Heartbreak

5 Subtle Signs You’re Enabling Someone's Toxic Behavior

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man and woman arguing

Whether you turn on the TV to watch another episode of "Keeping Up With The Kardashians" or read "Page Six" magazine, there are plenty of examples of toxic relationships to be found. And as entertaining as it may be, you may have found yourself wondering if your relationship falls under the category of toxic. I think a lot of people wonder this.

Understanding the dynamic of a healthy relationship can be hard, especially if we never had good examples in the first place.

Couples coach Julie Woods shared her own experience as a co-dependent partner, and if you recognize yourself in any of this, that's a good sign to look at yourself and your own patterns in relationships. Once we know better, we can do better.

RELATED: 10 Definitive Signs You're In A Codependent Relationship

What is an enabler?

To know what an enabler is, you first need to know the concept of codependency.

Codependency is a dysfunctional relationship dynamic where one person assumes the role of "the giver," and one sacrifices their own needs and well-being for the sake of the other, "the taker."

According to Mental Health America, "Co-dependency is a learned behavior that can be passed down from one generation to another.” These relationships are often known as "relationship addiction" because of their one-sided and often unfair power imbalance.

   

   

But it’s important to understand that codependency doesn’t just take place in marriages or romantic relationships. Rather, it can also be found in friendships, parental relationships, and even work relationships. Within these dynamics, there are people known as the enablers.

For those who don’t know, an enabler “Refers to someone who persistently behaves in enabling ways, justifying or indirectly supporting someone else’s potentially harmful behavior,” writes Sandra Silva Casabianca and Saundra Motijo.

Some of the behavior’s enablers tend to condone include:

  • Alcohol or substance abuse
  • Suicide or bodily harm
  • Illegal actions
  • Toxic behavior

So, what are the signs that you’re an enabler and how do we correct our behavior? Woods has some practical tips that she's learned through her own experience, that can help pinpoint if you're an enabler in your own relationship.

5 Signs You’re Enabling Someone's Toxic Behavior

1. You think they are the entire problem.

Woods writes, “The way I viewed my husband and I’s situation was that I was the hero breaking my back to do everything so my husband could do what he needed to do. I saw myself as superior.” As time continued, Woods began to grow bitter and resentful towards her husband.

After all, if someone else is the problem, how can you possibly change the situation?

But as Woods admits, "This mindset is a victim mindset and allows zero room for reflection or change." It also allows for no accountability on your end, leaving you feeling angry and frustrated.

   

   

2. You minimize your needs.

For Woods, it was all too easy to feel as if depending on her husband was a sign of weakness. “I thought being a strong and independent woman meant being able to do it all on my own," Woods writes. And she felt proud that she wasn't dependent on him for anything.

However, as therapist Kelly Hendricks notes, “It’s a completely human need to desire, long for, and seek out deep emotional connections, comfort, and reassurance from our romantic partners.”

In previous studies, writer Margarita Tartakovsky says, “Romanian orphans who spent upwards of 20 hours in their cribs unattended had ‘brain abnormalities, impaired reasoning ability, and extreme difficulty relating to others.” In addition, studies based on solitary confinement have shown how mental health is greatly impacted by loneliness, writes Tartakovsky. Prisoners in solitary confinement experienced hallucinations, depression, memory loss, and anxiety, says Tartakovsky.

RELATED: What It Really Means When Someone Says You're 'Codependent' (And Why It's B.S.)

3. You apologize a lot.

Nowadays it seems it's a default reaction for many of us to apologize for the smallest of things.

According to writer Sonya Matejko, “People may constantly apologize for many reasons, such as people pleasing or feelings of guilt. However excessive apologizing may also be associated with a mental condition.“ In addition, people tend to over-apologize because they feel guilty — even if the guilt felt isn’t justifiable.

This can explain why enablers tend to apologize so often.

   

   

But even more fascinating is what clinical psychologist Cynthia King had to say to Matejko on the subject. She says, “In my clinical practice, I see excessive apologizing more often in trauma survivors whose abuse started young, was prolonged, and the perpetrator was in the family.”

If you are an over-apologizer, don't feel guilty for your automatic response. Instead, work on changing your mindset when it comes to feeling the need to apologize and ask yourself, "Did I do anything to warrant an apology?"

4. You want everyone to be happy.

Speaking of people pleasing, all too often enablers do their best to make everyone happy — while neglecting themselves in the process. As Woods writes, “I thought a ‘good’ wife and mom made their husband and children happy, so that was my goal."

However, this couldn't be further from the truth! She explains their happiness is a personal decision they choose to make every single day.

And if we are being honest, sometimes a little unhappiness is necessary at times.

Woods states, “It was hard for me to accept that suffering is the greatest teacher for a person to discover what is and isn’t working to create a joy-filled life."

5. You love who your spouse could be.

The greatest mistake you can make is seeing someone's potential rather than their reality.Woods admits, “I loved the idea of who I thought he could be. But at some point, we must face the reality of who that person is." And it’s not always pretty.

According to writer Rania Naim, “Potential is the word that gives us hope in a rather hopeless situation.”

But in reality, the idea of that potential can be the very thing that holds us back.

You see, measuring someone's potential is based on our opinion and our imagination Naim explains. And throughout our lives, most of us have fallen for potential rather than reality. But it's high time we stop and "Choose to fall for what’s real," writes Naim.

   

   

RELATED: Why Healthy Relationships Are Based On Interdependence Vs. Codependency

How To Make Yourself A Priority And Break Codependent Cycles

Getting out of co-dependency can be a beautiful thing. Woods writes, "I got so desperate, that I decided to work on myself. And what has come out of that has been a complete transformation of myself and my marriage."

Some of the things Woods said she got out of this transformation, include:

  • Focusing on her inner-self and understanding what she was feeling and thinking.
  • Taking personal responsibility for the marriage she longed for.
  • Growing her ability to become the spouse she always wanted to be.
  • Discovering and shifting her contributions to her marriage.
  • Letting the events of each day help her grow.

How do we, as enablers, begin to make ourselves a priority and break free from our codependent relationships? To start, we must trust our inner voice.

For the longest time, we depended on the voices of others to dictate who we were. As our confidence in ourselves began to dwindle, it was all too easy to become an enabler in a co-dependent relationship.

If you struggle with this, here are a few ways you can overcome codependency, according to Embracing You Therapy:

  • Engage in positive talk about yourself.
  • Heal from past trauma via therapy.
  • Allow yourself to feel instead of pushing things away.
  • Set healthier boundaries in your relationships.
  • Let go of perfectionism.

RELATED: The Underlying Reason You're Drawn To Codependent Relationships

Marielisa Reyes is a writer with a bachelor's degree in psychology who covers self-help, relationships, career, and family topics.