Enabling vs Empowering: What’s the Difference?

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As a family member or friend of an addict, you are no doubt aware of the fact that your loved one’s addiction has an impact on your life. All too often, we think we are empowering when in fact, we are enabling. Sometimes this is felt in small ways, such as the person being unreliable.  At other times, the impact can be more pronounced and painful, such as verbal or physical abuse.

It’s hard to know how to help your loved one overcome addiction, as well as protect yourself in the process. What’s the difference and what does it mean for you and your loved one struggling with addiction?  You can learn all you need to know from the qualified professionals at facilities that offer detox but here’s a basic primer to get you started and help you and the loved one in your life trying to overcome addiction.

What is Enabling?

Most enablers don’t know that they’re helping addicts to continue their harmful behaviors, and this can be a fatal mistake.  Enablers do what they do out of love, not realizing that they’re only helping addicts to harm themselves.

Do you constantly make excuses for an addict’s bad behavior?  Do you lie to make the addict look better?  Have you given the addict money or bailed him/her out of jail?  Have you threatened to leave but failed to follow through?  Have you walked on eggshells to avoid negative responses from the addict?  Have you put the addict’s wants and needs ahead of your own?

All of these are traits common to enablers.  When you do these things, you are in a codependent relationship that is unhealthy for you and for the addict.  You’re both exhibiting behaviors that harm the other person, but you’re also both getting something out of the equation.  As an enabler, you may feel needed or even superior.  You almost certainly have good intentions, but the outcomes will make neither you nor the addict happy or healthy.

enabling or helping

Avoid Codependency

One of the worst things you can do if you love someone in addiction recovery is to foster codependency. A codependent relationship is a dynamic where you get a sense of value from being a caretaker. You might then enable someone you love to continue destructive behavior without negative consequences. 

Signs that you’re engaging in a codependent relationship include:

  • Your loved one gets upset if you try to set boundaries.
  • There’s a sense of responsibility you feel for other people’s problems.

If you recognize that you’re potentially in a codependent relationship, you must set boundaries and stick to them. You might also go to therapy yourself to learn more about why you engage in codependent patterns.

Someone with an addiction needs love and compassion, but they don’t need to be shielded from the consequences of their actions. Codependency leads to precisely that. If you’re someone who tends to fall into codependent patterns, you might make it your mission to keep your partner from feeling the total weight of the consequences of their behavior. That will end up prolonging how long it takes them to recognize a problem and seek help on their path to recovery. 


What is Empowering?

Like enabling, empowering comes out of love, but the behaviors and outcomes are positive instead of negative.  An enabler will try to do things for an addict that he/she should reasonably be able to do alone.  If you are empowering an addict, you will refuse to do these things.

You will speak about the addiction honestly instead of lying or making excuses.  You will make the addict accountable for his/her actions.  Most importantly, you will take care of yourself and put yourself first, since you can’t take care of anyone else if you don’t take care of yourself.

It can be extremely difficult to switch from enabling to empowering behaviors.  You may feel like you’re being mean or insensitive like you’re hurting the addict.  In truth, the addict will almost certainly tell you that you’re doing these things and try to make you feel guilty.

This is because the addict has become used to a co-dependent relationship in which he/she can manipulate you.  The addict may become angry, bitter, or even abusive as his/her power over you is stripped away.  If you’re going to switch from enabling to empowering, you’ll almost certainly need specialized help from qualified professionals at luxury heroin detox centers or other suitable rehab facilities.

Do’s and Dont’s

We went over some of the things to keep in mind to help, and the following are some other general dos and don’ts that you might find helpful as you navigate this situation.

  • The concept of understanding ties back into why it’s a good idea to learn as much as you can; you start to realize that it is a disease affecting the brain and behavior to have more compassion. 
  • Rather than approaching a conversation that blames the person, talk about how the addiction affects you. Use “I” statements, such as “I feel like…” If you’re overly critical, it will cause the other person to either lash out or become extremely defensive.
  • Do come from a place of encouragement and positivity. Rather than talking about everything you feel the addicted person is doing wrong, take a hopeful tone about what you think the future could look like.
  • There are so many complex reasons your loved one might not want to get sober like they might feel afraid, they could worry about the stigma addiction brings, or they might be in denial.


The Impact of Enabling vs. Empowering

Enabling an addict is tantamount to helping someone jump off a bridge into shallow water.  You know it’s wrong and that the person will get hurt or even die, but you do it anyway because you think that love means letting the other person do whatever they say makes them happy.

Often, the fear is that if you stop enabling addicts, they will come to harm or even die and it will be your fault.  This is the worst kind of lie you can tell yourself.
Addicts could come to harm or die at any time because of THEIR behaviors, not yours, and helping them to continue those behaviors is much more likely to result in harm.  Empowering gives you and the addict in your life the best opportunity to recover and lead a healthy and happy life.


Benefits of Detox for Addicts and Loved Ones

The important thing to remember about addiction is that it’s like a rock thrown into the water.  The addict is at the center, but the ripples affect everyone around him/her.  You cannot come away unscathed.  While treatment at reputable facilities like luxury heroin detox centers is a necessary step for addicts, you almost certainly need some assistance, as well, especially if two addicts in a relationship for a significant amount of time.

Until you understand the role you play in an addictive situation, you might not know how you are contributing to the problem.  In fact, you might not think you’re part of the problem at all, and this is a fallacy.  If you’re committed to giving your loved one the best shot at recovery, you have to participate in the process in order to heal yourself and your relationship.

The good news is, there’s help available to you.  You’re not alone, and you can find experts in addiction and co-dependent relationships to guide you through the process of healing yourself and empowering your loved one instead of enabling addictive and harmful behaviors.

If you or a loved one needs help, call us at 949-625-4019.

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