Enabling vs. Helping:

Many people believe they’re helping a friend or family member, when in fact, they’re enabling them to continue living in an unhealthy way. We hear stories all the time from friends, family, members, and on TV. It’s clear to everyone else what’s going on, but when you’re the enabler, it’s a lot harder to identify the behavior in yourself. It’s a lot easier to make excuses for WHY you’re doing what you’re doing.


As a counselor, I often speak to parents, siblings, and friends about the difference between helping and enabling. When I speak with them, I tell them helping is taking on a part of the load in order to ultimately assist the individual in solving their own problem. Enabling, on the other hand, is taking on part of the load and allowing the individual to remain stuck in the same position. In the beginning, it’s often difficult to tell the two apart. Time is an amplifier of which behavior, helping or enabling, is taking place.

Often, what it comes down to, is that the enabler is more scared of the consequences than the person who has the problem. The enabler can see the negative impacts and is attempting to rescue the individual from the natural consequences of their own choices. This makes it hard to stop enabling and let go.


I entered into Jeffrey’s home with the expectation that I would be teaching him healthy habits regarding nutrition, exercise, and tasks of daily living. It wasn’t as easy as I initially thought.  Human relationships and different personalities often play a role in outcomes. I’ve spent 7 full weeks as a 24/7 in-home coach with Jeffrey to date. For the first time, I’m leaving his home for brief periods. I’m returning only to troubleshoot specific issues he’s encountering in implementing the skills on his own.

During my stay with Jeffrey, when things didn’t always gone as planned, I struggled with a very specific question: “am I helping or enabling Jeffrey with some of his unhealthy habits?” Deciphering this was a critical component to Jeffrey being successful. To truly decide, I had to dig a little deeper and outline what it means to be an enabler vs. a helper. Turns out there are significant differences between the two. Maybe you ought to ask yourself, are you helping or enabling someone in your own life? Find out below.


Enabling is someone who does things for another person that they CAN and SHOULD be doing for themselves. This encourages and enables negative or self-destructive practices in another. They often help make excuses for these unacceptable behaviors. They also tend to create an atmosphere of convenience and prolong the situation. When you become an enabler, you are hindering that person from experiencing and understanding the consequences of their actions. Typically, enablers don’t allow the person to realize they have a problem. Enablers feed their sense of denial. Ultimately, this ends up depriving them of reaching their full potential and becoming productive independent beings.


Truly helping someone is doing something for someone else which they are UNABLE to do themselves. When trying to help someone who has unhealthy behaviors, put your focus on creating positive and sustainable changes in their life. Helpers confront unproductive behaviors and encourage and demonstrate good habits. They guide the person they are helping to accept responsibility and personal accountability for their actions. Helpers tend to be precise in communicating the type of behaviors they expect and will provide consistent feedback on the things that person is doing well, as well as what needs improvement. Basically, a helper is someone who HELPS someone HELP themselves.

Sometimes, when you’re too close to a person or situation, it’s hard to help them. When you feel like you’re unable to back away, it’s time to reach out to a professional for help. They will be able to provide you with an objective perspective and help you create the boundaries you and your loved one need.

Your Thoughts:

Now that you’ve read through our blog, we’re curious about your thoughts and experiences. How do you know when you’ve been a helper or enabler to someone you care about? Although it may be hard to identify which role you played until after the fact, your wisdom and experience could help someone now. Share your thoughts in the comment section.


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