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Archive for August, 2015

Enabled and Disabled

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“Larry” had been referred to me. He was 36 and looking for “something to do.”

Before we began our first session he told me to send the invoices to his mother. He then proceeded to explain his situation. Since his divorce five years ago following a two-year marriage, he had been living at home. He was currently not working because taking a minimum-wage job made “no sense” for someone with a college degree in English. He told me he had also been in rehab for substance abuse (also paid for by his parents) and was currently dating a 24-year old he met at a bar.

“Why” I asked, “was he still living at home?” Larry looked at me as if I had three heads. What was he supposed to do live on the street? His parents could afford it so why shouldn’t they help him when he was going through a hard time?

“Because” I told him, “What you’re each doing is not going to help you become a functioning adult.”

I gave him some clarifying exercises to do to get started on creating a plan to go out on his own.

He gave the homework a half –hearted attempt and, after the third session he never came back.

I was not surprised.

Larry had become emotionally and psychologically stunted by his “supporters” and saw little reason to change.

Welcome to the world of the enabled and disabled.


You may be in an enabling relationship with a child, a spouse, a friend or an employee.

There can sometimes be a thin line between enabling and supporting.

Here are some ways to tell the difference:


Enablers take on other people’s responsibilities.

Supporters hold people accountable for the choices they make.


Enablers make excuses or lie for people.

Supporters challenge people when they make excuses and refuse to lie to cover for them.


Enablers issue warnings or threats but fail to follow through.

Supporters do what they say they are going to do when they say they’re going to do it.


Enablers avoid issues out of fear of angering or upsetting the enabled person.

Supporters confront inappropriate or irresponsible behavior and refuse to be intimidated or manipulated.


Enablers enable to regulate their own anxiety so they don’t feel guilty, selfish or responsible for what they perceive as the problems of other people that somehow must involve them.

Supporters put problems squarely in the lap of the people who create them.


Enablers give endlessly of their time and resources to those they are enabling.

Supporters set and communicate limits and stick with those limits.


Moving From Enabling to Supporting

When someone has a problem, there is nothing wrong with helping that person solve the problem. Where the situation begins to go terribly wrong is when the other person’s problem becomes your problem.

So here is the basic rule, “I will make sure at all times your problem stays your problem. “I will offer encouragement and if asked make suggestions, but the problem is yours to resolve not mine.”

For that to happen you may need a spinal transplant so you’re willing to stand up to and, when necessary, confront the enabled person.

You then must draw clear boundaries and do what you say so you maintain credibility.

For the other person things may get worse before they get better.

It’s not pleasant but nothing grows without resistance.

Don’t be afraid to let another person become uncomfortable.


The bottom line: Well-intended as they may be enablers are doing a disservice to the people they enable.

At the end of the day we are all responsible for the choices we make.



CTS Consulting, Inc

3126 Berkshire Road

Baltimore, Maryland 21214

phone 410-444-5857

cell 443-286-2488