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#46 Tough love doesn’t always work

I no longer fully believe in ‘what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger’.

I know this makes me a hypocrite, because I often do chase pain in order to toughen myself up. Feeling insecure, Elizabeth? Put yourself up for possible rejection or criticism. Feeling lonely? Try to reach out to someone you haven’t talked to in months or years. But recently, I’ve been thinking this often isn’t the best solution.

This exposure therapy (facing your fears until you realise they’re not actually that bad) sounds very sexy on the surface. We use it all the time: if you have spicy food long enough, you’ll get used to it; tap water doesn’t taste that bad eventually; go to more parties and you’ll be more comfortable around new people. I’m not denying the truth in these behaviours, but I am doubting their effectiveness.

For core beliefs rooted in years or decades of established ‘proof’ (you’re insecure because you rarely got given unconditional love and faced rejection, abandonment and ridicule), it’s hard to then see chasing pain and more rejection as an effective measure.

Yes, it might make you better at dealing with your mental and physiological reactions to rejection as you eventually learn to control yourself, but does it really solve the core issue? Wouldn’t it actually be better to have this person avoid rejection for a while and form (perhaps for the first time) a genuine connection with someone? To challenge their core belief of unworthiness and give them examples of unconditional love, respect and boundaries that may then help them navigate life better? React better to future rejection even, with a core of healthy, strong, self-respect rather than a tough skin of ignoring life’s challenges?

I genuinely now think we would benefit more from having a strong core, not a tough exterior.

Most of us will (hopefully) not have such fragile cores and terrible self-beliefs across all domains, but isn’t it guaranteed that will in at least a few? Maybe you feel a certain way about your intelligence, or how funny you are, or how lovable you are or how you look. I wish someone would have told me sooner that I should be focusing just as much (if not more) in creating genuine connections and challenging my negative self-beliefs with positive proof (support, love, care, connection), than with just consistently challenging them.

Tough love is great, but only sometimes.

‘Always cut the cards, Woodie,’ he would say. ‘You may lose anyhow—but not as often, nor as much. And when you do lose, smile.’

Time enough for love - Heinlein Robert, with Readwise



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