Are You An Enabler Or A Supporter?

The simple difference between enablers and supports are:

Enablers do things for others that they should do for themselves.
Supporters do things for others that they are not capable of doing themselves.

At several points in my life, I have been an enabler, without really knowing it, until it was blatantly obvious. I learned, the only way to support rather than enable, was to set boundaries.

I had a college roommate who hinted around about the fact that she couldn’t afford anything to eat. I ended up giving her some money here and there thinking I was helping. Unbeknownst to me, she was buying nonessential items with the money given to her, all the while having a meal account through the college we attended. As soon as I found out, I stopped giving in to her obvious hints about lacking funds.

Enabling means offering “help” that reinforces a dysfunctional behavior. Enabling does not support but rather, perpetuates a problem.

As a new teacher, I learned from enabling my students. When I first started teaching, I would allow students to turn in late assignments. As I allowed this behavior to continue, every assignment that year, was turned in late. Live and learn…

You ultimately decide how people will treat you.

Many times parents become enablers for their children due to the fact that they do not want to see them suffer. This is often seen in public when a toddler throws a tantrum at a store and the parent gives in to whatever the child wants. When you give in, the results are continued tantrums without learning how to have self control.

Often I see parents completing projects for their child, which enables the child to become irresponsible and seek others to complete future projects. On a side note…Parents, do not make it so obvious that you completed your child’s project. Simple projects do not entail analytics, excel spreadsheets, mounted photos on heavy card-stock, store bought figurines with a background of handmade scenery that looked like an artist constructed it.

A colleague that is constantly covering up for a co-worker’s tardiness, is enabling the co-worker to be late for work everyday. A spouse who makes excuses for her husband, who is never home due to his nightly excursions to the local bar, is enabling his behavior.

Enabling can be in the form of codependency when dealing with mental illness, addictions, emotional and physical abuse.

Mental Health America states: “Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. It is also known as “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. The disorder was first identified about ten years ago as the result of years of studying interpersonal relationships in families of alcoholics. Co-dependent behavior is learned by watching and imitating other family members who display this type of behavior.”

In a co-dependent relationship, the enabler’s self esteem depends on the ability to “help”. However, this is detrimental and causes harm to the dependent party. It does not fix any problem but only makes it worse.


  • Make excuses or cover up behaviors by lying.
  • Are in denial that there is a problem.
  • Cannot confront.
  • Do not know how to set up boundaries.
  • Want to fix someone’s problem by bailing them out.
  • Take over someone else’s responsibilities.
  • Take pride in making sacrifices or gains self esteem by seemingly doing a good deed (codependency).


When you support a person instead of enabling them, you are there listening, engaging and helping with tasks until they learn how to do it on their own.

If you have the financial means, you can support someone after a major setback as they seek employment. You can support your co-worker by taking on some of their tasks while he/she is ill. Your co-worker will eventually come back to work and take the tasks on again.

The key behavior to watch as you support someone, is the willingness and movement of the person you are supporting. Are they doing their part, or taking advantage of your support?

Breaking the pattern of enabling someone requires putting boundaries down so that the choices and consequences belong to the one you have enabled. This is what will cause positive growth for both parties involved.

One of the most compassionate forms of human interaction is the desire to help and support others.

Most of us do not like to see others suffer, especially when it is our closest friends and family members. However preventing someones suffering or trying to fix their situation, only brings them back to the same problem again.

Learning and growth do not happen when we are continuously rescued. Learning and growth happen when we fall and try again.