Being supportive is an essential part of any friendship.
However, you need to be careful not to be too supportive.
So what do I mean by that?
I mean that sometimes people end up unintentionally enabling the unhealthy behaviors of their friends.
You wouldn’t want to do that, would you?
That’s why I’m here to help you figure out the signs that you’ve crossed over from being a supportive friend to being an enabling one.
Let’s take a look:
1) Ignoring red flags
A lot of the time, people can see that something isn’t quite right with their friends, yet they choose to ignore the signs.
Unhealthy behavior includes a wide range of things, from the obvious alcohol and drugs to overeating to the less obvious behaviors like working too hard and not getting enough sleep.
If you find yourself overlooking red flags in your friend’s behavior because you’re hoping that it’s just a phase and that things will eventually resolve themselves without you butting in, it could be the first sign that you’re enabling unhealthy behavior.
2) Your friendship has become one-sided
You’re always there for your friend:
- there to listen to their problems when they call you a 3 am
- there to offer advice
- there with your shoulder for them to cry on
- there to lend them money
- there to give a couch for them to sleep on
Basically, you’re a great and loving person who takes care of their friends.
But what about you?
Does your friend ever reciprocate?
- Do they ever worry about you?
- Do they bother to ask how you’re doing?
- Do they ever say thank you?
If the answer is a big resounding, “NO”, that’s a sign of a one-sided, unhealthy relationship.
While you think you’re being supportive, you’re actually letting your friend use you and think that it’s perfectly okay to do that.
Now, if you’re thinking, “I don’t mind, I’m just glad I can help” I need to point out that you’re not really helping.
The thing is that you’re letting your friend think that they don’t need to make any kind of effort to sort their lives out because you’ll always be there to bail them out.
What’s more, your behavior says that it’s fine to use other people, and while you may not mind now, eventually you’ll start to resent it and when it comes to other people, most prefer a healthy two-sided relationship.
3) Perpetuating a victim mentality
Let’s put aside people who have been through real trauma and tragedy.
Instead, let’s take a look at the people who feel sorry for themselves and who constantly see themselves as victims.
They think that life isn’t fair and that they have it worse than anyone else (even though they don’t).
It’s like they think the Universe is out to get them or something!
My aunt is like that. She’s constantly complaining about anything and everything.
And when someone offers a solution?
“Oh, I can’t do that! You just don’t get it.”
People like that seem to be waiting for something not to go their way so they can say to themselves, “I knew it, I’m so unlucky.”
But other people, most people, face their problems head-on and move on with their lives. They don’t obsess or think of themselves as victims.
Now, I get that you want to be a supportive friend.
But if you agree with them and say, “Poor you” instead of pointing out that they have the power to change things and that they’re not victims, then you’re enabling them.
What you need to do instead, if you truly want to support them, is to help them understand that they’re not powerless.
Let them know that we all face obstacles in our lives and that what happens next is up to us and us alone.
We can either feel sorry for ourselves and play the role of the helpless victim, or, we can pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start over again.
4) Overlooking substance abuse
In the previous point, I mentioned the victim mentality.
Let’s say that your friend has slowly been developing a drinking problem over the months.
Maybe you’ve noticed but you don’t want a confrontation so you don’t say anything. – It’s not a big deal, lots of people drink.
Or, maybe you try mentioning something about it when you notice them ordering drinks before noon.
And how do they react?
They tell you that they have a history of alcoholism in their family.
What’s more, they’ve read some psychology books and they’ve come to view their drinking as a disease.
What do you expect them to do? They can’t help it, they’re sick!
If you accept this and carry on like nothing is wrong, you’re enabling their addiction.
Now, if you want to be a supportive friend without enabling their unhealthy behavior, you need to let them know that you care about them and are there for them, but that this kind of behavior is not healthy and that they need to seek professional help.
5) Avoidance of confrontation
Look, I get it, I also hate confrontation, I really do.
Maybe the friend in question is difficult to talk to, someone who’s a bit intimidating…
You know they’ve been unhappy – it all starts with a joke about how they can’t go to sleep unless they drink a couple of beers.
Then it seems like every conversation you have is about how drunk they recently got or what new drugs they tried.
And what do you do?
You nod and keep the conversation going.
I understand, you’re avoiding addressing problematic behaviors because you’re scared you might upset your friend or that saying something will strain the relationship.
I can’t guarantee that it won’t.
But you need to address the problem nonetheless because otherwise, you’re no longer a supportive friend but an enabler.
6) Accepting excuses
Do you readily accept your friend’s excuses for their negative behavior, even when those excuses are complete horse sh**?
Even when they consistently fail to take responsibility for their behavior?
Well, you know what I’m gonna say now, don’t you?
Yup, you’ve crossed that nice thin line between being supportive and enabling their unhealthy behavior.
By normalizing negative behavior!
Also, while it may not be your intention, by accepting their excuses you’re actually reinforcing their behavior.
When your friend sees that by making excuses they get to avoid criticism or negative consequences, they’re more likely to repeat the behavior.
But that’s not all!
You’re actually hurting your relationship.
You see, consistently accepting excuses is bound to strain your relationship over time.
The trust between you will be gone and you’ll probably become frustrated and resentful.
7) Making excuses
Hold on, as if it’s not bad enough that you’re accepting the ridiculous excuses for their appalling behavior, you’re actually making excuses for them to other people?
There’s no doubt that you’ve crossed a line!
Why would you make excuses for someone else’s harmful or detrimental behavior?
For example, say they’ve quit their third job in 5 months.
When their other friends start to say something about it you’ll stop them with, “These jobs were beneath them. When they find a job that’s worth doing, they’ll stick to it.”
Or say they keep stuffing their face and putting on crazy amounts of weight, you’ll say, “There’s no need for an intervention, they’re just a bit depressed lately, they’ll get back in shape when it passes.”
And don’t get me started on making excuses for them when they’re disrespectful toward others!
If you want to help, you need to stop making excuses and downplaying the significance of their actions!
8) Ignoring boundaries
We all need boundaries.
Boundaries are there to protect us, okay?
No matter how much you care about someone, you’ve got to set some boundaries and say, “I will not let them do this because it hurts me.”
If you’re always putting your friend’s needs above your own, sacrificing your well-being, and letting them cross personal boundaries that make you feel uncomfortable, you’re enabling them, not supporting them.
9) You don’t hold them financially accountable
Some people say that it’s a bad idea to mix money and friendship.
Others still think that if you’re not going to lend money to a friend, who will you lend it to?
My husband says that when you decide to lend someone money, even if they’re a friend, you should be ready to say goodbye to that money.
Okay, so, say your friend is struggling to pay their rent because they’ve lost another job or gambled away their salary.
You’re not gonna let your friend get evicted. They promise to pay you back as soon as they get some money and you say, “No problem.”.
And what happens when they get a job and get their first paycheck? Do they pay you back?
They go gambling again or they buy themselves a new computer or something.
Okay, next month.
But next month never comes… in fact, you don’t talk about money again until your friend finds themself in another jam and asks for another loan.
If you keep on complying and you don’t hold them financially accountable, they’ll never learn to be financially responsible.
Even if you’re super rich and don’t care about the loan, by enabling their behavior you’re doing them a big disservice.
10) Not encouraging professional help
Lastly, what I’m going to say isn’t going to be easy.
I need to mention the importance of having “the talk”.
If your friend is dealing with serious issues and engaging in some unhealthy behaviors that could really benefit from professional intervention, you need to let them know.
If you keep quiet and you never encourage them to seek help, what you’re doing is enabling their behavior.
Trust me, I know how you feel.
- You don’t want to overstep.
- You don’t want them to get angry or defensive.
- You don’t want to lose your friend.
But if you care about them, it’s a risk you’re going to have to take – for their own good.
My advice is to be mindful about how you approach your friend. Choose your words carefully and make sure that they don’t feel like you’re judging or accusing them.
They need to know that your concern is coming from a place of love and support.
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