Enabling Your Troubled Teen
What is enabling? How is it different from helping?
Helping is doing something for someone else that they can't do for themselves. Enabling is doing something for someone else that they can and should do for themselves. Enabling allows your teen to comfortably continue with his unacceptable behavior. Enabling can be intentional or unintentional. At any rate, the teen remains the same because there are no consequences for bad behavior. The enabler facilitates the continuation of unacceptable behavior.
Quiz for parents of teens:
- Have you ever "called in sick" for your teen when they didn't feel like going to school?
- Have you accepted part of the blame or excused his/her drinking/drugging or bad behavior?
- Have you avoided talking about the bad behavior or drinking/drugging out of fear of hearing the response?
- Have you tried drinking/drugging with him in hopes of strengthening the relationship?
- Have you given him "one more chance" and then another and another?
- Have you bailed him out of jail or paid for his legal fees?
- Have you paid bills that he was supposed to have paid himself?
- Have you finished a job or project that the teen failed to complete himself?
- Without first checking out the evidence, have you marched down to the school (jail, job) to give them "a piece of your mind" when they accused your teen of using drugs?
- Have you ever told your teen, "Just don't get caught" when you've talked about illegal behavior such as underage drinking or using illegal drugs?
Are you happier or more gratified when you are doing for others than when you do for yourself? Do you feel guilty spending time, money, or resources on your own projects instead of devoting time to others' needs? Do you take on the problems and cares of others with vigor and become stressed if you cannot solve their problems? Are you annoyed and angry if people don't give you the thanks and accolades you secretly feel you deserve for all the good things you have done for them?
Of course, if you answered "yes" to any of these questions, you at some point in time have enabled your teen to avoid responsibility. Rather than "help" your teen, you have actually made it easier for him to get worse! You have not only enabled your teen, you have probably become a major contributor to the growing and continuing problem and chances are have become affected by the problem yourself.
As long as your teen has his enabling system in place, it is easy for him to continue to deny that he has a drinking/drugging problem -- since most of his problems are being "solved" by those around him. Only when he is forced to face the consequences of his own actions, will it finally begin to sink in how deep his problem has become. Some of these choices are not easy for friends and families. If your teen gets in trouble with the law, that affects you. The rest of the family will likely suffer right along with him.
Calling the police and reporting your teen's illegal behavior helps him or her to come face-to-face with the problem. Those kinds of choices are difficult. These choices require " tough love." But it is love. Unless your teen is allowed to face the consequences of his own actions, he will never realize just how much his drinking/drugging has become a problem -- to himself and those around him.
Who are the enablers?
They can be teachers, doctors, judges, therapists, parents, attorneys, teens....you name it. They are everywhere. They're rich, poor, middle class and everything else. They can be highly educated, uneducated, street-wise, or naïve.
Why do they do it?
This is most easily understood from the perspective of the symbiotic relationship. The pilot fish tags along with the shark and eats the parasites on the shark. They both get something from the relationship. The shark gets clean; the pilot fish gets food. Like the shark and the pilot fish, the enabler and the addict (or alcoholic or mentally ill or incapacitated person) fit together like a hand in a glove. They both need each other. They both get something out of the relationship.
Enablers thrive on the weaknesses and needs of others. They are needed! They take too much responsibility for the actions of others, always feeling they can somehow manipulate the person or situation and somehow bring about a positive change.
Beware of "nice" people
Enablers may appear to, and even fool themselves into thinking that they are loving and kind and giving. However, they seek out or "enjoy" relationships with "victims" as these kinds of relationships help them to feel good about themselves. Their acts of kindness are a means of control and manipulation. They exert enormous amounts of energy trying to "help" the victim; if the victim gets better, it does not really meet their aim. They need to feel "needed" and useful thus enabling the victim to remain in their unhealthy situation. Most codependent people gain their sense of self worth from their relationship to the needy person or abusive relative. They feel magnanimous by lavishing all of their time and attention on the other person, never looking at or filling the hole in their personality.
Enablers are most likely to "shoot the messenger" because the messenger tells the truth. Like the addict, the enablers don't want to hear the truth. So, they lie to themselves. Because they have an agenda-that you meet their needs to be needed-they aren't interested in healthy solutions. Their motto may as well be, "Let me help you hurt yourself." They are the ones who are most likely to hurt the ones that they say that they love.
Enablers have huge unmet needs
Here are some of the typical needs of enablers: the need to be needed, the need to control things, the need to be "loved" or appreciated, the need to rescue, and the need to "look good." They also suffer from mixed-up priorities, poor boundaries, denial and delusions.
Enablers are typically overly responsible. Their motto is "give until it hurts." And they often hurt. They appear to sacrifice their own needs for the sake of the addict. They put all of their focus on the addict. And, although it can be quite subtle, they often manipulate and control others through their "niceness."
Who suffers because of the enabler?
Everyone-the addict, the other family members, society and, of course, the enabler herself. Because there are no consequences for bad behavior, the bad behavior continues. So everyone suffers. Until the enabler stops enabling, everyone continues to suffer.