In this week’s Success Newsletter, I would like to discuss the challenges of unconditional love.
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Now, let’s talk about unconditional love – what it is and the challenges it presents.
“To give and not expect return, that is what lies at the heart of love.” – Oscar Wilde
“Love has nothing to do with what you are expecting to get – only with what you are expecting to give – which is everything.”– Katherine Hepburn
It is something that has been glorified and desired in poetry, books, movies, and music; something that has become known as the ideal love, even the divine love – unconditional love – a love where there is no conditions, no expectations, no reservations; a love that is absolute.
It is the love that we have created as the ideal; the desire to be fully loved, no matter what, to feel fully accepted, no matter what. It is the ideal that is so deeply yearned for in relationships – ‘Love me no matter what happens, no matter what I do. Love me as I am and for always.’
But is unconditional love achievable and is the desire for it and expectation of it beneficial or destructive?
Alfred Adler, Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers and Rollo May where a group of American Psychologists who formed humanistic psychology in the late 1950s and early 1960s. They taught that one of our basic emotional needs is the nurturing and self-actualizing culture of unconditionality: unconditional acceptance by others, unconditional self-regard, unconditional self-acceptance, and unconditional love.
Their message was a response to the denigration of the human spirit that is often implied in the image of the person drawn by behavioral and social sciences (i.e. we have conditioned reflexes & responses; we are animals with basic drives beyond our control.) Humanistic psychology set out to affirm the inherent value and dignity of human beings.
Thus, the humanistic psychologists were seeking and attempting to create an ideal.
But is that ideal – unconditional love – truly achievable and livable?
The term ‘unconditional love’ automatically implies and infers that there must be other types of love as well.. And there are. In my article, “Love or infatuation”, I explain that there are various Greek words for love –
Philia – love in friendship; the caring and concern for one’s fellow human beings.
Storge – parental love and affection felt towards one’s children or offspring.
Eros – sensual love; the love of attraction; the concept of being “in love” but it can also refer to an evolved appreciation of one’s beauty inside and out.
Agape – an unselfish love; unconditional love – when you give without expecting anything in return; sacrificial love.
But can we as imperfect humans truly love another person unconditionally and should we even strive to make that our ideal – to love someone unconditionally and to be loved unconditionally?
Some religions teach that God loves unconditionally, while others teach that God is conditional – the bible talks about God loving Jacob but hating Esau; God says to Moses, `I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.’
But as humans, we long for and crave unconditional love.
And we have all experienced it – at one time or another – albeit momentarily. At some point in our infancy, possibly cradled in the arms of our parents, we felt this unconditional love (safety, security, acceptance, physical warmth, connection); and as adult we might have experienced it – again momentarily or fleetingly – in a relationship or an experience of a real connection and bond with someone; a feeling of every wall or barrier gone and a sense of oneness, unity and warmth.
And here is the danger or challenge of unconditional love: we expect it to be timeless and endless; we demand that the other person make us feel this way all the time. And if we don’t constantly feel unconditional love and acceptance, then we feel unloved or we become critical, judgmental, resentful or cynical – “Why can’t you just love me the way I am?”
And therein lays the next danger of expecting unconditional love from someone else: “I can act any way I want, do anything I want, treat you any way I want and you must love me.” After all, unconditional love means there are no conditions and no expectations. But how can this be achieved within a relationship? If your partner cheats on you, lies, steals or abuses you, are you expected to love him or her unconditionally? And what if you treat your partner that way or if you become depressed, lose your job, become ill or if your personality or behavior changes? Should your partner love you no matter what? Are there conditions, limits or boundaries?
Does unconditional love imply selflessness?
Are you to forego all of your needs, desires and even self-respect in order to love the other person unconditionally?
And if you do love them unconditionally, regardless of what they do or do to you, are you then truly loving yourself?
Should a wife remain in a marriage with an alcoholic abusive husband? Should a mother unconditionally love her husband if he sexually abuses his children and refuses to stop?
And why do we choose to make unconditional love so personal?
In other words, if we strive to love unconditionally, why do we choose this person to love unconditionally but not the other person? What is it about that person that makes us elect him or her as our object of unconditional love; is it his or her appearance, personality, humor, status or the way they make us feel?
The point is that we already created conditions and criteria when choosing whom we would love unconditionally. And the danger occurs any time we create an unlivable ideal.
The solution is simple: balance.
We do need to set our values, intentions and goals. And striving to love more, give more and express more compassion and forgiveness leads to inner peace; I teach and believe that our ultimate sense of fulfillment comes from serving others & making a difference – a powerful expression of love.
But one mistake the humanistic psychologists made was that while identifying the intrinsic value of each human being and striving for unconditional love, they created an imbalance; to love ourselves also implies being clear about what we will and won’t accept in our lives and in our relationships. “Love thy neighbor as thyself” implies that we love ourselves first, and the more love we express to ourselves (kindness, forgiveness, patience, compassion, etc) the more we can express to others. But it never implies allowing other people to abuse us, denigrate us or destroy our spirit in the name of unconditional love.
Seek the balance – for there is where you will find the pearls of happiness and inner peace.
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I wish you the best and remind you “Believe in yourself -You deserve the best!”
Patrick Wanis Ph.D.
Celebrity Life Coach, Human Behavior & Relationship Expert & SRTT Therapist