Helping you become all that you are capable of becoming!



Enabling Behavioral Personality Characteristics

Chapter 8: The Enabling

Behavioral Personality Characteristics
Laying the Foundation:

Personality Traits of Low Self-Esteem
By: James J. Messina, Ph.D.


Enabling Behavior Characteristics


Appearance to world of persons in the enabling behavior role:

  • Protect others from the consequences of their own actions
  • Deflect the hand of fate and soften its blow for others
  • Attempt to save others from feeling intense emotional pain
  • Delay the day of reckoning for troubled persons by averting social and financial difficulties for them
  • Prevent crises for troubled persons which, in fact, prolongs the problems
  • Pinch hit for troubled persons, hiding their mistakes with alibis or lies to others
  • Act out of a sincere, if misguided, sense of love and loyalty
  • May act out of shame to protect their own and their family's self-respect
  • Are motivated by the fear that they may share the unfortunate consequences of the troubled person's problems
  • Take on responsibility for the troubled person
  • Begin to doubt themselves and doubt their own sanity or “rightness” often seeing themselves as failures
  • Feel guilt and self-hatred and begin to turn off their feelings toward the troubled person and others
  • Use a lot of projection and blaming on the troubled person
  • Vent a lot of anger against the troubled person
  • Become known as sarcastic naggers, bitches, blamers
  • Deny and conceal the problems of the troubled person
  • Make decisions for the troubled person, decisions that are best left for the troubled person to make for themselves
  • Minimize the problems of the troubled person
  • Feel trapped in the problems of the troubled person
  • Develop an emotional shell and resist penetration

Feelings inside persons in the enabling behavior role:

  • Powerless to change the situation
  • Serious about the situation
  • Self-blaming for the troubled person's problems
  • Fragile in the face of the troubled person's problems
  • Self-pity for the situation they are in
  • Manipulation is the only method left them to get their way to correct the troubled person's problems
  • Super-responsible for the situation and solving the troubled person's problems
  • Guilt over the troubled person's problems and the troubled person's inability to solve them
  • Pain from the hurt resulting from the troubled person's problems
  • Fear that the troubled person's problems will never be solved and will ultimately consume them
  • Anger that they can't fix or solve the troubled person's problems

Typical statements of persons in the enabling behavior role:

  • I'm going to give him (or her, them) another chance.
  • I want to give him the benefit of the doubt.
  • I'm not clear what I should expect of him.
  • I'm not convinced that he has that problem.
  • I love him; I can't leave him.
  • I don't want him to fail.
  • I don't want him to suffer any pain or hurt.
  • I don't want him to think that I don't love him.
  • I'm beginning to suspect that I'm the reason for his problems.
  • I don't want to be mean.
  • It's hard to say no.
  • I could never forgive myself for not taking steps to prevent him from getting hurt.
  • He'd never forgive me if he got hurt or failed.
  • I've made my vows for life; I could never leave him.
  • It only hurts for a little while.
  • Look at all the trouble he's causing for me and the family.
  • I want him to get help, even if I have to drag him in.
  • What have I done wrong?
  • Where have I gone wrong?
  • He doesn't care how much he hurts us by his behavior.
  • I feel so unappreciated.
  • Just this one time only.
  • Let's not be hasty in our judgment.

Negative consequences of the enabling behavior role:

  • Low self-esteem
  • The problems of the troubled people, addressed by enablers, usually become worse rather than better
  • Become discouraged about the lack of progress or change in the troubled people and ultimately sabotage their own efforts to reform these people
  • Become angry and resentful at those in their life who fail to improve
  • Become resentful, bitter, antagonistic and vengeful toward those who fail to improve
  • Become martyrs who look for others' sympathy for their plight in life
  • Become enmeshed in the very problem-behavior traits they resent, such as drinking, overeating, overworking, drug abuse, etc.
  • Often become unappealing people and find the nontroubled people in their lives have turned against them
  • Become so adamant about a cause that they seek to reform everyone they come into contact with, sometimes obsessively
  • Lose focus as to how embittered and single-focused they have become; they get confused by the rejection and lack of approval they receive from the nontroubled people in their life
  • Protect others from the truth about the problems of the troubled people, suffering the anger, resentment, and hostility of the nontroubled people after they find out that the enabler has sheltered them from the truth
  • Often wear themselves down so much that they suffer stress-related illnesses, like cancer, heart disease, ulcers, gastrointestinal problems, high blood pressure, and others
  • Often become troubled people who are so caught up in denial that they become difficult and resistant to getting help for themselves
  • Often refuse to get help for themselves if they have been successful in getting their troubled people into treatment
  • Often become immobilized by fear, insecurity, and mistrust if they are not successful in getting help for the troubled people in their lives
  • Often spend their lives seeking revenge against the troubled people whom they tried to reform and couldn't
  • Usually end up depressed, anxious, and tense

Some beliefs of persons in the enabling behavior role:

  • I must do something to help this person stop his problem behavior.
  • I can help this person stop his problem behavior.
  • Everyone should want to change if they have a problem behavior.
  • My efforts will result in reforming this person.
  • The harder I put effort into addressing this problem, the more easily it will be solved.
  • The larger the threats I make, the better chance that he will change.
  • If a person has a problem, the only way you can help him is to stay with him.
  • My efforts to lead a good life will pay off in the reforming of this troubled person.
  • I have the key to the answer for this person's problems
  • I must put all my energy into helping this person if I expect him to change.
  • Only losers give up.
  • Protecting a troubled person is one way of helping that person to get help.
  • The troubled person's behavior is the only problem our family has.
  • If I deny or hide the problem from our children, they won't be affected by it.
  • Things are never as bad as they seem.
  • God never gives you a burden too great to carry on your own.
  • I know what's best for this person.
  • I must never complain about this person's behavior in public.
  • I must never let this person get in trouble because of his problem.
  • I must carry the burden of this person's problems on my own shoulders.

Turning negative enabling behavior into positive potential:


Negative Enabling Behavior: Minimizing problems

Positive Potential: These people can be given assistance to recognize the magnitude of the problems in which they are enmeshed. They can be given information about the nature of “family” illnesses and the “sick” roles that each family member takes on and how their enabling behaviors are “sick” and can lead to their own physical or mental illness if left unchecked.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Protecting the troubled person from negative consequences

Positive Potential: These people can be taught “tough love” technology. This assists enablers to redirect their efforts to help troubled persons recognize and accept the consequences of their own troubled behavior. In this way the enabler will let the troubled person “face the music” for their problems early on, let them “hit a brick wall” and recognize the need to get help for the problem on their own.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Self-blaming

Positive Potential: When they have learned that there is virtually nothing they can do in reforming a troubled person, they can take themselves off the hook of blame and place the responsibility for the problem back into the hands of the troubled person.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Manipulation

Positive Potential: When they realize that most of their efforts exacerbate the problems, they can stop using threats, bribes, ultimatums and trickery to reform people. They can use honesty, assertiveness, openness, confrontation in getting help for themselves, and then address the troubled behavior of others.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Super-responsible

Positive Potential: By handing the responsibility for the problem back to the troubled person to handle, and by viewing the problem more rationally, they can encourage the troubled person to seek help and assistance for himself, to address his problem, and to be open and vulnerable to change.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Acting out of loyalty

Positive Potential: Enablers need to be guided in their feelings of loyalty to avoid protecting troubled people from the negative consequences of their actions. Redirected loyalty is to encourage the troubled persons to face their problem honestly and to get timely help, preventing the problems from becoming uncontrollable.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Powerlessness

Positive Potential: They can be helped to recognize that practicing “tough love” and helping others accept personal responsibility for their own actions is a powerful behavior, with a more productive outcome than the enabling behavior used previously.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Denial

Positive Potential: Enablers need to hit their own “brick wall” and get help for themselves before they can effectively help others. Such brick walls as the troubled person getting sicker or getting into trouble on the job or with the law is a way to force enablers to give up their denial of the problems forcing them to take corrective measures to alter their enabling strategies.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Sarcasm, nagging, bitching, blaming

Positive Potential: Once they are able to let go of super-responsibility for others' problems, enablers are also able to let go of chronic reminding and reprimanding the troubled persons for having the problems. Enablers can be helped to recognize that this verbal “garbage” is the very behavior that gives the troubled persons the excuse for indulging in the troubled behavior in the first place.


Negative Enabling Behavior: Low self-esteem

Positive Potential: Once enablers are able to let go of the need to solve the problem no matter what, they are able to view themselves in a healthier, more rational way. They can love and respect themselves more and pursue avenues that will make them feel good, allowing them to have fun.