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Enabling vs Empowering

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Recovery from addiction is not an isolated journey, and friends and family greatly influence an individual’s path to a sober future. However, finding the proper way to support is a practiced skill, and these same people can sometimes inadvertently enable addiction rather than empower. Finding the subtle difference between enabling and empowering is essential for healthy, sustained sobriety. While recovery champions the idea of finding personal agency and independence, determining whether loved ones are helping or hurting along your client’s sober journey is crucial information to prepare for the road ahead. 

Finding Trust In Yourself

With the myriad of stresses and emotions surrounding every step of the recovery journey, such as anxiety, depression, and the deluge of change that comes with an actively transforming lifestyle, it is important to find confidence in oneself. Embracing new and effective grounding strategies, personal interests, and developing communication techniques are all cornerstones of the recovery process that facilitate the idea that individuals can rely on themselves for their continued sobriety. While this doesn’t mitigate the role that supports play, it does indicate that an individual should be mindful of how much they rely on their support over their own developed strategies. 

Adequate supports act as a catalyst for those in recovery to further develop their strategies and goals by providing resources and outlets when necessary. But nobody can recover for another person, and the journey of addiction and sobriety will always be a personal venture. 

The Fine Line Between Helping and Enabling

Addiction is a destructive disease, and it is common for loved ones to want to jump in and support in any way possible. However, these rushed actions can unintentionally negatively impact one’s recovery or even enable more destructive behaviors. Enabling is any action—even one out of genuine care—that either perpetuates or sidesteps a problem rather than directly addressing it. While some forms of enabling are very overt, such as actively providing alcohol in the house, others can be more difficult to identify. 

Helping to cover expenses, such as groceries or rent, when your client can afford their own, is a form of enabling. This action can free up their finances for other means that may not be conducive to sustained sobriety. Additionally, covering expenses doesn’t address the budgeting skills needed to overcome the problem. 

Enabling can also be a wholly emotional practice. For example, a loved one “emotionally dumping” on another can situate support as a codependent, unhealthy outlet. While one may feel they are helping another through a tough time, an active role still needs to exist in addressing the core problem. Rather than only listening, it is crucial to actively challenge why one feels the way they do, as well as helping to recognize stressors or take actions to prevent these emotional buildups in the future rather than allowing the emotional dump to proceed unchallenged.  

Enabling can occur in any situation where support is taking an active role that fulfills all of another’s needs, facilitating self-destructive behavior, or otherwise stunting the development of necessary life skills essential for a transformative and prolonged recovery.  

Moving From Enabling to Empowering

Empowering can look similar to enabling on the surface but is birthed with very different intentions. While enabling is an action that directly addresses the needs of others, empowering is creating an opportunity for others to address these needs themselves. For example, there are two ways to address a loved one’s financial concerns regarding paying monthly rent:

  • Enabling: Providing monetary support to directly help cover the rent costs for the month, thus taking the financial burden entirely off the other person. 
  • Empowering: Sitting down with a loved one to discuss their budget and help balance their finances to determine how they can change their spending to meet their needs. 

Empowering another involves providing the resources to solve a problem. While active support is still taking place, the ultimate success or failure of one’s goals is still up to the individual, making it much more powerful as a teaching opportunity and a scaffolding for their life. This kind of agency is essential for those in recovery and is crucial for honing the skills and confidence needed to manage their obligations while balancing ongoing sobriety. 

Support is crucial throughout all stages of recovery, but how one supports has a massive impact on your client’s journey. The line between enabling and empowering can be thin and clouded, but it is an important distinction to make. Recognizing which supports actively challenge their loved ones and may hold them back has a profound effect on recovery. This realization is relevant regarding continued sober efforts and embracing the skills necessary for a truly transformed, sustained, and independent life. 

Identifying the critical differences between enabling and empowering can fundamentally change your recovery path. At Pacific Sands Recovery Center, we are prepared to help you learn the difference and embrace the best possible route to your healthy and sober future. Located in Santa Ana, California, our knowledgeable and compassionate staff is here to help you at any stage of recovery. Whether you are taking your first step into detox or a residential program or looking to continue navigating your sobriety in an intensive outpatient program, we will be with you along the way. Our intimate and personal atmosphere allows us to help you with your unique situation while providing education and support to find the best way to empower you for continued success towards your goals. For more information on how we can personalize your time with us or speak to a caring, trained staff member about your unique situation, please call us today at (714) 492-1119.

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