I Love You, I Love You Not
This week I was Googling the idea of unconditional love. The most common Google searches that appeared was “Do I love my husband unconditionally?” and “Do I love my kids unconditionally?” but what about you. Do you love yourself unconditionally?
I’ve written about self-love [here], self-care [here],, and self-empowerment [here], but have not touched upon the specific term for the relationship that I had with myself that I was completely unaware of until recently.
Self-love is a beautiful and fulfilling practice. However, there are times when it feels so damn hard. As if there is a roadblock between your intention in what you want to do and your upbringing in what you were hard-wired to do. I discovered that my roadblock was my melding of self-love and conditional love.
So first of all, what is unconditional versus conditional love? Simply put, unconditional love is when you love without conditions and conditional love is when that love is earned through the possession of or attainment of certain requirements.
I think that the debate is more clearly defined when we look at society or parenting. Society practices conditional love through their markers of success—physical attainment of money, beauty, or career—all of which grants you public recognition (which is society’s way of saying “I love you”). Then there’s parenting, or more specifically parenting style. If we behaved in a certain way we were rewarded, and if we did not, then we were punished. We may have had expectations in regards to grades or University and maybe that extended to appearance, money, and significant others. We were acknowledged in a positive way if our accomplishments aligned with their wishes, and if we did not then we were either ignored or lectured. So in this manner we grew a relationship in our mind of what actions gives us love and what actions do not. Therefore from an early age we started to develop this idea of conditional love.
Some behaviors or actions made us more attractive to others, so we took note of that. Other behaviors or actions made us unfavorable and unattractive, so we took note of that too. And throughout our lives we have duly noted those behaviors, actions, and physical attainment of items that gained us positive recognition and those that did not. And from this Carrot and Stick approach to learning sprouted a relationship of conditional self-love.
Self-love is hard. I made a point to practice it every day and I truly believed I loved myself until sh*t hit the fan, life rattled me up, and I realized I actually didn’t love myself at all. Because the things that made me love myself was all conditional and I didn’t realize that until my circumstances put me in a position where I was no longer able to meet any of those conditions. So the relationship that I created with myself was not true love at all, but conditional love.
I attributed my sense of worth to the attainment of success in society’s terms.
I attributed my level of attraction to the attainment of things and the acknowledgement of others in my ability to fit a standard.
I based my level of lovability on these two things. So when I was achieving “success” and getting recognition from others, I felt lovable, attractive, and confident.
Then, when I began receiving less acknowledgement because my attainment of “success” was at a slower pace, my feelings of lovability, attractiveness, and confidence started to fade. This resulted in feelings panic, anxiety, and stress.
This vicious push-and-pull cycle developed into a relationship of conditional love. Something that I did not see at the time was that it was impossible to sustain a feeling of lovability with myself when the foundation was built on the attainment of physical items that would always be impermanent—standards of beauty, society’s definition of success, and acknowledgement from others. So I constantly felt that I was running a marathon, desperately chasing love, but getting nowhere.
It was a life filled with “I love you” one day, and “I love you not” another. And it wasn’t some a-hole telling me this to my face; it was my inner dialogue reminding me of what I had, what I lost, and how I desperately needed to get it back.
So how do we shift conditional to unconditional?
There is no quick fix because this relationship it has embedded itself within us for so long. But (and this is a big but), self-awareness is half the battle. Acknowledging that this relationship exists means that you can be proactive and mindful in your actions of conditional love moving forward.
The first step is simply to observe your own behavior, practices, and inner dialogue. Is it about conditional love? Does it attribute your worth to the attainment of certain criteria or question your ability to be loved?
The second step is to acknowledge the behavior, practices, and inner dialogue when they appear, and then send it on its way. For example, if you feel that you are putting on makeup in order to get public recognition from others so that you feel attractive and therefore lovable, acknowledge the action, accept that it is natural, and then reassess if you truly want to wear makeup or not. Repeating to yourself that your sense of worth and lovability is not defined by recognition of others.
Doing this may feel very strange and uncomfortable at first (it certainly did with me), but with constant practice and time, your behavior and mindset can start to shift to a self-love that is just that. One that is based within you, not outside of you.