How enabling make things worse
The universal response to the chemically dependent person is first to reject and then to tolerate their objectionable behaviour, which enables their illness, furthering its progression. Even though the co-dependents’ maladaptive responses to chemical dependency can vary widely, they result in the devastating and life-threatening enabling equation: rejection + tolerance = enabling.
The enabling equation has profound negative ramifications, but it is really quite simple when articulated. “I can’t stand what you are doing. I will make some accommodations because I want to continue our relationship, which means I’ll help you get away with your objectionable behaviour.” First, the co-dependent rejects the behaviour, and then they tolerate it; in turn, they enable and thereby promote the progression of addiction. When the co-dependent gives an inch, the addict takes a foot; then, the dependent takes a yard when the co-dependent has to give a foot. The more the co-dependent tolerates, the more they have to endure.
Alcoholics, addicts and other people with compulsions do not listen to words – words do not penetrate their defensive barrier – they listen only to action. Each time the co-dependent tolerates the intolerable, their actions tell the addict, “Hey, you’re not so bad after all.” While the partner or parent’s words say to the addict repeatedly that they are sick, in need of help, and all those kinds of very accurate pronouncements, their actions tell them the opposite, that their behaviour is okay. If they put up with it, how bad can it be?
Rejecting plus tolerating
Co-dependents do not intend to promote the illness; everything they do is an attempt to make things better. Yet, despite their different defensive responses and good intentions, the result, a worsening of the illness through enabling, is the same for all family members who attempt to adapt to their loved one’s addiction. They may have different strategies and responses to their loved one’s addictive behaviours, yet all rejected and tolerated the dependent’s behaviour – thus all invoked the enabling equation.
All co-dependents find the addict’s behaviour and defensive behaviour gross, irresponsible, embarrassing, frightening, inexcusable, painful, problematic, and unacceptable. In their unique ways, they each reject such behaviour. They rant and rave; withdraw in tears or unspoken rage; beg, plead, pout, and reason; denounce; threaten, and extract promises of reform – each response an unambiguous statement rejecting the addict’s objectionable behaviour.
Then, co-dependents add the second part of the equation and tolerate the very behaviour they reject. Their defensive responses, though different, are their means of accommodating and
tolerating the intolerable. Though intentions are good, one plus one makes two: rejection plus tolerance makes enabling.
Each co-dependent also repeatedly tries to make the addict see reason. It is bound to fail too. How can you show sense to a person whose brain is either hijacked by obsession or damaged by substances?
Rescuing the addict
Moreover, co-dependents repeatedly rescue the addicts from the consequences of their addictive behaviours. They pick up after their littering and make excuses, even lie, to their boss for being late. They enable irresponsibility when they do for anyone what that person should do for themselves.
By enabling, the co-dependent not only blows an opportunity to be helpful but also does not show respect for themselves or the other person. They knock themselves down a peg on the ladder or self-esteem and negate the other person’s worth.
Enabling is easy but never helpful. It is usually far more destructive than it seems. The family member should seek professional support and seek out a support group. Unless the co-dependent rid themselves of their sickness, how do we expect them to help their addicted loved one?