The Difference Between Tough Love and Verbal Abuse

July 20, 2023 Cheryl Wozny

You may hear the term "tough love" thrown around in conversation. While tough love isn't always verbal abuse, it can sometimes cross the line. Knowing the difference between tough love and verbal abuse can help you refrain from using verbal abuse or being the recipient in a verbally abusive situation

Is Tough Love Verbal Abuse? 

When I think of tough love, I am transported back to my childhood. Having a strict parent was the norm when I grew up long ago. The way society saw discipline was not as many individuals do now. 

Although the premise of tough love is to allow an individual to be responsible and solve a problem on their own, that isn't always the case. In my experience, the tough love of years ago also included verbal abuse as a necessary component to force action by the recipient. 

For discipline to be considered verbally abusive, it may possess the following: 

  • Personal insults
  • Put-downs
  • Threats
  • Yelling or screaming
  • Throwing or hitting items

Individuals may use one or more of these verbally abusive tactics to enforce their tough love on someone. Unfortunately, I've been on the receiving end of many verbal assaults disguised as tough love or strict discipline. Rather than motivate me to do something, it gave me anxiety, depression, and an unhealthy way of looking at love

Can Tough Love Be Effective Without Verbal Abuse? 

Naturally, there are ways to show tough love to someone without being verbally abusive. As a mother of four children, I quickly realized that not every method of handling my kids would work for all of them. I remembered how I felt as a child with tough love and didn't want that for my kids. 

If you are searching for a better way to communicate tough love in your relationships without using verbal abuse, there are alternatives. However, for tough love to work and avoid using verbally abusive tactics, it should come from a person who genuinely cares for the recipient and follows positive reinforcement instead. 

A healthy way to show tough love includes: 

Remember that verbal abuse has no place in a relationship, especially as a tactic for motivating change in a person. The old saying, you catch more flies with honey than vinegar reflects how tough love can be effective. When you use supportive methods that show you care, the recipient is more likely to respond favorably to you. 

APA Reference
Wozny, C. (2023, July 20). The Difference Between Tough Love and Verbal Abuse, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, July 17 from

Author: Cheryl Wozny

Cheryl Wozny is a freelance writer and published author of several books, including mental health resources for children titled, Why Is My Mommy So Sad? and Why is My Daddy So Sick? Writing has become her way of healing and helping others. Find Cheryl on TwitterInstagramFacebook, and her blog

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