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Why Do We Enable People?



Enabling is not a strange or new word. Most of us in one way or another have been doing it for years. With our children, friends, family, and partners. What exactly is enabling? When we enable people, we are giving someone or something the authority or means to do something. For example, let's say someone has a particular behavior that is not acceptable to you. However, for whatever reason, which we will be discussing later, you fail to address it with them in your attempt to change their behavior. You are then enabling them to continue that behavior because you failed to let them know that their behavior is not acceptable to you. Many times, even if you try, it doesn't sink in. That can be for a variety of reasons. You may not be sending the correct message. Most people suffer from the syndrome that they know what they mean and expect others will as well. THAT IS THE FARTHEST THING FROM THE TRUTH. Why? Because many people add too much information that is not pertinent to what they are trying to say because they failed to say it directly and stick to the point.

We must all remember that people perceive what we say differently if we add too much clutter to the topic., and many people get on the defensive and now play the role of the victim. At that point, they will only hear what they want to hear and turn your words around in their mind and take what you are saying to mean what they want them to mean. You can't always blame the other person when you are not being direct and sticking to exactly what you want to say, and what you want them to understand. Many may be thinking that's there is a simple fix. However, not so much, because there are many reasons that someone is not addressing that behavior, and yes, there may be more than one type of behavior involved.

It is critical for anyone to know and understand why they are tolerating a particular behavior. Most importantly, the person tolerating that behavior, for whatever reason, is just as at fault as the person displaying that type of behavior because they are allowing it to continue without addressing it, or not addressing it properly. There will always be times when some things are not easy to say, but still need to be said. If said properly, it is not your responsibility for how the person reacts. Therefore, you may only be adding to the problem. The purpose of this post is not to attempt to identify the causes of these behaviors because many types of behavioral issues are part of a deeper problem that might be caused by a mental disorder, emotional disorder, sexual disorders, bi-polar disorders, and more, depending on what type of behavior is involved. In almost every case, severe behavioral disorders will require professional help. Even with professional help, some disorders are a degenerative disease process. Meaning, they will only get worse with time, and some may escalate quicker than others. I am not implying here that this is an easy process. However, unless you are prepared to accept a particular behavior and one that may get worse, you are your own worst enemy.


Believe it or not, most people who enable others or loved ones do not intend to cause them harm, actually, at first, it is their desire to help them, and in most cases, the person being the enabler does not even realize they are doing it. Oftentimes, by the time they realize it, or someone brings it to their attention, the person with the behavioral disorder has already escalated that behavior which now makes the task of changing that behavior more difficult, and in some cases, impossible to change, especially if the particular behavior is part of a mental or emotional disorder. Even with professional help, which in most cases like this, is necessary, it still may be nearly impossible to change.

Enabling is a very real part of an abusive relationship since the type of behavior you might be trying to change usually involves some form of abuse. Remember, there are many forms of domestic abuse. Sexual, verbal, physical, and emotional, are just a few. By enabling this behavior, the victim, or enabler, which is usually one and the same, thinks they are trying not to escalate the behavior they are not trying to fix, by saying nothing, or not trying to fix it properly. By enabling this behavior, the individual feels they are hiding from the abuse and shielding themselves from the consequences of the other person's actions. However, which is the worst of two evils? Enabling allows the abuse to worsen by keeping this perceived evil shrouded in darkness (where it just LOVES to grow). Here is the link to a good article to read.

There are many reasons someone enables another. Two of the most common reasons are physical fear of the other person, or, they have been tolerating it for so long they simply become tired of trying to solve the behavior. Many use the phrase, "I'm Stuck." First off, no one is ever stuck. If they feel they are stuck it is because they are choosing to ignore the issue and just accept rather than take the required steps to fix it. For many, that will work for the short term, but when it really worsens and becomes unbearable, that has now become an extremely volatile and possibly dangerous situation. A situation that many times will lead to physical altercations or worse. I have seen this play out hundreds of times. Accepting it and trying to tolerate it, or choose to ignore it, is never the right answer., and the domestic violence statistics prove that to be true each year as domestic abuse and violence are always on the rise. When this situation occurs in a relationship, and have no doubts about this, this a real and most common form of domestic abuse. So much so, that many laws have changed regarding domestic abuse and certain behaviors or now considered criminal offenses.

There are other reasons such as financial worries, fear of losing materialistic things, and others, that cause someone to tolerate the intolerable behavior of others. I heard it thousands of times. "I'm staying for the children." To the best of my knowledge and research, there has never been a medical study or report that supports that as a sound reason because of the long-term effects it has on younger children by what they have witnessed in the home, and even older children. Things that later in life will trouble them emotionally. Actually, most reports and data show that children will do better in a happier environment. Look, I had three children when I got divorced, I am living proof that if a father wants to be actively involved with their children will survive quite well. My three have grown up to be great individuals without having to carry the emotional baggage they otherwise might have had.

The deeper issue is that in time, the person allowing these behaviors becomes submissive and usually can eventually develop low self-esteem, low self-worth, and low self-respect. In my over thirty years in medicine, I have witnessed and seen up close the damage this can cause to an individual. Along with speaking at various domestic violence group meetings, I have met women, and yes even men, that felt such a low worth of themselves they hit rock bottom. They may have become alcoholics, drug users, or use any device to help them get through the day. And in EVERY case, I have heard the same thing. "I tried so hard to avoid something happening that I didn't want to happen, but it destroyed me and happened anyway." Sadly, some even tried to harm themselves by attempting to take their own life.

The other serious problem with this comes from what children in the household will see. What they might over time believe is normal behavior, when in fact, it is the farthest thing from normal. The old saying goes like this. Monkey see monkey do, is true. If all they see is unhappiness, to them that is normal when in fact it is not. Although that is more prevalent when a child sees these types of behaviors from a young age, it can have the same effect on someone at any age.


Enabling others is a learned behavior, meaning, we learned to do it, versus an innate behavior, which is something that is hard-wired into us from birth. Learned behavior is much easier to change than innate behavior. However, it does require certain things. First, we need to realize we are doing it. Second, we must have the desire to stop, regardless of the outcome. Third, let the other person know in the correct terms that the particular behavior they are displaying is not acceptable and will not be tolerated. I know what you are thinking. It sounds easier than it is, and the individual circumstances determine how that is accomplished. That is very true. However, and I must emphasize. If there is any fear of physical fear involved, there are agencies that can help, especially in cases where they may be emotional or mental behavioral disorders involved. Help is available so you have no reason to feel alone, and especially not stuck.

The sad part is, these things do not get better on their own, and as long as someone tolerates it, it will get worse. We are not talking about something as simple as obsessive-compulsive disorders, (OCD), such as, which shelf the milk has to go on. We are referring to much more serious disorders and behaviors. Oftentimes people with these issues are very controlling, selfish, things need to be on their terms, their way, and almost always see themselves as the victim, and will usually blame others. The only choice the other person has to make is to be strong enough to do what it takes, or simply be submissive., and submissiveness always involves many different aspects. These individuals blame everyone or anyone for their behavior. The real victim is the other person. The biggest issue they face is that they are always trying to understand why, I constantly hear, "I was always there for them, I did everything for them, I always supported them." These are words and phrases the other person will never hear, because to them, in their mind, they are the victim. In almost every case, they will twist your words to make them fit what they feel is the truth rather than the actual truth.


Enabling people is usually not the best choice of action, and addressing it sooner than later is always best. However, the method you use should be direct and honest without the fluff. No one says you have to say things in a cruel or mean fashion, but knowing they will twist what you say around, you need to say things in a manner that no matter how they twist it, the message is the same. Look at it mathematically. 2 + 2=4. There is no way to twist that in a manner that the outcome won't be four. However, if you say 100 - 60 + 10 - 30 /5 = 4. You have just confused the issue and given the person many ways to look at which takes away from the answer still being four. See my point?

With that said, all things in life always boil down to a matter of making choices. We all must look ahead and understand if what we are doing is going to cause further problems down the road. In my experience, from what I have seen, as well as the data on the subject, things always get worse, especially if it involves any type of medical emotional disorders or mental disorders. This post in no way is advising anyone on how to handle their particular situation. In many cases, the person who is causing the enabling eventually finds they need to seek help to gain the support and strength they need because their low self-worth and self-esteem that has already greatly diminished over time. Those that do not, are flirting and walking through potentially dangerous waters, and those tragedies are real, exist, and happen on almost a daily basis.

The message here is this can be avoided and can be fixed. Enabling people and accepting behavior that is not acceptable can be fixed. Sometimes the other person needs more than what another person can give to fix their problems. That is where professional help comes into play. However, an alcoholic will never tell you they are an alcoholic, they always say they can stop any time. The same with a drug or substance abuser. People with behavioral disorders are no different. They do not see themselves as having a problem, and if there is any portion of bipolar disorder involved, what they see and how they perceive things or feel will always change. Sometimes daily or many times a day. I sincerely hope this post has given those with questions some answers that help them to understand the process. No one ever promised you a rose garden and no one ever told you things in life would be easy. However, what you do know is, with a sense of purpose, self-worth, self-respect, and desire, these things can be solved. Maybe not in the way you prefer, but all problems have solutions. We may not always like the solution, but there is always a solution. Each year 960,000 to 3,000,000 incidents of some form of domestic violence are reported. The number of those that are killed as a result of domestic abuse in all forms is staggering. The numbers for 2020 are not out yet, but early numbers for 2019 appear to over 3,000 women who died as a result of some form of domestic abuse. That's pretty scary. when you figure in 2014, that number was only 1,321, 752 of which were killed by firearms. So, do you think that enabling destructive behavior is a good idea?

Stay safe and be well. Thank you.

Caesar Rondina


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