Tough Love isn’t love, it’s nannying

This might be a snaky logic one – a whole slither of snakes with tails in their mouths…

I did an internet search on the phrase ‘tough love’ and there were many results, from parenting and recovery (where it has its source) to foreign policy, health and government, to relationships.

None were from sources I particularly esteem.

“Tough love is no love at all” and its synonyms also rendered results in all the same spheres. There were many addiction recovery advocates who were firmly against, as well as those working/with depression and dementia who described the greater suffering this stance causes.

The first site in the latter category I found is no longer there, or I would like to have named the author and linked to it with her permission. She was hugely honest and said that she realised that the tough love she dealt in her relationships wasn’t love, but her pain, fear, her need to be right; and what she’d considered ferocity of love was really insecurity, arrogance and self righteousness.

Once she realised that real love isn’t tough, but gentle, she transformed her fractured relations.

And I thought: this woman is spot on.

Tough love is a lower energy response. It is what transactional analysists would call parent/child mode. I…your mum, teacher, ruler, boss, doctor, priest, law maker/enforcer know better than you.

And as your friend, sibling, partner, counsellor, I also assume a role of power over you. The playing field is tipped, and you’re slipping to the bottom end. You’ll fall off unless you do what I tell you to. I, with my greater experience, training, qualification (do you have that, really?) and the position I’ve been given (by you?), have rights to do this.

I explored a judge’s right to have power to enforce medical treatment – which I think should be zero – and this is pertinent as we face this multicountry viral problem. I’ve been researching vaccination, aware that what we may assume is a must and is safe and good for us may be something quite else. It is another example of the state’s power over us, taking sovereignty of our own choice and bodies away from ourselves to a ruling class that many of us didn’t meaningfully choose. I’ll have future examinations of the necessity, type and role of the state…

The Nanny State answer is the assumption that they – leaders and scientists and doctors – know better than I what is good for me, and then the really manipulative one: you (or your kiddie) will harm me (or my kiddie) if you don’t have this vaccination. Thus I’m going to need to make you to somehow, by fines, exclusion, or injection by force. You know the last of those is rape?!

Nanny States aren’t, for me, the ones that ban public smoking but those that have sin taxes – such as on sugar, which I’m not convinced is the evil made out to be (I’m far more worried about the unnatural substances in our homes) – and attempt to stop eating on public transport; those with laws about age restrictions, wearing helmets, and yes, whether we have to have particular tests and treatments… in short, narrowing our choices from how you cross the road to what shots (of any kind) we have. I note that there’s inconsistency: compare the UK and the Netherlands: one bans cannabis and prescribes motorcycle helmets; the other bans jaywalking and prescribes ID carrying.

But like all these others, nannying comes from not only arrogance but fear. It says – I dare not give you choice because I don’t trust you; or what I really mean is that my power over you might be diminished if I gave you choice, and you might not choose me or do what I say, and then, I’ll have no confidence. I don’t really have much in you, or in the possibility of other possibilities.

It might say: I feel responsible, or perhaps, more truly: someone else will hold me responsible and I can’t handle the guilt (or bad stats or telling off) I’ll get if I don’t intervene.

Nannying leads to tough love, for it says – you must do this my way, or there are repercussions. On even an interpersonal level, it’s often about punitive measures or exclusions, perhaps hoping that it makes the recalcitrant return to prescribed behaviours. Of course, there’s a chance of harming them and your relationship irrevocably.

The prescriber, the nanny, the tough lover isn’t prepared to see that their idea of right, truth, best practice and what this person (or people) need isn’t necessarily what they think; and that their way of getting it might be closer to a grown up tantrum than anything we might seriously call policy. I will arrest you, fine you, turf you out, not speak to you, stop your money, invade you, watch you, drag you to where I think you should be…

Often, this is into a system which in itself needs scrutiny. I’m alarmed that homeless people as well as those on benefits and deemed to be addicted or ‘a danger to themselves’ are told: this is what you need to do to get our help – you may not have asked for it. They often have to sign a non negotiated agreement. And there’s often ‘loved ones’ who push towards these systems.

Such systems themselves need tough love.

As this time will show us more than ever, there’s not one way to do things, and the way that we’re used to doing them may not be shown to be a valid one. There’s subjugation of will, the normalisation of the nonconformist, the use of threats and force to gain desired outcomes – desired for those dictating and enacting it, not those on the receiving end.

Does this really come out of care? There is a fear of loss, but this is actually exacerbated by tough love behaviour rather than alleviated. If you’re ill, and someone tells you that you must undertake prescribed procedures in order for them to continue with you, you not only risk them not continuing with you but in not continuing – for such a response jeopardises recovery. And what you enjoin might actually have a deleterious affect. You don’t know everything about another person and we are all so diverse. That’s why I’m a passionate advocate against one size fits all solutions and systems, to this virus and to what we build after it.

There is healing which harms,

remedy which ruins

imperatives impair

Real love gives freedom and agency and respects choice and differentiation

Love is gentle, not harsh; it sees people as equals to cherish, not inferiors to instruct

Love doesn’t have requirements, especially not self serving ones

Tough love is no love at all, but need

Well, the snake has been more singular and straight than I expected, but we need to keep mindful of serpents, and keep being wise and asking questions…

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