Unconditional Love: How to Give It and How to Know When It's Real
According to the book Real Love, unconditional love is, in essence, true love -- so different from the kind of love most of us have known all our lives that it deserves a definition of its own. Unconditional love is caring about the happiness of another person without any thought for what we might get for ourselves. It’s unconditional love when other people care about our happiness unconditionally. Now for me this is slightly “touchy feely." Even dipping into the conversation about love and true love and what is real love can give the impression that we’ve gone all soft and “hippie," but it’s important for each of us to be aware of when we have experienced unconditional love, and more importantly, how to share it with another individual. I have been talking about this behavior for years but only recently understood it on a deeper level and I realize there’s a lot more to it than we think.
It is not unconditional love when other people like us for doing what they want or because we give them what they demand of us. Under those conditions we’re just “paying” for love in a way (or literally in some cases) with what we do to get that attention. We can be certain that we’re receiving unconditional love only when we make foolish mistakes, when we fail to do what other people want, and even when we get in their way, but they don’t feel disappointed or irritated with us. When we make a seemingly poor choice about our lives, take a wrong turn, undo or sabotage our own happiness... its unconditional love that keeps them right there, not judging or punishing but loving without conditions. It’s that love alone that has the power to heal all wounds, bind people together, and create relationships quite beyond our present capacity to imagine.
To love another person under any circumstances is not relegated to passionate love either. It is not what the pop psychs refer to as “enabling” or just letting someone be discounting to us and you continue to accept the neglect. Unconditional love allows you to love yourself first, so that you have the strength of heart and mind to give the same to another person. Friends and family can be completely unconditional with their love for you, however it is pretty rare; we are programed to be conditional, to expect something in return for our love. I cannot say with complete confidence that we don’t place some degree of conditions on almost all our communication and interactions. We are quite specifically conditioned to only give love when we are reciprocated, and most often according to what we think is worthy of our love. Unconditional love is not a loan needing to be repaid, but a string-less gift of the heart - a gesture where only you benefit directly.
On the occasion you are fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of such an act of thoughtfulness, the experience can be both endearing and a bit awkward -- what do you do for someone who gives to you unconditionally of themselves and asks for nothing in return? Recently I had such an experience and it has given me a sense of value that is very treasured. Genuine unconditional love is a little strange to receive in our world of expectations and reactions, and yet if you allow yourself to be the receiver, I can tell you it’s pretty terrific.
So how do we love unconditionally?
1. Loving unconditionally is more a behavior versus a feeling. Loving is the act of extending ourselves, vulnerabilities and all, into uncharted emotional territory with the belief that regardless of the outcome, we want to benefit another person. Imagine love as a behavior in and of itself, with the satisfaction being that feeling you get when you act a certain way for them, not when someone else acts a certain way to you. This becomes a pure act of generosity.
2. Ask yourself "Am I truly acting with the most love I can for this person at this moment?" I know for myself I can come to a situation with my ego too big and in the way of my unconditional responses... this stuff has to be a conscious act for most of us, so check yourself. Unconditional love is a entirely new process for us in every situation, and we want to convey sincerity with each person we extend that love to so that it is genuine and not conditional.
3. I have a situation in my life right now that’s uncomfortable to accept and my behaviors and reactions, while not harmful to me or others, are not necessarily in the best interest of my personal growth. To love someone unconditionally does not mean that the act of that love is always going to be easy or feel comfortable. To be there for someone when they have challenges and need to foster growth, even those individuals in the fog of confusion know that there is going to be pain and some serious discomfort -- if you choose to protect them from these feelings and emotions you’re not loving them unconditionally. Unconditional love means you tell them the truth with gentle, kind communication and you are there, without judgement, to see them to the other side.
4. What does it mean if you are someone who only loves others, giving of yourself freely without any boundaries? That is you being a “people pleaser” which means you're not being unconditional or loving to yourself first. Let me tell you, playing the martyr is not rewarding or validating and only leaves you and the other person resentful. Work to recognize when doing what is best for you first might sometimes have you prioritizing your needs and desires above someone else's. This is a healthy part of defining who we are as individuals and crucial to know your own gauge for self-love. Remember, only when we know intrinsically that we have value to be loved, can we give love cleanly.
5. Forgiveness is so important. Again, this is a behavior I like to think I have mastered but I haven’t. It’s probably the most difficult and truly unconditional act we perform. In any circumstance where we feel we have been wronged, neglected or taken advantage of, if someone doesn't apologize, it's inherently the most loving to them and to yourself to choose to let go of any anger and resentment. Harboring that energy is hurtful to you spiritually, and over time, physically. The noted author and philosopher Piero Ferrucci shares in his book, Beauty and Soul, that forgiving "is not something we do, but something we are." Granting forgiveness unconditionally isn’t communicating you’ll allow someone to be hurtful or discounting. The act of practicing unconditional love will be tainted and not at all healing if you choose to hold onto negative stuff. I’m preaching to my own choir here, again. This is something we consciously work on every day. There is no perfect, simple way to love without conditions.
Life is hard more often than we’d like it to be. Life is definitely conditional; if we don’t eat, sleep or drink water we will surely die. Scientists, philosophers, gurus, and priests have for centuries spoken of the “unconditional, perfect and everlasting love” and I think it’s real, but not a given. I believe we all have good and light, dark behaviors and weaknesses, and to deny this human condition is to be ignorant to the foundation of our human nature. I do think, however, having been someone who has experienced unconditional love and someone who has consciously chosen to give it, this expression of our kindest Self is a part of growth and generosity we can all benefit from every moment of every day.