Your tough love doesn’t work on my mental illness. Your dismissive and sometimes gaslighting attitude towards me does not work on my mental illness.
I hear the words “you need to snap out of this now” and “you need to just get over it” but these words don’t offer encouragement or strength to me during my journey, they don’t stretch out to me like an arm to help me up from the ground. They cut into my deep psychological wounds and make me feel like a project that needs “fixing”.
My mental illness is exactly that, an illness. It doesn’t suddenly disappear because you say it’s time to get over it or because it makes you uncomfortable. If that’s how it worked, I would have said goodbye to it a long time ago.
When you say “time for tough love”, what you’re really saying is that you’re inconvenienced by my mental illness or that you don’t really believe in its existence.
I can’t simply push my mental illness aside to do everything you want me to. Just like someone can’t just forget about their broken leg so that they can walk for you.
Why Tough Love Doesn’t Work For Mental Illness
There are many complexities to a persons mental illness, including trauma, years of learned habits and chemical imbalances in the brain. Treatment can be a long, difficult process and some mental illnesses don’t just go away after treatment, they have to be managed for life.
Pushing someone with a mental illness too hard can actually send them backwards. I know this all too well as I have been pushed more than once over the years, into situations that I have definitely not been ready for which resulted in several breakdowns.
When you push someone with an anxiety disorder for example, into things that are too big for their anxiety, you only end up reinforcing the fears behind their intrusive thoughts and setting them back in their recovery.
I once went back to therapy after one of my breakdowns and told her how I wasn’t coping, how I’d gotten my first job and stuck it out for a year but my anxiety wasn’t improving, it was actually getting worse. How I was being sick everyday, I couldn’t stop shaking, sweating, panicking and I didn’t feel safe at any point of the day.
My therapist told me that what I’d done by getting my first job after years of not being able to leave the house, was “diving into the deep end” which did not work.
While exposure therapy (facing your fears) is a really good technique for anxiety and I explain how I use this in my book, it isn’t as simple as just going and facing your fears head on. There is much more to it than that.
Facing your fears and using exposure techniques with an anxiety disorder involves taking SMALL achievable steps, while working through all those intrusive thoughts, dropping safety behaviours and doing the same small steps until they are comfortable before moving onto something bigger.
For other people, managing their mental illness may be down to getting the right medication and adjusting it to the right dosage, it may be other therapy treatments that are more complex or it may be situational and will unlikely go anywhere until the situation causing it has changed.
Things You Can Offer Instead
Knowing that your tough love doesn’t work for mental illness, here are some ways you can support your loved ones instead:
- Acknowledge what they’re going through. Seriously, just acknowledge them! Validating them isn’t going to make their mental health worse, it’s just going to make them feel safe and supported.
- Get yourself educated on what your loved one is going through. Do some research into the symptoms, so that you can better understand what is typical for them to experience.
- Ask them how they’d like you to support them and what help if any that they want from you. It’s possible that they don’t need your advice or help, that they’re already getting help.
- Avoid making them feel bad about having a mental illness. Remember their mental illness is not who they are as a person, it’s just something they have and didn’t ask for. Don’t blame them or belittle them for their mental health.
It’s okay to set healthy boundaries. It’s okay to admit that you don’t know how to handle this or how to help. It’s not okay to push someone or make them feel like shit for having a mental illness.
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