Did you receive the message that ‘tough love’ is the only thing that will save the life of your struggling young adult or teen?
Do you feel torn about how to help your teen who is experimenting with drugs or alcohol?
When I was first dealing with substance use issues in my family, I thought tough love was the approach that worked. You had to be tough to get results.
As I’ve learned more, I’ve realized that tough love not only doesn’t work much of the time, but it can be harmful to a struggling teen or young adult.
Many parents struggle to make sense of the tough love approach. People may have told you to detach or let go of your child. How do you keep your sanity as you watch your child spiral further out of control? Without resources and family support, your child will have more difficulty getting better.
Recovery does not have a ‘one size fits all solution. There are many complicated issues for struggling individuals and their families.
The tough love approach may sound appealing if you are frightened, exhausted, and feel you’ve run out of ideas to get your child to change.
You may ask, “Do I use ‘tough love?’ Kick him out? Let him stay? Or continue to offer love and support?”
You are not alone.
The problem for me was that my mama bear instincts didn’t do well with drawing that hard, inflexible line in the sand. I felt very conflicted and worried about my child.
Turning my back on my child would leave me with sleepless nights and anxiety-filled days. Yet, our family was told this when we picked up our daughter from her wilderness program. I remember the counselor asking each of us if we would answer the door if my daughter relapsed and tried to come home. Their correct answer was that we would not.
I understand the logic. Yet, I knew I wouldn’t turn my daughter away without trying to get her some help.
Does it work?
“The tough love approach was common back in the day, but a lot of professionals have shifted towards a boundary-setting approach, as it combines firmness with self-care and support,” ~ Tina Muller, Family Wellness Manager at Mountainside Treatment Center.
Parents hear that they should kick their son or daughter out of the house if they don’t stop their drug use. The idea is that your child will learn their lesson, yet the problem is your child will probably not get better. People living on the streets or couch surfing tend to go downhill when left alone.
If you are waiting for your child to “hit rock bottom,” the sad fact is that no one knows where their rock bottom will be. There is a chance your child will not return. It can prove to be a dangerous approach.
Such an approach fails to recognize that people don’t choose to depend on a substance. Our children’s issues are often the result of a complex set of factors that can take years of counseling, support, training, and empowerment to overcome.
Why ‘Tough Love’ can cause harm
In late 2004, the National Institutes of Health released a “state of the science” consensus statement, concluding that “get tough” treatments “do not work, and there is some evidence that they may make the problem worse.”
It causes harm by pushing your teen or young adult further into their substance use. Tough love can be harsh and punitive. The confrontational approach can make your child more resistant to change. It may also damage, sometimes permanently, your relationship with your child.
In an article from the Washington Post, one person in recovery stated, “In fact, fear of cruel treatment kept me from seeking help long after I began to suspect I needed it. My addiction probably could have been shortened if I’d thought I could have found a cure that didn’t conform to what I knew was (and sadly, still is) the dominant confrontational approach.”
One mom wrote that a counselor told her to detach and let go when her son relapsed. He was several states away. She followed that advice for a few weeks.
When she finally got in touch with her son, she found him in terrible shape. Her son came home for a brief time. She was able to convince him to try again. She continues to be haunted by the fact that he may not have made it had she not intervened.
Derek Naylor, 36, explains in the article, Tough Love Doesn’t Work: A New Approach to Helping Addicts, “While in active addiction, Naylor experienced the ‘tough love’ approach himself. He had been clean for two years, then he relapsed. ‘My family’s ‘tough love’ approach played a big part in my attempting suicide,’ he said. ‘It’s not their fault I attempted suicide, but their words and actions put me over the edge.
Watching your child suffer when they need your help is too dangerous and gut-wrenching. A less punitive, more compassionate approach can reduce substance use. It also causes less anxiety for family members.
It may seem more straightforward to turn your back and shut the door. Yet, you will have a better chance that your child will agree to seek change when you stay close.
Here are three alternatives to the tough-love approach:
1. Take the time to understand the problem
Taking time to understand the problem opens up a way to talk with your child and help them understand his behavior in a new way. You both will be able to appreciate that addiction is a problem that your child can solve.
The first step is to understand the root of the problem. It is better than attempting to control your child’s substance use through discipline.
It is easy to want to skip this step. Emotions like guilt and regret can come up. These feelings can be painful for parents. Remind yourself that things are never perfect when bringing up a child. Your child’s substance use is not your fault.
To get to the root of the problem, you need to understand what that problem is.
2. Use positive encouragement
The New Science of Human Relationships, “Positive encouragement stimulates the part of the brain that enhances mental abilities such as, “Creative thinking, cognitive flexibility, and the processing of information,” the very mental capacities most needed for people to come up with solutions to their problems. ~ Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: However, messages that are consistently negative and focus on a person’s faults and flaws are only likely to increase feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety. This approach will further restrict the horizon of possibilities for individuals and communities trying to break out of often strongly engrained patterns of predictably harmful behaviors.”
Even though your child is using drugs or alcohol, look for things they are doing right. Look for what you can reinforce. It may be a tiny thing. Your adult child who lives away from you takes the time to call or answer your call. Acknowledge that.
It may seem odd to reinforce something your child should already be doing. Drug use changes things, and your child is not operating like others his age. You can help change by reinforcing positive behavior. Reinforcement starts a positive snowball effect.
3. Set clear boundaries. Allow your child to take responsibility
My new book answers many of the questions readers of this post may have – including how to help their child find recovery compassionately. Click on the book for more information. I hope the book is helpful.
Boundary setting and allowing consequences are two powerful ways to make an impact.
Step out of the way and let your child feel the consequences of their actions. Your teen or young adult will learn a powerful lesson.
While boundary-setting sounds like tough love, there is a difference. Boundary setting is done with love and compassion for your child ahead of time. Tough love is often used punitively when a parent is angry.
Decide what your boundaries are and communicate them to your child. Stay calm when discussing limits so your child will be less defensive and argumentative.
Your child may surprise you with how willing they are to cooperate when you include them in the conversation
Clear boundaries set with love give your child the limits that will help motivate them to change. You are taking care of yourself, other family members, and your environment throughout the process.
Finally, be honest with yourself about how you will follow through. You want to feel comfortable and confident that your boundaries are doable.
Also, allowing your child to take responsibility for their actions will have more of an impact. You can talk to your child repeatedly, but it sometimes becomes white noise. Better to have them understand that their actions have a consequence.
Finally, treat your child as you’d like to be treated. Lead by example. If you want respect, treat your child with respect.
I hope that you feel relieved there are other options besides the tough love approach.
Being there for your child calmly and supportively can lead you all to a healthier path.
Thank you for reading!This article was updated on July 12, 2023.Access research-based resources to help you support your child in a kind, compassionate way, which can lead to change.
And consider getting access to my online course, Regain Your Hope, an online course that gives you an action plan to help your child. Know that your child can change. Love, Cathy
Consider checking out my book, The Compassion Antidote: A Path to Change for You and Your Child Struggling with Addiction.
By: Cathy Taughinbaugh
Title: 3 Powerful Alternatives to the Tough Love Approach
Sourced From: cathytaughinbaugh.com/3-powerful-alternatives-to-the-tough-love-approach/
Published Date: Wed, 12 Jul 2023 22:37:56 +0000