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Musings on So-Called Tough Love - Synchronicity swirls and other foolishness

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May 6th, 2010


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11:06 pm - Musings on So-Called Tough Love
In the past few months, I've encountered several examples of being using what amounts to "tough love" and I don't buy it at all. From my PoV, the idea that in some situations the best way to help someone is to deny them aid and compassion is at worse a deception and at worst pointless cruelty.

Obviously, everyone has limits in terms of what they can give, and holding to these limits only sensible and wise – giving more than you can comfortably manage – regardless of whether you are giving money, time, emotional support, or whatever, it often a bad idea, and is essentially always a bad idea of done for more than a short time. Recognition of one's own limits is, in my experience, vital in helping anyone. I also occasionally reach a point in dealing with someone where I decide that someone needs more help than I am willing to give and I seriously distance myself from them, sometimes in a long-term fashion.

In any case, what I've mostly seen various versions of "tough love" being used as is as an excuse for the person being asked for help in order to not give too much, except that this is done in a deceptive & cruel fashion. I'm not certain, but I'd guess that one reason is people having difficulty saying no to requests for aid and trying to claim that being denied aid is in some way good for the person seeking it, rather than admitting that the person being asked for it cannot provide it. I am curious if there is ever any other reason for people to use this tactic. From my PoV self-protection is vital, but claiming it is something else is not.
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From:slothman
Date:May 7th, 2010 06:49 am (UTC)
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I see properly done “tough love” as something that gives someone a challenge that they need to overcome in order to grow; it might not be what the person wants, but it should not be cruel, and it still requires you be doing something to help. Doing nothing for someone isn’t tough love; you need to be investing some sort of effort that could help them, though they might wish you were offering something else.

For instance, my wife and I have a friend who wasn’t coping well with his attention deficit disorder, and lost his job; we wouldn’t give or lend him money, but were quite happy to give him very basic food supplies (e.g.: sacks of beans and rice) so he wouldn’t go hungry, offer feedback on his résumé, code reviews of projects he was doing to build his skills, etc.

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From:eclective
Date:May 7th, 2010 09:29 am (UTC)
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I tend to think of things like slothman suggested: e.g. if someone is going to use the particular kind of help you're giving them in a way that's only going to further their own downfall, you need to switch to a kind of help that's less enabling. (Bringing an alcoholic alcohol is a good example.)

But the kind of tough love that involves inflicting pain on someone to encourage learning... I can think of one other place that argument is used, and it's an equally unpretty one. Specifically, I often see it used by trolls and other bullies: "we mock you so you can grow up and learn to face the real world". Trolls like that have taught me one life lesson: they've taught me how to deal with trolls like them, which would be a completely unnecessary life lesson if such trolls didn't exist. They haven't helped me grow as a person in general. Overwhelmingly, it's my friends and lovers who've done that.
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From:kitten_goddess
Date:May 7th, 2010 10:11 am (UTC)
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There is a difference between helping and enabling. The classic enabling example, of course, is shielding an adult drug addict from the consequences of his or her actions. "Tough love" in this case may be a good thing for the addict, because it forces him or her to the bottom more quickly, which in turn could help him or her realize he or she needs treatment sooner.
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From:rm
Date:May 7th, 2010 11:25 am (UTC)
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As others have said this is spoken like someone who has never lived with an alcoholic or other addict. When my old roommate could't afford her share of the rent because I thought she just made an error or someone paid her late and I took care of it all I was doing was help her drink more. Does "tough love" sometimes get wielded out of spite, you bet. But you can't be generous in the same way with some behaviors than you can with others. Period. I spent seven years dating an alcoholic. I spent five years with one as a roommate. Addicts use and any recovering addict will tell you that.
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From:heron61
Date:May 7th, 2010 07:51 pm (UTC)
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No I haven't, but I believe in a similar case I'd withhold aid out of self-protection, which to me seems like an exceedingly sensible response in a situation like that.
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From:erelin
Date:May 7th, 2010 03:00 pm (UTC)
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I like to take the example of a teacher and a student in this.

If a teacher wants to teach a fact, simply providing that fact is often the best way to do it.

If a teacher wants to teach a process, well- you can just give a process, but in the end, you have to test their ability to use it via a fact-based process.

It's notable that without the process being able to come up with the fact (something the student is unsure of until they have mastered the process) that there is no connection between asking someone for a fact (which has never been taught to them) and giving them a process. (since no process produces all facts) As a result, the teacher of a process often seems more cruel than the teacher of a fact.

But usually in life, we care more about processes than facts, because many facts can be gathered from one process. If you learn the fact "Four times Four equals Sixteen" that is less useful than learning "Multiplication is a process wherein one number represents a collection of units and the second represents the equal groups of said units, wherein the process reveals the total number of units amidst the groups." (Admittedly, this is a longer explanation than we are usually given, but it's how most people understand multiplication)

What's more, the process can produce the answer- if the above process is true, 4x4 MUST be 16, since when you have 4 units, and 4 groups of said units, you will have a total of 16 units. But if you tell the above to a student without context, they are unlikely to (initially) understand the answer.

To take it into a less-academic example, say you have a friend you want to get a job. You can simply tell them, "Get a job" or you can actively or passively work toward circumstances that will cause them to look for work. Since the former is simply a statement of fact they can deny while the latter provides them with intrinsic/extrinsic motivation for finding a job, they are more likely to look for work if you apply the latter.

To make it completely relevant, say a friend asks you for money. You can give them the money or not. Whether you do may depend on whether or not you are creating a dependency. Certainly, your friend will be stronger if they are able to provide for themselves than if they are relying on you- since they may require money when you are not present or don't have it to spare. In cases where you worry about your friends self-sustainability, you might in fact deny them the money even if you have it available, in the hopes that they will develop greater self-sufficiency.
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From:hasufin
Date:May 7th, 2010 04:46 pm (UTC)
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Mostly I've seen "tough love" being used as an excuse for behaviors which are completely unacceptable - trolls on the internet, firing someone over a trivial offense, Judge Judy, etc.

That being said, helping someone does not always mean giving, and sometimes it's necessary to recognize that the thing the person wants, be it money, sympathy, time, or opportunity, is not in fact what that person needs. If such situations are handled intelligently and objectively, then the person gains real help and their situation improves. However, there's a basic arrogance: that one has a better understanding of the situation and what is needed than the person who needs help has.
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From:aekiy
Date:May 7th, 2010 06:55 pm (UTC)
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I suppose it depends on how you define "tough love," but I'd have to agree with you and some of the sentiments in the comments. There's compassionate withdrawal when one reaches an understanding that their interference might actually worsen a problem, and then there's what people commonly call "tough love," which is all too often an excuse to act like a bully and pretend its justified. I've certainly been at the receiving end of that far too much in my life, and I could never consider acting that way toward someone else — but I also realize there are situations where withdrawal can be the better option because of love, rather than in spite of it. In my experience, "tough love" is usually not love at all; its anger and hatred targeted at a scapegoat, whether or not the person in question is the true or sole source of that anger.
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From:rjgrady
Date:May 7th, 2010 06:59 pm (UTC)
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If it's really done out of love, "tough love" can be the greatest kindness. Sometimes, the answer is not to give someone resources, which they have already squandered, but instead to lead them to recognizing resources they already have. Giving what is asked, even if quite doable and even if the thing given is useful and desirable, is certainly not always the best thing to do. While I would not take responsibility for someone else's wellness, I definitely take responsibility for my contributions, whether by saying yes or saying no.

Easy example: Three year old asks for iced tea right before bed-time. I say, "No." Three year old cries. It's tough, but it's love.
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From:rjgrady
Date:May 7th, 2010 07:01 pm (UTC)
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Let me add also that sometimes people say "tough love" when they mean shunning. That is incorrect, because it is disengagement. Sometimes shunning is necessary, but it's not done to help the person being shunned, at least in a direct way.
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From:heron61
Date:May 7th, 2010 10:14 pm (UTC)
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Agreed. It is something that's sometimes necessary, but is done for the people doing it.
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From:krinndnz
Date:May 8th, 2010 12:21 am (UTC)
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I, too, have seen the phrase "tough love" used to justify bullshit too many times to take it entirely seriously. On the other hand, I buy the concept of "idiot compassion," which is pretty much the same thing from a somewhat different perspective.

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