Enabling behavior and codependency are often difficult concepts to separate.
In a healthy sense, to enable someone is to empower them. When used in the context of addiction, enabling is a consequence of codependence, solving problems for other people that they could take care of themselves. In a codependent relationship, one person usually makes excuses for the other person and goes along behind them cleaning up their mess.
Enabling someone means helping them in a way that allows their addiction to continue with no consequences. Negative enabling hurts everybody. It prevents growth in the person who is enabled and creates resentment in the enabler. Enabling often prolongs recovery and in some cases, can actually contribute to the addicted person’s death.
Codependence is a whole spectrum of behaviors, including enabling, and it often affects those who grew up in a family that suffered from addiction. Major areas of dysfunction that describe codependence are denial, low self-esteem patterns, compliance patterns, control patterns, and avoidance patterns.
Codependence is much more than enabling a person. It is virtually impossible for a family member to stop enabling their loved one without first dealing with their codependence. Individual and family therapy can help someone who is codependent recognize their patterns and work to develop a healthier relationship with themselves and others.
Rescuing someone or solving someone’s problem for them seems like a caring, supportive thing to do, but it in fact hinders growth and development. People who have a codependent relationship and enable their addicted loved one often think they are acting out of great, unselfish love. Actually, this kind of love is severely limited and, in a way, selfish because it serves the person’s own need to control and enmesh. Enabling behavior and codependency lead not to intimate, loving relationships but to pain, exhaustion, and estrangement.