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What’s The Difference Between “Tough Love” and Acting Out of Anger?

What's The Difference Between "Tough Love" and Acting Out of Anger?

Sometimes people feel that others, especially the addict or alcoholic,  need that extra touch of ‘Tough Love’ to get them moving in the right direction. To help break people out of their harmful habits and destructive behaviors, when they have shown no effort or even desire to change their ways, their family or friends may implement ‘Tough Love’ to avoid enabling them. Also it can be used to show them that what they are doing is not acceptable, which for the addict or alcoholic is using drugs and drinking to an extent it has a negative effect on others. But when do you draw the line between ‘Tough Love’ and acting out of anger in ways that are hurtful and ineffective to inspire positive change?

The Truth About ‘Tough Love’

When people in our lives continue to act in ways that hurt us or others we love, we find all kinds of strategies to try and motivate those people to change or to open their eyes to the things that they are doing and how those things have an impact on people around them. With addicts and alcoholics this comes to mind when thinking of how not to enable their toxic life-style. Some examples of ‘Tough Love’ may include:

  • Not providing a financial safety net
  • Not letting someone live in your home
  • Not going out of your way to make them comfortable
  • Not telling them what they want to hear
  • Not speaking with someone until they are willing to change
  • Separating yourself from them until they are willing to change
  • Telling them how they affect others regardless of their pride
  • Setting health boundaries or ultimatums
  • Not rescuing them from their mistakes
  • Not co-signing their bad behavior or decisions

This is just a general list of things that can be considered more on the ‘Tough Love’ side of support. It protects you and those you love, but you still care about the individual and you do these things ultimately hoping they will benefit from it. You give someone ‘Tough Love’ for what is in their best interests if they know what that is or not.

Acknowledging When You Acting Out of Anger

Anger is a poisonous energy, and it only inspires more anger or negative energy and emotions in others. Sometimes it gets confused with ‘Tough Love’ because people who use ‘Tough Love’ are often fed up with the way things are going and resort to a more assertive approach. However there is a great deal of difference between ‘Tough Love’ and acting out of anger and being aggressive.

When acting out of anger, we tend to forget about the persons best interests and focus selfishly on our rage, and we do or say things to someone that is spiteful or hurtful specifically to punish or attack the individual. There is no need to bully people into your way of thinking or expectations. If you act out of anger, you are ignoring the feelings of the person entirely, and it is completely counter-productive to helping inspire change, and in fact they typically react with even more toxic and destructive behavior.

‘Tough Love’ can be effective if implemented properly and done out of love. When we can keep the other persons health and well-being first and keep our own anger or revenge out of the way, we have an opportunity to do something that may not be what the person wants, but is something that can help them while protecting ourselves and those we care about. Below are a few examples of things to think of when trying to decide if you’re using ‘Tough Love’ or acting out of anger with someone who may be struggling with substance abuse, addiction, or behavior problems.

  • Am I doing this for them or for me?
  • Am I putting them down intentionally?
  • Am I giving them a chance to step-up?
  • Am I doing something that will prevent their growth?
  • Am I taking revenge or am I protecting myself?
  • Am I doing or saying something that I would want said or done to me?

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