Accountability as an act of love

How enabling causes harm to ourselves and others

The past two weeks in the Redefining Love Community we talked about accountability for ourselves and others. Thanks to one of our members, I realized there was a key accountability point left to discuss…

For many of us, a big roadblock to healthy accountability is the tendency to carry the weight of other’s mistakes and shortcomings. Many family systems pass this sense of obligatory self-sacrifice down from generation to generation, to the point that many of us confuse love with carrying the burdens of other’s mistakes, or turning a blind eye to wrongdoing.

In reality, this isn’t love at all, but toxic enabling. In order to redefine love, we must step away from any definition of “love” that requires us to sacrifice our values and sense of right and wrong. Making excuses for people’s bad behavior is not loving. It’s enabling, and it’s bad for everyone involved, including the person who has done wrong.

Culture confuses love with quiet acceptance.

Culture has taught us that as long as someone performs well in public, we should ignore it when they shatter other people’s lives or crush other people’s souls. But that’s not grace. Grace without accountability is enabling.


When we turn a blind eye to abusive behaviors because someone has “done so many good things in the world,” we are cheating the person out of an opportunity to grow, and we are violating our own integrity as well. Enabling breeds shame in both the enabler and the enabled.

A confused definition of love leads to enabling.

When we care for someone deeply, it can be difficult to see their faults, especially if we accept the cultural standard of love as “all or nothing.” If we believe that love is always warm and tender, then to feel anything other than adoration means we can no longer love that person. The notion of holding people accountable is then associated with an immense sense of loss.

If the other person also views love by the cultural standard, then they view your holding them accountable as a betrayal. Suddenly, we find ourselves in a power struggle, where one person carries the burden of responsibility, and the other person gets a free pass to continue misdeeds with no consequence. Neither person escapes this situation without a large dose of shame.

Redefining Love creates balance in relationships.

When we redefine love, everyone carries the weight of their own responsibilities. We recognize that we can love people through honest expression of our anger and hurt. We realize that ignoring the weakness in ourselves and others is actually a far greater betrayal than being honest about our feelings and experiences. We are able to identify where we end and the other person begins, untangling ourselves from codependency and enmeshment.

We recognize what is ours to carry, and what is not, and that allowing someone to accept responsibility for their actions – good or bad – is the most loving thing we can do for them. On the flip side, when we take on the load of other people’s responsibilities, we are robbing of them of a valuable opportunity to grow.

Accountability as an act of love.

Once you have learned what love truly is and what it isn’t, it’s easier to hold others accountable. When you redefine love, you know that there is nothing mean about saying, “No! Enough is enough. I deserve better in this relationship, and so do you!”

I look at it like parenting. If a child is allowed to do anything they want until the teenage years, it’s going to be a lot harder to enforce boundaries than it would have been if the parent had enforced appropriate behavior standards from the beginning of the child’s life.

Unfortunately, many of us find ourselves stuck in toxic relationships for years before we finally realize what is happening. In order to be fully accountable, we must admit our place in the shame cycle, take accountability for ourselves as enablers, and begin working to undo what’s already been done.

The cultural standard of victim blaming.

Within family systems, when one person is estranged they are the “black sheep,” and assumptions are made about their character, rather than examining the family dynamics that contributed to the estrangement in the first place. In reality, behind every black sheep is likely a whole lot of dysfunction that nobody wants to admit.

This type of thinking ends up re-victimizing, and absolves the others of any wrongdoing. When people aren’t held accountable, we are empowering the wrongdoer, and disempowering the wronged.

We have created a culture of enablers and the enabled. After a while, everyone just takes it for granted that this is the way it should be – some people are just meant to carry the full weight of all the mistakes and misbehaviors, regardless of whether they committed the offense or not. This mindset has poisoned families, businesses, governments, and religious institutions for generations. And the only way to stop it is to stop enabling.

Everybody carries their own baggage.

In Redefining Love, we learn that it isn’t our fault that another person has behaved badly. Being accountable is not simply being honest about our own shortcomings and failings, but also having the courage to speak up when someone else has done wrong, and having the self-awareness to refuse to carry the weight of other people’s responsibilities.

Accountability is the first step to self-love. It is rooting out self-loathing and self-disgust so you can make room for love of all the wonderful things you are. You can’t take this crucial step while you are enabling others by carrying the burdens of their responsibilities as well as your own.

When we release ourselves from the burden of enabling, we can then recognize maladaptive behaviors within ourselves and others so that we can avoid falling into toxic relationships in the future, and we release the other person to grow from their own journey.

When we are trained by culture and family dynamics to be enablers from the very beginning of our lives, it can be tricky to determine who should be accountable for what. We will tackle this topic next week, so stay tuned!

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