GUEST POST: Tough Love

Couple Silhouette Breaking Up A Relation

Setting clear boundaries may be tough, but it’s necessary.

Shola’s Note: Hey Solutionists! In my effort to introduce you to some amazing people who are working hard to make this world a more positive place, I have a treat for you! On this month’s Solutionist Spotlight, I have the honor of presenting the founder of the blog Nursing My Appetite. and my dear friend, Whitney Hoover. Besides being one of the nicest people in the universe, she’s also smarter than the average bear when it comes to understanding this journey we call life (as you will soon read.) So, without further ado, here’s Whitney!

If there was a people-pleaser club, I’d be a shoe-in for President of the local chapter.

For as long as I can remember, I’ve fostered a natural desire and instinct to do anything that I can to bring joy, ease, relief and comfort to those around me. It’s a quality that I’m proud of and deeply value, but it’s also one half of a double-edged sword.

Being a people-pleaser means that I’m also not all that great at setting boundaries or saying no–usually out of the (admittedly ridiculous) fear of disappointing friends and strangers alike. I routinely ignore both gut and reason, freely and eagerly offering precious time, money, energy and ultimately mental health for the sake of accommodating others.

Thankfully, now I know the life-saving power of setting boundaries.

The Line in the Sand

When I first started setting boundaries, it was usually reactive to behaviors that I found hurtful or unhealthy. In actuality, boundaries are more easily introduced in the beginning stages of a relationship than they are later on.

If we have allowed for toxic behavior patterns in the past, we have already set the tone for how we are willing to be treated in the context of that relationship.

In order to cultivate loving relationships and actively practice compassion for ourselves and also for others, setting boundaries and holding people accountable for their behavior is paramount.

Setting boundaries is like drawing a proverbial line in the sand to clearly show others what is acceptable to us, and what is not. And to be clear, it’s not just about what we allow for ourselves. Setting boundaries not only delivers the message, “I won’t let you treat me this way,” it can also say, “I won’t let you treat yourself or others this way.”

Communicating boundaries at any stage of a relationship can be challenging and uncomfortable, but for folks like me, it’s ten times more difficult to enforce them once they have been crossed.

This is especially true when the person in question is someone that we either love or engage with on a regular basis, such as a colleague or neighbor.

Think of it this way:  when a stranger does something that we find offensive, hurtful or disrespectful, we have the freedom to walk away from the situation with the knowledge we likely won’t have to deal with them ever again.  However, when someone that we love and trust engages in similar behaviors, it becomes instantly personal. We are left feeling betrayed, angry, and even resentful.

When we fail to set boundaries and hold people accountable, we feel used and mistreated. This is why we sometimes attack who they are, which is far more hurtful than addressing a behavior or a choice.” -Brené Brown

When we find ourselves in a place of pain and betrayal, it’s next to impossible to see things clearly.

Emotions cloud judgment, and we find ourselves readily on the defensive. As opposed to handling the situation from a place of love, understanding and self-worth, we instinctively lash out–engaging in the emotionally destructive dance of “tit-for-tat.”

In these situations, the problem with succumbing to our anger is two-fold:  we not only fail to address the behavior in question, but allow and even encourage for it to continue. At a certain point, it becomes necessary to make a very difficult decision:

We can either cut our losses and walk away, or we can fight (with love) for the relationship.

Tough Love (aka: Loving Tough)

Tough love is often an effective tool when we care about somebody who is not respecting our boundaries.

Being on the receiving end of tough love is definitely painful, but I’d argue that having to give tough love is also excruciating.

It’s in our instinctive nature to protect our loved ones, keeping them free of pain and discomfort. Therefore, setting hard boundaries and executing tough love which inevitably causes pain and discomfort (while potentially risking the relationship) is not only agonizingly painful for all parties involved, but it also goes against our core primitive instincts.

There is no uniformly clear answer in regards to when it’s appropriate to exercise tough love, as it is dependent on the dynamics and unique circumstances of each relationship. However, there are some guidelines to consider:

  • We introduce tough love when we realize that treating somebody sternly and even harshly is necessary to helping them in the long run.
  • We enforce tough love when we feel that our backs are against the wall, and we have no other option outside of walking away.
  • We practice tough love when we put someone’s needs first, and their wants last.

There’s a reason it’s not called “uncomfortable love.”

It’s messy and painful and hard. It’s also often essential.

Choosing tough love means having the willingness to embrace our vulnerability and weather the storm, even though there are no guarantees. It’s calling on our deepest strengths, and staying on course regardless of what obstacles we may cross along the way.

Ultimately, it’s having the courage to make the life’s toughest choices, all in the name of love.

Whitney Hoover Meet Whitney

Whitney Hoover is a San Francisco based authenticity and positivity enthusiast. She cultivates a passion for sustainability, healthcare, cooking and all most things outdoors. In her free time, she loves traveling, finding creative ways to make people smile, and contributing to her blog, Nursing My Appetite.

Your Turn

Have you ever had to express tough love in your life? Is it easy for you to set boundaries in your life, or do you find it to be difficult? Either way, jump into the comments below and make your voice heard!



Founder of The Positivity Solution
Author, keynote speaker, and kindness extremist who is committed to changing the world by helping as many people as possible to live and work with more positivity.

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  1. Quite an interesting post! It’s true that most of us need to get better at drawing the line and setting boundaries.

    I would go as far as to say that it’s even more important to set such boundaries for yourself – to make yourself accountable to your own rules. Because there is no one in the world who mistreats us quite as much as we do to ourselves.

    • Hi Mathias,

      Thank you so much for sharing your insight! I couldn’t agree with you more. Just as we can’t love others until we love ourselves, it’s impossible to set boundaries and hold others accountable until we are able to do so ourselves. I think it’s a work in progress for most of us, and easier to do when we are able to connect and reflect with others.

      Wishing you a wonderful day!

  2. Hey Whitney, thanks so much for writing this guest post! My favorite line of your post was: “If we have allowed for toxic behavior patterns in the past, we have already set the tone for how we are willing to be treated in the context of that relationship.” This was a lesson that I have had to learn the hard way, and it has taken me a while to redefine some of the relationships in my life because of it. Thanks for sharing your wisdom with us!

  3. Interesting article. Thanks Shola. Have a great blessed evening.

  4. Hi Whitney. Thank you for posting on such an important topic. I have always struggled with setting boundaries and holding others accountable in my personal life. It does seem a little easier now that I’m older, and have worked on this for a long time. It helped along the way, I noticed that, people I had accommodated were the same people who in turn had no problem setting boundaries, and refusing to accommodate me. So I started figuring out, people who really care about me won’t be so high maintenance anyway, and when I have bent over backward for them, they will be appreciative and reciprocate. Probably I will struggle with this for the rest of my life, as it does not come naturally. Even my small improvements have made a huge difference in how I’m treated and how I feel about myself, so I hope everyone who is in this same boat will keep working on this!

    • Hi Donna,

      Thank you so much for your thoughtful and insightful comments! I definitely understand how you feel, and I suspect that the reason your ability to set boundaries has improved with age is that the best (although often painful) way to learn and improve is directly through life experience. And I love that you mentioned it makes a huge difference in how you feel about yourself! Setting boundaries and exercising tough love when necessary directly affects how others treat you (and how you treat yourself). Cheers to taking the small (but necessary) steps to a healthier, happier life 🙂

  5. Hello, I am working on setting boundaries I have recently set a boundary with my sister who is refusing to help with my dad and I just took control of everything and move him permanently back to Arizona from Oregon but I don’t know if my boundary is working because my sister says I need to apologize to her for everything that has happened. She wrote some horrible things on my Facebook page for everyone to see so I unfriended her and blocked her. She has been toxic for a long time and I am the one who usually bends over for everyone in the family and I’m basically the doormat of the family. Now that I have started taking baby steps to stop being the doormat my dad and my sister really don’t like it but my kids fully support me so I am happy about that. Keep writing these great posts!

  6. Abuse is usually mistaken for tough love.
    Tough love doesn’t always have to be harsh, it can also be a persistence in helping the person.

  7. This is SO relevant to me, thank you for this post!!

    Growing up with abuse, I never was allowed to set boundaries. That is really hard to take in. Mercifully, God put my husband in my life. He, along with my spouse, helped me raise our kids in a healthy way, breaking that cycle. For them at least.

    I continued to tolerate the abuse, believing that they were good grandparents, so I’d sacrifice my comfort, and held out hope they would eventually respect me, love me.

    But when they t tried to tear our family apart, God gave me the strength to walk away forever. I’ve always taught my kids to expect to be treated well–especially my daughter when she started dating (I had been abused by guys before I met my husband). There’s a sick part of me that wants to pretend it never happened, I’ve always hated conflict (since I was never allowed to be angry or upset). But I have to be a good role model to my kids and let them know I won’t let anyone–not even family–hurt them.

    Thank you for letting me share my thoughts. Blessings to you!

  8. Simple act of kindness says:

    I am always putting my family, my kids, my husbands needs first. I don’t ever want to hurt their feelings. Help me.

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