We need to let the person bear the weight of their bad choice or behavior. When we quickly brush it off or act as if it never happened, we take away a life-changing experience.
Enabling doesn’t just happen with addictions. Many times parents enable their teenagers in ways that take away life-changing experiences too. For instance, when a teen doesn’t get their homework in on time, there are consequences. But if a hovering parent takes responsibility to make sure the homework is handed in, then the parent is enabling bad behavior. The parent is taking away natural consequences.
One family came to me frustrated over their twenty-eight-year-old son who has never worked, lives in their basement, sleeps until noon every day and goes out every night. When I asked how their son affords going out, they said, “He is always asking us for money!” Well, giving the son money, feeding their son, having no requirements for continuing to live under their roof is enabling their son to do what he is doing. They need to change their behavior if they expect different results. With some coaching, they created a plan for dealing with their son which involved giving him no money, requiring that he get a job or he would have to move out, and he had to mow the lawn weekly as part of his family responsibility. Within six months, their son was employed full-time and enrolled in school. He had been too comfortable because his parents enabled him to be that way. Not all situations turn out quite this well though and many times it takes years to change the direction of a relationship.
When bad things happen and we experience consequences, we are far less apt to do the same behavior again. This natural cause and effect lesson doesn’t get learned when we intercede by “helping out.”
For instance, when someone gets arrested for Driving Under the Influence (DUI) or Driving While Intoxicated (DWI) and they call you to bail them out of jail, they are asking you to lessen the consequence of their actions. If you bail them out, you are enabling them to get away with paying less than the full price for their bad choice. Sadly, many people not only bail the loved-one out of jail but they also pay for the defense attorney! Many times there is a promise to repay the attorney expense but that’s not the point. An individual makes a mistake and they need to experience the full consequence of that mistake in order to truly learn from it.
We give grace and forgiveness to our loved-one but we don’t take away the natural consequence. Many times an alcoholic will get multiple DWIs and still feel entitled to be “helped” by their family members. Enabling is when we give into guilt trips and manipulation that is not truth. Holding someone accountable takes courage. If you don’t muster up the courage to stand up to their guilt and manipulation, you will find yourself signing up to do rescuing them multiple times. The choice is yours.