Conditional Love

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. 

It is also important because when Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Questioning (LGBTQ) youth are expelled from the home they are at significantly greater risk for homelessness and suicide.

Example:

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. 

  1. Fear of what people will think
  2. Fear of the social consequences
  3. Fear that your child/family member/friend is going to Hell
  4. Fear that people will think something is wrong with your family or friend
  5. Fear of something you don’t understand
  6. 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.

Love.

“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

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3 thoughts on “Conditional Love

  1. “Love is the ability and willingness to allow those that you care for to be what they choose for themselves without any insistence that they satisfy you”. -Wayne Dyer.

    Over the past year I have been doing a lot of self reflection and one of the biggest insights I have had is regarding my concept of “love” and what I believe it means. Out of this came many realizations but one of the biggest was how many conditions I place on the relationships I have with my loved ones. You hit the nail right on the head when it was stated,
    “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 have realized that I do this out of….FEAR. Fear that if I accept someone as they are then it means what they are doing will continue to occur or fear that if I don’t “correct” someone’s behavior that it somehow takes away from my own self. These are just two examples out of many that I have realized happen when I choose FEAR over LOVE. The interesting part of this though is that when I choose to respond from a place of fear that it actually does the opposite of what I had hoped.

    Let’s say it is connection that I am hoping for out of my relationship. A current challenge my significant other and I have been working through in our relationship comes to mind as an example of choosing Love over Fear.
    One thing that I value immensely about my partner is his integrity and ability to speak from a place of truth, even when I don’t necessarily like what that truth may be:)
    I asked him a question and he provided me with a very heartfelt and honest answer to that question.
    I immediately found myself putting up this wall between him and I because my ego was hurt by his response.
    In the past, I would have attempted to shield my ego through passive aggressive statements and behaviors with the goal of “punishing” him for what I perceived to be the ways in which he “wronged” me. My passive aggressive behavior is one way I withhold love. I am choosing FEAR rather than LOVE which is going to ultimately create my self fulfilling prophecy regarding connection.
    It’s only when I am aware enough to see that the problem isn’t with what he did or said but rather the issue is the fact that I placed a condition on my love for him and our relationship. When I am able to tell my Ego to take a hike for the time being, I can clearly see that choosing LOVE time and time again in my relationship allows our connection to become more meaningful and deeper with each challenge. Which is where another quote from this post really resonated with me when it said, “I’ve seen the process of staying connected through the fear and pain and it can lead to continued loving connections”.

    One more additional thing is that when I place conditions on the love I give to those in my life I’ve found that there is more than likely something I need to look at within myself. Often times, the reason I am judging another is because I am projecting something I don’t like about myself onto them. This is why I believe that extending unconditional love to myself is so paramount to me being able to do that for the people I love the most in this world. Unless I am continually working on loving and accepting myself more, how can I expect to extend the same kindness and compassion to others?

    Sissy Beard, you continue to inspire me to be the very best version of myself and for that I am truly grateful.

    All of my best,
    Lindsay

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  2. I love your continued insights. And your engagement keeps me motivated to keep this going.
    I really need you to know how much I appreciate this.
    In terms of love over fear. I often ask my clients are you choosing Love or Fear or for some clients I also ask are you choosing Faith or Fear. I think you are absolutely right when it comes to our ego manifesting fear and projecting it onto our relationships. I needed this post to try and explain how to stay connected to the people we love without being mean and disrespectful because I think that’s how fear shows up.

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