Tough love has horrible connotations to me. People throwing their minor-aged kids out on the street. Not listening, ultimating, those are two more. If I were to bother salvaging the term at all, it would be to say that there is a distinction to be made between Constructive Tough Love and the afore-mentioned bullshit.

So now what would that be? Listening is of paramount importance. Ultimatums seldom work unless someone is being physically or verbally abused ie: “If you raise your voice to me one more time I’ll leave”. (And then of course, follow-through is necessitated.)

Calling it like I see it is my version of tough love. Much easer to let the client stay comfortable. But that’s not what shes paying me for. I work with a lot of adults with adhd, and being bored is worse than being horse whipped (that, at least, might be interesting.) This can make finding and staying in a relationship next to impossible for some of them. Recently I asked a guy ‘would you date yourself?’ Kinda stopped him in his tracks. “Don’t worry about being bored. Don’t be boring”.

This, in my book of plays, is a tough-love remark. Now here’s the key to making that call: he was ready to hear it. I’d listened to him long enough to gage that. Tough love remarks are not constructive when they’re based in judgement or assumption.

‘Ohhhh’ he said. ‘Be the new me, not the old me’. As you can tell by that response, we’ve done a lot of work together.

Get the distinction? Boundary assertion and honesty. Not brutal honesty because, to quote the American Buddhist nun Pema Chodron, truth without kindness is just mean. Constructive honesty, purely in the interest of the recipient. Often, that requires going beyond your own comfort zone. Which requires being tough on yourself.

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