Enabling - Enabling is a pattern of behavior, often adopted by abuse victims, which seeks to avoid confrontation and conflict by absorbing the abuse without challenging it or setting boundaries. The perpetrator of the abuse is thus "enabled" to continue their pattern of behavior.

Enabling is a strategy often adopted by victims of abuse in an effort to try to placate the abuser by giving them what they want, fly "under the radar" or "keep the peace". The idea is that efforts to confront or set boundaries in the face of unacceptable behavior often result in an immediate escalation of conflict, therefore it is easier just to go along with what the abuser wants.

Enabling Pros...

While enabling does not completely eliminate abusive episodes, it does reduce the overall frequency and/or intensity of conflict in the home and establishes a stable and secure status quo where the abuser and the victim's roles in the relationship are clearly defined.

Enabling Cons...

While enabling suppresses short term conflicts, it carries the penalty of reinforcing and prolonging a dysfunctional controlling hierarchy in a relationship, where one person is free to use abusive behaviors to get what they want. Enablers often unwittingly become accomplices in their own entrapment which makes it all the more difficult for them to break the cycle of abuse.

Enablers who subsequently decide to establish boundaries are likely to face stiff resistance from an abuser in the form of angeremotional blackmailhooveringFOGthreatsfalse accusations etc.

What it Feels Like

Enablers often feel frustrated and trapped, because they have to suppress their own goals, and feelings to sustain the status quo. As a result, enablers are prone to depression, substance abuse, sudden unexpected angry outbursts and projecting their own anger toward innocent "safe" bystanders. Enablers sometimes become secondary abusers of children, family members, acquaintances or co-workers who they may regard as "weaker".

Examples of Enabling

  • A woman who makes excuses for her husband's violent rages.
  • Cleaning up someone else's mess.
  • Hiding a person's dysfunctional actions from public view.
  • Absorbing the negative consequences of someone else's bad choices,
  • Paying off another person's debts.
  • Refusing to confront or protect oneself when exposed to physical, emotional or verbal assault.
  • Projecting one's own anger and frustration from a dysfunctional relationship onto another, innocent third party.

Enabling makes it easier for an abuser to go on abusing - at great cost to the direct victim and to the innocent bystanders like children, other family members, friends, acquaintances and ultimately to the abuser themselves - who is kept on life support in the dysfunctional system just enough to have no real incentive to change it.

What NOT To Do:

  • Don't be an enabler!
  • Don't be silent about what you are dealing with.
  • Don't hide another person's mistreatment of you from others.
  • Don't turn your anger on children or other people who you consider to be "weaker" than you.
  • Don't shield someone from the consequences of their own behavior - that is not helping them.
  • Don't fool yourself into thinking you can "take it" or that you are strong enough to absorb another person's pain.
  • Don't try to take on the role of a rescuer or a person who can fix an abuser's behavior.
  • Don't assume that because your children are only observing what is going on that that they aren't getting hurt by it
  • Don't tell yourself that because the abuse is intermittent or occasional that it isn't serious.
  • Don't assume that because an abuser is friendly and kind most of the time that they don't qualify as a "real" abuser.

What TO Do:

  • Get support. Talk to somebody who understands what you are dealing with.
  • Protect yourself and any children from verbal and emotional and physical assault. See our Emergency Page if necessary.
  • Work to establish realistic and meaningful boundaries.