Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Enabling, Or Acting As If - How Do I Tell?

This question was asked of me recently.

I was raised in a family in which the opinions of a mysterious "other people" seemed to direct our choices.
Also, I find displays of anger quite threatening - this makes me far more likely to accept unacceptable behavior, and tolerate that which I do not like, in an effort to avoid provoking displeasure.

I grew up with the precise thinking in place, to make me a top-flight enabler.

My dictionary offers the following synonyms for the word "enabler:" empower, allow, permit.

I empowered my first husband's consumption of alcohol when I agreed to drive him to the liquor store in an effort to stop him driving while intoxicated.

I've allowed the alcoholics in my life to continue to demonstrate unacceptable behavior, when I smoothed things over so there would be no consequences for that behavior, from myself, or anyone else.

I've permitted the alcholics to treat me in a way I did not like, when I sat and listened to my ex's abusive words night after night, let my sister speak to me with scorn, etc.

Sometimes the only way I can distinguish between enabling and acting as if, is to consider my motives. Why am I doing whatever it is?

If my motive is to make myself or the alcoholic look better to a third person, I'm most likely enabling. If my motive is to avoid dealing with conflict - enabling. If my motive is to please a person who is being rude or abusive - enabling.

If my motive is to forward my recovery along a new path, when I'm not sure how to go about it, then I'm probably ok to act as if.

So on a general note, I'd say that enabling is about events taking place outside myself, "acting as if" is about my inner workings.

Hope that helps.


  1. Your statement about enabling to avoid angry conflict strikes very close to home (and heart). An angry alcoholic feels very toxic to me and as a small child I allowed anger to drive my enabling behaviors. As a child I didn't have the maturity to know that another's negative emotions weren't about ME.
    As an adult I still have to fight the self-centered urge to take conflict personally. Mr. SponsorPants noted that whenever someone vomits, we step back to protect ourselves. And when someone tries to spew their self-hatred on me, I can enable the situation like I did as a child, or step back mentally "as-if" I am an adult. That as-if is called detachment.
    Wow, thanks for helping me work that out!

  2. I'm not really sure what you mean when you talk about acting "as if" in terms of enabling. But my sponsor has often said that an action is either right or wrong depending on my motive. Trouble is, it's not always easy for me to know my motives. I can be pretty good at fooling myself.

    I guess the principle I try to live by in terms of enabling is to get out of the way. That usually means that I need to allow or permit my alcoholics to do whatever it is they decide to do, and allow or permit whatever consequences that naturally flow from that. To allow or permit God to do His will.

  3. I don't enable if I mind my own business and not that of the alcoholic. If I take care of myself then I'm not enabling but if I take care of another then I am. I don't want to act anymore. I simply like the idea of detaching with love.