The Dangers of Being an Enabler


If you are like me, you desperately want to help people who struggle with drugs and alcohol. You may even want people to like you and want to see them succeed in life. While this is not necessarily evil in and of itself, it is not a biblical view of personal relationships. Because I want people to like me and because I can’t stand it when someone is angry with me, I become an “enabler.”

The Bible does not mention the word, “enabler,” because this word is a contemporary psychological concept. However, the Bible does speak about the actions of the foolish, and those who lack self-control. I feel that there have been many times in which I have fallen into either or both categories: the “foolish” and the “lack of self-control.”

I realize that I have hurt others by enabling them, and maybe you realize that you have hurt others through your enabling. Well, I am here to share with you some help and hope. In the following post, let us look at three dangers concerning those who “enable” others.

1. Enabling is a one-sided relationship.

In an enabler’s mind, one sees themselves as helping and being involved in a relationship. Again, this is not necessarily an evil action. In the relationship of an enabler and the addict, there is no “give and take.” The addict is the one doing all of the “taking,” and the enabler is the one doing all of the “giving.” Thus, enabling is a one-sided relationship.

2. Enabling is a fear of not being in control.

Enablers feel that they can control the situation of an addict and this is simply not true. An addict is going to do whatever they want to do, whenever they want to do it because they are looking for immediate gratification – the next high, or the next buzz.

Enablers need to be very careful so as not to think of themselves as being the one who is sovereign and in control. Only God is sovereign and in control. Job realized that He was not in control of his situation. Notice how Job speaks about the sovereignty of God, “But he stands alone, and who can oppose him? He does whatever he pleases” (Job 23:13). Later, Job asserts, “I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted” (Job 42:2).

Do not mistakenly think that you can control the uncontrollable. Enabling is a fear of not being in control, or an attempt at being in control. It may also occur because one is worried about making others mad or upset. The Bible warns us about fearing man rather than God. Listen to what Solomon tells his own son regarding worry and the reaction of others: Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord is kept safe (Prov. 29:25).

We must be warned about seeking the praise of others. The Bible links this with the unbelief of the Pharisees in John’s Gospel. Note what John says, “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved praise from men more than praise from God (John 12:42-43).

When enablers assume any role that only God and Jesus can assume, there will be frustration and there will be failure. Therefore, do not seek the praise of men. Rather, develop a strong biblical fear and understanding of the Lord.

3. Enabling is destructive.

Enabling is destructive because you are allowing and helping to further the addict’s idolatrous behavior and practices. But, if you are the enabler, then you do not feel this way. You do not feel this way because you feel that you have their best interest in your heart.

When involved in these relationships, enablers need to make sure that they think clearly and rationally, instead of emotionally. If you struggle with enabling others, then ask the Lord to help you make decisions based on biblical principles and not your emotions. When you enable the addict, you are partaking in their sin, thus making yourself partly responsible. Thus, what you have feared along, you end up creating. You have become part of the problem, rather than a part of the solution.

Mark Shaw, a biblical counselor who deals with addictions, gives enablers a stern warning when they begin to hold addicts accountable, “When you begin holding an addict accountable, you will see anger, hurt, resentment, frustration, rage, and bitterness manifest in his demeanor, words, attitudes, and actions toward you. It will happen because he sees you as an object, not as a person with emotions, so you should be prepared for it… Expect and plan for an overly dramatic, emotional response and confront him when it happens. It is an attempt to manipulate you.”[1]

Conclusion

If this sounds like you, then there is hope. Ask Jesus to give you boldness and courage to stand up to those you fear. Ask Jesus to help you make wise decisions that will please and honor Him rather than others. Once we begin to fear the Lord, then we will truly be able to help instead of “enabling” those who struggle with drugs and alcohol.

[1] Mark Shaw, Divine Intervention, 7.