Seniors: Disabling Enabling Behaviors

Mar 22nd, 2011 | By | Category: Senior Moments Blog

Within one’s own family or close network of friends there may be what is ordinarily labled as enabling behavior. This means that your behavior may be enabling someone within the family to behave in unproductive or destructive ways. It may take some prompting, on your own part, before you become aware of your own contributions to the negatives going on in the life of another and how you are participating in that.

The enabler usually believes he/she is doing the best thing for the other.  It can be simple things like agreeing when you genuinely disagree, or big things like providing alcoholic beverages to a raging alcoholic out of control.  What in fact is happening is the enabler is trying to avoid something unpleasant like conflict or guilty feelings.  The enabler’s behavior is a misguided attempt to skirt around whatever it is he/she cannot face.

It is very difficult to identify enabling behavior in oneself.  The diagnosis usually has to come from someone else, a professional or someone who understands and can identify enabling behavior.  Once enabling behaviors have been detected and identified, then the enabler has to make a conscious decision and effort to change.  Enabling behavior is a tough nut to crack.  Very difficult to change because it is so well defended.  But change is crucial in order for both the enabler and the one with the behavioral disturbance to be freed up to address their own issues and improve their lives.  

Be clear, it will be challenging, difficult, and exhausting, but no more than maintaining a continuing enabling posture.  It’s usually helpful to find a close friend or family member with whom you can make an agreement… that is for him/her to be on the lookout for your enabling behavior, and point it out to you when observed.  It is also helpful to decide on a plan to substitute a productive behavior for the enabling actions.  If you are providing a 12 pak of beer to your 40 year old son every day, recognize your contribution to his alcoholism and decide to substitute telling him you will go with him to treatment instead of buying the beer.

None of this means the enabled family member will like the change you make.  In fact, it is likely to cause disruption in your relationship.  However, what you are moving toward is a better life and relationship for both of you at some point in the future.

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