Helping and Enabling – Is There A Difference?

Helping vs Enabling Is there really a difference between helping and enabling? What is enabling? What are the causes and effects of this behavior on both the “enabler” and the person being “helped”? Helping is doing something for someone else that they are unable to do for themselves. Enabling is doing things for someone else that they can and should be doing for themselves. So, why is there so much confusion between the two?

We have many opportunities in our lives to help someone else, whether it be amongst those of our own families, close friends or complete strangers. Perhaps someone you know has become ill, and you help them by arranging and bringing meals to them until they are well enough to do it for themselves again. A friend’s car may be in the shop getting fixed and you help them by driving them to and from work until their car is in good running order again.

Maybe someone you know has run into a bit of bad luck and is in need of temporary financial help to tide them over for awhile until their situation improves. Did you notice the optimal word, “until”? Providing temporary help to someone in need exemplifies kindness and consideration towards the receiver of help, but it also makes us feel wonderful inside when we are able to do so. But it is still temporary.

What then is enabling?

Enabling is entirely a different matter, but oftentimes gets confused as “help” by well-intentioned family members, friends and even neighbors. Remember, enabling is doing things for someone else that they CAN and SHOULD be doing for themselves. Many people think of enabling strictly in regards to alcoholics or drug addicts, whose family and friends make excuses for unacceptable behaviors, thus creating an atmosphere of comfort and ease for the situation to continue long-term.

Enabling vs. helping has a much broader meaning, encompassing many areas of life, including raising children to become independent adults rather than contributing to the increasing phenomenon of grown children returning home to live with their parents. When we enable addicts, children, friends or family, we are preventing them from experiencing the consequences of their own actions. We are not only preventing them from realizing they have a problem, but we are also depriving them of fully reaching their own potential.

Examples of enabling behaviors-

Sharon is an 36 year-old woman who can and should be working to care for her two small children, but she’s not. She has her own apartment that she shares with her children, and her own car. Sharon hasn’t worked a day in the last six years, since giving birth to her second child. Why? Because her mother and two sisters are paying all of Sharon’s bills, covering bounced checks and bank fees, buying all her groceries, paying her car payment each month, and even gives Sharon spending money. Sharon is not sick, she is not mentally or physically disabled in any way, but she has found a way of avoiding the responsibilities that go with being an adult with the “help” of her family.

Paul is a 28 year-old man who, although working full-time in the construction industry and making a very good income, is still living at home with his parents. All of his free time is spent watching television or playing video games, while others in the household carry full responsibility for paying the mortgage, utilities, household chores etc., while Paul remains stationery on the couch or in his bedroom. Paul is in good health, fully capable of providing for himself, but can’t think of a valid reason why he should be living on his own. His money is spent on month-long trips out of the country, purchasing movies and video games to add to his collection, and buying new clothes. Why? Because the parents are enabling Paul by allowing him to continue living with them, when he can and should be living on his own as an adult.

The Best Of Intentions Often Back-fire

Helping someone in need is truly admirable, until. Enabling someone is not so admirable, fraught with complications that can last indefinitely. Society tells us that a “good” mother or father gives their children everything they themselves never had. Society tells us to try and make things “easier” for our children, but where has this idea really gotten us?

Being an enabler has it’s own payoff, with a false sense of control over the lives of others. Well-intentioned parents, friends and even strangers can often find themselves feeling frustrated, resentful and used, but lack the will to stop the enabling. The “help” provided to those lacking the motivation and determination to stand on their own two feet has become a long-term expectation and outright demand by many. Are you an enabler?

Turning Enabling Behaviors Into Positive Potential-

Friends, family, neighbors, co-workers etc must learn to redirect their “helping” efforts with Tough Love, allowing persons to recognize and accept the responsibilities and consequences of their own choices, rather than enabling the continuance of unacceptable behaviors to the detriment of everyone involved. Take responsibility for any enabling behaviors, which is considered by some experts to be akin to abuse, realizing that creating positive change in someone being “helped” will not only have a positive impact on them but on you as well. There really is a difference between helping and enabling, but it is up to you to choose whether to continue on this path or to put a stop to it now.

A Sense of Entitlement
Children Who Refuse To Grow Up
Are Parents Helping Or Enabling Their Adult Children?
Are You An Enabler? Identifying Early Warning Signs of Enabling Behaviors
How to Stop Enabling: When Our Grown Children Disappoint Us
Support Groups for Parents with Grown Adult Children Living at Home with Parents

Setting Boundaries With Your Adult Children As long as we continue to keep enabling our adult children, they will continue to deny they have any problems, since most of their problems are being “solved” by those around him. Only when our adult children are forced to face the consequences of their own actions—their own choices—will it finally begin to sink in how deep their patterns of dependence and avoidance have become. And only then will we as parents be able to take the next step to real healing, forever ending our enabling habits and behaviors.