So you think ‘tough love’ is the way to go when comforting someone after loss? Think again.
I never liked the phrase ‘tough love’. It makes no sense to me how being tough and love can go in the same sentence let alone work together. We are requested in life to be sometimes tough and put on a hard front, for example, when we are faced with a bully.
Love, on the other hand, is the force that drives us, unites us and heals us on many occasions. It is powerful, positive, non judgmental, fuzzy and comforting. It has nothing to do with tough nor should it have. Love conquers in peaceful ways that makes sure everyone involved is happy and looked after. So I really don’t see how tough and love can go together. Ever.
‘Tough love’ is at its worst when people think it will help people seeking comfort and understanding while going through a difficult time. Babyloss survivors know a thing or two about that. We have heard many things that directly relate to ‘tough love’ and we can all agree – they were not helpful.
Not AT all.
This ‘tough love’ approach is widely used for other things as well, such as telling people who suffer from mental illness to ‘get over it’. With both examples, ‘tough love’ is harmful, destructive and deeply painful on many levels. From my own experience and through working with loss mamas, I have found that the following four aspects suffer heavily when people are faced with ‘tough love’.
1) Mental health
How do you think it makes people feel when they are in the midst of their grief and struggling through the day to hear something like ‘You should be over it by now’ or ‘You need to move on’ or ‘Why are you still hung up on that?’
What on earth is that supposed to do? Are you trying to ‘shock’ people into action and then expect a thank you for your ‘tough love’? If so, stop it. Right now.
When people grieve because they lost their baby at whatever stage of pregnancy, during or after birth, they need love. Lots of it. However, this means hugs, an understanding ear, a cuddle and more hugs.
Anyone who experienced a loss, they are in a state of shock and the emotions are running wild. They feel numb one minute and completely overwhelmed by the sadness and emptiness inside. In this state, they feel vulnerable. They might wonder if they are losing their minds, if things will ever get better and if so, when?
Everything changes after a profound loss.
From my experience, this includes how I see myself and how I feel about myself. My mental health took a deep hit. It felt (and sometimes still does) like it is permanently on shaky grounds. It is not steady anymore and nothing to rely on. As you can imagine, receiving ‘tough love’ in such a state of mind made everything worse. I doubted myself more. Was my grief acceptable to have? Was I supposed to ignore it? Why did no one understand?
The resulting depression I suffered has many reason, the main one being my loss itself. But I can also tell you that the ‘tough love’ thrown my way contributed to it.
Therefore, when you want to comfort someone who just lost a baby or another closed loved one with ‘tough love’, think about the impact it will have on their mental health. Yes, you’re right, it would be devastating. Don’t do it.
For anyone recovering and finding their feet after a devastating loss, trust will often become a major challenge. Why, you ask?
Because of ‘tough love’.
When we feel lost, we seek to be understood, comforted and lifted up. We are still in a vulnerable state of mind and the fog in our brain that is wet from tears just like our faces prevents us from thinking clearly. This results in us telling some people about our pain and struggle that are not deserving of this information.
You guessed it, they shouldn’t know about our situation because they will react to it with ‘tough love’. These people will tell you either to ‘move on’ or do the extra sleazy thing of telling others and stating that your pain makes them ‘uncomfortable’. This will then be fed back to us by either a family member or a supervisor at work and makes us feel very bad, sad, upset and depressed.
To top it off, we look at everyone suspiciously because in this world after loss, we don’t know who to trust anymore after trying to reach out for help.
3) Self care
Grief is a challenging opponent – for anyone.
It surprises us at the most inconvenient times and drags us down with it. Obviously, grief comes and goes and we learn to live with it over time. At first, we are all in survival mode and just try to get through the days. That is ok and absolutely normal.
With time, we realise that need to look after ourselves again. We might catch ourselves thinking about getting a massage or treat ourselves to something nice. Of course, guilt will often kick in and we might scold ourselves for wanting something good for ourselves.
This shouldn’t’ be a thought really because in the struggle of grief and making sense of life after loss, we all need to practice self care. Yet this is one more opportunity for the fans of ‘tough love’ to chip in and shut down any positive attempts of sufferers to get better.
There is really no point in telling someone to not be ridiculous and buy silly things they don’t need. If that is your opinion then that’s good but once more not helpful at all.
Self care is difficult for many to understand and guilt is often the first reaction to it. Why would a woman who just lost her baby think she is deserving of something that will uplift her spirits? She is most likely blaming herself for the death of her precious angel and feels all the negative emotions that come with that thought. To grasp the benefits of self care is hard enough and if they have the bad luck of having someone give them some ‘tough love’ any attempt of trying to feel better are destroyed.
Life after loss is a curious thing. It makes no sense most of the time yet we need to make sense of it so we can continue with our lives.
We start off with tentative steps and often take two steps forward and two back a day later. It is very challenging to take a deep breath and give this new normal a try. There is no time limit on grief and on finding our way.
Unfortunately, the ‘tough love’ brigade didn’t get that memo.
They don’t understand how anyone can still be sad a month after their baby passed away or their granddad was buried. A month is a long time so why do we still need to be considerate? This is the moment where the ‘tough love’ brigade will offer their spiteful words, thinking they are helping.
Unaware of the damage they are causing, they will then walk away and probably feel quite pleased with themselves. As they never look back or think twice, they don’t see the damage they just caused. Any sufferer determined to feel better and recover from their loss, will be in a heap and devastated. They might even wonder if there is any point to all of this. Clearly, the outside world has lost their patience so why bother?
To you, the survivor
To any loss survivor, please know you are doing just great. You struggle and stumble and that is ok.
Your feelings are real, your thoughts are valid and your journey ahead is often unclear. But you are trying and I adore you for that.
It is all we can do after everything in our lives changed. I know all too well how hurtful and inappropriate ‘tough love’ is. Don’t let it get to you.
It is time we all raise a symbolic finger to ‘tough love’ and walk away from it. We must seek love, always, as it will help us heal.
‘Tough love’ is not love.
It is a form of bullying, although widely accepted. That doesn’t change the fact it is mean, inappropriate and destructive. Stick to your guns and keep going. You have come so far so don’t let the ‘tough love’ crazy people get you down.
To the ‘tough love’ supporters
To anyone who believes in ‘tough love’ for someone who suffered a traumatic loss, I urge you to stop.
If you want to help, talk less and act more.
Do something for the person suffering that will help them get through the day, week or month. If you must talk, ask them what you can do FOR them.
Don’t ever assume you know what they need.
Always remember that ‘tough’ and ‘love’ never go together to achieve a positive and good outcome for the loss survivor. NEVER.
Besides, there are enough bullies in the world. We definitely don’t need them when we try and heal fr
2 thoughts on “So you think ‘tough love’ is the way to go when comforting someone after loss? Think again.”
Many thanks for this article! I lost my only child, many years ago. Within the last 4 years, my brother committed suicide, followed by my husband’s Alzheimer’s and passing. Yet, a “friend” told me I’m wallowing in self pity… Not true, at all! She claims this
remark is a way of using tough love. I sent her this