Understand Tough Love: Why Intervene?

If you are the family member or relative of a loved one struggling with addiction, you’ve probably spent months—or even years—trying to help your loved one any way you can. And if you’re beginning to explore the topic of intervention and understand what your loved one is experiencing, you may have begun to see that sometimes the most loving thing you can do is to show your loved one tough love.

Good Cop Vs. Bad Cop

Remember the whole good cop vs bad cop thing? Whether you like it or not you may have to face the reality that you’ve been playing “good cop” with your loved one for too long.

The Dangers of Enabling

If you’re a kind, good, and loving person, your nature is probably to overlook faults and failures in others. You might think “oh, they just overslept this once because of a hangover” or “she promised me she’d never use again.”

Other times, we might enable them in their addiction by paying bills for them, making excuses for them to co-workers, bosses, or friends, or simply taking care of our loved one’s family members. In other words, sometimes we tend to be more forgiving than we should be. And the effects of enabling can be devastating. Before long, we find ourselves frustrated and angry.

On the other hand, sometimes our helping merges into controlling.

It is obvious to you that your loved one is out of control and that his or her drinking or using is the problem. You feel compelled to take control, to try to save them from themselves.

But your loved one sees you and your controlling behavior as the problem. The struggle between the two of you is therefore seen by him or her as “the struggle,” which reinforces denial and prevents him or her from seeing addiction as the real issue.

Hard Love, The Good Way

If you realize that you’ve been enabling your loved one, then you need to use this intervention as a key time to make a change. Your loved one might just need to see a little bit of the “bad cop” in you. What would happen to your loved one if he or she had to pay the bills? Take care of the kids? Face the boss alone? Would those results help them to face reality? Although it is heart-wrenching to return these responsibilities to the hands of our loved ones for fear of what might happen to them, sometimes this might be just what they need to hear in order to truly help them.

This “tough love” approach is one of the most difficult steps a family has to take to help your loved one.  However, it is necessary because if the enabling behavior doesn’t stop, families will love the addict or alcoholic to death.

“Approaching the alcoholic with love may be the most powerful force for breaking down denial while preserving the alcoholic’s dignity.” -Love First

Love Them, And Stay Friends

Tough love is tough. And in the end, an intervention eventually falls on the side of tough love. So how can you go through an intervention—demonstrating this tough love that will deny any enabling options—and still keep your loved one as your friend? How can you avoid offending them during this process?

  • Wrap everything you say in a warm tone. Practice saying (and writing) everything you want to communicate in a soft tone and voice.
  • Stay focused on the end goal. You want your love ones to live a happy and fulfilled life—and chances are, they want the same. If you can keep the end goal in focus, it will be easier to discuss the best way to get there.
  • Focus on examples, details, and specifics. This is not the time to use generalizations—generalizations too often reflect a hyperbolic state and are frequently used when we’re trying to persuade someone passionately rather than logically. Instead, carefully and quietly present facts. How many days has your loved one missed work? How many nights have they come home intoxicated? Prior to the intervention spend some time, watching and observing. The more you can focus on the situation and less on them as a person, the easier it will be for your loved one to accept.

It can be hard to give your loved one the “tough love” they need when it’s not what they want at the time, but sometimes love requires us to make difficult choices. You can be confident in the fact that you’re doing what’s best for them long-term even if it’s scary in the short run. They can’t get better if they don’t get help and you can choose to have an instrumental part in getting them that help so they can heal and enjoy a better life.

The Intervention Guide

We have compiled a FREE intervention guide to help you stage a successful intervention and help your loved one. Download the Intervention Guide now.


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