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Most people have an innate desire to help those that we love whenever we perceive them to be sad, frustrated, or in the midst of a challenging time. It is not uncommon for many of us to intervene in the lives of others, seeking to grant them reprieve from pain and discomfort. However, excessive intervening, help, and protection from consequences can lead to “lack of teachable moments”, inadequate coping skills, difficulty managing and responding to challenges, and the creation of barriers to resiliency.

Enabling by no means is a healthy way to help or support those we love. Unfortunately, for some people the desire to help those they love in times of need can drift into unhealthy territory by enabling inappropriate and unhealthy behaviors. Enabling rather that helping can encourage both current and future maladaptive ways of behaving and responding to things perceived to be unpleasant or undesirable. A parent that allows a child to keep something they have taken from someone else without asking is enabling stealing and the lack of respect for the property of others. The spouse who covers for the other when he or she is unable to go to work due to being hung over, intoxicated, exhibits poor work performance, tardiness, absenteeism, etc.

Persons that regularly intervene on behalf of another or enables dysfunctional behavior are often referred to as co-dependent. Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to the next. It is an emotional and behavioral condition that affects an individual’s ability to have a healthy, mutually satisfying relationship. Persons that exhibit this type of behavior are also said to struggle with “relationship addiction” because people with codependency often form or maintain relationships that are one-sided, emotionally destructive and/or abusive. It is important to note; co-dependent behavior is learned by watching and mimicking the behavior of those that enable others. By intervening or preventing one’s opportunity or ability to appropriately address and solve personal problems the enabler takes away any motivation the individual has for resolving his or her own problems.

Common Characteristics of Co-Dependent People Include:

  • Tendency ignore or minimize inappropriate or undesirable behavior of others
  • Lying or provide misleading information to cover up someone’s behavior or mistakes
  • Takes ownership of others mistakes or misdeeds
  • Distributes or assigns blame to others rather than leaving the blame where it belongs, i.e, the person that made the mistake, behaves inappropriately, etc.
  • Places the needs and desires of someone else in front of your own
  • Have trouble expressing feelings
  • Taking responsibility or blaming oneself for the behavior of another person or persons
  • Assigning or distributing blame to others by not holding the real offender responsible
  • Increased need to control those around them and the environment
  • Challenges as it relates to personal boundaries
  • Poor or inappropriate communication skills
  • Fear of offending or angering others

One of the most steps in changing unhealthy or maladaptive behavior is to understand it and acknowledge that it exists. In an effort to promote positive change and successful growth individuals that engage in undesirable behaviors must be held accountable for his/her actions. Any caretaking behavior that promotes or enables inappropriate behavior to continue needs to be confronted so it can be minimized or extinguished. To build better coping skills and resiliency we must be allowed to fall and suffer the consequences of our actions. Just like babies that fall when trying to walk and later pull themselves up to a standing position, they ultimately learn how to balance, and improve walking skills. As adults, we all need to fall, pull ourselves up, and experience loss in an effort to truly recognize success and build strength.