Tough Love

Tough Love


The Bipolar Writer discusses how mentally ill people are treated by their relatives. Often “tough love” is mentioned in this context. This means “enforcing certain constraints (…), or requiring (…) to take responsibility for their actions” (definition by A woman suffering from depression and anxiety tells how this treatment makes her feel. She wants more affection and love.

Well, I am mentally ill, and so are some of my relatives, so I know both sides.

Suffering from General Anxiety Disorder, major depression and Borderline Personality Disorder myself, tough love caused serious problems in my life. When I was sixteen, my anxiety was so bad I didn’t go to school for months. My parents were told to treat me with tough love: I had to obey the rules, and they should accept no exception from that. And of course there is nothing wrong with sixteen year old Viola going to school every day, and having therapy once a week. We failed big time. My parents insisted I follow the rules and fought my resistance tooth and nail, but I felt so bad nothing they said or did mattered to me. Even more bad: All the anger and worries left no room for loving affection, what made us all feel very unhappy. We were really stuck. It got better when I left home for a while. In this time, I worked on my problems with lots of therapeutic education. And I finally realised that I am the only one who is responsible for my life. Contrary to my parents, the educators were more objective and less involved, what made me calm down a lot. On the other hand my parents got some quiet time and realised that they can’t force me into doing anything. We learned our lesson well and do not fight those unnecessary battles anymore. And we were lucky, love and affection came back after a while. But without help we would still be fighting a losing battle.

On the other hand I am the granddaughter of a heavy drinker, and of a very depressive and hypochondriac grandmother. And I am the daughter of parents who had to watch this. So I can see positive elements in the concept of tough love. Knowing that everybody is responsible for what she/he does/doesn’t, helps not to go down together with a relative. Everybody has the right to protect her/himself from that, and this does not mean indifference.

In my opinion tough love is a good possibility to help a relative with a mental illness, but it is not the only one. Maybe there are situations, were pure love helps the most. There may also be situations when tough love is not enough, and more distance is needed.

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