“Unconditional love is not so much about how we receive and endure each other, as it is about the deep vow to never, under any condition, stop bringing the flawed truth of who we are to each other.” – Mark Nepo
“I love you” – these are probably the most overused phrases in today’s society. We go around throwing these words at everyone and anyone who makes us feel good or does something good for us. Be it a friend, family member, partner, spouse, child, pet, or a crush, any small act of kindness on their part prompts us to let the other person know that they are loved. The beauty of the word “love” is that irrespective of who the speaker or the receiver is, it has an equally powerful impact. It induces a feeling of self-worth and belonging in both parties.
Unconditional love is so different from the love we are used to receiving and giving that most of us don’t even know what it is and are not able to recognize it when we experience it. When we feel the power of true unconditional love, we feel completely seen, understood, forgiven, accepted, and loved just as we are. We don’t have to hide our identity, our past, our flaws, or our mistakes because we know we will be accepted for who we are. In fact, unconditional love is the most healing energy in the universe. It’s a love where no matter what another person says, does, feels, thinks, or believes in, we continue to love them unconditionally without expectations. Unconditional love can be offered to all platonic and romantic relationships as well as to animals. But perhaps most importantly, unconditional love can be applied directly to ourselves. It’s a force that makes us feel so wonderful and completely ourselves that it makes us want to heal ourselves, confront our shadows and be a better version of ourselves. Irrespective of whether we grow or not, unconditional love remains the same.
Love in itself is hard to define and given the unique experiences that all of us bring to a relationship, the way we express love differs from person to person and from relationship to relationship. As per Gary Chapman, the author of “The 5 Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts“, there are primarily five unique styles of communicating love – “Words of affirmation”, “Quality time”, “Acts of services”, “Gifts” and “Physical touch”. The language we use in our relationships is primarily influenced by our childhood experiences and who we are as a person.
I have always found it difficult to pin myself down to one love language. I love to let people I love know their value and worth in my life. I love to encourage them and remind them how wonderful they are. When I see the effect that my words have on those around me, I feel happy. When I love someone, I love spending time with them, learning more about them, and offering them my time, energy, and support whenever and in whatever capacity I can. If it’s a friend or a partner who I cherish, I love showering them with meaningful gifts to let them know how special they are.
Before I moved out of my home country, I gifted my closest friends $1000 worth of gifts because I was struggling to put into words how much I was going to miss them. Fortunately for me and unfortunately for them, they did not want these gifts because they knew me quite well and knew how much I loved and appreciated them (I could have done away with a letter each and saved those $1000 😀 ). Finally, while physical touch is a language I take some time to get comfortable with, once that comfort is reached, that’s another language I love to show my appreciation to those around me. For myself, I guess the most important love language is quality time but all others are appreciated too.
A friend and I send random texts to each other letting the other person know how amazing they are. The same friend and I sometimes drunk text to tell each other that they’re missed but find it too difficult to say it when we’re sober. Another friend and I send each other hateful messages for not giving enough time to each other, end up having a video call and never tell each other that we miss or love the other. Yet, another friend and I randomly call and talk for hours at length. This friend puts into words their love for me to which they always receive a smile. Again, fortunately for me, they know what my smile means. With my parents, we’ve never put our love for each other into words. It’s always quality time or an act of service. With my pet, I was guilty of overdoing all the 5 love languages and smothering her with my love which was not much appreciated.
What is common among all these love languages is that it shows the other person (or a pet) your love for them without expecting the gesture to be returned. And that’s something that I don’t think most of us understand. We’re so used to being loved with conditions that when someone does something for us out of pure love, we tell ourselves that we have to do something for them to return the gesture. When we do something for someone expecting a certain condition to be met or something in return in the pretense of love, that’s Conditional Love. It’s a love that lets the other person know that they have to earn their love by proving their worth. Similarly, when someone does something for us, we force ourselves to do something for them because even the thought of being loved without conditions is so uncomfortable for us that we don’t believe that we deserve it. We often think that we love our partners, friends, or family members unconditionally. In truth, however, we are all guilty of having this “strings attached” love present in our relationships where we withdraw our love if our demands are not met. Conditional love is the opposite of unconditional love. In fact, conditional love isn’t even “love” in the truest sense of the word, because it comes from the ego, not from the heart.
A few common phrases or thoughts that come with conditional love are:
- “You have to make me feel good because I love you”
- “You have to maintain your attractive looks because I love you”
- “You have to act this way because I love you”
- “You have to believe me because I love you”
- “You have to let me control your decisions because I love you”
- “You have to let me control what you do in your life because I love you”
- “You have to love me because I love you”
- “You have to give up your dreams/beliefs because I love you”
- “You have to forgive me because I love you”
- “You have to endure how I treat you because I love you”
We all have experienced these kinds of relationships. While sometimes we have succumbed to the conditions of others, sometimes we have been the ones putting our conditions on others. Sometimes in our relationships, we give these conditions so much importance that if they are not met, we withdraw our love. We make the other person suffer for not meeting our expectations. We punish them for not being our image of perfection and we make them feel bad for our own lack of understanding of love.
However, unconditional love does not mean loving someone without boundaries. Healthy boundaries are essential for any and every relationship. That’s simply because unconditional love is essentially an energy flow between those involved. We can’t love someone unconditionally without loving ourselves. And if we’re not valued in our relationships and if the relationships fail to meet our basic needs – kindness, respect, and safety, then, we do a disservice to ourselves and to others by not allowing ourselves and the other person to grow. We act out of co-dependent love where we’re so scared of losing the other person that we let go of our own needs and happiness. But we can’t love another unless we love ourselves. We can’t love another unless we learn to stand up for ourselves. We can’t love another unless we encourage each other to be a better version of ourselves without forcing our image of “better” on the other.
There is a sense of freedom and acceptance that’s felt when we start to accept the unconditional love that resides in our hearts. When we stop judgments and let go of expectations, we free ourselves from the burden of changing ourselves or the other to be the perfect image of who we think we or they should be. When we allow the other person to be completely and authentically who they are, we set their hearts free and we set ourselves free. We start to recognize if that is the person whom we want to spend our time and energy with without expecting them to change them to meet our needs. All of a sudden, the feelings of insecurities and jealousy leave our systems. We don’t tie our happiness to the other person because we love ourselves so much that we recognize our responsibility towards ourselves. We don’t hold ourselves responsible for the other person’s happiness because we realize that they’re fully capable of taking care of themselves. We act on the love that we have for them without expecting them to meet our demands because we have no demands from them. We just love.
So how do we experience the power of unconditional love? By starting with ourselves.
- Embracing every part of ourselves – Letting go of the “shoulds” and accepting the reality. Letting go of the image of perfection that we have in our minds and cherishing who we are. Stopping ourselves from running away from those uncomfortable “wrong” emotions & thoughts, and taking the time to sit with them to understand what inner wound needs healing or what parts of ourselves we are ignoring. Allowing ourselves to be led by our hearts and finding the balance between being logical vs being emotional. The more we love ourselves, the more love we find within ourselves to love those around us.
- Forgiving ourselves – Imagine having a friend who could never forgive you for your mistakes despite all your apologies. It sucks, doesn’t it? To lose someone you’d always love and cherish who doesn’t want you in their life anymore? Now imagine yourself to be that friend and remember the mistakes that you haven’t forgiven yourself for. In an ideal world, every mistake deserves a proportionate punishment. A slap for a slap, they say. Now, ask yourself how many times have you punished yourself for the same mistake, thought, or emotion? Once we start to accept ourselves and get the courage to forgive ourselves for everything we’re angry with ourselves for, we develop empathy for those around us. Forgiveness becomes a way of life because we start to see ourselves in others and the burden that we carry gets lighter and lighter over time
- Acting out of love – Immerse yourself in self-care. Take that vacation, allow yourself some me-time, meditate, breathe and pamper yourself like you would someone you love dearly, go for that kiss, tell someone you love them, and indulge in that activity that your heart desires but you’re too scared to do. Do for yourself what you would do for someone else with one goal alone – showering yourself with love. The more comfortable we get with loving ourselves, the easier it gets for us to show love to those around us without expecting anything in return. Small acts of self-love also show ourselves our worth so that we stop tying our worth to someone else’s expectation of us. We start to realize how wonderfully beautiful we are just the way we are. Slowly, we also start to love others for who they are. At the very least, we start to see clearly whether our relationships are built on conditional or on unconditional love and we get to decide our next course of action. If it’s a relationship that we want to mend, we change our definition of love and start to act without conditions. If it’s a relationship where we’re not valued for our authentic selves, we set our boundaries to allow the other person to grow. If we still don’t feel the energy of unconditional love flowing from ourselves through them, we can set ourselves free from the illusion.
Unconditional love is the absolute acceptance and openness to ourselves, others, and to reality. It is a love that allows us to be happy irrespective of what our circumstances are. It frees us from our expectations of perfection and lets us see perfection in everything around us. Unconditional love is not something that we get from another person, location, job, or object. It’s within us and starts with ourselves. The more we love ourselves unconditionally, the easier it gets to recognize unconditional love when it’s directed at us. When we encounter the power of unconditional love, it has the power to change our worlds.