Why we need to know the critical difference between enabling and protecting.

Families and friends of the seriously mentally ill are often accused of enabling inappropriate, dysfunctional, and harmful behavior. This label is terribly destructive for those who work tirelessly to help their loved ones and friends. This accusation can and does lead to dismissing the observations and information that families and friends try to impart. When they are viewed as enabling, their views are seen as unimportant and valuable things are disregarded/dismissed.

Enabling, in its negative sense, is the facilitation of harmful, inappropriate behaviors in an active or passive manner. The "enabling" comes from a variety of sources — avoiding stigma and shame, fear of the loved one's reaction to confrontation, lack of education about how to cope with mental illness, and other factors.

Protecting, on the other hand, is a natural feature of human and animal behavior when an individual has become ill, weak, or confused. In the animal kingdom, when survival of the group is at stake, the group may leave the sick individual behind. Protection is the action/behavior of being alert to harmful obstacles in the path of the ill person, identifying dangerous situations and behaviors, and advocating when the individual faces social injustice.

Protection is a necessary part of life for family and friends of our loved ones who struggle with emotional challenges and serious mental illnesses. In this chaotic, unpredictable and stigmatizing world, protection is needed more than ever before.