How to Support An Addicted Family Member Without Enabling
It’s common to get into a certain relationship dynamic with someone who is struggling with an addiction. In fact, one of the most common patterns is to begin to enable that person and to contribute to their feelings of powerlessness.
Often, what happens is that the one with the addiction becomes what’s called the “identified patient.” He or she is the one who has an illness of some sort and is seen as being less able or less powerful than others in the family or community. As a result, those who wish to help a struggling addict might find themselves completing tasks that the struggling addict can do on their own. In fact, to enable means to assist or help.
However, when it comes to relationships within families where there is an addiction, enabling has an additional meaning. Often, someone who is enabling an addict means that he or she is doing a task for the addict that the addict could potentially do on their own. For instance, if an addict were not working because of his addiction and his spouse were working two jobs in order to pay the rent, this might called enabling. The spouse is enabling the addict’s addiction.
Compare this to a different situation: If someone couldn’t talk because they had cancer of the throat and his spouse made phone calls on his behalf, this is not enabling. This is providing support. The difference is whether or not the person in question has the power to achieve a task on his or her own. When someone has the power to complete a task but chooses not to and someone else completes the task by doing it for him, this is enabling. Enabling undermines a person’s power.
Enabling is common in families of addiction. Therefore, it might be the first way to respond to a family member who is seen as sick, powerless, or struggling with a major life problem, such as addiction. However, there are more healthy ways to respond to someone with an addiction without getting caught up in the tendency to enable.
First, you might do some research on codependent relationships. By learning about enabling and codependency, you learn about the ways that you are participating in the relationship. Codependency is the belief in needing someone else in order to feel powerful. Enabling a member of your family might be related to a feeling that you need them in order to feel good about yourself. Learning about these kinds of dynamics can help you respond differently to someone you love.
Second, you might explore where your loved one has exhibited his or her power in the past. Rather than seeing your family member as someone who needs help, try seeing him or her as someone who can achieve, even if something small. Changing the way you see your loved one can influence the relationship the two of you have together.
Another aspect of codependency is focusing too heavily on the needs of the other. For instance, it’s easy to believe that “My happiness is dependent on making you happy.” It’s common in codependency to ignore your own needs in order to please someone else. If you can let go of your own attachment to the needs of your loved one, you might give him or her the freedom make choices, even if it means failing a few times.
When someone does not believe in their own power to create change in their lives, they feel like they need someone else to help them achieve what they want. However, this feeling of needing another isn’t only for large life changes but it includes the feeling of needing someone else “in order to make it.”
One of the most powerful ways you can help a family member struggling with an addiction is by changing the way the two of you relate.
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