Tough Love

Tough love is defined as….

promotion of a person’s welfare, especially that of an addict, child, or criminal, by enforcing certain constraints on them, or requiring them to take responsibility for their

Suffering with depression and crippling anxiety myself, I know all too well what tough love feels like. It makes you feel like a criminal and an addict when sometimes all you feel you want is love… a hug… to take a hand and be reassured.With the early onset of my depression, looking back my family and partner were so kind, and in complete denial. They spoke lovingly to me, used such dulcet tones and reassured me whenever possible that I would be OK!A year in, a lot has changed. My family blames themselves for the way that I am and tell me a lot that I need what they call ‘tough love’.During a medication review I spoke to my doctor about the suggestion of ‘tough love’, he assured me that’s not what I needed at all, I needed help and that ‘tough love’ was not the answer. Medication and therapy would help me solve my inner demons, the therapy being something I am still waiting for. Moving back in with my parents recently allowed them to see the full extent of my depression. And to say they found it hard is an understatement. And it’s here the tough love really began. Moments of which I’m used to like laying in my bed, uncontrollably crying, staring into space just feeling so numb were not the norm for them at all. They became so harsh with me I felt but they kept insisting it was for my own good. Incontrolable crying would be met with shouting at me aggressively to stop. Grabbing my shoulders and shaking me to get a hold of myself. On other occasions my mum calling for my dad for help, to then he met with fire and fury, shouting in my ear, swearing. I have overwhelming feelings of failure and when I’m having a down moment I like to be reminded that “you have not taken a fucking test so what is there to fail”.

It brings me to questions though…. is tough love useful or does it work at all? For me personally no…. It makes me feel worse even though I remind my parents it doesn’t help they are adamant they know best and it will help me. To be met at times of desperation with shouting and shaking, or be removed out of your bed doesn’t help at all. It sets off a nerve in me of panic. I need them to understand that I can’t get better 100mph all at once. I need to take steps in m own time and when I am ready too. I feel that too much too soon will only see me fall back into a downward rollercoaster.Of course, I appreciate what they are doing and I know they are doing it because they love me. But to be told to think about someone else instead of myself, is that really any help to a person with depression and anxiety at all?

unsplash-logoKat J


24 Replies to “Tough Love”

  1. Family counseling? Jesus, tough love… *shakes head* It is so hard dealing with the world falling apart around you. You don’t need someone shouting in your face… Can you remove yourself from them? Or do you need them? Uhg…

  2. I wish your doctor, with your permission, could explain to them that these are valid medical diagnoses and can’t be toughed out anymore than diabetes can…

  3. Oh my gosh, that must be horrifying for you. Is this the only place you can stay? Oh I just find myself gritting my teeth, someon can treat you like this. They need help understanding your illness. I hope you and or they can get help.

  4. Catherine if there is anything I can do to reach out to your parents and help them understand let me know. I am James Edgar Skyes mom, and i have dealt with this myself having his dad in the beginning thinking that this kind of solution is the answer. I know from experience now that it isn’t.

  5. Tough love is a very narrow line between setting healthy boundaries as a caregiver/friend/family, and abuse. I think it’s essential for those close to a person with chronic physical and mental health conditions to attend counseling as well so that everyone can learn coping strategies and how to set healthy boundaries.

  6. I am sorry that you are going through that with your family.
    People are usually not very good at sitting with someone else’s pain. And when it comes to our families, seeing us in pain makes them think that it’s their fault, and acknowledging that we are not doing well feels to them like admitting their own shortcomings.
    It’s a shame that this prevents people closest to us from being supportive.

  7. I have to agree with others. This is NOT tough love, this is emotional abuse. In my eyes, tough love means holding someone responsible for doing things that help, like making sure you take your medication and making sure you go to your therapist. Yelling and degrading you does not help. It would be no different than someone yelling at a person with cancer or MS or diabetes. It sounds like a bad situation to be in and will only make things worse. I am sorry you are going through it. I sincerely hope you find a way to get into a better situation and one that will actually help with your depression.

  8. I hate the term tough love, since it implies love with conditions. It can be healthy to set boundaries around specific destructive behaviours, but attaching “if”s to love and pulling the person down is, like SilenceSpeaks said, emotional abuse. I’m so sorry you have to go through this.

  9. Tough “love” is hard. I’ve been in a similar situation to you and I know how much it hurts. I hope you get out of there soon! Anything I can do to help?

  10. There is a really profound quote from Gabor Mate, a medical doctor who works with addicts and victims of trauma and has written several books about how tough anything is actually not love. I would love to be able to share it with you as I shared it in a post a long while back. What actually is needed is empathy, understanding, an unmasking of the pain and trauma or suffering that is hidden within the diagnoses of so called mental illness. Why more of the medical profession does not understand beggars belief. They need to wake the f up and listen to survivors not dictate to them from out of their own mixed up conditioning. Or keep masking everything with chemical solutions such as the ones that led to my older sister’s death.

  11. Tough love is problematic enough, even though I know it’s about setting some boundaries so you won’t be misused by an addict you love. But what you are experiencing is not even tough love. It’s just your freaked-out parents indulging their fears and trying to overcome their sense of helplessness but in a completely unhelpful, even harmful way. I wonder if your doctor or someone can talk with them? Or at least provide them with some evidence-based suggestions for how to support a loved one going through a deep depression? It seems like they could instead do things like offer to go on a walk with you, but not force you, prepare healthy and appealing food for you, reassure you that they love and care for you whether you are lying in bed or out in the world… things like that. They also need to take care of their worry and fear and sense of helplessness and not load all of that on top of you. It would be great if they could go to a support group or therapy themselves, because without information and support, it’s scary for them to see you like that. I can sympathize with that. But their unmanaged fear is very unhealthy for you and is keeping them from doing what they presumably want to do, which is to help you. I’m so sorry you are going through this.

  12. Tough love is not the solution, depression cannot be cured just like that in a split second. I think maybe your family needs to read more about the effects of depression and accompany you in your therapy sessions to better understand your condition. Getting to know your inner world would also be a good start for your family to treat you in a much comfortable way so you would not feel helpless anymore.

  13. I’m really overwhelmed by all of your comments and want to thank you! I want to assure you all my parents have since been with me to my Dr, and it was an invaluable trip. I know they have my best intentions at heart and to see their only daughter like this must be terrifying for them xxxx

  14. I think this is awful and probably the most terrible thing that could happen to a person with mental illness. I am a professional fundraiser in “real life” and I’ve often wondered whether I should fundraise for a special city where people with chronic mental illness can live in freedom away from the undiagnosed (well with access to the services we need). Sometimes even the people who are supposed to love us the most, treat us the worst. This kills me, as they should understand our very vulnerability and why we are the way we are. But they don’t, and this cuts us even deeper. And yes, I have often been quietened when I cried. Told I shouldn’t. Told I should take more anxiety pills. I’m here for you – and love reading your posts. Keep it going.

  15. Well, back in the 80ies my parents were told to react to my depression and anxiety with “tough love”, too (I was a teenager back then, we live in Germany). It didn’t help at all, it added to my stress. Things got better when I left home. Today we get along very well, but their behavior changed a lot, and I am no longer dependent on them. Best wishes, Viola.

  16. I’ll never forget when my counselors told my parents that i had written a suicide letter. It was the first time depression came into conversation. I was 14 years old.
    My stepmother took a bottle of pills and threw them at me and shouted “if you really wanna kill yourself go ahead and just do it”
    I was so shaken and gutted and I knew from then in I couldn’t trust them with my suffering. They only felt like I was giving them shame and going through a phase. This tough love is bullshit.
    I’m sorry you have experienced this.

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