How Can I Overcome Enabling and Codependency?

Trust God with the troubled person in your life.

When we have a loved one, who is dealing with a life-controlling issue, we sometimes want to help. It is natural to be caring, and to try to help the ones we love, get back on track. This can be confusing if we believe in God, because we want to act in love. Unfortunately, we often do more harm than good, when try to rescue someone.

What is enabling? Enabling is any kind of behavior, in which we try to protect someone from the consequences of their actions. We try to soften the natural negative consequences of misbehavior. This allows the person to continue in self-destructive behaviors. Those trying to help may hide the truth from others, defend bad behavior, help with legal matters, change things to suit the troubled person, lie for them, or refuse to discuss the situation with anyone. It can begin with making small allowances, and continue until our lives are dominated by trying to cure or control–what another person is doing .

One of the best rules that I’ve come across is this: The first time you bail someone out, that’s mercy. The second time, it is enabling.

When controlling someone’s bad behavior, becomes a major part of our lives, that is known as codependency. Codependency describes a person’s behavior, when they become “addicted” to another person. They take ownership of that person’s problems. Before all is said and done, they will find themselves being controlled by this person and their behavior. Much of their life becomes centered on that other person. A person who has a love relationship, with an addicted person may demonstrate:

  • Increasing tolerance of unacceptable behavior
  • Denial of the severity of personal impact and damage
  • Compromising their own personal value system to manage pain
  • Decline in major areas–spiritual, physical, family, and work
  • Feeling trapped in the victim role
  • Making plans to escape the relationship
  • Developing addictions in other areas

People aren’t aware that they are enabling, or becoming codependent. They are simply trying to do the right thing. After time passes, they realize that their efforts to help, have not been enough to cause any real change. Sometimes there is guilt, that the codependent has caused their loved one to lose control. We can suffer emotional distress, and turn to harmful behaviors of our own. Or even lose faith in God.

We should approach the behaviors of others with balance. According to Paul the body of Christ should be interdependent (Romans 12:7-16; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27). We need to avoid extremes such as being selfishly independent, or codependent. We sometimes cannot see our own addiction to another person. Friends may be able to point this reality out to us. Other things that can help us to overcome enabling and codependency are:

  • Going to a group for people with similar concerns
  • Focus on Christ instead of your loved one
  • Have a relationship of honesty, respect and healthy boundaries
  • Encourage your loved one to accept responsibility of their own actions
  • Realize you did not cause the problem
  • You cannot control anyone else’s behavior
  • You cannot cure anyone–detach yourself from their problems emotionally
  • Turn your loved one over to God

“Care-fronting” or Caring Confrontation, is also a very helpful tool when dealing with difficult problems.

  1. Focus on the action, not the person. Don’t criticize or label a person as bad. Focus on behaviors that are causing the problem. If the person tries to use a defense such as rationalizing, anger, or denial, always bring the discussion back to the behaviors. Focus on what the person does, not on any personal attack.
  2. Focus on facts, not personal conclusions. These are observations and facts, not what you think or imagine. Make statements about what you’ve seen or heard.
  3. Focus on descriptions, not judgements. Keep the lines of communication open, by not placing a value judgement on the other person’s behavior. Give descriptions rather than judgements of right and wrong.
  4. Focus on ideas, information, and alternatives–not on advice or answers. Don’t use scare tactics. If you are asked for advice, give a list of options that the person can consider. Then the person can feel free to choose a personal course of action.
  5. Focus on what and how, not on why. It is more helpful to talk about observable behaviors. Asking why, will raise a person’s defenses.

We want to speak the truth in love, and allow the Lord to do His work. Only the conviction of the Holy Spirit, can bring the lasting change, that sets us free. God can give us the sense of purpose. We should approach others with respect, kindness, thoughtfulness, gentleness and patience. Try to never confront a troubled love one, in anger. And finally, one of the most important things that a person can do, is pray.

References: Living Free, Concerned Person by Jimmy Ray Lee

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