What You Need To Know About Tough Love

By Stephanie Kirby

Updated December 17, 2018

Reviewer Martha Furman, LPC, CAC

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Virtually everyone has heard the expression that is "tough love." Many people have been told that they must show "tough love" in certain scenarios. Officially, tough love is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as "love or affectionate concern expressed in a stern or unsentimental manner especially to promote responsible behavior." Most of the time, people are encouraged to show tough love to someone who may be making unwise choices or otherwise going down a dangerous path in life. However, even individuals with the best of intentions should know some critical information about tough love, circumstances in which its application is appropriate, and more.

Understanding Tough Love

In this day and age especially, having a clear and concise understanding of tough love is paramount. As affirmed by Thought Catalog, tough love is about the purpose of the individual at hand. In most cases, tough love serves as a deterrent to a loved one who may be engaging in self-destructive behavior or standing in the way of their opportunities. Tough love is not an excuse to be impolite or abusive, but firmly communicate to someone that they need to change their current course of action.

In many cases, tough love can be challenging to both give and receive. However, there will come a time in every person's life where they have to do both. Contrary to popular belief, tough love can be challenging to give for fear of upsetting, alienating, or otherwise offending the individual who needs a reality check or awakening. Many people do not like hearing that they are doing something wrong or should change certain behaviors or choices.

For these reasons, someone who sees their loved one going down an unsavory path may hesitate to be the giver of tough love. This is a mistake. An individual who is making a mistake needs to be alerted of said mistake, even if it offends them. A temporary offense, coupled with behavioral improvement is better than failing to speak and allowing the person at hand to continue down a dark, and potentially deadly, path.

Individuals who receive tough love from someone who cares about them should do their best to heed the person's words and consider their merits. However, this is often easier said than done. Sometimes people can be defensive, especially when they feel as though they are being criticized or attacked. Of course, considering the messenger is always important. In life, there will be critics and mean people who intentionally set out to cause harm, even if it's with their words.

However, if the messenger is a loved one, the person at hand would do well to listen. Nine times out of ten, the ones who care for us have our best interests at heart. Sometimes these people can even tell that we are going down a bad path even if we cannot see it ourselves.

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Self-Application Of Tough Love

Nine times out of ten, when people hear about tough love, they usually think of a person's relative or friend taking them to the side and offering constructive criticism. While this occurs quite frequently, tough love is not something that can only come from other people. In many cases, people have to be responsible for applying their own tough love, as noted by Just Got Diagnosed.

How does one give themselves their healthy doses of self-love? Quite simply, this is done by being honest with oneself. Although this sounds inherently simple, being honest with oneself is often more complicated than most people would like to believe. Human beings tend to see what they want to see, even if what they're seeing is not truly indicative of the reality around them.

To give oneself tough love first and foremost comes honesty and evaluation of one's current situation and circumstances. Sometimes this can mean considering whether or not a current job is truly best for us. In other cases, tough love can entail the reevaluation of a relationship which may be toxic or unhealthy in one form or another. Having loved ones around who can protect and look out for us is great; however, this is not always an option for everyone. Therefore, the ability to give oneself tough love is a critical life skill which is bound to come in handy.

When Tough Love Crosses The Line

Like all things in life, when taken to the extreme, tough love can quickly become toxic. There are many reasons why tough love can be taken to the extreme. Sometimes observers may feel as though they must intervene by any means necessary. However, this mindset can backfire. While tough love does often involve constructive criticism and even a degree of harshness, this form of expression should never be used as a tool to manipulate or belittle someone, even if they are making certain mistakes which are potentially self-destructive.

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Nobody enjoys being mistreated, abused, or otherwise denigrated. When tough love turns into mistreatment, this is where the line must be drawn. Nobody has the right to belittle or abuse anyone. Abuse can furthermore occur emotionally, psychologically, and of course, physically. Sometimes perpetrators of abuse will attempt to cover up their bad behavior by calling it 'tough love." People who carry out this type of behavior are dangerous and should be avoided at all costs. Abuse is not a form of love, be it tough or otherwise.

Tough love can moreover cross a line when people are too hard on themselves. This goes back to the self-application of tough love. While being honest with oneself is paramount, knowing that no one is perfect and everyone makes mistakes is equally as critical.

Habitual negative self-talk can be just as detrimental as belittlement from others, if not worse. What people tell themselves on a frequent basis often become their reality whether they realize it or not. The difference between tough love and unhealthy self-talk is the quality of the message. For instance, tough love is telling oneself, "I need to study more often so that my grade point average can increase from a 2.0 to a 3.5." Conversely, unhealthy self-talk is saying, "I'm so stupid. Why is my grade point average so low? I'm a failure at life."

While the first message critically assesses the problem at hand and presents the needed solution, the second message is denigrating and offers no resolution to the problem at hand. In essence, the contrast above between tough love and unhealthy self-talk mirrors the difference between what crosses the line and what doesn't. Tough love has a particular and beneficial endgame in mind. Tough love crosses the line when it ceases to be critical and instead denigrates the person at hand.

Tough Love In The Workplace

Many sociologists and other specialists have studied tough love and its merits. This particular expression is often viewed favorably as a parenting style and in the workforce. However, as stated by Forbes, the manners in which employers and managers enforce tough love to their subordinates can make or break the workplace, and by extension, the business as a whole.

The best ways for employers to show tough love in the workplace is by setting high, yet reasonable standards, developing a healthy, professional relationship with each worker, and finally, following through on one's word. Each of these steps allows for the application of tough love without making the mistake of going overboard.

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First and foremost, setting high, yet reasonable standards will let employees know that excellence is paramount. It also promotes a productive workplace environment. While expectations should be high, workers should also know that they will be treated fairly. Finally, employers should not hesitate to let workers know if they are slacking off or otherwise neglecting their duties. Of course, the conversation above should occur professionally and preferably not in front of other employees. This healthy balance not only promotes tough love but is also good for business.

Next comes a healthy and professional relationship with each worker. To some people, this may not appear to be "tough," however, it provides balance, especially in a professional environment. This type of employer-employee relationship allows the boss to learn more about his or her workers. Some employees may be ready to take on additional responsibilities. Another employee may be better suited for another position within the company. However, an employer or manager will not know this unless he or she communicates with the staff who works for them.

Last, but certainly not least comes to the importance of the employer following through on his or her word at all times. In any business or professional environment, the conduct of the boss sets a tone for the workplace as a whole. In this case, the employer has the responsibility to give themselves tough love and remember that their actions mirror how their employees will behave.

When applied properly and appropriately, tough love has its place in every relationship and environment.

A Final Word

At the end of the day, tough love matters. It has the power to save people from going down the wrong path, promote honesty with oneself, and ensure the health and professionalism of various workplace environments. However, as previously stated, tough love can sometimes be a bitter pill to swallow. In certain cases, getting a second opinion or reaching out to a new party can prove beneficial. This is why establishments such as BetterHelp exists. Here at BetterHelp, we pride ourselves on providing help, guidance, and assistance to those who come to us. Regardless of who you are or what you may be going through, BetterHelp is here to help.

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Of course, the choice is yours, but if you ever feel inclined to contact BetterHelp for any reason, you can do so by clicking here.


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