How to Recognize Enabling Behaviors

Enabler: One that enables another to achieve an end; especially one who enables another to persist in self-destructive behavior (as substance abuse) by providing excuses or by making it possible to avoid the consequences of such behavior.[1] To some degree, everyone can be an enabler. When one becomes an enabler, it can be destructive to themselves, to the person (or people) being enabled, and to the people around them. Read this article to learn how to recognize these behaviors.


  1. Image titled Cigarette.png
    Know that many types of destructive behaviors can be enabled.[2] Swooping to the rescue makes it easier for them to avoid the consequences of destructive behavior and deprives them of a reason to change.[3]
    • Drinking to excess / Alcoholism
    • Spending too much
    • Overdrawing their bank account / bouncing checks
    • Gambling too much
    • In trouble with loan sharks/check cashing agencies
    • Working too much or not enough.
    • Maxing out the credit cards.
    • Abusing drugs (prescription or street drugs)
    • Legal issues (such as getting arrested, and you are bailing them out or covering up for illegal activities. )
    • Any of a number of other unhealthy behaviors/patterns of addiction
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    Ask yourself the following questions:[4]
    • Have you repeatedly 'made excuses' for someone, be it for work, school, or obligations to family or friends?
    • Do you 'accept responsibility' for his/her behavior.
    • Do you avoid the subject in fear of some type of confrontation?
    • Have you 'bailed him out' when he or she is facing consequences from his or her choices?
    • Have you, or do you, pay their bills? Are these bills that a non-disabled grown adult should have responsibility for?
      • Probably appropriate: helping out your daughter for 6 months after she graduates college and is having difficulty finding a job, helping your son with Down Syndrome who does not understand how to pay bills
      • Probably not appropriate: Your son has dropped out of college, works part-time, and is living at home with you, with no clear plans to find a job that supports himself or go back to school.
    • Do you loan money or pay bills (whether or not you have it)?
    • How many 'last chances' do you think you have given him/her?
    • Have you threatened to leave or kick the person out, but you never do it?
    • Do you find yourself completing their jobs/responsibilities?
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    Do some introspection. Are you an enabler? Why do you enable someone—what do you get out of it? Enabling is a co-dependent behavior, reinforced by the enabler's need to be needed.
    • You may 'need' to be there...'need' to help someone. It's a circle. The enabler allows you to enable, thereby enabling you. Someone has to make the decision.
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    Reflect on the state of the relationship(s). Is there more pain, than not, in your relationship(s)? Are you frequently bailing out the other person? Do interactions with them often leave you drained or stressed?
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    Recognize the need to change. If much of this article seems to apply to you, it is a good indication that you are enabling other people's unhealthy behavior. Until you quit, neither you, nor the person(s) being enabled, will truly be happy or complete. And so the change rests with you.
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    Get help. It is easy to say "just end the relationship", or "stand up for yourself". But you have likely been taught beliefs, or have experiences that have caused you to act this way. You have to get support in figuring out what you need to change. You may need help figuring out how to get back your power, stop the thoughts and beliefs that have led to you enabling others, and learn to set boundaries.
      • Counselors, psychologists, and other mental health professionals can help greatly on re-defining what are appropriate boundaries, eliminating unnecessary guilt, and re-learn how to interact with people you love in a healthier way.
      • It may not be easy to leave a relationship when you have depended on the other person's financial support... such as an alcoholic parent, an irresponsible spouse who nonetheless brings in another paycheck, or a child who you love dearly but are afraid to "put down your foot" with. You may need to reach out to your social circle and perhaps professionals.
      • You may need to depend on social services to find your options. Leaving an alcoholic spouse, for example, may mean you will need State services. These services are there to help people and give them choices so they do not have to stay in bad situations.


  • They will not recognize the need to change as long as they are enabled, because they do not have to face the consequences of their actions.

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