid? It’s important to think about these points as the benefits of their use. Secondly, what problems do drug and alcohol use cause them? What good things do they miss out on when they use or drink? These are the costs of their substance use.
If we focus on the problems that drugs and alcohol cause them, these are “punishing consequences” and include anything that makes them feel bad as a result of their substance use. Hangovers, missing work, shame, depression, aggression or health concerns. Each person will have different reactions to different consequences.
The important thing to remember is that in order to create change, the balance of the costs and the benefits of substance use needs to be shifted so that your loved one experiences ALL the natural consequences of their substance use. Your loved one needs to experience the full costs of their substance use.
If enabling takes place by anyone close to your loved one, they will continue to experience the more positive effects of their substance use. We need them to experience the negatives. It’s tough, but I can help you do this on the Vesta Programme.
We’ve established what enabling is and why we need to stop doing it, but it’s important to understand what types of behaviour are enabling. It can be anything that reduces the painful consequences of their use, protecting them from other people’s judgements or reactions. Some examples of enabling behaviours are as follows:
- Concealing a loved one’s substance use from family or friends
- Paying off debts
- Reparing damage to home or other posesisons
- Defending them from criticism
- Being around your loved one when they drink or use (regardless of your mood!)
- Making excuses for them with work absence
- Avoiding having your own life on order to help them
Can you recognise any? What might be the consequences of these behaviours for you and your loved one?
Remember that nobody is judging you here!
The benefits of disabling enabling
When we enable, we reduce the negative consequences of someone’s undesirable behaviour at a cost to ourselves. This means that instead of your loved one experiencing the cost of their own behaviour, you are! These costs manifest themselves physically, emotionally, financially and socially.
If you think about what has worked before while you have been helping your loved one in this way, what has changed? Not much?
Perhaps it’s time to try a new approach.
Instead of living like this, imagine what it would be like to free up some of your headspace and concentrate on you?
In the Vesta Programme, I will help you to assess each enabling behaviour and we will work on stopping these. We will assess how comfortable and safe you feel stopping these behaviours and alongside the other programme principles I will help you to recover from your loved one’s substance use, live a better life and get your loved one into treatment.
I can help
My service, The Vesta Approach, supports families affected by a loved one’s substance use. You can access confidential support from me wherever you are in the world. I will help you to get your loved one into treatment and lead a better life. I offer face to face sessions in the Manchester (UK) area or via Skype.
I also have an online therapeutic programme. Take a look at my services here
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