Is Tough Love Really Love?

By Toni Hoy|Updated July 12, 2022
CheckedMedically Reviewed By Karen Devlin, LPC

You hear about different kinds of love quite frequently, and you may wonder about what they mean or how you can understand your form of love. Maybe you're in a situation where tough love seems to be the norm, and you're not sure if it's going right. Maybe you're the recipient of tough love, or maybe it's the parenting style that you've adopted for your children. Understanding what it is and what it means for your children is an important stage.

Learn About The Healthiest Ways To Give And Receive Love
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Understanding Tough Love

What exactly is tough love? We've probably all heard the phrase before, but do you know what it means? It means different things to different people, and whether it's good or not is going to depend on your lifestyle, your family, and just what you define as tough love. In the simplest form, we consider tough love when someone places restrictions or requirements on someone to ensure they meet their obligations or responsibilities. It's frequently used with children or even with criminals in our justice system.

When you put a criminal in jail for their actions, it's a form of tough love because you're forcing them to take responsibility for their actions and providing a set punishment. There are similar ideals when it comes to punishing children for specific misbehavior. The important thing is making sure that you know where to draw the line for your punishments. After all, you want to make sure that you have something that teaches the child (or criminal or anyone else) not to do the behavior again, but you don't want to go overboard on the punishment.

For example, you wouldn't lock a thief up for the rest of their lives or give them the death penalty. That's no longer tough love but cruel and unusual punishment. Finding where you are giving the best form of punishment that will act as a deterrent without going too far is a fine line, and it can be not easy, especially as a parent. But it's something that you most definitely need to think about, and it's something that you need to pay careful attention to when you determine what the punishment will be for your child's actions.

The Positives Of Tough Love

Research shows us that children raised in households with a tough-love approach tend to be better-rounded, with children who are empathetic and able to control and regulate their emotions. These children can also concentrate on the task at hand, completing tasks, and even recovering from disappointments. On the other hand, children who aren't given this type of approach can struggle greatly, and all of these benefits seem to occur no matter what type of income or social upbringing the child had to go alongside it.

Tough love tends to show children how to improve their self-esteem, but it also teaches them to respect authority and to respect the rules. They learn how to regulate their wants and needs, understand that they must treat others more respectfully, and accept that they won't always get what they want. With this type of parenting, the parent is required to be more present and more involved with the child; however, they must be able to ignore or refuse to pester and immediately respond to negative behaviors. They must also be constantly able to reinforce and uphold rules and punishments in a fairway.

Drawbacks Of Tough Love

So, if this is such a great approach to what is there to detract away from it? What exactly is there that says it's not such a good idea or that we should stay away from it? The truth is there's not much that we can say negative about tough love in parenting. The important thing is to make sure that you're doing it for yourself and that you're careful about externalizing that tough love approach. Some different camps and programs are designed to offer tough love to children who get into trouble, and that's not where you want your child to end up.

These types of facilities are the sort of over-the-top approach that we've mentioned before and can sometimes devolve into something that's even harmful to your child. Things like socialization are crucial to the development, and these facilities often employ isolation as a method of punishment. Corporal punishments have very negative research, yet in some facilities, these also may be used on your child. By keeping your child out of a facility that employs tough love and in your home where you are in control of it, you'll both be off to a better start.

Which Is Better? Tough Love Or Love First

Learn About The Healthiest Ways To Give And Receive Love

There are pros and cons to tough love. There are situations where one may be better than the other. In making the hard decision about whether to use tough love, it may be helpful to learn about an alternative intervention called "love first."

Love first is an intervention technique that Debra and Jeff Jay in 2000 developed. In this situation, a team works together to gently help people see that they need help and try to gain their cooperation to enter a therapeutic program. This type of program works well for people dealing with alcoholism or substance abuse.

The way it works is a concerned loved one gathers a team of at least three members together, but not more than seven. The team usually consists of the people who are the closest to the person needing help. Some teams find it helpful to acquire the assistance of a professional interventionist to lead the team and guide the process to success. The team meets several times to formulate a loving plan that will hopefully result in the person wanting change.

Each member of the intervention team is asked to write an intervention letter. To be effective, intervention letters have the following four parts:

  1. A summary of the relationship between the person writing the letter and the person needing help. The summary should bring up some of the happier times and special memories and mention some of the challenges they've already overcome together. The idea behind the summary is to show the person needing help that the letter writer cares and wants them to get betters.
  2. A detailed list of situations where the person needing help caused negative consequences for the writer. These situations may have caused embarrassment for the letter writer and may have caused them to cover for the person needing help, ruined events, or caused havoc within the family.
  3. Next, the letter writer focuses on the continued negatives and consequences of refusing to change their behavior and refuse professional help. This part should be non-threatening and encourage the person to seek treatment for their health and safety.
  4. The final part is perhaps the most important part of the letter. Some people feel that this part merits being placed on a separate piece of paper. This section is called the bottom line. It's a paragraph or two that explains the consequences of their behavior if they choose to refuse treatment after the intervention.

After the letters have been written, the intervention team meets up and shares them to determine whether it's best to make any revisions. Letters should be encouraging and be free from anger and judgment. The team will decide which order to read the letters so that they have the most impact. Often, they choose the most emotional letter to be read last.

The intervention team will research treatment programs ahead of the intervention and take care of all the details, such as insurance and availability, to ensure that the person needing help can get it right away and not have time to change their minds.

Treatment facilities often ask for the letters so that they can use them during the treatment program.

When the intervention begins, loved ones take turns reading their letters except for the fourth section, which is the bottom line, in the order that the intervention team agreed on. If, at any time, the person needing help agrees to enter treatment, the team stops the intervention. If the person needing help refuses help, the intervention team reads their bottom-line letters.

If the person still refuses help, the team members must prepare to comply with their bottom-line consequences.

Reaching Out To The Professionals

Getting professional help is a process, and for many, it can be a very difficult process. You find yourself struggling to locate someone that you or your child can feel comfortable with. After all, you're limited to an area that you can easily drive to, and that tends to narrow your selection. But you may not feel comfortable with the professionals that are within your physical area. What do you do then? Well, you should be logging on to ReGain to find out more about online psychiatric services.

This system is entirely online and allows you to reach a professional located anywhere in the country. Once you do, you'll have no problem connecting with them from anywhere that has an internet connection, and you can make sure you're comfortable at all times when you talk to them. After all, you're going to be sitting in your favorite chair or relaxing on the couch when you do. What could be better than that? Even better, if you happen to be out of town for a while, you can still have your appointment because you still have the internet connection that you need. It's all about finding the right level of support.

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