Enabling and codependency do not seem to be related in any way when one considers the literal meanings. But when one considers codependent relationships and how a codependent person approaches the other person in the relationship, enabling becomes the trigger that propels the entire situation downhill.
In simple sense, codependency is a state of extreme emotional, psychological or physical reliance or dependence on a partner or a person who is ailing or suffering from a condition. In most cases, the condition is addiction. The person with the condition may be an alcoholic, a drug addict, have a psychological condition or a personality disorder among others. A codependent person is usually weak emotionally and is almost entirely dependent on the addicted or ailing person, both psychologically and physically. In some cases, financial dependence is also one of the factors that trigger codependency.
The question here is how is enabling and codependency interrelated? The coupled effect of enabling and codependency is a very tricky terrain and almost in all cases, either codependency leads to enabling or enabling leads to codependency.
Enabling, in its literal sense, is facilitating something or someone to do something. A person may enable another person to do a certain task, to think in a certain manner or to become someone. In a very generic sense, enabling can have a positive outcome or a negative result. For instance, if a wife enables her husband to do the right things, to save money, to think positively and to create a wonderful family, then the results are positive. But if the same wife enables the husband to be abusive to her and others, to do things that are not right and to think that he can get away with whatever bad he does, then the wife is enabling him negatively. There is a very thin line between positive and negative enabling. When enabling reaches a stage that the person being enabled is being encouraged to do negative things, then the person enabling is becoming codependent.
Let us take a situation to illustrate the tricky terrain of enabling and codependency.
An alcoholic husband has a tendency to drink every day and causes havoc in the house. As a good wife, she clears up the mess the husband creates. She does this thinking that it is her job or because she wants to take care of her husband and not leave him in the lurch when he is an alcoholic. This act of the wife, which is not bad, is actually an enabling factor. When the husband realizes that he is being looked after, he is not going to have an attack of conscience and he is not going to be enlightened overnight since he is an alcoholic. What he would do is repeat the incident. He would get drunk again and create a mess which the wife will clear up again. The wife, in this case, is enabling the husband to remain an alcoholic. This may be after the wife has become a codependent spouse or this may be the beginning of the codependent relationship.
This example can be taken out of the alcoholic context and can be put in place in any situation of codependency. A wife of an abusive husband will try to live with the pain and thus would facilitate, encourage or enable the abuses. A husband who has a narcissistic wife will appear to be apologetic for all the undesirable things that the wife says to others and all that she does which are not considered cordial in a social setting. By apologizing or by looking after the fallout of the wife’s behavior, the husband is facilitating her behavior to persist. This is enabling as well and it can be the beginning or the symptom of codependency.
Enabling and codependency are both undesirable traits in a relationship. A person who enables another out of codependency or when the enabling leads to codependency; the person would be filled with resentment. He or she would be depressed, will have low self esteem and would stop caring for their own selves. Suddenly, their entire life would seem to be only about the person who is the abuser in the situation. Despite being the victim, the codependent person will continue to be tortured and would end up ruining his or her own life. The only fault that a codependent person can be accused of or held responsible for is the enabling acts.
Most case studies indicate that enabling facilitates codependency. If a victim or codependent person decides to stop enabling the other person, then not only can the victim be saved from the abuse and its aftermath, but more proactive and measured steps can be taken to treat the abuser, addict or the person with the disorder.