Not too long ago I wrote an article on why tough love is not the answer for BPD. I still believe that ONLY tough love is not the answer; however, I have come to reconsider tough love and BPD.One of the reasons was that the TIME article said that DBT is a combination of emotional validation and tough love.
One of my list members has moved from the techniques that I provide in “When Hope is Not Enough” – which is basically a non-judgmental attitude plus validation and normalization – to a combination of those techniques plus “tough love.” What is tough love? In my opinion, tough love is the application of PERSONAL boundaries on a relationship. These personal boundaries need to be understood. Often, people don’t understand personal boundaries. Even popular books about BPD for Non-BPs (such as SWOE) get this concept wrong. In fact, even books that are ABOUT boundaries get this concept wrong. The other day I posted a link to a video of a part of the film “The Basketball Diaries” in which Jim Carroll’s mother (Jim Carroll is played by Leonardo DiCaprio BTW and the film is based on the book by Jim Carroll and is true) denies her son money for drugs (he is a heroin addict). She enforces her own boundary (I will not give my son money to buy drugs). She does not enforce a “rule” which is the way that someone tries to control the behavior of another person. Rules and boundaries differ significantly. With a rule, you try and control another person’s behavior – such as telling a child “you have to go to bed at 8:30 PM.” That is a rule, not a boundary, because it has to be enforced. Rules have to be enforced, boundaries do not (except on yourself).
Back to tough love… how does one use tough love with BPD? Well, first of all I have to say you can’t START with tough love, because first emotional trust has to be established. If you start with tough love and use ONLY tough love, that is a recipe for disaster with someone with BPD. The problem is that tough love hurts too much for them. They feel “different” and “broken” and tough love reinforces these feelings. However, tough love can be used once the trust is established. Tough love is something you can use FOR YOU to establish your own boundaries with someone with BPD. But you have to make sure that it’s your boundaries that are being applied and not rules for another person’s behavior.