• The Counseling Initiative

The Fine Line Between Helping and Enabling

This seems like it should be relatively simple to keep separate...after all, everyone knows that enabling is "bad" or "counter productive". Yet, everyday we see family after family living in the "flexible area" with their loved ones that are suffering from substance abuse or mental health issues - knowingly or not.

But what exactly is the gray? Is it safe to stay there? Well...like everything else, this depends on both the individual that is at risk, as well as the family system. Lets take Mike and his family for example. Mike is a 35 year old adult living with his parents due to substance abuse issues. He is still currently using on an occasional basis and represents very little motivation to not only admit his issues but to work on them. It is important to note that Mike is dependent 100% on his parents for everything, including his cell phone, borrowing their vehicles and spare cash.

This is a major stressor in a household that previously was calm and balanced. His parents had no idea their son would be moving back into the basement at the age of 35 and that has caused some substantial chaos and dysfunction within not only their marriage, but also in their relationships with Mike.

Mom is what we call the "helper" ... she lives in the "flexible" area and is none confrontational. In true mother form, she will sacrifice her own happiness to protect her son - thus, no matter what he does, she struggles to set boundaries and consequences. Dad, on the other hand, thrives in the black/white world. He has clear rules, boundaries and limitations and struggles to identify how Mike's disease alters his behaviors. So, who is doing it best? The simple truth: No One.

The problem with living in the "grey" is that it limits the ability for both consequences and growth because the person rarely actually experiences uncomfortableness. And the problem with being black/white is that it doesn't leave any room to consider things like the disease model and brain function. Both parties have moved to the extreme end of their spectrums...and its own job to teach them how to find the perfect middle ground.

Illness (substance abuse and/or mental health) has a funny way of tearing people apart. They feel this intense need to "protect" or "set limits" on the individual, and rather than use each other to build themselves up and create the ideal plan, it often separates and destroys. This is one of the main reasons marriages and families fail with someone whom is suffering.

At the end of the day, each individual is different and thus will require unique and individualized treatment plans. Some individuals do better with strict rules and boundaries followed by severe consequences. Others shy away of strict plans and it can increase symptoms. Getting an experienced and educated counselor will help the family assess what is in their loved ones best interests, followed by the family learning how to deploy the new skill set that the person needs. The process is not easy for anyone involved - make sure you have the right support before starting your journey.

For more information on TCI or family psycho-education, please visit our website at: www.TCIpittsburgh.com