How To Stop Enabling Your Grown Child With Mental Illness?

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Being a parent to a child with mental illness is never easy, and it can be especially challenging when that child has grown up. As much as you may want to help your child in every way possible, enabling their behavior can actually do more harm than good.

If you’re struggling to find the balance between supporting your adult child and enabling their unhealthy habits, this article is for you. We’ll explore what it means to enable someone with mental illness, why it’s harmful, and most importantly – what you can do to break the cycle.

“Enabling doesn’t help our loved ones; it only hurts them by trapping them in a vicious cycle of dependency.” -Darlene Lancer

We understand that taking steps towards tough love and breaking bad habits can be daunting, but it’s necessary if you want to see real change in your loved one’s life. By learning how to stop enabling your grown child with mental illness, not only will their quality of life improve, but so will yours.

In the next few sections, we’ll discuss specific actions you can take to change your enabling behaviors and support your child in a healthy way. So let’s dive in!

Understanding Enabling

An important step in helping your grown child with mental illness is to avoid enabling them.

The Definition of Enabling

Enabling occurs when a parent or caregiver unintentionally assists the destructive behavior of their adult child, causing harm to themselves or others. It often involves doing things for an individual instead of allowing them to take responsibility and learn from their mistakes.

Examples of potentially harmful behaviors might include providing financial support without establishing clear guidelines or consequences, taking on tasks that the adult child should be managing independently such as laundry or cleaning, bailing them out of legal trouble repeatedly, or making excuses for their behavior.

“Enabling doesn’t help someone out of love or compassion; rather, it’s driven by fear and anxiety.” -Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D., Clinical Psychologist

Continuing these patterns of behavior can prolong unhealthy dependency on parents or caregiving figures, prevent necessary personal growth, and lead to damaging long-term outcomes. In order to stop enabling, parents must acknowledge that they are not responsible for their children’s actions, set healthy boundaries and encourage autonomy.

The Types of Enabling Behaviors

There are different ways in which parents could enable their adult children with mental illness. Here are some types:

  • Financial Enabling: Parents may feel guilty about their child’s condition and provide endless financial resources without encouraging their independence.
  • Emotional Enabling: Over-protecting one’s child emotionally means trying to shelter them from all potential sources of distress, but this attitude fails to build resilience and equanimity.
  • Scapegoating/blaming: This phenomena occurs when parents feel ashamed or targeted by society because of the child’s illness. They start to blame others for their unfortunate circumstances instead of dealing with them.
  • Crisis Management: Some parents offer everything they have towards fixing a crisis that the troubled party suffers from, not understanding that doing so can actually make things worse since it provides no motivation to break free from harmful behaviors.
  • Enmeshment: This describes the overly involved parent who needs their adult child and doesn’t respect healthy boundaries.
“Placing too much importance on loved ones’ happiness, trying to solve their problems by substituting our own judgment or resources, or buying gifts/doing favors even though it is clearly unhealthy behavior – all constitute various forms of enabling.” -Adi Jaffe Ph.D., Addiction Specialist

Parents may also accompany their children to every doctor’s appointment, assume roles taken up by mental health professionals, interview and screen potential friends, romantic partners, and managers on behalf of their kids, among other activities that prevent their children’s autonomy from flourishing.

The effects of such enablers’ on their dependent adult children could be detrimental because it prevents personal growth in pivotal areas like decision-making, problem-solving, managing relationships, self-discovery, as well as undermines emotional resilience along with self-esteem (because if your parents don’t believe you are capable, why should you?). As such, if you recognize you display this kind of behavior, it would be beneficial to reach out to trusted family members/friends with more objective perspectives about how to provide practical support without being overwhelming.

Recognizing the Signs of Enabling

Enabling a grown child with mental illness is tricky. As a parent, you want to help your child but, at the same time, don’t want to do something that will sabotage their progress. It’s essential to be aware of the signs of enabling and take necessary steps to stop it.

Ignoring Consequences

Have you been ignoring the consequences of your child’s actions because of their mental health condition? This is one sign of enabling. Many parents find it challenging to hold their loved ones accountable for their decisions due to fear or guilt. However, by doing so, they are allowing them to avoid crucial life lessons.

“The best way to bring positive change in another person’s life is to encourage accountability.” -LeAura Alderson

To overcome this, start teaching your child that their behavior has consequences early on. Allow them to make mistakes without taking over the control; instead, let them experience what happens when things go wrong. Keep reminding them how much you love them and will support them no matter what while also being firm about not tolerating inappropriate behavior.

Rescuing the Person

Sometimes, we rescue our children before they have an opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Suppose you respond quickly by navigating or fixing every situation your child encounters. In that case, they won’t develop problem-solving skills or become self-sufficient since they know mommy or daddy will always bail them out.

“We cannot carry someone else along through life without impeding our own growth.”-Unknown

Avoid rescuing your grown child with mental illness unless absolutely necessary or if there is a safety emergency. Instead, help build their resilience by encouraging independence and providing opportunities for them to plan and learn from their own decisions. Empower them by asking questions rather than telling them what to do.

Justifying and Rationalizing

Our minds are wired in such a way that we find it easy to justify or rationalize why our loved ones’ negative behaviors are okay without realizing we are enabling them. Justifying your child’s actions, either verbally or inaction, leads to more challenges in managing the mental health condition and the consequences of their actions.

“Enabling is giving someone an excuse not to change.” -Unknown

To avoid this form of enabling, you need to help them stay accountable for their actions. When they make mistakes, allow them to take responsibility without making excuses, provide other options but still hold them responsible, and acknowledge their effort toward positive change.

As a parent, it can be challenging to watch your grown child suffer from mental illness. Nonetheless, enabling him/her will not help them live a healthy life nor maximize their potential. Recognizing signs of enabling such as ignoring consequences, rescuing the person, justifying and rationalizing decisions, and taking practical steps to stop these patterns will go a long way in improving everyone’s well-being.

Setting Boundaries

Identifying Your Limits

If you have a grown child who suffers from mental illness, it’s essential to set boundaries that protect both your wellbeing and theirs. It can be challenging to define where these limits fall but start by reflecting on what is acceptable or unacceptable behavior for you.

For instance, it may not be healthy for you to always bail them out of financial trouble every time they overspend. However, establishing consequences if they refuse treatment or fail to attend therapy sessions would be firm limits. Above all, ensure the boundaries you create are fair and consistent and prioritize their progress towards recovery without compromising your own health.

Communicating Your Boundaries

Once you’ve established your limits, the next step is communicating them effectively to your adult child with mental illness. Failing to set clear boundaries can result in confusion and foster an environment of tension and resentment—ultimately exacerbating behaviors such as manipulation, guilt-tripping, and entitlement.

Avoid waiting until a crisis emerges to communicate your expectations. Instead, let your child know straightforwardly and calmly about the actions and behaviors that make you uncomfortable. Try using ‘I’ statements rather than blaming language like “You never x.” For example, instead of saying “You always cancel our plans last minute,” try “When our plans get canceled at the last moment, I feel hurt.”

Also, consider other family members involved and draw up a written agreement together outlining the agreed-upon terms. Writing the terms down makes it easier for everyone to understand what’s expected and creates some accountability for both parties’ part. Ensure the limits set promote constructive proactivity instead of enabling negative patterns of behavior.

“Family relationships are sensitive, especially when dealing with delicate issues such as mental illness. Still, being assertive about what a person can and cannot do within these relationships is essential to sustain healthy ones.” -Todd Jensen

Setting boundaries that safeguard you from emotional or financial hardships while supporting your adult child’s treatment might feel daunting at first. Yet, it’s an integral aspect of ensuring both parties’ long-term well-being. With open communication channels and support networks in place, your relationship with your grown child will likely grow stronger.

Encouraging Treatment

When your grown child is struggling with a mental illness, it can be challenging to know how to help them without enabling their behavior. One of the most important steps you can take as a parent is to encourage treatment for their condition.

Exploring Different Treatment Options

There are many different types of treatment available for individuals with mental illnesses. It may be helpful to explore these options with your child so that they can find one that works best for them.

  • Medication: Prescription medication is often used to treat mental health disorders and can be effective in reducing symptoms such as anxiety or depression.
  • Psychotherapy: Talk therapy can provide support and help individuals develop coping skills to manage their symptoms.
  • Hospitalization: In some cases, hospitalization may be necessary if your child’s safety is at risk due to their mental health condition.

It’s important to understand that not all treatments work for everyone. Encourage your child to try different methods until they find the right one for them.

Offering Support and Encouragement

One of the most important things you can do as a parent is offer support and encouragement to your grown child as they navigate their mental illness. This can include:

  • Providing emotional support: Let your child know that you’re there for them and that you care about their wellbeing.
  • Attending appointments: Accompany your child to doctor appointments or therapy sessions to show your support.
  • Helping with day-to-day tasks: Depending on your child’s level of functioning, helping with things like grocery shopping or housework can be incredibly helpful.

While it’s important to provide support, it’s also essential not to enable your child’s behavior. This may mean setting boundaries and holding them accountable for their actions.

“The most powerful thing you can do as a caregiver is to encourage help-seeking behavior.” -Sarah E. Domoff

If your grown child is struggling with a mental illness, it can be challenging to know how to help them without enabling their behavior. By encouraging treatment, exploring different options, offering support and encouragement, and avoiding enabling behaviors, you can help your child manage their condition and achieve greater wellbeing. Remember that caring for yourself as a parent is just as important as supporting your child.

Practicing Tough Love

Parenting is a lifelong responsibility, and taking care of your child’s needs can be challenging, more so when the child has mental illness. It is natural for parents to assist their children whenever necessary, but sometimes it gets difficult to understand where to draw the line between helping and enabling them.

If you have an adult child with mental illness, stopping your enabling behavior towards them can be tough love. Enabling can make the situation worse by encouraging dependency, obstructing healing or hindering therapeutic interventions. Here are some steps that you can follow:

Confronting the Problem

Understanding that something is not right in your relationship with your grown child is the first step. The second step is acknowledging that your actions contribute to his/her ongoing problems. Until you confront the issue head-on, you cannot initiate changes that will work towards good

“Enabling allows behaviors to continue uninterrupted.”

“The longer the enabling continues, the harder it is to break the pattern. The enabler must acknowledge her contribution to the problem, develop a plan to change her behavior, communicate that plan clearly to her adult child, and then follow through.” – Beverly Engel

Letting the Person Experience Consequences

The principle of “tough love” involves allowing your grown child to experience the consequences of their choices as part of the learning process, rather than rescuing them from those situations. Continuously bailing out an adult child might ameliorate an immediate fix, but such senseless help fuels bad habits

“If they fall down, let them get back up on their own”

” It may seem heartless to allow someone we care about to suffer painful consequences for their actions, but sometimes it’s the most compassionate thing we can do.” – Alli Polin

Staying Consistent with Boundaries

Tough love includes setting clear boundaries and be persistent about maintaining them. If parents are not consistent, doubts or confusion whether they mean what they say undermine effectiveness of tough love.

“When boundaries remain porous or flexible, no one makes progress. Tough love requires steadfastness”–Dr. Rose Moten

While practicing “tough love” is challenging, the end goal is worth it: an empowered adult child who overcomes mental illness and leads a productive life.

Seeking Support

Family Therapy

When you have a grown child with mental illness, it can be difficult to know what kind of support they need without enabling them. One option that can help is family therapy. Family therapy involves everyone in your household attending therapy together and working on ways to better communicate and manage the challenges of living with someone who has a mental illness.

A therapist trained in family therapy can help identify patterns of behaviors or communication within the family that may be ineffective or harmful. They will teach all members of the family new skills to help break those patterns and create a more supportive environment for yourself and your child.

“Family therapy is not just about fixing the individual with the mental health issue – it’s about helping the entire family cope.”

The goal of family therapy is to improve relationships and promote understanding among family members. This can lead to healthier coping strategies and reduced stress levels for everyone involved.

Joining a Support Group

Another way to seek support when dealing with a grown child with mental illness is to join a support group. Support groups are usually made up of individuals who are going through similar experiences, so you can share your thoughts and feelings with people who understand.

Through sharing stories with others in the same situation, support groups can provide emotional validation and a sense of community. Members often learn from each other by sharing tips and advice based on their own experiences with loved ones facing similar struggles.

“Support groups offer a safe space to vent frustration, ask questions, receive comfort and empathize with peers.” -Psychology Today

Some support groups also invite speakers to talk about specific subjects related to mental illness such as self-care, medication management, or treatment options. This kind of information can be invaluable in helping you better support your child.

While it may be difficult to attend a support group at first, many people find them helpful and comforting over time. The key is to find the right group that suits you best; ask your healthcare provider for recommendations or search online for local groups.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to stop enabling a grown child with mental illness?

Enabling a grown child with mental illness can hinder their progress towards independence and recovery. It can also lead to a codependent relationship, where the parent’s own needs and well-being are sacrificed.

What are some common enabling behaviors and how can you identify them?

Common enabling behaviors include making excuses for the child’s behavior, giving them money or shelter without conditions, and ignoring their responsibilities. These behaviors can be identified by reflecting on patterns of behavior and seeking feedback from others.

How can setting boundaries help stop enabling behavior?

Setting clear and consistent boundaries can help to define expectations and prevent enabling behavior. This may include establishing consequences for certain behaviors or limiting financial and emotional support until the child takes responsibility for their own well-being.

What are some alternative ways to support a grown child with mental illness?

Alternative ways to support a grown child with mental illness include encouraging them to seek professional help, providing emotional support and understanding, and empowering them to take responsibility for their own recovery. It is also important to prioritize self-care and seek support for the parent’s own well-being.

How can seeking professional help benefit both the parent and the child?

Seeking professional help can provide the child with access to specialized treatment and resources, while also helping the parent to develop healthy coping strategies and reduce feelings of guilt or responsibility. It can also improve communication and facilitate a more collaborative approach to treatment and recovery.

What are some self-care strategies for parents of grown children with mental illness?

Self-care strategies for parents of grown children with mental illness may include seeking support from friends and family, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, and engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment. It is also important to prioritize physical health and seek professional support if needed.

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