Premium Podcast Help Contact Dr. Laura Dr. Laura Designs Return to
Join Family Premium Login Family


Understanding the Nature of an Enabler
By Stanley Binion

An enabler is a person who by their actions makes it easier for an addict to continue their self-destructive behavior by criticizing or rescuing. The term codependency refers to a relationship where one or both parties enable the other to act in certain maladaptive ways. Many times, the act of the enabler satisfies a need for the codependent person because his or her actions foster a need from the other person or persons in the relationship.

To enable the individual with the addiction, the mutually dependent person makes excuses and lies for the addict, which enables the addiction to continue. Codependency is reinforced by a person's need to be needed. The enabler thinks unreasonably by believing he can maintain healthy relationships through manipulation and control. He believes he can do this by avoiding conflict and nurturing dependency.

Is it normal for someone to think that he can maintain a healthy relationship when he does not address problems and he lies to protect others from their responsibilities? The way a codependent person can continue to foster this dependency from others is by controlling situations and the people around them. The ongoing manner of a codependent home is to avoid conflicts and problems and to make excuses for destructive or hurtful behavior.

Why does enabling cause so much hurt in a relationship? The power afforded to the mutually dependent person in a relationship supports his need for control, even if he uses inappropriate means to fulfill his need to be in control.

A second and overlooked reason centers on the contradictory messages and unclear expectations presented by someone who is codependent. These characteristics contribute to a relationship filled with irrational thoughts and behavior. This kind of relationship has no clear rules to right and wrong behavior. The person(s) whose unhealthy patterns you enable may be doing one or more of these behaviors:

  • Drinking too much
  • Spending too much
  • Overdrawing their bank account/bouncing checks
  • Gambling too much
  • Being in trouble with loan sharks/check cashing agencies
  • Working too much/not enough
  • Maxing out their credit cards
  • Abusing drugs (prescription or street drugs)
  • Getting arrested (you are bailing him/her out)
  • Any number of other unhealthy behaviors/patterns of addiction.

Any time you assist/allow another person to continue in their unproductive/unhealthy/addictive behavior, whether actively or passively, you are enabling. Even when you say nothing, you are enabling the behavior to continue. Sometimes you say nothing out of fear: fear of reprisal, fear of the other person hurting, hating or not liking you, or fear of butting in where you don't think you belong. Perhaps even out of fear of being hit or worse.

Sometimes enabling takes the form of doing something for another that they should do for themselves. It also takes the form of making excuses for someone else's behavior. For example, there are situations where the spouse of an alcoholic will call in to their spouse's boss to say that they're "sick" when they are really too hung over to make it to work.

You more than likely enable out of your own low self-esteem. You haven't gained the ability to say no without fear of losing the love or caring from that other person. People who learn tough love have to learn that their former behaviors have been enabling and that to continue with them would represent allowing the other person's pattern of behavior to continue and to worsen.

It is difficult to stop enabling if you're trying to do it without authority. And it's not easy until you know you deserve to stop - until you know that you are endearing regardless of what the person you've previously enabled says to the contrary and until you raise your own self-esteem enough to be that strong. You may think it's the other person who needs all of the help but, in truth, you both do.

Stanley Binion is the author of the recently released Stan's Story. Stanley Binion is president/owner of With Sinc Public & Community Housing Services F.R.D.T. Programs & Ranch's Inc., a nonprofit organization committed to helping people understand the psychological damage caused to children who are raised in homes with domestic violence. Our goal is to help adolescents, young adults and parents understand and avoid the pain and costly price of addiction. We are also a "Feed the Children" partner agency. For more information, visit Permission granted for use on

Tags: Addiction, Attitude, Behavior, Health, Self-esteem
< Back to Relationships Archives