We know our loved one has a problem. Maybe it is even our child. We want to help them, we want them to be happy and healthy. Perhaps the problem has gone on long enough that we are also running out of patience. But how do we show love for them without enabling?
What is Enabling?
When it comes to addiction, enabling encourages or promotes negative behaviors and substance abuse. While the intention is usually to help the individual, we end up taking the responsibility for them by doing something for them or hiding the behaviors that enable them to continue their substance use instead of allowing them to face the full consequences of their actions.
A great example is giving someone money. If they don’t get the money they need, then they face the consequences of their actions. When money is simply given, it creates a sense of entitlement and absolves the person of any responsibility or ownership over the money. They do not endure the natural consequences so they don’t grow or change. When someone always “saves” them from themselves, they do not need to change themselves and their negative behaviors are perpetuated.
The phrase “tough love” is often used in parenting, and especially when our children or loved ones are active in their addiction. It is often assumed that the “tough” part is supposed to apply to the person with the negative behaviors. However, it is often even tougher for parents, siblings, or loved ones.
When we have family members that we love, we want to nurture them and provide them with the best things in life. It is hard to watch them suffer, even if their suffering is self-inflicted. But learning to fall and get up of our own volition is part of what makes us stronger and helps us to be able to be better people in the long run.
Consider the analogy of the chick hatching out of the egg. If we have ever had the opportunity to watch a chick struggle, it is hard not to want to reach out and help it hatch. However, helping a chick hatch is potentially deadly for the chick. For one, the hatching process, though slow and sometimes painful to watch, gives the chick the necessary strength to be able to function and grow properly. And secondly, we contain potentially deadly germs that would be transmitted at a crucial time when the chick is so vulnerable.
Likewise, human babies that are pushed through the birth canal initially are stronger and have better immune systems than those born via cesarean section. This is because of the birth process, though very traumatic, it strengthens the baby.
Loving those with addictions is similar to the hatching or birth processes. It is very painful to watch them make choices, some of which also could be deadly or harm others, actually. But by enabling them and not allowing them to face the full consequences of their actions, we are actually contributing to their problems. It is tough for us to watch, but actually shows more love than rescuing them over and over.
It’s not enough to watch someone hurt themselves. But being part of a family where there is addiction means we might actually get hurt, too. Many of the behaviors of someone that is actively addicted can hurt us physically, financially, emotionally, and more. As the adult responsible in a home, we do have the responsibility to protect those in our care from emotional, physical or sexual abuse. If someone is harming or abusing others while using substances, it is important that they are removed from the situation, and they may need to be legally held accountable, too. That is so hard for families to do.
There does come a point in which intervening is no longer enabling. Every family has their breaking point, and getting appropriate treatment at a facility such Fort Recovery may save the lives of the loved one with the addiction, or other lives as well. Just like with a mental illness, when there is a risk of harm to self or others, it is time to get help.
Unfortunately, the statistics for success in recovery demonstrate more success when the person has voluntarily chosen to receive treatment, at least in part. But even when the risk of relapse is higher, it is far better to give them the opportunity to start recovery. Particularly when there are dangerous behaviors such as driving while under the influence, abusing others, signs of potential self-harm, etc. Love hurts. But unlike enabling, sometimes we have to intervene in life-threatening situations.
We may have heard the phrase, “If you love something, set it free. If it comes back to you, it is yours. If it doesn’t, it never was.” As loved ones watching someone with an addiction, this might be good to remember. When we are tempted to step in and help someone or “clean up their mess,” we need to remember that we are contributing to the problem. However, we also need to know when it is time to make that call. If you or someone you know is struggling with an addiction to drugs or alcohol, call us today at 817-381-9741, or visit us online.