Unpopular Opinion: Tough Love is as Important as Self-Love

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Of all the types of love that exist out there in the world, it’s relatively easy to argue in favor of self-love.

Who wouldn’t relish spending a night in, soaking in a tub awash with lavender salts, decadent bubbles, and a bath bomb or two, all while enjoying a couple glasses of wine (or the whole bottle) all in the name of loving thyself. Or maybe your self-love practice is a little less “self-care,” and a little more like starting off each morning listing all the things you dig about yourself, or bidding farewell the things that no longer serve you.

But alas, that’s not why we’re here today.

I don’t have to convince you that self-love, in whichever way you chose to practice it, is pretty freaking cool (plus, there are about 1.4 million articles preaching this fact right now). And I have to admit… you really can’t beat the elation you feel once you’ve arrived at a place of true happiness and security. But self-love is also a love that’s fairly easy to take advantage of when not given or felt properly.

Let me explain —

Congrats! You’ve reached that esteemed pinnacle of love! Hold up, though… you’re not done. Because news flash: self-love requires just as much maintenance and care as do your external sources of love. You’re sure to experience some high highs and some low lows with this version of love – and that’s okay!

There will be plenty of times where a deficit of self-love exists in your life, and when you recognize this shortage, of course you should indulge in whatever special treat makes your heart soar, or feel well within your rights to call up a trusted friend and vent or have them reinforce the great things you’ve got going on. If that’s what it takes to remind you of your innate worth, by all means, do it.

There will also be times, though, when you’re so high on self-love that you feel on top of the world… downright invincible… like nothing can bring you down. And when not kept in check, this heightened feeling of confidence can easily amplify, tipping into boastful, self-important territory, which can potentially cause damaging behavior that effects both you and those around you. See where I’m going with this?

Not confronting our so-called demons or giving ourselves too many breaks can soon become crutches that ultimately fail to keep us accountable for our shortcomings. And let’s not sidestep past the honest truth that each of us has flaws. Because how else will we be able to work through these weak points, learn from them, and grow from them without first recognizing them for what they are?

Which is why today I’m arguing in favor of another kind of love. It’s a love best given by someone you yourself loves. The type of love that might knock you down a few notches and keep you grounded instead of high on the awesome-ness that you are most of the time (but not alllll the time — here’s me, keeping you grounded). But it’s a love that uncovers a great deal and helps you become a better version of yourself in spite of what you might find — ultimately leading you toward a deeper version of self-love (which is the ultimate purpose in life, right?).

I’m talking about tough love.

Some backstory on what inspired me to write this post in the first place:

About every other weekend, I hop on the phone with one of my best friends from back in California. We spend an hour or two catching up on all the big things and the little things that we’d likely know if we still lived only a short drive away from one another. But since we’re now closer to 2,000 miles from each other’s front doors, this chat is one of my favorite ways to spend Saturday morning.

Not too long ago, however, one of our calls took a turn. In place of my friend’s usual lighthearted updates, she shared with me in confidence something that could have struck a deep mark against her character (as well as threaten a lot of the great things in her life) if found out by anyone else.

At first, I felt overwhelming gratitude that she felt comfortable enough to confide in me this big and life-altering thing — it confirmed the depth of our friendship; that she knew I would always love and support her even at her worst. But I also realized that I held the responsibility of letting her know that what she did was not okay.

It was one of the first times in my adult age that I actively had to decide against offering a neutral response to avoid ruffling any feathers, and instead risk jeopardizing a great and drama-free friendship by calling my friend out for her shortcoming.

To be quite honest, though, it surprised me how well she took this stressful (on my end) moment of honesty. It was kind of like I only confirmed something she already knew herself. Yes, I’m sure she confided in me hoping that I’d blindly support her with a quick wave of my hand. But part of me feels like she was actually desperate for someone to call her out and tell her what she did was wrong; like she wanted someone to hold her accountable and ensure she didn’t do what she did again.

That’s why tough love is so essential. By providing it to someone who actually needs it, you’re playing a huge role in giving them the opportunity to look inward and grow. And without this version of love, we’d be free to exist and make decisions all willy nilly, not considering how our decision-making might negatively impact the lives and wellbeing of others (not to mention our own). Things would certainly be a lot messier without these more complex check-ins.

Dishing out tough love isn’t easy, especially when you, well, love the person you’re dishing it out to. But at the heart of tough love is good intention — the ultimate goal is to make someone aware of something that they can grow from and become better by. Tough love is not the same as being mean. You’re not tearing someone down without providing any opportunity for them to build themselves back up. That’s just bullying.

The purpose of tough love is to guide others (or yourself) toward self-love. 

I guess the lesson to be learned in all this rambling is:

  1. To embrace with arms akimbo tough love as willingly and eagerly as you would self-love.
  2. Find the balance that exists between those two, and walk that line confidently.
  3. Remember that self-love is not an excuse to behave in a way that doesn’t positively serve you and your environment.
  4. Self-love should be shared and empower others to feel the same.
  5. Tough love is best served with a hearty dose of good intent (and maybe a hug).

So be open to both receiving and giving tough love. When you receive it, take it to heart. And when you’re giving it, be tender and approach softly. If there’s an important lesson to be learned… if the goal is to direct someone on the path to true self-love, then be sure to handle with care. After all, learning these lessons are essential to us growing into who we’re meant to be.


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