The original meanings of words tend to change over time, occasionally taking on the complete opposite of their original intent. If a person in the 1970s had been asked how he drew the line between enabling and supporting, he would have likely reacted with a sense of abject confusion. The two words originally shared a very similar connotation, but the popularity of media psychologists and self-help movements has caused the word “enabling” to be largely viewed in a negative sense. To enable someone, in the negative, would refer to the act of encouraging or failing to prevent a person from behaving in a self-destructive or unhealthy manner. In contrast, the word "support" has retained much of its original meaning, that of helping or encouraging a person to achieve a worthwhile goal.
In truth, one can enable another person in a positive manner. For instance, a parent might loan money to a child, thus enabling him to go to college. The kindness of a friend or role model might enable one to be inspired and help others. These positive enablers would be supporting their child or friend in the act of gaining an education or living a happier life. In such examples there is no line to be drawn between an enabler and a supporter, for they amount to virtually the same thing.
In the lexicon of modern psychology, there is a vast difference between enabling and supporting. If a married individual simply financed his spouse’s drinking, gambling, or drug habit, he could be viewed as an enabler. If he were to suggest that his spouse had a problem, and offer to help or arrange counseling, he would then be providing support. The difference between being an enabler and a supporter is readily apparent in such a situation, but many times a scenario can occur where one’s behavior is not so clear.
The people, places, actions, or events that are involved frequently define drawing the line between enabling and supporting. Perhaps a person wishes to try and salvage a relationship even though it is by nature abusive. If one were to encourage such a course, knowing that the person in question had a long-term pattern of seeking out abusive partners, he would be enabling a negative behavior. If, on the other hand, one pointed out such a pattern and offered help in resolving it, his actions would be considered support. In a very real sense, drawing the line between enabling and supporting consists of the difference between acknowledging and ignoring the reality of any given situation.