What is Tough Love?

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Tough love is a prevalent expression used to describe any behavior that is a firm sometimes harsh, approach to handling an individual’s actions. The expression is to some extent debated, which is generally used in handling the specified conditions for instance drug obsession. In the obsession and rehabilitation community, tough love has become normal for families to mistreat addicts by rejecting them, commanding punitive limitations and rejection when they fail to quit or adhere to rehab. Szalavitz (2006) “suggests increasing evidence that tough love does not work; instead, it may do more harm than good” (pg.1).

Thesis statement

While people crave affection, support and a sense of belonging, tough love approaches cut addicts off from their biggest supporters providing them with reasons to be deserted, afraid and angry and therefore are more likely to resort to alcohol and drugs as a coping mechanism. Tough love is a relaxed approach that tends to backfire, is authoritarian, and encourages addiction.

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Outline of key points and sub-points

    • The approach is authoritarian

Use of hostile psychological control is strongly linked to the use of relational induction

Authoritative parenting styles have long-lasting negative consequences on children

    • The strategy encourages addiction

Most addict use substances a coping mechanism and thus negative emotions make them more susceptible to utilization

    • The approach is easy

Refusing to associate with addicts hurts them

Authoritarian parenting results in the development of insecure attachment leading to addiction

    • The mechanism often backfires

Is not effective in decreasing recidivism

The treatments worsen the problem


There are different approaches that tough love is utilized daily; as this describes any cast of parenting in which a child experiences inconsistent emotions as part of a learning development. This can occur through the healthy setting of rigid limits, conventional in authoritative and abusive parenting approaches whereby humiliation, physical violence, and belittling are used to regulate the child. “For instance, a parent may use tough love against their adult child that is yet to secure a job despite having graduated from college” (Baumrind, p366). The parent practicing tough love can, for instance, withhold paying the child’s bills and let the child deal with the consequences instead of fixing the issue.

Most individuals undertake that strict parenting and discipline leads to more well-mannered children. “This could be right given that children from authoritarian families appear polite, obedient and easy to manage when observed from an external behavioral perspective” (Baumrind, p366). However, while these children are submissive, strict discipline has its price. A sign from past external behavior; is easily noted that the parenting style may have severe existential and emotional consequences. A study by Fung and Lau (2012) “found that the use of hostile mental control through invalidation, interference or criticism is strongly associated with the use of relational induction, i.e. guilt induction, shaming, social comparison, and reciprocity” (pg. 966-975). Relational induction is linked to children behavior issues and is also strongly associated with parental rejection.

“Evidence reveals that children of authoritarian families are more prone to suffering from low self-esteem and self-worth than those raised by permissive and authoritative parents. From this perspective, the short-term behavioral gain of submission is heavily outweighed by the long-term psychological damage” (Baumrind, p893-894). Children of authoritarian families can develop low self-esteem and inferiority complexes due to the feeling that they are not heard or noticed. The children develop low self-confidence; due to only being shown love when they show respectable behavior. They also lack essential trust in people since they are used to earning love by living up to standards and rules and therefore can develop the belief that people always have a self-centered agenda. Children raised in authoritarian families develop a passive attitude to their role in life and therefore do not assume overall liability for their personal lives; this is because they have learned that everyone has a fixed place and role in life and therefore tend to adopt a submissive attitude to authority system.

Lastly, children of authoritarian parents have defective interpersonal and socializing skills. “The children tend to be hostile and aggressive since they learn that force either verbal or physical is power and that sort of power is attractive” (Baumrind, p893-894). They often focus on the anger they feel toward their parents rather than thinking about how to do things better in the future.

Tough love has been described as a harsh technique in handling persons struggling with addictions. While most people assume that secluding someone until they join rehab would discourage substance abuse, it only worsens the problem. Most addicts use substances as a coping strategy, and negative emotions such as loneliness make more them more susceptible to use. Considering that tough love breaks down the will of a person, it may appear to be effective in the short-term, but it can worsen the problem and lead to perilous relapses. A study by Flynn et al. (2003)” aimed at establishing the factors that contributed to long-term recovery from cocaine dependence” (pg. 1). Outcomes of the analysis suggest a significant improvement in patient outcomes. Motivations to change and positive influence from family was cited as some of the primary reasons for the upgrades. An investigation by Klug (1990) found that assertiveness and community support are critical components in the stringent love process and were found to be effective in altering adolescent antisocial behaviors. The study established the variables of separation and organizational influences as less critical factors in developing adverse reactions. Miller (1985) suggests that agreement, voluntary choice, modification of behavior attractiveness, desire for assistance and dependence are key motivational variables implicating treatment entry, compliance and outcome in alcoholism and other addictive behaviors. Most investigations indicate that participation in prison-based drug therapy programs decreases the likelihood of recidivism; however, other factors are equally important. Gideon (2010) suggests that a client’s personal motivation to change is a critical factor when treating and rehabilitating drug-abuse offenders.

Tough love strategies are perceived as elementary and therefore cannot assist persons dealing with addiction. For instance, secluding and refusing to associate with an addict is an easy way of approaching someone with an addiction. However, while this may appear as a fair strategy and an easy way out, it hurts the addict. Before implementing tough love, one must consider that people turn to drugs or alcohol for a different reason and abandoning them often does not solve their issues. Patock-Peckham et al. (2007) suggest that parenting style directly influences the control process and indirectly influences alcohol abuse and use. Authoritarian parenting is associated with greater adolescent rebelliousness which in turn causes alcohol use. Additionally, perception of having an authoritarian father is positively linked to neuroticism among males which is related to drinking and alcohol-related issues (Hayes et al., p33&34). Strict parenting results in the development of insecure attachment. Insecure attachment leads to the development of a low degree of self-regulation which makes a person susceptible to addiction. The authoritarian parenting styles, defined by lack of responsiveness, are linked to insecure attachment styles. Insecure attachment, anxiety, fearful and anxiety, is negatively associated with self-regulation skills. Poor self-regulation is an indicator of lasting issue related to alcohol and drug use (Zeinali et al., p1120).

Tough love is often encouraged in families as a cure for enabling addicts. However, the issue with the approach is that it usually backfires. People tend to find themselves torn between the act of allowing the addict or utilizing tough love. Unknowingly, they can create a vicious cycle of two extremes which increases the prevalence of a relapse. Tough love is not practical since it is used out of anger or desperation, the behaviors are often enforced by family members, can be mistakenly used instead of setting healthy limits and deprive addict of their source of support. When tough love approaches are used in the justice department, they worsen recidivism cases. Szalavitz (2006) suggests that the treatment approaches do not work and that evidence suggests that they may escalate recidivism.

Some young adults leave the rigorous programs with PSTD and exacerbation of their original problems. In tough applications, teenagers’ choices of activities are made for them whereby they are not allowed to date whereby eye contact with the opposite sex is punished. The teenagers are also punished for dissenting from a program’s therapeutic considerations. The harsh institutional settings deadlock with the developmental stages adolescents should go through. The controlled setting delay maturation (Szalavitz, par 17&18).


  1. Baumrind, Diana. “”Effects of authoritative parental control on child behavior.”” Child development (1966): 887-907.
  2. Baumrind, Diana. “”The social context of child maltreatment.”” Family relations (1994): 360-368.
  3. Flynn, Patrick M., et al. “”Looking back on cocaine dependence: Reasons for recovery.”” American Journal on Addictions 12.5 (2003): 398-411.
  4. Fung, Joey, and Anna S. Lau. “”Tough love or hostile domination? Psychological control and relational induction in cultural context.”” Journal of Family Psychology 26.6 (2012): 966-975
  5. Gideon, Lior. “”Drug offenders’ perceptions of motivation: The role of motivation in rehabilitation and reintegration.”” International Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology 54.4 (2010): 597-610.
  6. Hayes, Louise, et al. “”Parenting influences on adolescent alcohol use.”” Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies(2004): 1-104.
  7. Klug, Wayne. “”A Preliminary Investigation of Toughlove: Assertiveness and Support in a Parents’ Self-Help Group.”” (1990).
  8. Miller, William R. “”Motivation for treatment: A review with special emphasis on alcoholism.”” Psychological bulletin 98.1 (1985): 84-107
  9. Patock-Peckham, Julie A., and Antonio A. Morgan-Lopez. “”College drinking behaviors: Mediational links between parenting styles, parental bonds, depression, and alcohol problems.”” Psychology of Addictive Behaviors 21.3 (2007): 297.
  10. Szalavitz, Maia. “”The trouble with tough love.”” Washington Post. January 29 (2006).
  11. Zeinali, Ali, et al. “”The mediational pathway among parenting styles, attachment styles and self-regulation with addiction susceptibility of adolescents.”” Journal of research in medical sciences: the official journal of Isfahan University of Medical Sciences 16.9 (2011): 1105.
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What is Tough Love?. (2020, Apr 08). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/what-is-tough-love/