Why Tough Love is Exactly What You Need

Tough love gets a bad rep. Many people favour the mollycoddling approach of patting you on the back and giving you a hug when things aren’t going as planned, or you didn’t get your own way.

I’m here to tell you that’s bull.

I’m all for giving out hugs, but sometimes you really do have to be cruel to be kind.

I once knew someone who thought he was an incredible singer. He wasn’t, and nobody had the gumption to tell him. (I wasn’t close enough to him to point this out. Tough love must come from someone that you’re close to. It won’t work if an acquaintance gives you a dose of tough love — you’re less likely to listen to what they say.)

He thought he was so good that he even offered singing lessons.

Then he went to a karaoke competition. He was given an award for the worst performance.

He’d performed with so much confidence that they genuinely thought he was performing ironically.

He wasn’t.

He cried.

And cried.

And cried.

So they changed his award to ‘best effort’.

Had one of his close friends or family members been honest with him instead of encouraging him and trying to protect his feelings, he never would’ve had to go through that embarrassment.

Let’s look at another example.

When I was younger, my work ethic was appalling. I was a spoilt only child and didn’t want to work.

So, when I got into my late teens and my nan suggested that I got a job, I flat out refused. So my nan — my best friend, the one person I speak to everyday— stopped speaking to me. Job hunting is the only topic that has ever made her REFUSE to speak to me.

In hindsight, I know that Nan’s attitude came from a place of love. She wanted me to have my own money, as that gave me independence, and she wanted me to develop a work ethic, as I didn’t have one. It took me a long time to accept this.

When we’re stuck in a rut, all we want is a pat on the back and a hug. And you know what? Those things will make you feel better. But they won’t fix anything.

Sometimes the only way to get out of a rut is a dose of tough love.

Tough love MUST come from a place of love.

Please note that it isn’t tough love if you’re handing out criticism just to be a jerk. That’s called being a jerk.

How to give a dose of tough love

Have compassion and empathy

Don’t sit there and lecture someone unless you can genuinely empathise with their situation. If you’ve never been unemployed and had to sign on at the Job Centre, you have no right to tell someone how to get hired unless it’s literally your job (i.e. you’re a recruiter).

Throw in some positives, too

Start off with something positive, then add in something negative, then finish on a positive. That way, the recipient doesn’t dwell on the negative.

Hugs are important

Your friend feels down. You’ve probably just made them feel worse. At least give them a hug when you’re done.

The person on the receiving end may also decide that you’re a jerk and they don’t want your hug. If this is the case, give them some space and some time to process what you’ve said. Let them come to you. It may take weeks — possibly even years — but they will come back to you and admit that you were right. If they don’t, they’re destined to be stuck in their rut for a VERY long time.

Sometimes the only way to get out of a rut is a dose of tough love.

If you’ve just been given a dose of tough love…

Don’t succumb to a knee-jerk reaction

How we react in the heat of the moment is vastly different to how we react when we’re objective. If you don’t like what someone has said, take a few moments to process it before you lash out.

Accept the criticism

You are not perfect. Accept that someone has told you this, and use it as a way to learn and grow.

Agree to disagree (if you must)

Sometimes a person’s tough love comes from a good place, but they really don’t have a clue. Like a friend who’s never lost weight advising you on how to do it effectively. The best people to take advice from are the ones who’ve been in your situation and found their way out.

The best people to take advice from are the ones who’ve been in your situation and found their way out.

If the person giving you advice really doesn’t know what they’re talking about, don’t argue with them. That only drags out the conversation. Instead, sit quietly, nod, and agree. Clean your glasses to make it look like you’re paying attention and keeping busy (if you wear them of course). Take a sip of your drink. Slyly change the subject if you can and you don’t think they’ll realise what you’re doing.

Tough love hurts

There’s no denying it — tough love hurts. It hurts the person on the receiving end, and the person that gives it, too. Nobody likes hurting someone that they care about, but it’s better to tell someone you care about that they’re doing themselves more harm than good than to stick to the status quo. If they don’t listen, you’ve done what you can. If they do, you’ve helped to guide them towards a better path. Even if they don’t listen — or admit that you were right — straight away, one day, I promise you they will.

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