There are very fuzzy boundaries between helping and enabling. If you’re enabling, you think that you’re helping, but what you’re doing is anything but helpful. Here's some information so that you don't confuse the two.


When you help someone you are doing something that they cannot do for themselves -- but here’s where the line gets blurred. Ex: If I ask you to help me by mailing my letter, the nice thing would be to do it. However, if I can do this myself and keep asking you, and you’re going out of your way to do it for me, you’re enable me to depend on you. I’ll expect you to mail my letters and probably get angry with you if you don’t. I’ll end up taking it for granted, but actually, I've been enabled. Helping occasionally is OK, but your 'help' enables me to depend on you doing it.


When a person is capable, and their responsibilities are handled for them all the time, they're not being responsible. Enabling prevents consequences – regardless of what the consequences are.

Fuzzy boundaries

Sometimes helping and enabling becomes confusing, Ex: your brother loses his job and can’t find work. He asks you to help him with money until he gets another job -- nothing wrong with helping. But you have to know when to stop.

If you don’t draw the line you may actually prevent him from actively looking for a job. You have to set a deadline or you're an enabler not a helper.

Enforcing Boundaries

Enforcing boundaries is as simple as saying ‘no’ --but ‘no’ must mean ‘no’. If ‘no’, becomes ‘yes’, you’ve given in to pressure so it’s as good as saying ‘yes’ in the first place. If boundaries aren’t strong you’ll be enabling.


We can enable anyone: children, friends, family members, addicts – anyone we believe needs our help. We have to learn from our mistakes. An enabler creates a dependent person.

The Payoff

The enabler gets a false sense of superiority, and it makes them feel needed. They also control the other person through guilt by ‘helping’ them. However, they will also be resentful, frustrated and feel unappreciated when their action has been taken for granted.

An enabled person has a love/hate relationship with the enabler.

So is the payoff worth it? I don’t think so, but if you’re an enabler, here are 10 tips to stop.

Tips to Stop Enabling

1. Do not lie for anyone

2.Do not make excuses for others for not keeping their obligations

3. Do not clean up after a substance abuser. They should see what they’ve done.

4. Be accountable for your bills only. If you’re not responsible, don’t pay.

5. Stand up for your self, but don’t say anything that you don’t mean

6. Don’t rescue. A person must suffer the consequences of their behavior

7. Don’t pay for lawyers or bail money. If you feel you must do it, take your time.

10. Stop trying to fix others. Work on yourself.

Get support of friends, family members, get counseling or coaching, join Al-Anon or other 12-step programs -- do whatever it takes to change enabling.

Others will benefit and you’ll be stronger, more effective and have a much happier outlook on life.

Author's Bio: 

I am a Psychotherapist and Internationally Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, specializing in all addictive behaviors: alcohol, drugs, food, compulsive sex, gambling, compulsive shoplifting, codependency and relationship/family issues.

I have a private practice as well as provide coaching/recovery coaching/consultation on the phone or on the web. Opt-in to the self development newsletter:

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