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"This is the whip of love."
Shigure, before throwing Kenichi into a training machine that would look more in place in a Saw movie, Kenichi: The Mightiest Disciple

"She's poisoned my breakfast and dinner, she keeps hiding behind doors and attacking me when I open them, and this morning she threw a snake at me."
Jack Cannon, on his mother, The Fancy Adventures of Jack Cannon

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 Badass but unable to display casual affection. However taken too far and the kid could end up an emotionally disturbed The Woobie or even worse 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 Unfavourite compared to their other siblings. Can lead to a "Well Done, Son" Guy moment if this turned out not to be the case.

This trope is frequently used as justifications 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. The Other Wiki has its own definition here. See Cruel to Be Kind for this trope taken to its extreme.

Expect much Angst resulting from this trope.

Examples of Tough Love include:

Anime and Manga

  • In Kyojin no Hoshi, this seems to be the intention behind Ittetsu Hoshi's treatment of his son Hyuuma and the Training From Hell that he subjects the poor kid to. To modern viewers, very understandably, this comes off as him being abusive to his son (and neglectful to his daughter) instead.
  • History's Mightiest Disciple Kenichi 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 put him to the point of nearly dying from his training on a daily basis. As the story continues, the teachers first take the training Up to Eleven for him to survive just the ruthless delinquents that come after him. When the Yami organization appears, however, the training goes Beyond the Impossible.
  • Guy's training methods in Naruto. Not to mention Itachi's behaviour towards Sasuke.
  • 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 losing control of his powers to a hilarious scene between himself and Mana in a hospital, its fair to say that Tough Love must be part of the school curriculum.
  • In the third arc of Higurashi no Naku Koro ni, Satoko says that her Evil Uncle abusing her is this. In reality 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.
  • 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.
  • Vice-Admiral Garp of One Piece is a firm advocate of this principle. Just look at how he changed Helmeppo and Koby from cowards into legitimate badasses after taking them under his wing. It is also part of the reason why the hero, his grandson Luffy, is terrified of him.
  • Let's not forget Ranma ½ where Genma Saotome absolutely loves doing this to poor Ranma by way of Training From Hell.
  • In Digimon Tamers, Juri's very tight-lipped father raised her this way after the death of her mother. Unfortunately, this accidentally made her into a Stepford Smiler who broke before she came home from the Digital World. And Mr. Katou only realized his Tragic Mistake when she was kidnapped and turned into a Barrier Maiden.
  • Isshin Kurosaki of Bleach randomly kicks his son in the head, from another room. By the beginning of the series, Ichigo can usually see it coming, which Isshin openly states is his intention.
  • 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. On top of this, Sesshoumaru's mother also seems to be this type as well since her single appearance in the manga is to enact a plan she and her late husband had concocted together to execute against Sesshoumaru when he had finally started experiencing compassion in order to teach him the value of nurturing such attachments.

  Jaken: 'So in order for Sesshoumaru-sama to have a compassionate heart, it means Rin had to die?'

  • 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.


  • 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.
  • 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.


  • Legends of the Fall has the Ludlow brothers who at first are rivals for their father's affections and then later on over the token chick.
  • A mild version of this is in Mc Clintock 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 .


  • A Song of Ice and Fire has several examples, played straight, subverted and even averted at times.
  • This is also possibly the only explanation for the way Lord Asriel treats his daughter Lyrain 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!
  • 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...
  • 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'.

Live Action TV

  • Was the title of a Season 5 episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
  • Arguably, also the case for Dean's upbringing by his father in Supernatural
  • 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.
  • 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 its 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.
    • Actually, Shawn's mom didn't leave until he was a senior in high school. Presumably she agree with Henry that training Shawn to be a detective was a good idea or at least didn't want to argue the point.
  • Ken Titus. His trademark phrase was "Stop being a wussy!"
  • 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.
  • Arguably Arthur Petrelli towards his sons. Otherwise he's just a Big Bad Dad
  • Bart Bass' parenting style of choice on Gossip Girl.
  • Dr. Cox loves doing this with almost all his interns.
  • 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.
  • 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. Viewers mightYMMV on whether or not this worked.
  • On an episode of House Cuddy realizes that her mother pushed her to succeed because she saw potential in her more than her sister.
  • Lorelai Gilmore of Gilmore Girls says that using tough love is the best way to get Rory to go back to Yale.


  • 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.


  • Arguably Hamlet is using Tough Love to persuade Ophelia to leave him. "I am only cruel to be kind" indeed.

Web Comics

  • Klaus Wulfenbach in Girl Genius 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.
  • This may be the case for how Quaintana views how she raises her children in Drowtales. However her children (not to mention readers of the comic) view it as quite the opposite.
  • Eric Sakai from Soul Symphony, a sophomore in high school, was forced to start leaning 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.

Western Animation

  • 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."

  • In the above average The Lion King sequel Simba's Pride; Nuka is this to 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 act of affection for Nuka when she frantically tries to save him and holds him as he dies.
  • An episode of Batman Beyond had a variation of the trope; here unruly students at Mc-Kinley High were sent to a reformation centre in the hope of turning them into model citizens. Unfortunately the methods being used also involved brainwashing and mild torture. Naturally a riot breaks out.

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.
  • Several real life boot camps also employ tough love to make their objectives heard. See CelebrityFitClub and it's 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. YMMV as to whether this actually succeeds or not.
  • One might consider this as Simon Cowell's raison d'etre.
  • This Guardian article describes the positive and negative affects of this trope.
  • This is probably the kindest way to describe Amy Chua's approach to raising her daughters.
  • Arguably the concept behind Montessori educational schools.
  • The difference between disciplining via tough love and simply being a Abusive Parents is well demonstrated here
  • Charles Bufe, an anarchist writer, once described tough love as "Abuse of a type particularly gratifying to the abuser, in that it combines the pleasures of sadism with those of self-righteousness."