How to Quit Enabling

by | Jun 24, 2014

Last week I talked about how easy it is to be caught up in a destructive cycle of enabling someone you love. You may have begun by trying to help. You covered up or filled in for someone who let his responsibilities slide due to dysfunctional behavior—often addition. Over time you got stuck in a downward spiral of behavior in which you were constantly trying to fix someone else’s problems to the detriment of your own life.

The point at which you made that realization is the point at which you should stop. But that is sometimes easier said than done. Here are some guidelines for getting out of your role as enabler.

1)    Face facts. You must take stock and come face-to-face with reality. Parts of your life are out of control. You live in constant fear that your loved one will embarrass you deeply, or possibly physically hurt you and put you and family members in danger. Or maybe put himself in danger. You are on constant alert and your life is not your own. You are enabling your loved one.

2)    Control your own behavior. You know you cannot change someone else. You can only change yourself and how you react to the person you’re enabling. But what will happen when you stop? What will happen if you don’t give him money, allow him to sleep on the couch, bail him out, pick him up? It’s true that the consequences might be dire. But think about yourself. What will happen to you?

3)    Vow to change. You’ll have to give up your life as a rescuer, and that may seem impossible at first. But when you discover the pain you are suffering is greater than the pain of making a change, you are ready.

4)    Just say no. Your loved one will not want to hear it. He will lie, scheme, manipulate, flood you with guilt and lash you with fury. Stay strong. If your loved one is addicted to his behavior and not ready to change himself, there is very little he won’t do to continue life as he knows it.

5)    Say no again. And again and again. If the person you used to enable is not ready to give up his behavior, he will fight to maintain the status quo. After all, he had a pretty good deal. He could behave however irresponsibly he chose and he could always depend on you to save him. So stand firm. Do not give in. Do not give up.

6)    Restore and rebuild. You have spent much of your life catering to someone else. Now it’s time to focus on yourself. You’ve been through some tough times. Pamper yourself with a massage, yoga lessons, cooking classes. Whatever makes you feel good. Take some time out to discover what would make your life more fulfilling. And have patience. It takes thought and time to rebuild your life in a meaningful way.

Nancy Travers is an Orange County Counseling professional.  If you need safe, effective counseling services, please get in touch.  You can reach her here:



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