How tough love shaped me into the person I am today

Illustration of a parent or guardian helping a child learn to ride a bike.
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You’ve experienced tough love if you have ever had someone talk to you sternly yet knew they had the best intentions and were only trying to help you in the long run. Tough love can be tricky to distinguish because it’s easy for it to come off the wrong way. Many believe that it adds a level of power to the relationship that shouldn’t be there. As you can tell, there is a lot of controversy about whether tough love is something that should be practiced or avoided, but I would argue that tough love has shaped me into the person I am today in the best way possible. I recognize that maybe it’s not for everybody, but I will let you decide that for yourselves.

Tough love from my parents challenged me to constantly strive to try my best in school. Tough love from my cross country coaches motivated me to be the best version of myself. And tough love from teachers and bosses transformed me into the independent, self-made woman I am today. All of the tough love I experienced has allowed me to constantly question why I’m doing what I’m doing, what I could do better and what I am not doing enough of.

When I was in middle school, my cross country coach would let us practice at the high school before the “big kids” came. I was as slow as a tortoise, and I remember thinking I would never get faster. But I was wrong. He treated us as if we were Olympic athletes, despite the fact that we were all far from that, so we could each develop a mindset in which we were important, fierce and independent. And if we wanted to get faster, we could practice and get there. As we did intervals around the track, he would scream into a bullhorn, “It ain’t easy being you.” He’d pause before saying, “If it were easy being you, everybody would be you.” It sent shivers down my spine every time. When you are in the eighth grade and think the entire world is against you, this phrase hits you hard. This is the stage when you are the master of giving eye rolls to your parents, who you feel will “never understand you.” This is when a friend saying something mean makes you feel like your whole world is going to come crumbling down. I felt empowered when my coach yelled this over and over again on his bullhorn. I felt like I could do anything because he was right: It wasn’t easy being me. But these words also carried an underlying meaning that because I’m the only one who gets to be “me,” I’m about to make the best of it.

I even practice tough love on myself. If I don’t do so well on an exam, I don’t tell myself, “It’s OK, better luck next time.” I say, “Really? You’re a smart girl, and these results don’t match up with where you should be. Do better.” But I don’t just stop there. I force myself to create a plan so that I don’t repeat the same mistakes. It forces me to analyze what went wrong, whether that be in the context of a race before which I didn’t give it my all at practices or in the context of school if I didn’t go over the concepts enough times before an exam. And without fail, I would do better the next time.

I encourage you to think about who you are when no one is looking. How do you motivate yourself? How do you take negative criticism? I’m not saying tough love is for everybody, but it definitely worked for me, and I think it’s a concept that society needs to stop looking down upon. Tough love builds strength of character. It challenges and motivates individuals to step up to the plate and become the best versions of themselves by constantly working on their weaknesses. So who are you? And how can you be better, do better and perform better? You have to remember that you have a network of people who love and support you if you need to reach out for help and guidance. Keep your head up. You can do it!

Contact Natalia Brusco at [email protected].