You look up. You see him peering through the window with anticipatory excitement–his tail wagging faster as you get closer to the door. You stepped outside to get the newspaper, but it’s like he hasn’t seen you for days. You open the door and are greeted with a sloppy lick to the face–his total acceptance of you undeniable. Our pets don’t know any other way to feel. I am talking about unconditional love.
You’ve heard songs about it, seen it in movies and read about it in books. But, what exactly is unconditional love? Unconditional love is when you are loved for who you are and not what you have done or have the ability to do. It is critical for our mental and emotional health that we know we mean more than our achievements.
“The only way love can last a lifetime is if it’s unconditional. The truth is this: love is not determined by the one being loved but rather by the one choosing to love.”
- Stephen Kendrick
Unconditional love is kind
Sometimes our hunger for unconditional love is so great we allow ourselves to be treated in ways we wouldn’t had we not been starving for it. We exist in our relationships without fully disclosing the essence of who we are, we act aggressively by relentlessly subjecting ourselves to negative rhetoric that would buckle the knees of the toughest warriors and we’re quick to judge ourselves without understanding and forgiveness.
We hide in the shadows of our reality, yet say we want to be loved for who we are. But how can we be loved for who we are when we have difficulty loving ourselves.
“It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.”
- André Gide
Unconditional love is truth
If we don’t unconditionally love ourselves, it is not possible to feel unconditionally loved by someone else, even if they unconditionally love us. It’s not our fault. We are products of our experiences but can choose to let go of the negativity. We can choose to meditate, change our beliefs and practice gratitude to reacquaint ourselves with the magnificent beings we are. We can choose to let go of those barriers standing between us and unconditional love.
“we accept the love we think we deserve.” – Stephen Chbosky
Unconditional love is like air
We need unconditional love to thrive. We think about it, hope for it, fantasize about it and recognize our lives are incomplete without it. That’s why dating and relationship web sites are so successful.
It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that our emotional need for unconditional love is just as great as our physical need for air and food. In fact, research shows babies who are deprived of love, suffer mentally, physically and emotionally and we’re no different.
We can suffer from sadness, depression, loneliness and a myriad of aches and pains. In some elder couples, when one passes away, the other has been known to follow shortly–the heartbreak too great.
“You know you’re in love when you can’t fall asleep because reality is finally better than your dreams.” ― Dr. Seuss
Unconditional love has boundaries
Unconditional love doesn’t mean you don’t try to influence, limit, and persuade another person. That couldn’t be further from the truth. Unconditional love means loving someone so much you do what is best for you, them and the relationship, even if that means letting them know what you will and won’t tolerate.
There is a distinction between unconditional love and allowing a person to behave in a way that is detrimental to themselves, you or your relationship with them. Take my relationship with my boyfriend for example. I love him unconditionally, but our relationship has the conditional requirement of treating each other with respect. Respect is also one of the conditional requirements I have in my relationship with my son.
“You don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.” – Jodi Picoult
Unconditional love is not tied to tasks
Another thing we do is confuse unconditional love with the performance of tasks. I don’t remember the full Dr. Phil episode, but I do remember his guest being upset about her husband not taking out the trash. She saw it as a sign that he didn’t love her.
She told Dr. Phil trash was dirty and if her husband loved her, he would take out the trash. But when Dr. Phil asked her husband whether taking out the trash had anything to do with his love for his wife, he said no; it was just one more chore on a list of chores he had for the day.
You can see how this confusion could cause tension in a relationship. Every time Dr. Phil’s guest’s husband didn’t take out the trash when she wanted him to, she felt unloved. Once the situation was cleared up, Dr. Phil’s guest could make the distinction between performing a task and unconditional love.
Unconditional love is more than what you do for a person; it is how you feel about them. Think of all the people who get roses, chocolates and special gifts on valentines day who are not unconditionally loved.
Unconditional love is just there.
It is the only kind of love that can fill us up, make us whole, and give us the happiness we want and anything other than that kind of love isn’t really love at all, but a cheap imitation of the real thing.