Tough Love

Sometimes you have to say “No”.

You know it’s the right thing to do, but you know it won’t be well received.

It can be a stressful experience when we have to say “No” to our loved ones, to the extent that we may even back down or ‘give in’ rather than suffer the back-lash.

But it’s a job that often needs to be done so how can we make it easier?

This article is written with parents in mind, especially those of teenagers, but the principles apply to any other relationship where we may feel we have to impart an unwelcome decision.

It is helpful to look at these key areas:


This can be a help or a hindrance depending on how we use it.

a) If anticipation causes us to become tense and edgy, like a coiled up spring, or a geyser ready to blow, it is definitely not helpful!


This type of anticipation is more likely to be a precursor to developing an angry mind which in no way helps any situation, especially this one. (See more below)

b) If we use anticipation as a form of acceptance it can help us enormously to remain patient, calm and controlled if any conflict occurs.

For example, if your teenager is currently experiencing the ‘terrible teens’ (“The terrible two’s” have got nothing on this one!) i.e. erratic, angry and hormonal, the chances are that even asking “Hi, how was your day?” can spark an angry outburst for some unknown reason that even Poirot couldn’t figure out. So rather than focus on the negative aspects of the situation and become anxious, irritated or angry, it is more beneficial (for all concerned) to calmly accept  that this is a tricky phase they are going through and that you are likely to receive yet another angry outburst of resistance.


If we accept this is just the way things are, it helps us remain patient and calm, removing a lot (if not all) of the stress from the situation,(much better for the blood pressure!). In Buddhism this is called “Patient Acceptance”. (You can read more in this article)

2. Remain calm.

As in 1b above, accepting the situation patiently prepares your mind in a positive way before you even utter a single word!

Then consider the following:

Anger never helps anybody. It is a very negative state of mind which de-stabilises us and causes us to say and do stupid, ridiculous and occasionally dangerous things.

It is not a mind in control and it is not a logical objective mind – it is no wonder we use the phrase ” I just completely lost it” – because we do lose all sense and objectivity once we let anger take control of our mind.

If we are a parent of a tricky teenager who knows how to ‘push our buttons’, the rising anger in our mind can make us feel so frustrated, exhausted and out of the control of the situation, we sometimes feel it’s easier to give up, but this wont help anyone either. In fact our teenager then knows that if they can push us enough to stimulate our angry response they’ve won round 1 (and probably round 2, 3,4.)

It is the anger in our own mind  that leaves us feeling like we have been 10 rounds with a champion boxer, mentally battered and bruised. We look for something or somebody to blame but in actual fact the discomfort and unease is within our own mind, which is actually great news because it means we can do something about it, it is within our control.

Why do we feel angry?

We feel anger when we don’t like the way things are; we feel things ‘shouldn’t be this way’, we don’t like the words we are hearing or the words we assume we are going to hear. But no matter how much verbal abuse you are receiving from your angry teen, anger will do nothing to eradicate it. It is not possible to turn back the clock and erase the words, they are already said, they have already gone, and they cannot actually harm us. (See ‘Sticks and Stones’ )

The mind of anger exaggerates all the negative aspects of a situation or person, ignoring all else, so consequently it is a totally unrealistic mind which is not perceiving reality. We all know from experience that the person we can feel furious towards in the morning can be the object of our undying love by lunchtime! This shows us that our mind is unbalanced when we feel anger, we forget all that persons good qualities and focus only on their faults: in other words at that time the person we are focusing on is like an hallucination, they do not exist in the way we are perceiving them. So we cannot rely on the perceptions of an angry mind. More on anger here and here. 

We may be thinking that in some way “they need a good telling off”, that it’s time “we told them straight”? There are some times when we need to be really firm, even raising our voice if necessary, but this does not mean we have to be angry. It is perfectly possible to raise your voice, being really firm if required while remaining very calm in your own mind. Just take care in this situation because  without practice it is easy to begin calmly and before we know it the anger has erupted in our mind and we are shouting angrily!

If we really understand the problems an angry mind can cause us, and the benefits a calm mind can provide, we can use this to motivate ourselves into developing a determination to remain ‘calm and collected’ during our forthcoming conversation.

The more we develop this determination, and try our best to put it into practice, the more it will work to destroy our angry tendencies and develop a calm, peaceful mind, and the ability to deal with all life’s difficulties while remaining calm and happy. Like an immoveable rock untouched by the storm.

Rock in storm

This won’t happen overnight, but it will happen gradually if we set our minds to it.(‘Where there’s a will there’s a way’.) Eventually we will be able to utilize and transform all the difficult situations in our life into a ‘training ground’, an opportunity to improve our positive qualities such as patience, love, and compassion while slowly eradicating all our destructive negative minds such as anger. Just think of it as another challenging round in a game show, but this time instead of the prize being cash, it will be peace of mind, something all the money in the world can’t buy!

Keeping a calm mind does not prevent us from acting appropriately in any situation, but if we act with a calm objective mind rather than an angry mind our actions and words are more likely to be balanced, fair, and effective.

If we can keep calm in the midst of a teenage ‘meltdown’ we will all emerge on the ‘other side’ relatively unscathed, and with less damage to our relationship than if we lose our cool and give way to the ‘red mist’.

It is important to understand this is not about repression. Repression is denying our anger, bottling it up inside like a volcano ready to blow, (and blow it will, sooner or later, guaranteed.)

When we become aware of the first stirring of anger, we accept its presence, and do our best not to let it take control of our mind, by reminding ourselves of its destructive properties and the benefits of training our mind to become calm.(Meditation is a great tool to help us improve this, more here and here)

If we try to observe our mind rather than be completely overwhelmed by any negativity arising within it, we give ourselves a breathing space in which we can choose to react differently; we can choose to remain calm and develop the ability to remain happy in difficult circumstances.

This is how we hold on to the love in our relationships, while helping us avoid overwhelming anxiety and depression during difficult times.

Happy Hearts


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