Codependence or Enabling?

Today’s question comes from Sharon, who writes: “I have been involved with a self-help group, have worked the steps several times, and read many books on the subject(s). I am still running together two words, co-dependency and enabling. Will you please give me your take on the difference between the two.”

Sharon, I’m happy to share with you my thoughts on this topic.

For me, the difference between “codependency” and “enabling” is the focus. I consider a thought or action codependent when my focus is primarily on MY need to derive my self-worth or self-identity from the act of assisting the other person.

I consider myself enabling someone when my primary focus is on THE OTHER person and my perception of their need.

Let me give you an example of how this looks for me.

Let’s say I have a friend who has a problem with alcohol or drugs, and my friend comes to me asking for money so she or he can pay her or his rent.

If I respond from a place of codependence, I get hooked into the situation by telling myself, “I’m a good and stabilizing presence in my friend’s life. My job, then, is to help my friend – because that’s who I am, and that’s what people expect from me.  And if I don’t help my friend, then what kind of person would I be?!”

If I respond from an enabling place, I get hooked into the situation by telling myself, “I really love my friend. I am terrified that my friend might end up on the street. If I help my friend out, then she or he will be safe and secure (for a while, anyway).”

Obviously the concepts can bleed into one another. A thought or action might have elements of both (i.e. I’m getting something out of it in terms of my self-worth/self-identity AND I feel as if I’m helping the other person). An action, however, can be primarily one OR the other (i.e. it’s driven by MY needs, or it’s driven by my concern for THE OTHER).

Those are my initial thoughts. What about you? What does Sharon’s question raise for you?

About Pastor Craig

I'm a 54-year-old who lives in Los Angeles, CA with his black Labrador Retriever named Max. I'm an ordained clergy person in the United Church of Christ. My passions include spirituality, politics, and sports (Go Houston teams, go!). I use my blog to start conversations rather than merely spout my perspectives and opinions. I hope you'll post a question, comment, or observation for me to respond - so we can get the conversation started!
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3 Responses to Codependence or Enabling?

  1. Stevie says:

    I’ve had about a million hours of counseling for codependency. My therapist, also named Craig, told me something once that I always remember. Codependence happens any time you find yourself in someone else’s sphere of responsibility. If I hear myself saying, “you should” I try to stop myself. And in this family, because I’ve preached it so much I usually only get the word “you” out.

  2. Sharon says:

    Thanks Craig. I copied it to my word processor and will put a copy in my step work book. In answer to you, Stevie, A wise woman one day said, “Helping verbs should not be in our vocabulary, shoulda, woulda, coulda, etc.”. I agree. 😊

  3. Sharon says:

    I shared this with my step work group. They were appreciative of it, as am I.

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