Exerpt from my October 9, 2013 show on A Fine Time for Healing, Some Situations Call For Tough Love
When used properly tough love is rooted in deep devotion and unconditional love, though it usually does not feel like a loving act to the person on the receiving end of it. That is why using tough love is so hard to do; we never want to hurt the ones we care about and love. But tough love is not used to hurt someone; it is used to help someone who is making destructive choices in their life. ~Randi G. Fine~
In the first half of the show I talked about what tough love is and what tough love is not. I also talked about the importance of guiding the other person in the right direction. But how does one go about doing that? If we have no prior experience and no one to guide us, how do we know if we are doing it right?
First of all, the blind cannot lead the blind. If you have your own irresponsible, self-destructive issues you are in no position to dole out tough love to someone else. If you have poorly defined boundaries you cannot help someone else define theirs. If you do not love and respect yourself you cannot love and respect others or teach others to love and respect themselves. If you cannot model the proper behavior for others you cannot expect model behavior from them.
If you follow my work you know that I have written a large collection of original quotes that I share on my website, facebook, pinterest, and several other social networking sites. So allow me to quote myself using one that is perfectly applicable here. The quote is, “Love your children enough to cleanse the toxins from YOUR life that might otherwise poison THEIR delicate little spirits.”
I wish every parent would read that quote and follow through with its message. Everyone has baggage, parents included. And no matter what we do and no matter how hard we try to prevent it from happening, that baggage gets transferred to our children.
I had several tons of my own baggage when I first became a mother. Since I grew up in an angry, emotionally unsafe and emotionally abusive home, I was determined to raise my children differently. Though I wanted to be the perfect mother or as close as I could be to being one, it wasn’t long before I went into auto-pilot and started repeating unwanted behaviors.
I didn’t realize what I was doing until my sweet young daughter began innocently telling me about her dreams. In every dream she shared with me I was angry with her. That horrified me. It was a huge wake-up call. I immediately got professional help for myself and worked diligently on healing my past. As a result of all the work I did on myself, both of my children have grown up to be emotionally healthy people with great self-esteem.
There were a few isolated times throughout their childhoods that I needed to use tough love with them. I did it immediately and I did it effectively. It does work if you take the right measures. You may have to do things such as take away their car, take away their phone, take away their privileges, and don’t allow them to have money or credit cards. Extreme cases might call for reporting them to the authorities. Hopefully it doesn’t get that far.
There are some things you should consider about yourself if you want to be effective.
The first thing is to figure out what your needs and wants are so you can separate them from the child’s needs and wants. Never place your expectations or unfulfilled dreams on your child. Allow them to be who they are and allow them to express themselves in their unique way. Allow them to figure out who they are through trial and error. Only interfere when danger is involved.
The second thing is to know your limits. Learn how to say no without feeling guilty about it. No should mean no. If you waiver you will lose your effectiveness. The following Chinese proverb sums it up perfectly. “Parents who are afraid to put their foot down usually have kids who step on their toes.”
The fourth thing is to be a good listener, but know where logic ends and your heartstrings take over. Do not allow yourself to be manipulated by drama and tales of woe. Never support others when they try to play victim.
The fifth thing is to get whatever help you need, whether it is to heal your past issues, work through a current problem, or help you through whatever difficulties you are experiencing while applying tough love.
The challenge of using tough love is particularly difficult when dealing with an addict or alcoholic that you love and care about. Many years ago I was a codependent married to a drug addict. That was a recipe for disaster. Not only did I not know that I had a problem, I knew nothing about drug addiction. I was helpless to help him. I did all the wrong things, and fell for all his lies and manipulations. So I speak from firsthand knowledge.
It is heartbreaking to watch someone you love destroy his or her life. And what makes it so hard is that logic does not apply. It is impossible to reason with them. You cannot talk them out of it, you cannot love them out of it, and they are not the least bit threatened by the consequences of their behavior. You want to be caring and sympathetic, but it gets you nowhere. You try anger and threats, and still get nowhere. Tough love is all you’ve got.
When it comes to addiction, tough love is a necessary survival tool for both parties; giver and receiver. An addict will spiral downward taking everyone who cares about along with him. Those around him must care enough about their own selves to not let that happen. Boundaries must be established for self-preservation.
And tough love is the only viable method to use when trying to help an addict choose to save himself. Because they are not in their right minds, they have to exhaust all resources and be left with nowhere to turn before they will even consider making that choice. It is excruciating to watch everything unfold and wait for them make the decision to sink or swim, but recovery will not be possible without this painful process.
Decisions have to be made about what you will and will not tolerate, and what the consequences of their actions will be. The following are some suggestions and guidelines.
- Do not cover up or make excuses for them. Let them face the repercussions of their actions.
- Do not enable their behavior in any way. Allow them to suffer the consequences of their choices.
- Do not allow them to manipulate you. Stand strong against their pleading, cajoling, and tales of woe.
- Do not assist them financially. No matter how bad or guilty they try to make you feel, never buy their drugs for them to prevent withdrawal, provide the funds to bail them out of trouble, or pay for their legal defense.
- Do not put a roof over their heads, feed them, or clothe them unless they agree to get help and get sober. The deal is off if they don’t follow through.
- Stage an intervention with all their family and friends as a way to coerce them into getting treatment or going into rehab. Enlist the help of an intervention specialist to maximize the effectiveness.
If all else fails you may need to call on extreme measures. That may mean severing
all contact with them. If children are involved, you might have to go to court and have their legal custody taken away.
Tough love can be very effective but it comes with no guarantees. In the end the recipient must make the choice to self-destruct or save himself. Sometimes they choose to self-destruct and there is nothing anyone can do to stop them.
Relationships with addicts and those with self destructive personalities are never balanced. One side always gives too much and the other side always takes too much. It inevitably gets to the point where the giver has nothing left to give.
If you have been actively in the caretaker role for awhile you are probably emotionally, physically, and possibly financially drained. After listening to this show you may feel overwhelmed thinking about all you have to do and wondering how you will do it. That is understandable. The task before you is difficult and daunting. That is why it is so important to enlist the help and support of others. You do not have to be alone with this.
Seek out support groups in your area specific to your issue. If you are dealing with substance abuse or addiction issues, find your local Al-Anon or Nar-Anon groups and then attend the meetings. There you will find others you can relate to; people who understand what you are going through and can support you through it.
The Philadelphia couple, Phyllis and David York who began the tough love movement back in 1980 started an organization called Toughlove. Now there are support groups that meet are all over the United States and Canada and many foreign countries, concluding New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Korea and Brazil. These groups help provide structure in dealing with complex family problems. Google “Toughlove.org” for more information.
Even if a loved one who is addicted to drugs or alcohol won’t get help, family members can still benefit from therapy themselves. Seek out local therapists who have experience with and believe in using tough love methods.
Love sometimes means having to do things we do not want to do for the benefit of someone else. Tough love is one of those things. The tough love process is hard, but worth going through it if means there is a chance we can save the life of someone who is very dear to us.