Tough Love – Does It Make You Feel Loved?

I grew up hearing, “Tough,” as the response to almost any complaint I made. As an adult, I attributed this raising to be the reason I grew into such a “tough love is still love” kind of person. My parents, though, were tough on themselves because they grew up in a time when that was what you did. You put on a brave face for the world. You didn’t air your dirty laundry. And I believe both are Highly Sensitive People (HSP) who grew up in a time when people who are highly sensitive weren’t acknowledged, let alone accepted. So, telling themselves to “deal with it” and then raising me to “tough it out” was their way of preparing me for the shit-show that is life.


I, on the other hand, have become a tough love person to the extreme out of a desire to protect myself from vulnerability. Becoming a mom and step-mom has thrown a giant spotlight on this trait of my personality and has me questioning if I’m demonstrating true tough love or if I’m creating barriers and holding people to ridiculous standards and using the “tough love” as a way to make them “step up” and meet those ideals.

Since having Little and becoming step-mom to Oldest and Middle, I’ve begun questioning the whole idea of tough love. It seems to me there is a call for it. In cases such as letting your little guy struggle with his shoe laces rather than jumping in to help so he’ll learn how to tie his shoes himself. So he’ll learn perseverance and how to get through his frustration when he doesn’t get it perfect the first time. Or with the older ones, letting them meet the hard consequences of their choices when it comes to smoking pot or ditching classes.

Our number one fight in our marriage is because I think my husband’s too soft, always jumping in to pick up the pieces for his sons. He thinks I’m too hard because I’ll go out of my way create the consequences I think the boys should have when they mess up.

I recently advocated till I was blue in the face with him that tough love was still love and the only way to go as a parents. “You’re enabling them!” I screamed at him.

He told me it wasn’t enabling, it was called forgiveness. And I didn’t know what to make of that at the time.

It’s not that I’m unforgiving, I thought, it’s that I want them to learn.

But recently, through an experience of my own, I’ve come to question whether or not my “tough love” approach is teaching them the lessons I want them to learn.

Do I want them to learn that the world is going to punish them for every mistake?

Do I want them to learn that their emotions are bad?

Or, do I want them to feel safe with me as mom and step-mom, knowing that no matter how bad they mess up, while I might not clean it up for them, I will always be here for them?

Definitely the latter.


And after I had someone give me their “tough love” approach and realized it didn’t inspire me, rather it alienated me and pushed me more in the direction of giving up just to get away from that person, I do NOT want to make my kids, husband, or future yoga students feel that way.

So while I’m satisfied with letting my kids struggle through their own problems, I do not want to continue pushing them in any direction just because think it’s right for them. I don’t want to be the person in their life teaching them life’s hard lessons or dishing out the consequences. I want to be the person they can come to to ask advice when it’s happened.

I still think there’s a time and a place for tough love–like when someone you love is on a path of self-destruction and they’re only going to take you with them if you don’t step away–but I think the emphasis needs to be on the love not on the tough.

When my back problems were announced in front of the class to be due to my “weak core”, or when I was being chastised for having an emotional breakdown over my back pain and my future as a yoga teacher (again in front of the class), or when I injured my shoulder further after being pressured to get on the mat before I was ready, I was told this was my teacher demonstrating her “tough love” approach for me. And I have to be honest, it does not have me feeling any love for her.

I considered quitting, but I won’t let her do that to me. However, I will not seek her guidance, and I’m now resistant to hearing any unsolicited advice as well. Because I’m completely turned off to her personality. And I think about how she may have genuinely meant to help, but unfortunately her approach has only given me a deaf ear when she speaks.


And if that’s how I’ve been making people feel about me with my “tough love is still love” philosophy then I drop to my knees now, beg your forgiveness and swear to do my best to love from a much more compassionate place. Because it has only been the compassion of my other teacher and fellow students that has gotten me through this difficult time in my yoga training. The only positive thing I’ve learned from this other woman, is what I’m writing here today. She has set the example for me of exactly how I do NOT want to teach or parent or love the family and friends I’m blessed with.

But now, I’m asking honestly, what are the opinions out there? Does tough love make you feel loved?

Please note: I’m not trying to start a debate on parenting styles. I’m discussing “tough love” here more as an approach to relationships and teaching than parenting styles. There are so many different ways of parenting and while I want to change my approach to be more compassionate, I don’t kid myself into believing there aren’t going to be times when I’m still tough on them. A lifetime’s worth of conditioning doesn’t change overnight.

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