Arnold: Do you play negative situations over in your mind?
Off and on I've had to engage in the art of tough love.
Now I know how it got its name! I'm just wondering whether it's tougher on the receiver – or the sender.
Tough love has been defined as “an expression used when someone treats another person harshly or sternly with the intent to help them in the long run.”
Prunes theory of life
This kind of behavior is definitely not my strong suit, and I find myself second-guessing about the intensity to employ. It all goes back to my “Prunes Theory of Life.” Three enough? Six too many?
No doubt you're familiar with stories about concerned parents who have gone to the wall for a drug-addicted child and then reached a point where they refused further support until he or she agreed to enter a rehabilitation program. Or a coach who is strict with his players – but the discipline is intended for their greater good.
Deciding to take action
A while back, I found myself awake for almost 24 hours straight dealing with an extended family member in another time zone. Without an owner's manual – and coupled with the challenges of geography and timing – I felt somewhat uneasy when I finally tried to sleep.
After tossing and turning, I bolted out of bed at 3 a.m. and came downstairs to write out an intervention strategy on my computer. I was definitely on a roll. It all seemed to flow onto the page. At least that's what it seemed like in the middle of the night.
The waiting room
And then there was the silence after the “send” button was pushed. And the patience it took to wait. And wait.
Fortunately, I had a lot of other things to do that helped to distract me from looking incessantly for a response on my cellphone or computer. Finally it came. As I opened the email message, I was pleasantly surprised at the response.
My plan had been accepted (at least for the time being). Not embraced, mind you. I was happy to take accepted, though.
Getting the message
This has definitely been one of those “can't see the forest for the trees” lessons for my extended family member. All I did was point out the obvious – in a way that could be “heard” and received. Once I got that tricky part down, the plan seemed to flow from there.
And that's the way it is with life challenges. When we're knee-deep in a situation with all the accompanying emotional components, it can seem like there's no way out. You've likely experienced a situation in which you felt trapped or frozen – at least temporarily. Weighing things back and forth. Over and over.
Inertia sets in. So, you need to apply some “ertia.” In my case, the family member agreed to a conference call with a professional. That set things in motion for others to get on board to support the plan. That's not always the case, though, especially on the first attempt.
Ready for rejection
I had to be willing to put myself on the line and risk being rejected or shut out, and that was the hard part. That's where vision and faith came in – and a belief that the end result would warrant whatever messiness came in the middle.
Once I got over that hurdle, there was no turning back. Logically, I saw the solution long ago – as did others in the family. The timing just had to be right to present it – back to that concept of communicating things in a way that they can be “heard” by those in crisis. As for results, the jury is still out.
Of course, the one in crisis also has to be ready to take a step when the intervention plan is presented. And, often, these stars don't align. So, it's back to the drawing board.
Intention, attention and releasing tension
I've definitely drawn on some life lessons in this ordeal, like the one I learned from Dr. Wayne Dyer, the psychologist and author:
• Put your strong in-tention toward the problem.
• Give it your utmost attention.
• Detach from the outcome, releasing the tension.
I do pretty well with those first two. It's that third one – detachment – that often gets me. (See earlier “prunes” theory).
It's like the patience involved in certain types of cooking. A friend of mine does a lot of Cajun cooking where it's critical to get the roux, or broth, just right. You can't rush it, or the dish will be ruined.
Yet, it needs to be tended (like the attention reference above). Maybe that's why the terms “simmer,” “boil” and “broil” are involved in cooking – as well as life situations! In our scenario, we had all been simmering for quite a while about the self-destructive behavior being played out on the extended family scene. Some had even reached the boiling point.
Rescuing and enabling
While support and encouragement can certainly be helpful, rescuing someone who is actively practicing an addiction is actually enabling the behavior to continue, according to therapists such as Robert Burney, author of “Enabling and Rescuing vs. Tough Love.”
And addictions run the gamut. We tend to think of the more common examples of alcohol and drug abuse. But there's a whole laundry list of addictive behaviors – overspending, eating disorders, sexual addictions, gambling and many others.
A person who is acting out self-destructively has no reason to change if they don't ever suffer major consequences for their behavior. If they're continually rescued from the consequences, they're allowed to continue practicing their addiction.
And here's the kicker. Helping someone continue to self-destruct is not support. And it's not loving.
Linda Arnold, M.A., M.B.A., is a psychological counselor, founder and former Chairman/CEO of a multistate marketing company, certified wellness instructor and syndicated columnist. Reader comments are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org .