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Tough Love

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Rigby: Benson, why do you hate us so much?
Benson: [sighs] I don't hate you guys. I just hate some of the things you do... Okay, I really hate some of the things you do... I know you don't mean them, but I'm your boss and it's my job to push you to do better.
Regular Show, "Busted Cart"

A variation of parenting which believes that love can best be provided via schooling them in life's hard knocks. This is believed to make said offspring stronger. Sometimes it works and the kid grows up to be a badass unable to display casual affection. If this is taken too far, however, the kid could end up an emotionally disturbed Woobie or, even worse, a Woobie, Destroyer of Worlds (for the supernaturally-powered variant).

If dished out to one particular child in the family, expect said child to feel like The Un-Favourite compared to their other siblings. Can lead to a "Well Done, Son" Guy moment if this turns out not to be the case.

This trope is frequently used as justification for the actions of a Knight Templar Parent or sometimes the Sink or Swim Mentor if the relationship is neither familial nor quasi-parental. There can be a thin line to walk between practicing this trope and just coming off as another example of Abusive Parents. Expect a parent who Had to Be Sharp while growing up to regard doing this as passing on vital experiences to their children, regardless of whether such skills are necessary in the current day. The Other Wiki has its own definition here. See Cruel to Be Kind for this trope taken to its extreme. In the Gentle Touch vs. Firm Hand philosophy, this trope definitely leans toward the latter. It's fondly used by a Drill Sergeant Nasty. Can lead to Was Too Hard on Him. Expect these kinds of characters to believe that Misery Builds Character.

It should be noted that Tough Love is still an abuse trope, because the practice can be damaging and dangerous even if the one dishing it out explicitly means well. You Are Not Alone.

Expect much Angst resulting from this trope.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Assassination Classroom: This is eventually revealed to be the reason behind Principal Asano's incredibly harsh policies at Kunugigaoka Academy: he believes he must make his students "strong" so that they will be prepared for life's difficulties no matter what form they take... even if that means sacrificing some students' futures for the sake of the majority. Ultimately, he's forced to admit that he's gone too far into "abusive" territory, and his own pride was blinding him to the faults in his system.
  • Bleach: Isshin Kurosaki regularly randomly attacks his son to teach Ichigo combat readiness. He is also complicit with the Training from Hell his son keeps getting put through. Ryuuken Ishida is an aloof father who belittles his son Uryuu for not achieving his full potential. When accused of having faith in his son's fighting ability, he claims he merely doesn't care if his son's below-par performance gets him killed. Isshin and Ryuuken end up debating who the worst father is; they both agree it's Isshin.
  • In Bloom Into You, after the School Play ends, Touko joins a theatre troupe. The director of the troupe, a woman named Nara, is impressed enough with Touko's skill that she's honestly surprised that the play is Touko's first time acting, but is also shown to be highly critical of Touko, and harshly lectures her for seemingly minor mistakes. One of Touko's new colleagues reassures her that Nara is only tough on people she sees potential in.
  • In Bungou Stray Dogs, Dazai used to abuse Akutagawa as his mentor and never hesitated to taunt Akutagawa that he had never seen him as strong. It's implied that this is because he wanted Akutagawa to be able to survive in the dark world.
  • The Emperor has this as his excuse for the way he "raises" his kids in Code Geass. According to him, "people only become stronger through struggle" and he actively encourages his children's infighting to decide who will succeed him on the throne of Britannia.
  • Cross Ange: Ange gives her bratty (and sadistic) little sister Sylvia some potshots after shooting a civilian in the face. This makes her walk again and realize her own mistakes to the point that she ends up earning her royalty by butchering all the other bandits in the post-apocalyptia with some former royal staff, instead of bitching and whining as she did from Episodes 9 to 23.
  • In Demon Slayer: Kimetsu no Yaiba, Jigoro had a very firm hand approach when training Zenitsu, beating him every time his pupil tried to run away as Zenitsu threw tantrums and bawled his eyes out all the time, saying he was worthless and couldn’t get strong no matter how much training he did; however, Zenitsu gets on point to realize that despite the firm hand, Jigoro never abandoned him, and honestly believed Zenitsu could be better, in contrast to other people in Zenitsu’s life that found him to be worthless on sight or pretended to be nice to later use and abuse him.
  • In Digimon Tamers, Juri's father raised her this way after the death of her mother. Unfortunately, this accidentally made her into a Stepford Smiler who broke even before she came home from the Digital World, making this a Deconstruction.
  • Izumi Curtis doles this out regularly to Ed and Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist. She does this so they fully understand the laws and risks of alchemy, and so they won't be completely lost in the world now that their father's missing and their mother's dead.
    • In the 2003 adaptation, Roy Mustang pulls this on Ed, bluntly telling him after Nina's death that it's too late for her, bringing her back wouldn't be a good idea even if it was possible, and he needs to keep his eyes on the prize rather than chasing every doomed but noble cause.
  • In Ginga Densetsu Weed: Orion (the manga sequel to Ginga Densetsu Weed), at one point, Gin has had it up to his muzzle with Orion's bad attitude and foul mouth. What does he do? He picks the pup up and dangles him over a cliff as a warning, telling him that he needs to grow up and be more mature. When Orion promises that, Gin puts him down beside him, telling his grandson to behave as a true leader should, using Weed (Gin's son and Orion's father) as an example.
  • In the third arc of Higurashi: When They Cry, Satoko believes that her Evil Uncle abusing her is this. Or rather, she uses this as an excuse against her friends' rightful concerns but no one believes it, not even her. He is only looking for her late parents' money and plans to leave town as soon as he finds it, because the cops are after him due to his involvement in Rina's death. She's trying to hold off suspicion from social services and the police until he's done, but it's clear she hates and fears him.
  • Imaizumin-chi wa Douyara Gal no Tamariba ni Natteru Rashii: ~DEEP~: Deconstructed. Keita's father believes living alone would make him manly. This only gave him a traumatizing insecurity complex.
  • Inuyasha: Very little is known about Inuyasha and Sesshoumaru's father as he died long before the start of the story. However, his presence permeates the entire story as he left a legacy of tests for his two sons that very often seem random or cruel to onlookers, but which always have the best interests of both his sons at heart. This went to such extreme lengths that at one point, Sesshoumaru was left feeling like the outcast son while Inuyasha and Myouga desperately tried to raise his spirits. Sesshoumaru's mother also seems to be this type as well as her single appearance in the manga is to enact a plan she and her late husband had concocted together to execute against Sesshoumaru in order to teach him the value of nurturing such attachments.
  • JoJo's Bizarre Adventure:
    • Phantom Blood: George Joestar felt he had to be stricter with his son Jonathan when Dio is adopted into the family. This unfortunately had some dire consequences, because Dio secretly takes advantage of this to torment Jonathan. He redeems himself when he takes a knife to the back to protect his son when Dio attempts to stab Jonathan and become a vampire.
    • Diamond is Unbreakable: Keicho Nijimura is incredibly harsh to younger brother Okuyasu. He regularly insults him and even almost killed him in one instance. It was all an effort to get Okuyasu to become more independent, but he veers toward being an Aloof Big Brother a little touch much.
    • Golden Wind: Prosciutto is often very harsh on his apprentice Pesci, often chewing him out for his failures and even beating him up on occasions. The reason why he treats him this way is because, as mafiosi, they have to be ruthless and cold-blooded. Prosciutto truly does care about Pesci and wants to teach him to succeed.
  • Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple gives poor Kenichi six masters, all of them incredibly brutal in their own way. All of them care a great deal about their disciple but still push him to the point of nearly dying from his training on a daily basis. As the story continues, the teachers increase the training for him to survive just the ruthless delinquents that come after him. When the Yami organization appears, however, the training continually increases. However, the masters only go so far as they know Kenichi can take: if he's ever up against something that he honestly cannot handle, they will step in to save him. That said, they have been known to kill him a few times; fortunately one of his masters can heal just about anything short of decapitation.
  • In Medaka Box, this is Medaka's modus operandi. People are just problems that need solving to her, and that usually involves defeating them in some way. Usually violently. Taken to new heights in chapter 118: it doesn't get much tougher than beating the crap out of a guy and mocking his weakness to motivate him further.
  • Tiger from Monster Rancher is a firm believer of this, acting harsh and strict around his younger brother Gray Wolf to make him stronger. However, this backfires as Tiger's well-intentioned attitude ends up giving Gray Wolf an inferiority complex. When Moo captured Gray Wolf, he magnified Gray Wolf's insecurities to a full-blown Green-Eyed Monster, to the point Gray Wolf wanted to kill his brother, much to Tiger's horror.
  • Guy's training methods in Naruto. Not to mention Itachi's behavior towards Sasuke.
  • One Piece:
    • Vice-Admiral Garp is a firm advocate of the Tough Love principle. Just look at how he changed Helmeppo and Coby from cowards into legitimate badasses after taking them under his wing. It is also part of the reason why Luffy is terrified of him. Regarding Luffy and Ace, this was mainly done in order to protect them from a world that would only ever want to see them dead, even if it meant forcing them into a life they didn't want. This backfired tremendously, as it made him a poor Parental Substitute, and only caused them to want to become pirates even more, if only to get away from him. While the brothers recognize that their grandfather loved them, it wasn't enough to sway them from pursuing the lives they wanted.
    • Zeff gives this to Sanji to make him a better chef and fighter. He also threatened to castrate him and then kill himself if Sanji ever dared to strike a woman. Needless to say, Sanji took it to heart.
    • The one-legged toy soldier in Dressrosa shows signs of this when he taught Rebecca how to fight even though she didn't want to, under the justification that as a toy he would one day rust away and be unable to defend her himself. When Sugar is knocked unconscious and it is revealed he's actually Kyros, Rebecca's biological father, he immediately goes back to being a Papa Wolf, promising Rebecca that she will never have to lift a sword again.
  • Pokémon: The Series: Misty would often encourage physical pain on her Psyduck in order to make it have a headache. That doesn't mean that she wanted to hurt it, but rather activate its psychic powers, which is a result of powerful headaches. However, she would be a little excessive when trying to do so.
    • Downplayed, as this did fade after a while, She did also show this behavior to Ash (even if she was right, at the time before Pokémon the Series: Black & White came out, it came off as unnecessary).
  • Ranma ½: Genma Saotome absolutely loves doing this to Ranma by way of Training from Hell. The most infamous of which is teaching him the Cat Fist, which involved tossing him into a pit of hungry cats while covered in sardines. On the upside, it granted him an invincible Super Mode. On the downside, it gave him a phobia of cats.
  • In Sailor Moon Rei Hino insulted Usagi's hairstyle ('90s dub) or intelligence (Viz dub and sub), and crushed on Mamoru, but is shown to actually care a huge deal about Usagi. In the Season 1 finale, she states how she enjoyed fighting with her before dying. In "Sailor Stars", it's Rei whom Usagi confines in with her relationship problems and Rei actually doesn't know why anyone would hurt her.
    • Downplayed in "Sailor Moon Crystal" due to her personality going back to being her original Kuudere self rather than her '90s Hot-Headded Tsundere self. Even when Season 3 brought it back, it's treated more like teasing or Brutal Honesty, and her admiration for her is a lot more shown here.
  • A Silent Voice: Deconstructed. Shoko's mother made her stay at the elementary school where she was bullied for so long in the hopes it would toughen her up and prepare her for how people would treat her. It didn't work out as Shoko always used the Turn the Other Cheek approach, and internalized every bad thing people say about her deafness, to the point of becoming suicidal. Furthermore, Shoko's sister, Yuzuru, always called her out for her coldness and insensitivity.
  • Tenjho Tenge is the absolute master of this trope. From Mitsuomi's Aloof Big Brother status, Dogen's intention to create a "true warrior" using his eldest son, Shin being locked up by his father to prevent him from losing control of his powers to a scene between himself and Mana in a hospital, its fair to say that Tough Love must be part of the school curriculum.

    Comic Books 
  • In Fables one of the "gifts" Santa gives to a character is forcing him to face his traumatic past so he can move with his life.
  • Taken up to eleven for comedic effect with Elsa Bloodstone's upbringing, as related in Next Wave. Not many people get their first sink-or-swim lesson as a toddler.
  • In V for Vendetta, V uses a rather extreme version of this to help Evey become unafraid. Extreme like black-bagging her, shaving her head, imprisoning her, torturing her, and making her think she's going to be executed. Yeah.
    V: You said you wanted to live without fear. I wish there'd been an easier way, but there wasn't.

    Fan Works 
  • Abraxas (Hrodvitnon): Like in the Godzilla vs. Kong official novelization, Walter Simmons is grooming his daughter Maia harshly to be a worthy heir. When Maia comforts Ren, Walter is very displeased, declaring she's "losing nerve" and going soft.
  • In Change for Good, one of Harry's aunts was taken from the hospital shortly after birth by a woman who, in addition to raising her, subjected her to curses and hexes she was expected to learn to heal on her own and Auror-level training scenarios from the time she was ten.
  • In Christopher Weston Chandler and Magi-chan's Stone, Bob decides that the most important fatherly advice he can impart before the start of Chris's first year of middle school is how to take a swirlie. He gives up after Chris is unable to hold his breath for more than two seconds while out of water.
  • Infinity Train: Voyage of Wisteria: Implied. Sara Diktaylis's foster parents made her watch the news about Mrs. Turner attempting to kill her former classmates before Chloe, the girl she bullied, stopped her. Seeing this and her former classmates' interviews does not help Sara's mental state and guilt, especially since the girl who became the hero is the same girl she despised and bullied. She has a breakdown and starts screaming until her foster mother comforts her. When Sara asked why her foster mother took her in, she reveals that she was just like Sara. It's implied that she and her husband forced Sara to watch the news, so she would understand the harm she caused and hopes to help her grow into a better person.
  • Juxtapose: Having privately come to regret his bullying and concluded that it's his fault his victim didn't take the Hero Course Entrance Exam, Bakugou Katsuki has decided to do whatever it takes to get Gen Ed student Midoriya Izuku into the Hero Course "where he belongs." Bakugou's way of trying to help Izuku and inspire Izuku to achieve his full potential is declaring war on Izuku. Repeatedly. Even in Bakugou's televised opening speech at the Sports Festival. It turns out aggression is the only way he thinks he can interact with someone, due to his quirk counselors convincing him that it's his nature to be destructive.
    Bakugou, to Izuku: "We’ll have a match so overwhelming that even when you lose, you become a Hero!”
  • Mean Rabbit: Aizawa justifies his sadistic teaching methods this way, believing that the best way to prepare his students for life's various cruelties is to be incredibly cruel and callous himself. Especially towards Midoriya, whom he singles out for being Quirkless. In practice, he's mostly just creating unnecessary rifts in Class 1-A, turning them against each other, teaching them that they can't rely upon authority figures like him, and making them all take a few levels in jerkass.
  • The One to Make It Stay: Felix believes that his cousin Adrien needs help becoming less of an Extreme Doormat. Unfortunately, his primary way of helping him is through bullying, harassment, and humiliation, trying to force him to stand up for himself and rebel more. Adrien also mimics his behavior in multiple ways; his entitled attitude as Chat Noir mirrors Felix's belief that he's perfectly entitled to dig into everyone's personal mysteries to satisfy his own curiosity, and he assumes that he knows how to fix the personal conflicts of others, butting his way in to offer passive-aggressive advice.
  • Peace of Mind, Piece of Heart: Deconstruction. Catra attempts this with a cat girl named Marmalade she meets in her second car, forcibly pushing the scared child down a large slide. The kid gets hurt in the process, with Marmalade's friends and the child herself, calling out Catra for her unnecessary violence, causing Catra to run away out of guilt.
  • Phoenix's Tear: Reignition deconstructs this through Tiger and Gray Wolf. Knowing that he likely wouldn't always be around to protect his brother, Tiger played the Aloof Big Brother and was harsh upon his younger sibling. Unfortunately, Gray Wolf misinterpreted this as Tiger disliking him, coming to resent being stuck in his shadow. Once Muu got his hands on him, he was easily able to twist those insecurities around to convince Gray Wolf that he was better off as one of his followers.
  • Pretender: When Robin refuses to acknowledge his emotional issues after being called out on them, Chrom forces him to show his suicide injuries in order to confront the problem.
  • Service with a Smile: Exaggerated for drama. Mercury's father was a famous assassin, and he resolved to make sure Mercury would become a great assassin himself by beating him bloody and training him until he dropped dead from exhaustion. He apparently even murdered Mercury's mother in front of him because she abandoned Mercury. Mercury killed him for good reason. Even worse, because Mercury was raised in isolation, this is the only "love" he is aware of. One of the few things that can piss Mercury off is suggesting that he loves someone; he refuses to ever love anyone.
    Adam: What is love to you, Mercury?
    Mercury: Love is smashing a bottle of beer over someone's head to help them grow stronger. Love is breaking someone's fingers one by one so they can get used to pain. Love is kicking someone's crutches away so they can learn to walk. Love is a man beating his wife to death in front of her son because she doesn't want him anymore.
  • In The Unbroken Saviour Sirius gets this from his parents.
    It was a brutal regime that punished failure...and also punished success. The house of Black always believed pain strengthened the mind.
  • Weight Off Your Shoulder has Chloe attempt to dismiss Gabriel's treatment of Adrien in this fashion... entirely because she also wants to control every aspect of Adrien's life, and haughtily believes that this means she can convince Gabriel to work together with her.

    Films — Animation 
  • In The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, Nuka endures this treatment from his mother Zira, thinking that she favours Kovu as Scar's "Chosen One". This leads to an intense rivalry with Kovu, eventually leading to Nuka's death when he tries to gain Zira's affection by killing Simba, only for him to be crushed by the falling logs that were meant to kill Simba. This is followed by Zira's first and last on-screen act of affection for Nuka when she frantically tries to save him and holds him as he dies.
  • This is the dog Rooster's biggest character trait in The Secret Life of Pets 2. He doesn't get why Max is so protective of his owner's young son, Liam. Max wants to protect Liam from everything, but Rooster recognizes that Liam doesn't need it.
    Rooster: Kid seems fine to me. You're the one who's scared of everything.
  • Wreck-It Ralph: Ralph destroys Vanellope's kart in order to stop her from racing and save her life, despite knowing how much it will hurt her and ruin their friendship. This is subverted when King Candy pretends he's trying to protect Vanellope but later is revealed to be actually lying.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Beast: After Moll was expelled from school for stabbing another girl (who had bullied her), she mentions her mother quit her job to homeschool her and tried to "beat the bad out of her". Unfortunately, Hilary's approach to parenting borders on or outright crosses into emotional abuse and in the end, only serves to make Moll want to rebel more.
  • Character: Dreverhaven's whole motivation in treating his illegitimate son. Having not been involved in his son's life, he resolves to continually screw with him, believing it will make Jacob stronger. And it works, as Jacob becomes a successful lawyer largely to spite his father.
    "I'll strangle him nine-tenths, and the last tenth will make him strong."
  • Crush: AJ practices this while training Paige at first and admits her dad does the same with her, but it clearly isn't to her liking (she even says she'll discuss it with a therapist in the future).
  • One reading of Jacob's Ladder applies this trope. The monsters tormenting Jacob aren't actually monsters, but angels, working to break his grip on his material concerns as he dies so that he can enter Heaven free of all baggage. Another theory is that Louis is also an angel and acting as the "carrot" to the monstrous angels' "stick".
  • Legends of the Fall has the Ludlow brothers, who at first are rivals for their father's affections and then later over the token chick.
  • A mild version of this is in McLintock! when John Wayne gives his daughter and her husband a small ranch as a wedding present in the hope that they will be comfortable without forgetting how to be Determined Homesteaders .
  • Gayle in SAVE ME believes she's employing this trope. It's, uh, a little more complex than that.
  • The Jigsaw killer John Kramer in the Saw films operates under this M.O. He is a man dying of cancer who, after a failed suicide attempt, decided that he should make the most of the time he has left by using his engineering skills to create "tests" for those who he believes are wasting their lives. Said tests are often Death Traps where people have to make a Life-or-Limb Decision to escape. The results may vary; while some of the people he "tested" came to embrace his philosophy and become his apprentices, others blame him for ruining their lives.
  • Wonder Woman (2017): Diana's Cool Aunt Antiope disobeyed her sister's orders and started training her niece in secret, and when Hippolyta finds out, she gives this as her reason. Antiope loved Diana as much as Hippolyta did but knew that, regardless of what they wanted for her, a confrontation with Ares was inevitable. Antiope felt the best way to protect Diana was to teach her how to protect herself. Hippolyta sways to her way of thinking and subsequently demands that Antiope train Diana harder than any Amazon before her, and won't settle for anything less than her daughter surpassing her sister as the Amazon's greatest warrior.

  • In The Divine Comedy, the audience is made to expect Lady Beatrice to be as graceful and lovely as any pure damsel could be, only for her to express her love to Dante by drilling him on his sins until he bursts into tears. The angels pity the poet, but Beatrice remains stern as an admiral while maintaining only tears can allow Dante to survive the entry into Paradise.
  • In The Dosadi Experiment by Frank Herbert loving parents (italics his) treat their offspring harshly to give them the strength and will to survive in a hostile and unforgiving world.
  • This is also possibly the only explanation for the way Lord Asriel treats his daughter Lyra in the His Dark Materials trilogy. He even tells his former lover and mother of his daughter that he does not love his child; describing the girl as a "spoiled brat with dirty fingernails"
    • However it is later revealed that he does indeed care for his daughter, he expresses admiration in The Amber Spyglass for her exploits in Svalbard and for successfully tricking the former bear-king into a duel for the throne. In one of the standalone supplementary guides to the whole trilogy, it is mentioned that the author's notes have him keeping a framed portrait of Lyra in his home. All this is masked by showing outward contempt for the poor girl when she finally comes looking for him. And by killing her best friend!
  • Baloo the bear from The Jungle Book (not the Disney one) is the teacher of the young wolves of the pack (and Mowgli), and he'll often cuff the wolves on the head or spank Mowgli for misbehaving. When Bagheera the black panther objects to the bear's stern methods towards Mowgli, Baloo remains firm in his belief of discipline.
    "Better he should be bruised from head to foot by me who love him than that he should come to harm through ignorance."
  • Michael's father in the Knight and Rogue Series is a firm believer of this. To give his son the steady, comfortable job of a steward, he's willing to crush Michael's dreams and even strip him of legal rights so he'll have no option but 'the best'.
  • Monster Hunter International: Owen Pitt remembers himself and his brother enduring this as a child. Because their father knew one of them would give his life for the world.
  • The Neapolitan Novels: Imma towards her daughter Elena. She almost borders on Abusive Parents (but for the social and historical setting she was all but normal) but she eventually reveals that Elena was the person she loved the most in her life and doesn't really know how to be tender.
  • Private: Noelle Lange's grandmother employed this in Vanished. Knowing Reed to be her granddaughter, she decided to test her loyalty by faking Noelle's kidnapping and giving Reed a series of challenges to perform in order to save Noelle's life. At the end of Vanished she and Noelle come clean to Reed about the whole thing. Grandmother Lange's entire scheme in the book was to test that Reed was worthy of being a Lange. And that's not even the whole story...
  • Schooled in Magic: When Emily is plunged into depression in Cursed, Cat tells her to get her ass out of bed, beats her, and threatens to rape her. This works; Emily is forced to fight back and realizes that the depression is part of the curse, which helps her get her shit together. Then she makes it clear that if Cat tries that again, she'll castrate him.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire has several examples, played straight, subverted, and even averted at times.

    Live-Action TV 
  • In Beyond Scared Straight, this is the mindset of most of the parents who send their teens into the Scared Straight programs. The kids in question all either have minor criminal offenses and/or are hanging out with very toxic influences. If the kids won't listen to their parents, maybe they'll listen to prisoners warning them about what jail is like, as well as the correctional officers who will treat them like prisoners.
  • In the first episode of Conviction (2016), Hayes' mother warns her that if she blows off the Convictions Integrity Unit, then the family plans to turn her cocaine-possession charge into possession-with-an-intent-to-distribute, in order to motivate her to actually work.
  • Crazy Ex-Girlfriend kind of deconstructs this. Apparently, all of the behavior that Rebecca's mother showed her all of her life was to toughen her up for the real world. Considering how messed up Rebecca turned out in the end, it may have backfired.
  • Doctor Who: In "Fugitive of the Judoon", the Thirteenth Doctor's companions try to make it clear to her that isolating herself isn't fair on them, but that they also care about her.
  • Rita from The Fosters is this trope personified. She cares for the foster girls in the group home she runs but she takes not shit from them and breaking the rules gets privileges taken away. Although some of the girls begin resistant to her authority, they mostly seem to realize she actually does have their best interests in mind.
  • Played for Laughs in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air episode "Asses to Ashes". Will is feeling guilty because he feels responsible for the death of Uncle Phil's political opponent in the run for district court judgenote . Carlton hatches a plan to help Will out of his funk by using this trope. It backfires.
  • A memorable example occurred in a Season 6 episode of Friends with Bruce Willis's character demonstrating Manly Tears whilst reminiscing with Rachel over his relationship with his father. Too bad this led to an excessive display of tears leading Rachel to dump him.
  • On an episode of House Cuddy realizes that her mother pushed her to succeed because she saw potential in her more than her sister.
  • In How I Met Your Mother, this is what Robin calls her father's parenting techniques, which include making her burn her clothes and shipping her to a boys' military school, sending her to a foaling farm after she was caught kissing a boy, and abandoning her in the wolf-infested woods for three days on her fourteenth birthday.
    Robin: I did almost die from malnutrition on that wolf hunt last year.
    Robin's dad: I had to almost kill you for you to learn how to kill.
  • Interview with the Vampire (2022): In "...The Ruthless Pursuit of Blood with All a Child's Demanding", Lestat de Lioncourt takes on a disciplinary role after a panicked and heartbroken Claudia inadvertently murders her first boyfriend. He wants to ensure that she never does anything so foolish again by maximizing her psychological turmoil. He smirks while he's mocking her mistake ("It's easy to get carried away when you're young and in love"), picks up Charlie's arm, and drops it to emphasize that he's dead as a doornail. Lestat then shoves Claudia towards the corpse and commands her to "clean up after yourself." After she places Charlie's body inside the incinerator, she's about to walk away when Lestat roughly grips her arm and face to hold her in place. She has no choice but to look while her First Love's "bones cracked black and his face turned to soup," the disturbing image being seared into her brain.
    Lestat: Stop squirming and watch. Remember this, his face as it melts. This is why we never get close to mortals. Because sooner or later, they end up dead.
  • Malcolm in the Middle:
    • Lois and Hal's plan for Malcolm puts them squarely in this category. They plan on making sure that Malcolm never has a happy life as they think that this will give him the qualities needed for him to be America's greatest president.
    • More pointedly, the final episode of the series sees Malcolm on the brink of becoming independently wealthy only to have his parents effectively stab their son in the back and refuse to sign off on the business deal (being under the age of 18, Malcolm requires their consent) because it doesn't conform to their plans for him.
  • The Outpost: Withers tried to do this with his older son. After he was caught committing theft, Withers sent him down to the mine as punishment, which was just to be a few days. However, it went wrong as the other prisoners Withers sent there recognized his son, beating him to death.
  • Flashbacks in Psych explain that this was how Shawn was raised by his dad after his mom left the family. His dad a law officer raised Shawn to have perfect eidetic memory, allowing him to recall objects and events to minute detail but this had the side effect of leaving Shawn socially awkward. However, it's not played for audience sympathy, Shawn is most definitely NOT The Woobie; being a prankster to the highest form. In fact, he uses his eidetic memory to run a scam as a fake psychic.
  • Red Dwarf:: Lister asks for advice regarding his son (himself) from the medi-comp in "Fathers and Sons", and it gives him the advice of giving his son goals and if he doesn't achieve his goals, Lister should kick his butt hard. Lister proceeds to record himself the night before posing as Dad to himself as Son, and gives him instructions to do. Son refuses to do so and just plays the next messages a few times. Thanks to Pree's PHT, Dad knew that would happen, and shouts at him for ignoring the instructions and eventually flushes Son's guitar out the airlock.
  • In Skins Season 5 both Alo and Nick's parents seem to believe that being tough on their sons will prevent them from becoming tearaways.
  • The Umbrella Academy (2019): Sir Reginald Hargreeves neglected and abused his children to prepare them for their role as superheroes. Needless to say, his sons and daughter are, in the present day, an extremely maladjusted bunch.
  • The original British version of What Not to Wear had Tough Love as its basic premise. The two show stylists; Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine would take one hapless woman each week and insult her dress choices until she finally gave in and wore what they told her to.
  • The Wilds: Nora complains of her sister Rachel practicing this on her, saying it's the only kind she has, before the pair get into a physical fight.

    Multiple Media 
  • MonsterVerse:
    • 'Godzilla: King of the Monsters (2019): Emma Russell tells her ex-husband that she "trained [their daughter Madison] to survive" so she would have a fighting chance in a world full of Titans. Another likely reason for Emma putting Madison through boot camp is to ensure she wouldn't lose another child to a Titan disaster. A deleted scene after Mothra's awakening shows part of Madison's training—a sparring session with one of Jonah's men as Jonah and some of his mercs watch. The scene shows some of the emotional damage Madison suffers because of her mother's manipulations as she releases her pent-up frustration over Emma's actions and complicity in them out of blindly trusting Emma. On the flip side, Madison's training enables her to steal the ORCA, escape the bunker undetected, and hike to Fenway Park miles away. Emma readied Madison physically but failed to prepare her emotionally while indoctrinating and tricking Madison into joining her plan to release the Titans.
    • In the official novelization of Godzilla vs. Kong, Maia Simmons mentions that her father Walter Simmons tends to set up mind games and subject her to tests of character to see if she's worthy to inherit his corporate empire — one such "test" was not telling her anything about a 337-foot gorilla Titan's involvement on a potentially life-threatening mission that she's been assigned to oversee.

  • Johnny Cash: "A Boy Named Sue", anyone? The song is all about the trope, with the titular Sue being landed with the name to ensure that he grows up to be badass after a childhood of bullying over his name. The song ends with "Sue" confronting his dad, learning his intentions, and deciding to avert this trope if he ever has a son.

    Professional Wrestling 
  • During his late 2022/early 2023 feud with his son Dominik Mysterio, Rey Mysterio did everything he could to defy this trope in regards to his son, absolutely refusing to harm him no matter how much Dom tried to provoke him. This despite several of his oldest friends/acquaintances, many of whom knew Dominik as he was growing up, outright telling him that it was the only way he was going to straighten Dominik out. Things finally hit a breaking point when Dominik started verbally abusing and disrespecting his mother and sister too, at which point Rey finally had enough and decided to invoke this trope to teach his son a lesson in respect, with his family's full support.

  • Arguably Hamlet is using Tough Love to persuade Ophelia to leave him. "I am only cruel to be kind" indeed.
  • This may have been the Witch's excuse in Into the Woods for how she treated Rapunzel.
    The Witch: I was trying to be a good mother.

    Video Games 
  • Every time you hit the reset button or forget to save in Animal Crossing, a mole named Mr. Resetti will pop up next time you start. He screams at you and constantly reads you the riot act, but all of this is his way of showing he really wants the best for the player.
    Resetti: I know ya ain't fond of our little chats, but I'm doin' it for you, kid. That's how much this mole cares. Face it, if I didn't care, I'd just show up, hack out a word or two like it was no big deal, and leave...
  • Deconstructed in The Brains And The Brawn with Mayor James P. Ravena, who made his son, Gale Ravena, do hard, literal backbreaking labor (it was so severe that it gave his son constant back pain) and treated him as essentially a slave who does everything his father demands. When confronted about this by the title duo, he claims that he did it to turn his Lazy Bum son into a hard worker who will be ready for the task of running Ravena. Instead, his son runs away from home and hates him so much that he becomes the Big Bad who masterminds the entire takeover of Ravena as a revenge plot, while also becoming abusive to his girlfriend Jeanne and trying to make her capture and kill his father.
  • In Deus Ex: Human Revolution, Adam Jensen can use this trope in certain instances of Talking the Monster to Death — it's literally one of the selectable options in the case of Sandoval.
  • Fallout
  • Deconstructed in God of War (PS4): Kratos carries a lot of emotional baggage from the original trilogy, and as such becomes convinced that it would be better if he influenced his son Atreus as little as possible, fearing that he might turn out just like him. When his wife Faye dies, Kratos is forced to train his son in order to teach him to survive, but his methods aren't exactly conducive to a more positive relationship. This, combined with his less than stellar communication skills, ends up convincing Atreus that his father doesn't care about him (or at the very least sees him as a disappointment). Kratos has to really work at showing his son that he's wrong in that department, but make no mistake: Kratos does love his son, and the list of things he wouldn't do to protect him is alarmingly short.
  • It Takes Two (2021) has Dr. Hakim, whose idea of relationship therapy is forcing Cody and May to literally fight all of the problems their neglect and hostility have created, while never allowing them to shove the blame onto other people and continually blocking the "easy way out".
  • In the backstory for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, King Rhoam treated Zelda with this as she strove to awaken her Royalty Super Power that she needed to defeat Calamity Ganon. On top of pushing her to undergo Training from Hell which involved extensive prayer at sacred springs (including one icy spring in which she had passed out), he also became a Fantasy-Forbidding Father, denying her the opportunity to study the ancient Sheikah Magitek that was being uncovered at the time so she would concentrate more on her training. Not only did Rhoam realize and deeply regret how this was ruining his relationship with his daughter, he also started slowly realizing that it was not helping her unlock her powers. Unfortunately, the very day he resolved to start treating her more kindly and maybe even let her study the Sheikah tech is the day Ganon returned, killed him, and destroyed Hyrule.
  • Mass Effect: If he survives the first game, this is essentially Urdnot Wrex's approach as leader of the krogan. Wrex is absolutely uncompromising and harsh in putting his reforms in place because he knows that they are vital to survival of the krogan people and they face imminent extinction if changes are not made and they don't convince the rest of the galaxy that they deserve a second chance. He may not win all of the popularity contests with the krogan, but everything he does is to their benefit. In the third game, if Shepard has supported his approach unwaveringly, he succeeds and the krogan are on the path to a new golden age.
    Wrex: Speak when spoken to, Uvenk. I'll drag your clan to glory whether it likes it or not.
  • Persona:
    • With Persona 4's Social Links, the player is encouraged to do this with the use of Dialogue Trees — the Social Links all revolve around helping a person overcome their own issues, and the protagonist essentially serves a role like a therapist. Being blunt and honest, but also fair and not belittling or insulting, is generally considered the best option and will result in the most positive response and allow quicker progression through the Link. Many of the more blunt options require a certain amount of Courage, Expression, or Understanding to perform. By contrast, coddling or ignoring the problems will result in the worst responses, and make the Link slower to complete. This ties into the game's Central Theme of uncovering truths both about the world and about yourself, no matter how terrible they may be.
    • Persona 5
  • Potion Permit:
    • Mercy seems to be a stern, no-nonsense housewife at first, but her strict discipline on her children comes from her genuine love for them.
    • Opalheart is as tough towards her daughter as she is in her own blacksmithing. They may argue with each other a lot, but Opalheart still cares deeply about Runeheart.
  • In Psychonauts, it turns out that rather than putting Raz through acrobatic Training from Hell in a bid to quash his psychic powers or kill him, his dad, Augustus, actually did it to make absolutely sure Raz could survive whatever dangers came his way, as their family has, as he puts it, "a lot of enemies", as evidenced by the Gypsy Curse put on them regarding water. However, Raz didn't see it this way and saw Augustus as a Boomerang Bigot who hated psychics despite being one himself, leading to a mental version of Augustus being one of the final bosses. It takes Augustus showing up in the Meat Circus and bestowing an 11th-Hour Superpower onto Raz to convince him otherwise.

  • Drowtales:
    • This may be the case for how Quaintana views how she raises her children. However, her children (not to mention readers of the comic) view it as quite the opposite.
    • A milder example comes from Chrystel's attempts to mold Faen into a stronger person. It worked about as well as you'd expect.
  • Girl Genius:
    • Klaus Wulfenbach orders his son around much like minions and (unlike minions) constantly gives him hard and sometimes sneaky tests. Then the Baron is wounded and vultures circle around him, his reaction on seeing Gil defeating a mechanized army single-handedly? Unholy glee.
      Klaus: Now. Get me back to bed. [...] Aargh!
      Dr. Sun: I hope it was worth it.
      Klaus: Anything — being paralyzed for life — would be an acceptable price for seeing what I have seen my son do today. Oh, yes.
    • Shortly thereafter, Gil has a plan that will work only if his father loves him. Troops show up to return him to his father's castle by force and Gil thinks — oh yes, he loves me! Which proves quite justified.
  • Homestuck: This seems to have been the relationship between Dave Strider and his Bro. Bro didn't go easy on him, and the one major interaction we see between them is Bro kicking Dave's ass in a fight. But on the other hand, it is shown that the two of them did care for each other quite a lot, and it is heavily implied that the reason Bro trained Dave so harshly was to prepare him for the rigors of the game. Later chapters show that a lot of the above was Dave sugar-coating and thinking up justifications for Bro... after spending some time with people who honestly do care about him he comes to the conclusion that Bro was an abuser obsessed with "looking cool" to the detriment of all else. It is suggested however that Bro may have been affected by the presence of Lil' Cal being around him all his life... Lil' Cal had by this point been revealed to have been possessed by the spirit of the incredibly sadistic and evil Big Bad.
  • Eric Sakai from Soul Symphony, a sophomore in high school, was forced to start learning to play violin by his grandparents when he was seven, was doing solo recitals at concert halls by twelve, and forced to start learning MORE string instruments by thirteen. He didn't want to, but it made him a prodigy.
  • Trying Human: EBE1 and Shade's approach to Hue, though they can get pretty extreme about it.
  • Loserz: Resident Alpha Bitch Carrie's parents raised her to think that any sort of failure or character flaw had to be stamped out, that strength and success was all that mattered, and that being around "losers" would drag you down to their level. They're not hypocrites about it either, they apply the exact same way of thinking to themselves, resulting in their daughter growing into a popular and high-achieving, but also mean and bitchy teenager who genuinely believes that the social stratification of high school is how the whole world works. Ironically, two of her closest friends, Alice and Jesse, are some of the nicer characters in the comic.

    Web Original 
  • Discussed in this video by Dewayne Noel, the owner of Dry Creek Wrangler School. In the video, Noel argues that if you've repeatedly tried to help someone and they've continuously rebuffed you as a parent, then you have to "let them hit the wall" and learn the hard way. The video is Noel telling stories about his kids and how they would frequently act out when they were hurt while playing, such as a cut or a scrape. Dewayne frequently told them to shake it off and go play, because he figured out that what they really wanted was attention instead of medical help.
    Dewayne Noel: Sometimes, one of the hardest things to learn growing up is to know when to help somebody, and when to just let them hit the wall. [...] The reality of life is sometimes, you have to let someone hit the wall, because that's the only way they're going to learn. That's the only way they're going to figure it out.
  • Deconstructed by video essayist F..D. Signifier in this video titled It's Tough Loving Lauryn Hill, where he touches on the black community's relationship with the idea of Tough Love. He points out that people usually only hear the success stories and the cases where Tough Love didn't work tend to go untold, leading him to posit the question "What if Tough Love is just Trauma we've Mythologized as Useful?"

    Western Animation 
  • Adventure Time: The aim of the videos left behind by Finn and Jake's father in "Dad's Dungeon" was intended to make Finn tougher (he calls Finn a whiny baby and also makes Jake do the same). It is only revealed at the end of the episode that Finn's father does, in fact, love him and was trying to make him tougher so that he may be stronger when fighting evil.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender: This was Fire Lord Ozai's "excuse" for burning half of his son's face off in a duel:
    Ozai: It was to teach you respect!
    Zuko: It was cruel, and it was wrong!
    Ozai: Then you have learned nothing!
  • An episode of Batman Beyond had a variation of the trope; here unruly students at Hamilton Hill High were sent to a reformation center in the hope of turning them into model citizens. Unfortunately, the center didn't distinguish between budding criminals and peaceful dissenters, and the methods being used also involved brainwashing and mild torture. Naturally, a riot breaks out.
  • Big Hero 6: The Series: Professor Granville. When Hiro thinks he can't complete an assignment because he's no good at it, she encourages him to try harder by saying "Mr. Hamada. I'm the one that gets to tell people they're no good. Don't take my favorite part of the job away."
  • When Della Duck returns in DuckTales (2017), one of her flaws is being too lenient with Huey, Dewey, and Louie. Mrs. Beakley tries to stress to her the importance of tough love. She finally gets it at the end of the episode, "Timephoon!" when she puts her foot down and grounds Louie when one of his schemes goes too far and causes a rift in space and time, and nearly blinks the whole family out of existence.
  • Brian in Family Guy takes this approach after Peter injures himself by turning the stairs in his house into a waterslide.
    Brian: I'm not gonna call the hospital because you won't learn anything if I do.
  • Futurama: "Cold Warriors" reveals that Fry's dad acted cold and verbally abusive towards Fry out of love because he wanted Fry to grow up tougher.
    Yancy Sr.: Look, son. I know I give you the business sometimes. But, if I'm hard on you, it's only 'cause I want you to grow up strong and resilient. Someday, you may face adversities so preposterous, I can't even conceive of them. But I know you'll pull through and make me proud. I love you, son.
  • Gravity Falls: Deconstruction with Filbrick. His rough treatment of Stanley and Stanford did make them stronger, but it also left emotional scars that were so deep they carried them into their sixties. That and the fact that he didn't actually care for either of them.
  • Harley Quinn (2019): Parodied with Psycho and his son Herman. Psycho reveals that his horrible mistreatment of Herman like locking him in the basement, killing anyone who liked him, and naming him Herman were all to give him the terrible childhood backstory a supervillain needs because Psycho believed Herman could be even eviler than himself. Somehow, this actually reconciles the two.
  • King of the Hill: Hank Hill goes through this with his son Bobby. At one point, he even says "I tried being nice, but now it's time for tough love." Oddly enough, despite his backward views on parenting, he draws the line at spanking.
    • This trope is mentioned by name in the episode "Dia-Bill-ic Shock" when Bill is in the hospital for the second time because of his diabetes. His doctor lists all the terrible things that will happen to him if he doesn't get his diabetes under control and Bill asks the doctor if he's just giving him tough love. Rather than answering, the doctor points out that Bill ignored his previous doctor, and tells him he might as well just get a wheelchair now since he'll need one eventually anyway. It's unclear if the doctor was just being a Dr. Jerk, or if he really was just trying to scare Bill into taking his diabetes seriously.
  • My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic: The Pie parents may be dead-serious, strict, prone to anger, and totally willing to let their fillies work all day long with rocks, not to mention their preference to speak in archaic English (they're based on the Amish, after all). But, deep inside, they truly love their four daughters equally and are very proud of them, and care a lot about Pinkie too, even if she's not the kind of mare they wanted to have.
  • Shadow Weaver uses this as a justification for her A+ parenting of Catra in She-Ra and the Princesses of Power, claiming that her handling of a young Catra (which included regularly paralysing her with an immobilisation spell that clearly inflicted pain) was to make her strong enough to survive in the Horde. However, because Shadow Weaver lies as easily as she breathes, jettisons people the moment they are no longer useful to her, and says this while attempting to manipulate Catra, it's hard to tell how much of it was genuine, if twisted, affection and how much of it is Shadow Weaver just genuinely being that awful. In any case, Shadow Weaver feels personally convinced this is the case.
  • Steven Universe: The Maheswaran parents firmly believe this is the perfect way to raise their daughter Connie. They love her but are usually quite strict, demanding, and forbidding to set her on the right track so she can grow up to be a decent woman. That is, until the events of "Nightmare Hospital" when Priyanka Maheswaran realizes she's been way too strict with Connie to the point the poor girl feels rather afraid that her mom's harshness may never let her live her adventurous double-life with Steven. Priyanka has a My God, What Have I Done? moment and decides to be a more loving, supportive, and less harsh mother for Connie. While Connie's dad didn't show up in the episode, it's likely he may have experienced a change of heart as well.

    Real Life 
  • Parental interventions can be seen as this, usually these occur as a last-ditch attempt to put troublemakers on the right track. Examples include drug addicts, compulsive gamblers, shoplifters, truants, etc. This is the premise of the TV documentary of the same name. When people talk about tough love in real life, they usually mean this.
  • Several real-life boot camps also employ tough love to make their objectives heard. See Celebrity Fit Club and its drill instructor Harvey Walden IV for one example. Walden is part of the team of experts (also including a nutritionist and psychologist) and usually means well but has often reduced contestants to tears with some of his comments to those who apparently cannot maintain their targets.
  • One might consider this as Simon Cowell's raison d'etre. Cowell is a Caustic Critic who has appeared on shows like American Idol, The X Factor, and America's Got Talent. On each show, he's the Harsh Talent Show Judge who is not afraid to speak his mind and call acts "bad" to their face if he thinks so. However, Cowell does so in a way that tells them to improve and try again, and he'll praise acts he thinks are genuinely good.
  • This Guardian article describes the positive and negative affects of this trope.
  • The difference between disciplining via tough love and simply being an abusive parent is well demonstrated here. To be more specific, two parents made their very young son walk/run around in the cold in his undies to strengthen his immune system.
  • Hayao Miyazaki loved his son but was not afraid to criticize his work. Commenting on his son's (poorly received) debut film Tales From Earth Sea, he stated "It's good that he made one movie. With that, he should stop."
  • Doug Walker once shared a story where as a kid, he wanted to see The Garbage Pail Kids Movie but his mother prevented him from doing so. As an adult, he finally watched the film and understood why and admitted that it was a blessing in disguise as he absolutely abhorred the film, declaring it to be worse than Manos: The Hands of Fate, and eventually saying that it was the worst movie he had ever seen.


Video Example(s):


Waterslide in the House

Peter makes an indoor water slide down the stairs, but hurts himself using it and starts moaning in pain. Brian tells him he's not calling the hospital because he knew Peter wouldn't learn anything if he did.

How well does it match the trope?

4.81 (21 votes)

Example of:

Main / ToughLove

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