“Of course love is never earned. It is a grace we give one another. Anything we need to earn is only approval.” – Rachel Naomi Remen
I find it particularly curious this idea of conditional love. By conditional love, I mean the idea that I will love you as long as you act according to what I think and feel is right. In the event, that you do or say something that is inconsistent with what I think and feel is right, I will withhold my love in an attempt to get you to act right.
Sheryl Paul writes a wonderful piece distinguishing between unconditional love and approval from which I found the opening quote.
I think sometimes the rationale behind this approach is that if I withhold my love and connection you will be forced to see the error in your ways and come around to doing things my way. You will see that I am right about how people should act and when that happens I will return my love and connection to you.
I see examples of conditional love when it comes to a myriad of issues including: political affiliations, religious beliefs, employment opportunities, college majors and sexual orientation (to name a few).
I think people want their loved ones to live a “safe” life and when they take a path that doesn’t involve the traditional check boxes (go to college, get hetero-married, buy a house, have kids, get a “good job”) it leaves them more vulnerable to challenges. In many cases there are real social consequences to taking the road less traveled.
I’m going to present an example that’s covered a lot in the media and can feel pretty divisive to some people because it cuts across so many people’s values.
A child discloses to their parent (or other family members or friends) that they’re gay. For some parents they see this coming from miles away. For others, this was not even on their radar. Sometimes this leads to a strong emotional reaction. But what sometimes happens after that strong emotional reaction and as a result of that strong emotional reaction, is the expulsion of the child from the family.
This part is devastating and I’m guessing often it is rooted in fear and shame.
- Fear of what people will think
- Fear of the social consequences
- Fear that your child/family member/friend is going to Hell
- Fear that people will think something is wrong with your family or friend
- Fear of something you don’t understand
- And probably hundreds of other fears that are person and family specific.
This is where unconditional love starts to look conditional.
I would be willing to restore the relationship and reconnect when and if you change the person you are to fit the way I think people should be.
No one wins out here. The family members are disconnected and love is cut off. The fear compounds and grows and the rift widens. Over time loved ones become strangers.
What might be the solution:
Even though it’s hard, keep the connection going on both ends by communicating slowly and kindly.
Try to be compassionate and see the situation from the other person’s perspective.
Ask a lot of questions.
And really listen to the answers and then ask more questions.
Admit your fears.
Own your feelings around what is happening.
Pause as needed to breathe and assess how you’re feeling.
Just, keep talking to the people you love even if it’s hard.
I’ve seen the process of staying connected through the fear and pain and it can lead to continued loving connections.
HUGE SUPER IMPORTANT CAVEAT: If the situation is verbally and/or physically abusive or unsafe in anyway. Get out. Don’t keep talking. Don’t stay connected. No one ever gets to tell you you are less of a person or hurt you in anyway because of who you are. Call this number.
Don’t forget to love yourself unconditionally first.
“It is love alone that leads to right action. What brings order in the world is to love and let love do what it will” – J. Krishnamurti