How to Know If You're Helping Someone or Enabling Their Dysfunction.

If you tend to be caring and empathic, chances are that people come to you for advice or assistance. This can show up as someone asking you for a tangible favor, such as borrowing your car, money or completing a task for them. Or it can be a request to provide them with a listening ear so they can vent.

As you know, giving to others can be incredibly fulfilling and one of the most beautiful expressions of the human experience. Generosity is a gift and a blessing for the giver and the recipient.

Yet sometimes it doesn't feel that way. You may have experienced this scenario before:

Someone asks you for a favor. Maybe you don't think twice about it. Or maybe you notice some resistance but you say yes anyway because you're scared to say no.

Then you start to feel annoyed or resentful. You nitpick about what they did wrong. You may feel unappreciated, like you're being taken advantage of, or that it's a lopsided relationship.

These feelings might indicate that there's an element of codependence in the relationship. It could just be you, it could be them, or it could be that both of you are contributing to this dynamic.


Codependence is the tendency to put the needs of others ahead of your own needs, to your own detriment. Symptoms of codependence include people-pleasing, avoiding confrontation, cloudy communication, lack of boundaries, low self-worth, and controlling tendencies.

Codependence is a symptom of trauma. It's a survival mechanism developed from a young age in order to gain control, love, and acceptance in response to feeling that your primary caregivers weren't fully present, emotionally available, stable, or consistent. It is also possible to inherit codependent tendencies through learned behavior or genetics.

Codependent tendencies are often deeply rooted in the unconscious mind. On a conscious level, you might wish for harmony and would never think of yourself or your friend as being controlling, needy, or entitled. But if you struggle with obligation, low self-worth, setting boundaries, or clear communication, you may have unconscious codependent patterns within you, running the show.

Enabling someone's dysfunction is a common codependent behavior and it usually comes from at least one of the following unconscious patterns:

  • Extreme loyalty to harmful people and situations.

  • Feelings of superiority or inferiority to others.

  • Always feeling indebted to others.

  • Wanting to save or control people and not trusting that they can take care of themselves.

  • Getting your sense of purpose or identity by being needed.

  • Feelings of inadequacy and low-self worth. You might compensate by trying to get acceptance or love by people-pleasing and putting others ahead of your values and boundaries.

  • Feeling consumed with guilt when attempting to set boundaries.

  • Avoiding conflict by complying with others, even when you don't want to.

Once you've identified some of your unconscious motivational patterns, it becomes easier to assess a relationship dynamic.

Here's how to determine whether you're helping or enabling someone.

  • When you're helping someone, notice if you're truly being of service, or if you're coming from a place of control, low self-worth, or obligation. If you feel you are acting in integrity with your needs and values you're most likely grounded in generosity and your boundaries are intact. Next, notice if the other person rises to the occasion after you lend them a hand. If they do, you'll know that they really did want help and used it as a stepping stone to rise above their challenge. You'll both feel grateful and empowered in this interaction.

  • You can tell when you're enabling someone when they don't rise to the occasion. They don't actually grow or evolve. They stay where they are and keep asking for more. They seem manipulative, needy, entitled, and don't take responsibility for themselves. They may even act like victims of circumstance and pretend like they don't know how to take care of themselves. You'll feel heavy and resentful in this dynamic. And if you're honest with yourself, you might notice that you were drawn into this dynamic due to your own lack of boundaries.

In a nutshell: Check where you're coming from, listen to your body and observe the other person's actions. Do they rise to the occasion or sink back down into victimhood? Do you notice any patterns within yourself or the other person?

If you find that you are enabling someone's dysfunction, even if your intentions are pure, you're not actually helping them. You're giving of your own energy in order to keep them stuck and dependent. Nobody benefits from this.

Sometimes the best way to help someone is to set a boundary and simply say that you're not available. You can do this from a place of compassion, love, and respect. Remember, if you feel guilty about setting boundaries, that's another symptom of codependence.

Managing codependence is an ongoing process that requires you to work through trauma, empower your self-worth, cultivate healthy boundaries, and practice compassionate communication. Click on the following links to read more about codependence and self-worth.

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