Reactive, Fear-Based Love & 5 Things I Have Learned as an X-Enabler


It’s a blessing and a curse to have the foresight to take a few steps back when faced with a high-stress, family situation, especially in highly dysfunctional families, but if you want to start the process of changing or repairing any system you have to be willing to take an honest, objective look at it how things function (or don’t).

I have learned that just because we have done things the same old tired ass, (ineffective) way for decades, doesn’t mean we are obligated to stay on the crazy train. We can get off anytime we want to, and so, I did.

I don’t feel guilty about it.

Recently I was accused of being cold, disengaged, and non-Christian for refusing to allow my homeless family member to live in my house. (Read my emotionally charged personal response, here). I believe another noteworthy quote was, “Is he not good enough for your garage?”

The truth is that all of the insults slung my way were frustrating to listen to. The revealed misconceptions of who I am today that were spouted off made me feel uncharacteristically defensive and completely misunderstood. I wanted nothing more than to revert right back to the darkest part of my being, slinging that shit right back. Instead, here we are. I’d rather write it out.

I don’t have to step back too far away from the train to gain a clear picture of what love means in my family. It always seems to be the most misguided but well-intentioned people who make snap emotional decisions from a place of what they identify as love.

Having isolated myself from the pack (like the unfeeling robot I am) it has been easier to see how the love in our family almost always transitions so quickly, complimented with so much fear, everyone loses sight of the love. It all starts to look, feel, and act a lot like enabling. 

Years ago I used to react the very same way. I most definitely benefitted from my own enabler before her love began aiding my downward spiral, still, I welcomed it with two open arms and hands full of benzodiazepines. I learned that if you truly love someone you save them at whatever cost, no questions asked whether that mean your time, peace, mental well-being, or your bank account. This is loyalty. This is love.

It is so easy to point fingers and accuse me of being a terrible person, and I know from experience it is somewhat comforting to create a world where you feel like you are the hero, like you are actually doing something, or helping. You are busy, busy. You’re fixing, and that means you are loving; much more loving than the people like me who have the balls to do….nothing more than occasionally buying a meal or offering a ride here and there. You? You are productive. All of the time and energy you have put in needs to be recognized and will not be wasted. You feel as if you are the only one willing to boldly make sacrificial differences and if anyone challenges the validity of your approach, you attack.

That is enabling 101.


The devout, unconditional love that you feel for someone in need hinders your ability to see that you are taking away every natural consequence of their actions, (in the name of love of course), in order to make their life more comfortable and easier and smooth, with a hope that it will cure them or fix them. Not only that, you get some kind of gratification from being their savior; the one responsible for selflessly loving them back to a healthy, strong, solid life in society.

Am I getting warm?

If you even consider pulling back you feel guilty, as if you are contributing to their demise like the other people who refuse to offer as much help as you are selflessly willing to give. Somehow you will ultimately be responsible for everything that happens to them if you don’t go above and beyond, so if they die or suffer an injury or any other major life catastrophe it won’t be on your hands, no. No siree. That will be on the hands of everyone who betrayed them by not loving them as much as you have proven that you love them. Hands that look like mine.

Are we on fire yet?

So I get it.

If you’re on that side of love there is almost one-hundred-percent chance that you will have a distorted vantage point of the people on the other side, but I don’t think that gives you a pass for berating people who don’t think like you. You’re only thinking (and mostly judging) from where you are and you can only see from the perspective you’ve grown to.

For me, I’ve tried fear-based love and have learned the hard way that it slowly tears my world apart. My mental health deteriorates pretty quickly when I am living under and operating from under the heavy blanket of fear and here’s the kicker- my help has never seemed to inspire motivation or change. I can’t apologize that I no longer believe that love means sacrificing my well-being, or because I don’t think that love is cleaning up other people’s messes for them. I don’t believe that showing or expressing love should be competitive and I am not sorry for that. I don’t want to be anyone’s savior. I don’t believe that I have that kind of power. I believe that if someone wants help they will and should get help. If they are at all in the least interested in turning their ship around they need to have at least one finger on that wheel or I am out, but none of that means that I don’t love my people.

While I have veered off of the path of tough love and I fully admit that most of the time I have no idea what the fuck I am doing, I am not and will not be diving head first back into reactive, sick, enabling love.

I do know that love and support are crucial to recovery and can mean the difference between life and death, but so is being pushed to work for our own life change. I am personally trying to honor that delicate balance in the middle. It’s a work in progress, but if we never make the choice to start changing our approach we at least need to be willing to admit that we are part of the problem.

Here are a few things I have learned as an always learning, always taking two steps back, x-enabler: 

  1. Help: Yes, help. Of course, you should. The Bible tells us unequivocally to help the needy, but it also undoubtedly tells us of the brilliance of wisdom.
  2. Savior: Ask yourself do you just want to look good to everyone or do you want your person to actually be well? We need to allow GOD to do HIS work. Back up already. Let Him reveal His power. After all, He is the only one who can do what we have tried and failed to do a million times over. It is not always our responsibility to produce results.
  3. Suffering:  It’s uncomfortable for enablers to bear witness to anyone who is suffering, it doesn’t mean that suffering is always a bad thing. Ask Paul.
  4. Control: It’s important to examine ourselves and our possible need to want to maintain control as it is a classic characteristic of enabling. We may have urges to want to control in an attempt to protect. Whatever the case may be, it’s unhealthy for everyone involved.
  5. Discernment: Developing a discerning spirit is key. This is the opposite of reacting, exploding, or responding out of unhealthy obligation. his means that we take time to think and let God speak to us, showing us what we should do next. Discernment is not just developing a biblical sense of what is right and wrong, but also what is primary and secondary. It’s a gift that we can develop, similar to self-control.

Here is an informative, thorough article on the art of enabling:

Common characteristics of enablers. Find out if you are an enabler.



  1. Mark David Goodson

    I think your post and links listed very helpful. Passed it on to folks I know who are struggling with this.

  2. Brittany

    Crash course for the both of us! I have been feeling like I have no idea what I am doing in this area. What I do know is what hasn’t worked, as I have a lot of trial and error to draw from. I am doing my very best to carve out something brand new here, so I *really (really) appreciate the support.

  3. Mark David Goodson

    Hi Brittany – What a great crash course on the “tough love” (for lack of a better word) that those suffering require. It’s a gray area. A big one for those who don’t have experience in dealing with those afflicted by addiction. I’m grateful I had the presence of the sort of love you are demonstrating now in my early recovery. Were I not shown the harder truth of my behavior, I would not have gotten sober. I know that for a fact.

Tell me how you're feeling.

%d bloggers like this: