How to Distinguish Between Enabling and Acting Responsibly
Dear Dr. Steve:
After being on a roller
coaster ride for the last ten years, I thought I had heard it allthe lies, the
deception, the denial, never taking responsibility for anything. My wife has said and done
it all. Then just when I thought nothing could catch me off guard, just when I thought
that no one could say anything as preposterous as Ive heard over the last ten years,
Ive got some alcohol counselor telling me that my wife has a disease, but not only
that my wife has a disease, but that her whole family has a disease. This counselor had
the nerve to say that were an alcoholic family. Well, that was the last straw for
me. I told my wife I wasnt coming back anymore. All that Ive been put through
just to be told that the problem is with me, that I have a disease. You dont know
the half of all that Ive done as my wife became less and less able to function and
fulfill her responsibilities. The burden was on me to keep things going, to make sure that
the kids were taken care of, to cover up for my wife at work, to make sure her family
never found out what was going on, and her friends, my God if her friends knew about any
of this, my wife would just die. And all I get for my trouble is some college kid telling
me that Im just as sick as my wife.
that alcoholism is a family disease can be a difficult pill to swallow. Having been put
through an emotional wringer, rising above the drama and chaos of alcoholism and drug
addiction, flawlessly juggling your responsibilities, filling the void created by your
wife not being able to fulfill her responsibilities, and carrying the burden of keeping
your friends and family from ever finding out, the last thing anybody would want to be
told is that they too have a disease and they too have work to do with their disease.
me try to explain a phenomena that the family as a whole needs to learn about. Each family
needs to understand how this phenomena may manifest itself in each family members
behavior. Finally, each family member needs to learn different coping skills to cope with
an active alcoholic. The phenomena to which Im referring is known as enabling.
Family member(s) may knowingly or unknowingly enable an alcoholic and therefore enable the
alcoholic to stay active in their disease by:
1.) Rescuing the alcoholic from the consequences of the alcoholics behavior.
2.) Covering up for the alcoholic by conspiring with the alcoholics desire to keep
their drinking problem a secret.
3.) Psychologically aligning with the alcoholics denial system and equally be in
denial about the alcoholics problems.
4.) Acting in an overresponsible way in order to fill the void created by the
alcoholics inability to fully function.
motivates such seemingly self-destructive behavior? For some people, enabling is a
misguided act of love, protection, or even pity for the alcoholic. For other people,
enabling is the means by which the family can keep up appearances and project a picture of
normalcy to the rest of the world. For other people enabling is a way to get their
emotional needs metthe enabling family member needs to be needed if you will.
Strange as this may sound to you, the enabling family member can actually feel threatened
by the prospect of the alcoholic stopping to drink and getting better. For this family
member, if an alcoholic were to stop drinking then the enabling family member would be
confronted with the following questions. If my alcoholic no longer needs me to cover
up for them, then who will need me? If my alcoholic gets better then what use
will my alcoholic have for me? If my alcoholic becomes physically, emotionally, and
spiritually healthy, then how will I fit in to the life of somebody who no longer needs
me? If my alcoholic doesnt need me to fix them, then what worth do I have as a
human being? If my alcoholic no longer needs me to rescue them, then who am I
without anybody to rescue?
why your wifes counselor suggested that the family disease of alcoholism has
negatively impacted your entire family. Please be clear that asserting that alcoholism is
a family disease is not an accusation. It is an acknowledgement of the
negative impact of alcoholism on your entire family. When your wifes counselor
suggested that each family member needs to learn about alcoholism and heal from the
aftereffects of alcoholism on the whole family, your wifes counselor was piercing
the veil of secrecy and suggesting that everybody has played a role in the
unfolding disease of family alcoholism. In so doing, your wifes counselor was not
blaming you or anybody else but merely placing responsibility squarely on the shoulders of
each family member for their own emotional and spiritual well-being. Please rest assured
of the following, no matter what your wife must go through to stop drinking, its
vital that the family as a whole discover that theres a way of living life other
than in a manner that pours fuel on a raging fireno matter how well intended each
family member might be.
you can get beyond your understandable feelings of resentment and defensiveness,
theres much that can be done for your entire family. The first step in family
recovery is getting help for the family as well as the alcoholic. Receiving assistance
through a support group or professional counselor is the best means of helping the entire
family get well. Family treatment includes: 1.) Validating each family member's feelings
2.) Learning communication skills that will improve listening and self-disclosing,
3.) Stop blaming and judging and begin taking responsibility, 4.) Making clear that family
problems are not the fault of the children, 5.) Facing issues that family members have
been either denying and/or avoiding.
from chemical dependency and its toxic impact on family members. Raise your children to
choose to be alcohol and other drugs free. Learn how to in Dr. Frischs, Psy.D.
Recovery book seriesFrom Insanity to Serenity.
1.) Alcoholism is a family disease that negatively affects all people.
2.) All family members need an evaluation to determine what kind of help and support they
may benefit from.
3.) No family member is to be blamed for an alcoholics drinking.
4.) All family members are responsible for understanding what behaviors enable the
alcoholic to continue drinking and learning new ways of coping with an active alcoholic.
5.) All family members are responsible for mastering new ways of communicating that create
an environment of openness and honesty rather secretiveness and deception.