One of the saddest recent examples of what I call “tragic enabling” that I’ve ever seen is the recent case of Ethan Couch, the “affluenza teen” who killed four adults in Fort Worth, TX while driving drunk. (For USA Today’s coverage of the Couch family arrests, click here: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2015/12/29/affluenza-teen-apprehended-mexico-cnn-reports/78002812/)
Couch was shown leniency in juvenile court after his lawyers argued that he suffered from the dubious condition “affluenza” — a condition characterized by lack of judgment supposedly caused by the “excessive socioeconomic privilege” of his parents. He was recently arrested in Mexico while under disguise with the apparent aid of his mother for failure to appear in court regarding his drunk driving convictions. Tonya Couch, his mother, accompanied, and apparently helped him, to avoid legal consequences for noncompliance with his probation conditions. Her alleged actions may result in criminal felony charges against her.
Beyond the legal ramifications, there’s no question that Couch tragically enabled her son to avoid facing the consequences of his behavior. Even when it isn’t this extreme, parental enabling harms addictive family members as well as the parents themselves. Clinically facilitated intervention helps family members to dismantle these patterns of behavior, and forces enablers as much as the addicts to confront their own thinking & behavior. In some cases, the confusion and self-deception of family members exceeds that of the addict. All the more importantly, in such cases as the Couch family, professional clinical guidance is needed.
David Petersen, LCSW, LAC, December 21, 2015