In her song “If Not Now….” songwriter Tracy Chapman sings,
If not now then when
If not today then
Why make your promises
A love declared for days to come
Is as good as none
While we may have grown up listening to the adults around us exhorting us to follow the Golden Rule by “loving our neighbor as ourselves,” how many of these adults actually spent time discussing with us or modeling for us how to accomplish the second part of that famous phrase?
What does “loving yourself” mean? How do you know you are doing it? How do you know you are not doing it? And what do you do if it doesn’t feel okay to love yourself, and you often catch yourself wondering “if I can’t love myself, now, today, then when? When will I finally be able to look in my own eyes and see someone worth loving looking back at me?”
In this three-part series, we will spend some time tackling the answers to these tough but essential questions. But first, let’s start by discussing what is meant by the term “love.”
When we think of love, hear the word love, contemplate love in our lives, we seldom dissect for ourselves the many forms love can take, or how many of those forms are not truly love, but are rather some form of outwardly-expressed need, greed, lack, selfishness, manipulation, fear, or pride on the part of the giver.
Love itself is commonly defined as “a deep and enduring emotional regard, usually for another person.” The key word in this definition is “enduring.” The quality of endurance – of being able to maintain and even grow the quality of emotional regard amidst the ups and downs of our own and another human being’s daily life, is what distinguishes true love – what we commonly call “unconditional” love – from the other, lesser kinds of so-called love.
“Conditional” love is actually what many of us more often experience – and conditional love does not have the quality of endurance that ensures it will be around when we need it the most. Conditional love will quickly desert us during those times when we are feeling low and showing it, when we are visibly struggling or stumbling, when we are small-minded, closed-hearted, mean-spirited, afraid, judgmental, or otherwise human in our approach to life, experiences, and other human beings. Conditional love will make us doubt, even fear, the presence of love in our lives, even as it leaves us longing for more.
Recognizing “Real” Love
In contrast with conditional love, real love is always unconditional. Where unconditional love dwells, conditional love is not allowed to enter. And where conditional love lives, unconditional love will decline to go.
Some real life examples of each that we are all familiar with might include the following: When we watch daytime court drama, soap operas, nasty public divorces, or drawn-out custody battles, we are watching conditional love at play. Conversely, when we watch a wife caring round-the-clock for a husband who is battling cancer, a mother tirelessly supporting a child with a learning disability, a sibling repeatedly sticking up for another sibling who is being bullied AND teaching that sibling how to fight back on her own behalf, we see the quality of endurance that signifies unconditional love.
Some sure-fire clues to recognize which is which include the following – over time, unconditional love breeds patience, kindness, self-control, a big-picture perspective on small circumstances, empathy, mutual trust, and peace. Conditional love, on the other hand, always and often breeds only one end result – pain.
Please join us next week for Part II as we continue our exploration of developing unconditional self-love.
How Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy Can Help
At Southlake Counseling, we understand how painful conditional love can be – whether it is experienced through our relationships with others or imposed upon ourselves from within. We know what it feels like to want to connect without knowing how to do so safely and from a place of self-respect.
IFS Therapy is a uniquely effective approach to restoring loving relationships with self and valued others. Clients of IFS learn to identify patterns of internal dialogue that create conflict and interfere with their ability to pursue healthy, productive change. IFS is a powerful vehicle for restoring your sense of self through promoting self-curiosity, self-compassion, and self-confidence. Southlake Counseling professionals have many years of training and experiencing in guiding clients who wish to experience the full benefits of this powerful therapeutic practice.
Call us today at 704-896-7776 or email me at Kkrueger@centerforselfdisocovery.com to learn more about how IFS Therapy can help you say NO to conditional love and YES to life!