Compassion vs. Tough Love – are they mutually exclusive?

Sep 25, 2015 | Sufism

rocks-and-flowersI received this question from one of our community members the other day, and I thought it would be a great one to explore this week.

When to use compassion, when to employ “tough love” – are they mutually exclusive?

I posed the question to a few of our faculty members, and here’s a response from Rahim Jeff Bronner, expert on Life Purpose, Fulfillment and Relationships:

“Good question. I always start with compassion, and I stay with that until I start to get annoyed or it starts to feel like enough. There is a line where it switches from compassion into co-dependence and that’s usually a good indicator for me that it’s time to switch. As far as tough love, I’m terrible at it! But I do think about being straight, being honest, holding a boundary so someone will grow beyond unhealthy behavior.”

I’ve been watching our guide, Sidi, for years now. Sometimes he is delivering the teachings with soft compassion and even humor. Sometimes, he gets pretty strong with us. Like Rahim said – enough already!

Sidi seems to know when to make that switch. But when he speaks even in the strong tone, I still feel like he is delivering love – he is straight, honest and holds the boundary so we can grow beyond our own limitations.

I believe the key is that he always holds our hearts as beings of light – our truth of Love and Mercy – and speaks “tough love” to the voices that we carry that keep us from knowing that truth. He speaks strongly to help us break our attachments to the pictures and voices that keep us believing we are separate from God’s Love.

For us possibly less-polished humans, I think the question to ask ourselves is, “Who am I speaking to?” We always want to speak to each other with love and compassion. There is goodness in everyone – the Light of Allah in every heart. We need to be respectful of that Light and reflect it for each other no matter what shows up for us – like holding up the mirror to reflect back the light so those we are speaking to can see it for themselves.

Like Rahim said – when we feel ourselves going down that path that feels annoying or uncomfortable, there’s a good chance we’re dialoging with the voices and going into co-dependence rather than staying with the heart. The voices feel “annoying” – they take us away from love – but the heart is pure Love!