U is for unconditional love
Updated: Oct 16, 2022
“Unconditional love is a beautiful thing, as long as we don’t use it against ourselves. I can love all of humanity, but that doesn’t mean that I will put up with all of humanity. The boundary, for me, is set at healthy self-regard. When my unconditional love for another undermines my self-respect, the fence goes up.
Not because I don’t believe in their possibilities, but because I have come to realize that there is no value in sacrificing my actuality for their potentiality. I make a distinction between human potential — which may well be infinite; and human actuality — which is often quite finite, particularly in those who choose, over decades, to remain asleep.
Yes, they may well awaken, but we should never postpone any part of our own life waiting for that to happen. We should never hold back our own potential. Unconditional love begins at home, with the protecting and honouring of our own unique journey” Jeff Brown
I was really pleased to have come across this quote as too often it is easy to feel guilt tripped into believing that for you to practice unconditional love towards another you need to keep giving without limit regardless of response. Pressure is often piled on by others saying that you ‘have to’ x, y or z but this is not the case, your first priority is to yourself and this quote legitimised for me the ‘rightness’ of setting boundaries, despite it being a paradox !
“Your personal boundaries protect the inner core of your identity and your right to choices.” Gerard Manley Hopkins
Unconditional love is not love without limits it is simply love offered without conditions or strings attached ; i.e. without expectation of repayment. It is not based on what someone can do for you in return ; you simply have chosen to love another person and want nothing more than their happiness. This type of love is sometimes called compassionate or agape love or loving kindness and was described by the ancient Greeks as an altruistic, universal, selfless, unconditional love.
“Unconditional love, agape love, will not be swayed by time or circumstances.”
Unconditional love is altruistic because you don’t consider any potential benefits of loving someone ; you simply choose to offer your love in order to support and benefit the other person and to enable them to flourish and grow at their own pace.
Parental love towards a child is often cited as an example of unconditional love but too often this is not the case ; parents, often unwittingly, have expectations that their investment of time and love will produce certain results regardless of whether it is right for their child. There is a sense that a child ‘owes’ the parent when the parent uses phrases like “We are very disappointed you chose to do x, y or z as we had always hoped that you would become/do a, b or c”or “I can’t believe that you have chosen to do that after all I have done for you”.
Unconditional love requires acceptance, understanding and appreciation. Everyone makes mistakes but unconditional love encompasses these mistakes with unconditional acceptance by engaging your observing self rather than your thinking self. You can’t love someone unconditionally unless your love remains unchanged despite their actions, but you can take steps to protect your own well-being by setting boundaries and you can love someone unconditionally without having to have a suffocating relationship with them.
Acceptance sometimes involves recognizing when someone is unable or unlikely to change and placing protective boundaries to maintain your personal health. There’s an important distinction between unconditional love and forgiveness and continuing to accept harmful actions. If you have communicated your boundaries clearly and still see no change, then by continuing to accept the other person’s actions, you are enabling the person in a way that negatively affects your well-being, and this is unhealthy, co-dependent love rather than unconditional love.
In Man's Search For Meaning, Viktor Frankl draws parallels between the human capacity to love unconditionally and living a meaningful life. He writes,
"Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the essence of another human being unless he loves him. [...] Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize ... potentialities."
Unconditional love is shown to be a means by which we enable and reach human potential.
“When we enter relationships with other people, we are entering relationships with another human being—a person full of quirks and flaws and challenges. And we also show our own quirks and flaws and challenges. One of the most beautiful experiences in human life is learning to lean into the tension of those challenges by offering connection, love, and understanding and by accepting influence, creating compromise, and moving forward in a way in which both people win.” Elizabeth Earnshaw
By giving unconditional love, it can have benefits to your emotional health . A 2009 study entitled The neural basis for unconditional love explored the brain regions activated by feelings of unconditional love and results suggested that unconditional love activates some of the same areas of the brain’s reward system as ‘romantic love’ i.e. the act of loving someone unconditionally may produce positive feelings.
Those on the receiving end of unconditional love experience greater emotional well-being and it can lead to greater resilience and fewer mental health symptoms. When we are on the receiving end of unconditional love we experience a greater sense of security being reassured that others will not give up on us despite our mistakes, shortcomings or ill health and are encouraged by someone else rooting for our success.
“People also nurture our growth by being accepting—by offering us what Rogers called unconditional positive regard. This is an attitude of grace, an attitude that values us even knowing our failings. It is a profound relief to drop our pretences, confess our worst feelings, and discover that we are still accepted. In a good marriage, a close family, or an intimate friendship, we are free to be spontaneous without fearing the loss of others' esteem.”
David G Myers
‘Rogers’ is Carl Rogers, a psychologist who talks about the benefits of unconditional positive regard stating that an individual will flourish when in an environment that provides them with genuineness, authenticity, openness, self-disclosure, acceptance, empathy and approval
“For me it expresses the primary theme of my whole professional life, as that theme has been clarified through experience, interaction with others, and research. This theme has been utilized and found effective in many different areas until the broad label 'a person-centred approach' seems the most descriptive. The central hypothesis of this approach can be briefly stated. It is that the individual has within him or her self vast resources for self-understanding, for altering her or his self-concept, attitudes, and self-directed behaviour—and that these resources can be tapped if only a definable climate of facilitative psychological attitudes can be provided” Carl Rogers
Unconditional love begins with ourselves. Psychologist Abraham Maslow, supports this perspective by saying that in order to grow, an individual has to have a positive perspective of themselves
“Learn to pay attention to your body with the relaxed attitude of gratitude, trust, curiosity and unconditional love rather than being pushed around by habit, fear, anxiety, social customs, other people's schedules and other people's ideas about what is good for you.”
Wallace D. Wattles
Finally a thought from Martin Luther King Jr
“I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word”
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Who offers you unconditional love?
Who do you love unconditionally?
Who should you love conditionally but are loving conditionally?
If you want to reflect more on this subject, here are some links to get you started: