Enabling: Who’s Training Who?

Are You (Unknowingly) Being Trained by Your Addict?

Does an addict have you doing (way) more than your share?
So, your addict constantly makes a mess of his life and just leaves it. You clean it up so you can avoid a confrontation or relieve your anxiety. It just seems easier to do it for them and avoid or prevent drama. …and you KNOW, if you don’t do it, they won’t!

Or…say your addict has also been diagnosed with other illnesses or conditions and constantly complains about anxiety, depression or pain. She can’t seem to focus, can’t get/keep a job, is in pain and on multiple medications, and you desperately want to make things comfortable for her or she might drink/use. So you wait on her hand and foot, take on a second job so she doesn’t have to stress and can just stay home and “rest”. However, it seems like the more you do, the worse she gets. To make matters worse, you find yourself blamed for her problems, no matter what you do or don’t do! You find yourself constantly walking on eggshells around the addict to try and keep the peace.

Don’t worry; there is an easy explanation for this behavior. Addicts actually start training their parents/family at a very young age. They are born defiant and HATE to be told No or to be controlled, so they rebel all the time! The harder we try to force them to behave, the worse they get.

Addicts train their loved ones to assume their responsibilities by acting out in a variety of ways. They may play stupid, appear pitiful, lazy or just act like a jerk…or sometimes all of the above! Why do they do it? Because it works – we assume their responsibilities and negative consequences! We have been duped – hey how’d that happen?

horse training person

Observe the Interactions.

Do you find yourself sucked into automatically jumping in with advice and trying to “fix” situations without even being asked? You have been taught to act this way! Now, the problem with being in a role of fixing everything is that it is VERY hard to change it. Although addicts secretly disdain this help and advice because they feel chronically controlled and criticized, they have come to depend on it because YOU make life easy. They get to continue using and acting like a little god, because they know someone (you) will always clean up their mess.

As a fixer, we (unconsciously) really like this role because we get positive feedback from others about how much we do or how hard we work. We also like feeling needed. Just like an addict, this negative behavior starts off innocently as a small habit and then over time, becomes so ingrained in us that we can’t stop if we wanted to (which, like the addict, we don’t want to).

Codependence operates just like an addiction. Instead of using drugs and alcohol to medicate our emotional pain and escape from facing the hard work of building a happy, wonderful life, we use fixing other peoples problems as our drug of choice. Our short term relief from anxiety is to take a “drink” of rescuing or advising someone else from their crisis. It provides instant relief! And just like the addict, we selfishly ignore (deny) that our short term enabling behavior is harming ourselves and others for the longterm. Afterall, we are only trying to help! Right?

After the immediate crisis is resolved, we all promise we will not drink or rescue (enable) again…but we always do. Like chemical addicts, we have lost the ability to choose. We simply must take another rescue “drink” – because the pain is too overwhelming if we don’t.

When we do for others what we know they should be doing for themselves, we must stop and ask ourselves if we are helping this person or teaching them how to be helpless and dependent on us. When our anxieties about another’s actions cause us to react and jump in and fix it,we are sending the message that they are not trustworthy or competent and can’t make it without our help. It is a set up for addiction disaster. Addicts can’t learn how to problem solve or how to learn from their mistakes because they have trained others to suffer the consequences for them! If this enabling pattern is not interrupted, eventually, they truly will become emotionally crippled and totally dependent on others “help”. This generates much self hatred and anger towards the “helper” which fuels the flames of addiction. Enabling is the core addiction. An alcoholic/addict is just as addicted to receiving the enabling as we are to giving it. It is very difficult to interrupt this entrenched negative system of relating. Thus, unless outside recovery help is sought, it is a continuous, downward spiral into misery. Codependence recovery holds the key to interrupting the enabling system.

We all use excuses to deny why we interact this way and the more “pitiful” the addict becomes, the more we believe we must rescue. As a result, the addict cannot learn how to function in the world because they have others assuming their responsibilities. The addict knows how to con and manipulate to get us to give in. The fixer then gets/stays angry because the more we do, the less the addict does until we are totally exhausted and frustrated. Now we feed more anger and bitterness into the mix and we are constantly fighting.

An addict knows exactly how to hold us hostage, making it seem impossible for us to tell them NO. An addict uses two weapons to keep us enabling them: 1. Provoke anger or 2. Create anxiety. We fear their rage and/or believe their threats to kill themselves. These tactics WORK. The addiction system continues to operate unchallenged!scared of horse

Our actions of assuming an addict’s responsibilities, causes them to become more irresponsible! By giving in to the incessant demands of an addict, they become more selfish and demanding. By allowing ourself to be treated with disrespect we are teaching the addict to be disrespectful. They have actually trained us to give them everything they want – when they want it (or else!).
And then we wonder why they act like giant spoiled brats! 🙂

As a result of our enabling addiction, they can’t take no for an answer, have no tolerance for uncomfortable emotions, get sick a lot, get addicted to chemicals, act badly and constantly seek out other people to solve their problems. There is always a valid excuse of why their problems are not their fault. The fact is, we use excuses to rationalize our rescue/enabling actions too.

In an addiction system, we are a perfect match for each other. An over achiever needs the under achiever and vice versa. We are 2 sides of the same coin, both personalities originate from not feeling so great about our own worth and value. One compensates by doing too much and the other does too little. You can tell if you are doing too much if you start getting resentful and feeling unappreciated for all you do. Or if you notice you jump in quickly with advice, think you know what’s best, not only for yourself but for others, have a low threshold for your addict’s pain and don’t allow him to struggle with his own problems. You might realize you spend more time focusing on others’ goals than your own. The people around you probably think of you as always reliable and together.

We usually don’t see the fixing as a problem until we eventually start to burn out. Understand that an over doer and an under doer (is that a word?) are part of the Merry-Go-Round Named Denial (a wonderful pamphlet from Al-Anon). The addiction system causes us to NEED each other…desperately. Enabling keeps both sides in an addictions system going. A chemical addict cannot continue using without receiving enabling. A codependent addict cannot continue controlling without giving enabling.

Are You Meddling in Your Addict’s Business?

An addiction system does not have healthy boundaries. We have become “enmeshed” with each other and don’t know where you end and I start. We overstep our boundaries and meddle in an addict’s business because it helps US feel less anxious. Checking their emails, text messages, bank account, friends or activities are all ways we are invading someone else’s privacy. We rationalize and justify our positions but it is still disrespectful behavior which leads to more anxiety for us and more resentment in our relationship. We are still trying to manage and control another’s behavior. When we hover and over protect and advise and fix, it sends the message that we think they are inept and incompetent to complete things without our help. They begin to believe these negative messages and finally give up and let us think/do everything. However, they will rebel and punish us for the disrespect. It is a non ending vicious cycle to hell for everyone.

So how do we stop this disrespectful behavior pattern?

1) Awareness is the first step. Seeing the controlling behavior as unhealthy and disrespectful will go a long way toward changing it. It is difficult to change, especially when anxiety is present, but realizing that we are contributing to the problem is a great start. Start with baby steps to practice changing. Instead of telling an addict what to do, tell them that you are confident that they will find the answers that work best for their life. Allow them to start finding their own way and solving their own problems.

2) Start with small steps. An addict has trained and relied on us to advise/fix everything for a long time and will not take kindly to us changing this pattern. It will get worse before it gets better. They will escalate the tantrums, drama or pitifulness until they get us back like we were. It is hard to ignore the antics of an addict, but this is the first step to forging a healthy relationship. The next step is staying out of their business and allowing them the dignity and respect to work through their uncomfortable feelings. Instead – we focus on working through our own uncomfortable feelings. Not taking a short term “fix” to rescue will open a locked door and allow sobriety to bloom.

3) Consistency is key. It is not easy to change. No one likes/wants to change their role. That is why we stay miserable because it is familiar. Abstinence from enabling (fixing or advising) will create strong uncomfortable feelings of withdrawal just like the addict has. Anxiety, depression, anger are common emotions as we stop taking these negative emotional “drinks”. Just like the addict, we will need to find new ways to soothe uncomfortable emotions. Go to Al-Anon or open AA meetings, find hobbies or sports activities or put on soft music and take a hot bath. It will get easier.

4) Staying the course. It’s important to get support from people who understand the addiction system. Al-Anon is a great resource and has many good books. Open AA meetings are educational as well. Find a group which focuses on the solution! In 12 step meetings we say, “Fake it til you Make it” and “Act your way to right thinking, not think your way to right acting” When your addict comes to you for help, just listen and don’t jump in and fix things. Lovingly, hand the request back to them with a smile and a big vote of confidence in their abilities to problem solve. We always detach with love, not from a punishing or withholding position. (No tough love.)

5) It is going to get worse before it gets better. An addict is going to consistently challenge this new behavior and escalate being pitiful or angry in order to get us to react in our old ways. This is when being connected to a program or a coach will be your lifeline. It will be as hard to resist advising or helping as it is for an addict to not take a drink. Don’t hesitate to get help for yourself.

Remember my motto: “If I feel like crap and they are angry, I am probably doing the right thing to fight the addiction system. And…the WORSE I feel and the MADDER they are, the BETTER it is working!”

6) Monitor your boundaries closely. Ask yourself, whose responsibility is this? Or whose consequence is this? Ask yourself if you are doing this to make YOU feel better or is this in their best interest? We must also be aware when the addict is crossing our boundaries and not accept disrespectful behavior towards ourselves either. Be generous with compliments and encouragement and you will be amazed in no time at how they will blossom – and you will too!

Explain that you are changing your behavior. Tell the addict that you are working a recovery program and have realized how disrespectful you have been by meddling in their business, and that you regret that behavior and will be working diligently to change. Repeat as needed when challenged or if you “slip” and revert to an old behavior or attitude. It’s OK. An apology will go a long way to put out the fire and resentment. Giving respect is about allowing another person to learn their own lessons from negative consequences.

Deciding that we no longer like our old behavior is the beginning of change toward new positive behavior. Focus on taking care of yourself. Giving respect to yourself is the best attraction for family recovery. As you grow a big, interesting, peaceful life, it will become easier to let others tend to their own lives as they see fit. We are here to help when you are ready to take the recovery leap! It’s worth it.

* The Fine Print: Cut-to-the-Chase Coaching’s mission is to inspire, empower and educate families of addicts. It is not affiliated with any other programs or treatment facilities and is not to be considered counseling or therapy. Working with alcoholic/addicts is potentially dangerous. Always use your own judgment and/or get the advice of professionals to find the right strategies for your life.