Am I Enabling My Child’s Addiction and Destructive Behavior?

One of the most common thoughts and concerns of family members of individuals with problematic behaviors and addictions is whether we enable the behavior. We worry that there is something that we are or are not doing that is driving our child to use substances, alcohol, or engage in other behaviors, like cutting or promiscuity. During the podcast “PRO-Dependence,” Fire Mountain’s Aaron Huey talks with Dr. Robert Weiss about a new way of looking at enabling, co-dependency, and shaming of family members.

What Is Enabling?

When we discuss enabling, what do we meant? Family support is vital to recovery for those struggling with addiction and problem behaviors. We hear enabling as a negative word that puts blame and shame on the family members. Enabling is often linked with what is called “co-dependency.” During recovery, family members are often “blamed” as “enablers of the behaviors.” They might be doing their best to support the person addicted or engaging in destructive behaviors and find compromises that work for the family.

A typical example of what is traditionally labeled as enabling might be compromising with a teenager addicted to substances. Parents might agree to allow the child to use while in the home. While this compromise is not be a long-term solution, the parent might have rationalized it as “if they are going to use, I’d rather know that they are safe.” While not a long-term solution, this type of compromise comes from a place of love and caring.

When their child enters treatment, parents might feel exhausted from trying to help their child. They might have been working through compromises that kept their child safe yet are no longer working as long-term solutions. When these compromises come from a place of love, why are we taught to “shame” ourselves as enablers? During family therapies, parents might worry about being blamed or shamed for their child’s behavior. However, Dr. Weiss challenges families’ blame and shame with a concept he calls “PRO-dependence.”

“PRO-dependence”: Dropping the Shame of “Enablers”

Most literature and research in addiction classify it as a disease. Other problematic behaviors might be rooted in underlying issues, like trauma or mental health illness. Why do we treat these diseases differently than other diseases? When a family member is diagnosed with cancer, we do not look at caregivers as “enablers” when caring for them. We view them as loving individuals helping their family members through a difficult time.

Shaming families as “enablers” does not help the family heal and develop the skills that they need. The root of enabling is love. We love our kids and want to help them. Maybe the way we tried to help was not the best; however, this came from hoping that our child would come back to us. Unconditional acceptance, love, compassion, and understanding can help our children feel safe and secure while struggling with their issues. 

Is “Tough Love” Helpful?

As parents of children with problematic issues, we might struggle with the concept of “tough love.” People outside of our family may fill our heads with ideas that we need to “teach our kids the hard way.” We might think that setting up strict environments and expectations is the only way to help our kids. People might think that kicking our kids out of the house for doing drugs or saying, “you’ve got to pick yourself up by your bootstraps,” when our kid is depressed will help.  

These types of “tough love” strategies to help our children might only serve to push them away or teach them to mask the problems. They might fear that we will withhold our love and acceptance if they are not perfect or relapse during recovery. There is a balance that we can strike with our kids by fostering unconditional love while teaching our kids about natural consequences.

Natural Consequences for Problematic Behaviors

Natural consequences are different than tough love in that we are teaching our children the right way to get their needs met. As our children grow up, they learn how to navigate the world, develop relationships, build connections, and feel good about themselves. When children engage in problem behaviors to meet their needs, we can teach them the right way to live without shaming them or using “tough love” approaches.

Using natural consequences help us to find the balance between enabling behaviors and tough love. Remember your heart was in the right place by loving and caring for your child while offering help.There is no shame in that! 

When children struggle with addiction or other problem behaviors, we might ask ourselves, “are we enabling this behavior?” Parents might feel shame or blame themselves for their kids’ behaviors if they are not using “tough love” techniques. However, we can challenge this idea. When we love our kids unconditionally, we might find compromises to keep them safe even if this is not “curing” the issue. When we have exhausted all of our resources or ideas on how to help, we might need additional support. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center is the next right step for your child. We understand that recovery involves the entire family system. Our parent workshops and coaching weekends can teach you practical strategies to help your child in their recovery. To learn more about our programs and connect with the experts, call us today at (303) 443-3343. We’re here to help your family’s fire burn brightest!

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