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Nurturing Unhealthy Patterns: Family Members Enabling Problematic Behaviour

Families play a crucial role in our lives, providing support, love, and guidance. However, sometimes well-intentioned family members inadvertently enable unhealthy behaviours, including those related to mental health issues. Enabling occurs when family members protect, cover up, or make excuses for harmful behaviours, hindering the individual’s growth and recovery. In this discussion, we will explore the concept of enabling, its impact on individuals with mental health conditions, and strategies to break free from enabling patterns.

Understanding Enabling: Enabling is a complex dynamic that often stems from a place of love and concern. Family members may enable out of a desire to shield their loved ones from pain or consequences. However, this well-meaning behaviour can inadvertently perpetuate the difficulties faced by individuals with mental health issues.

Enabling and Mental Health: Enabling behaviours can have profound consequences on individuals with mental health conditions. When family members consistently enable harmful behaviours, it can reinforce negative patterns, impede personal growth, and hinder the recovery process. Examples of enabling behaviours can include covering up substance abuse, making excuses for aggressive outbursts, or shouldering financial responsibilities due to someone’s inability to maintain employment.

The Cycle of Enabling

Enabling behaviours often create a destructive cycle that can be challenging to break. The cycle typically involves three stages:

  1. Denial: In this stage, family members may deny or downplay the severity of the problem. They may refuse to acknowledge the existence of the issue, which prevents the individual from seeking appropriate help or treatment.
  2. Rescue: Family members in the rescue stage tend to take on responsibility for the consequences of the individual’s actions. They may enable by bailing them out of financial difficulties, covering up legal issues, or taking on tasks the individual should be responsible for.
  3. Repeat: The enabling cycle perpetuates when family members repeat the same patterns of denial and rescue. This cycle becomes increasingly harmful as it prevents individuals from experiencing the natural consequences of their actions and inhibits their personal growth.

Breaking Free from Enabling Patterns

Breaking free from enabling patterns can be challenging, but it is essential for both the individual with mental health issues and their family members. Here are some strategies to help break the cycle:

  1. Education and Awareness: Family members should educate themselves about the specific mental health condition their loved one is facing. Understanding the illness, its symptoms, and available treatments can foster empathy and better decision-making.
  2. Boundaries and Self-Care: Establishing healthy boundaries is crucial for both the individual and the family members. Setting limits on what behaviours will and will not be enabled can help promote personal responsibility and accountability. Practicing self-care is also vital for family members to avoid burnout and maintain their well-being.
  3. Seek Professional Help: Consulting with mental health professionals, such as therapists or counsellors, can provide invaluable guidance and support. These professionals can help identify enabling patterns, offer alternative strategies, and facilitate open communication within the family.
  4. Support Groups: Engaging in support groups, both for individuals with mental health conditions and their family members, can provide a safe space for sharing experiences, receiving validation, and learning from others who have faced similar challenges.

While the intention behind enabling behaviours may be rooted in love and concern, they can perpetuate negative patterns and hinder the growth and recovery of individuals with mental health conditions. Breaking free from enabling requires education, awareness, and a commitment to establishing healthy boundaries. By doing so, family members can support their loved ones in their journey towards healing and personal growth.


  1. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2021). Mental Health By the Numbers. Retrieved from 2. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2019). Enabling: What Is It and How Does It Relate to Substance Abuse? Retrieved from
  2. Botticelli, M. P., Koh, H. K., & Jones, C. M. (2016). Substance misuse, the opioid epidemic, and the surgeon general’s report on alcohol, drugs, and health. Public Health Reports, 131(6), 783-786.
  3. National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). (2020). Principles of Drug Addiction Treatment: A Research-Based Guide (Third Edition). Retrieved from
  4. Codependents Anonymous (CoDA). (n.d.). What is Codependency? Retrieved from
  5. Mental Health America (MHA). (n.d.). Enabling. Retrieved from

Disclaimer: The information provided in this blog is for educational purposes only and should not replace professional advice. If you or someone you know is experiencing mental health issues, please seek help from a qualified healthcare professional.