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 last week’s Monday Motivator, we started our journey toward finding answers to these tough but critical questions by exploring the definition of love and how to distinguish between conditional and unconditional love.
As we continue with part two of our three-part series on unconditional self-love this week, we will look at how love becomes conditional, how regular doses of conditional love affect us in the short- and long-term, and how practicing conditional self-love limits us.
How Love Becomes Conditional
Parents love their children. This is a controversial assertion, but children do not come with a manual, and parents do not bring a baby into the world feeling fully equipped to handle the unknowns of raising a child, so mistakes are bound to happen. Sometimes those mistakes are small, and sometimes those mistakes are very big, and the mistakes that are made almost always relate back to where there is lack, ignorance, and pain in the parents’ own lives, rather than out of a conscious intent to hurt, scar, wound, or otherwise impact the child’s ability to grow up happy, healthy, and whole.
Conditional love first begins to show its face when criticism is attached to who we are, rather than to what we have done. Think back to a time in your life when you first heard the words “You’ve been bad” or “You’re a bad girl/boy”. Now think about what you were doing when your parents, caregivers, or teachers said this to you. Chances are, you were drawing on the walls, watching cartoons outside of your allotted television-watching hours, sneaking a cookie, or even hiding your report card. What was actually being addressed when you were labeled “bad” for what you were doing was your action in the moment, not your being over the continuum of time.
Yet this criticism tends to begin taking place when our brains are still in the developmental stage where things are perceived as “all bad” or “all good” – we have not yet developed abstract reasoning abilities to separate out the white from the black or develop our awareness of the grey in between. We do not yet understand that the possibility exists that we could be good in our being, while being bad in our actions….or, in other words, that our parents or teachers could love who we are even when they don’t particularly like what we do.
How Conditional Love Becomes Our Identity
The trouble with this style of parenting and instructing is of the “pass it on” variety – it is a learned behavior that is passed from parent-to-child, teacher-to-student, and on and on. The real impact conditional love has on us, however, comes because it is introduced at a time in our lives when our brains have not yet learned to think in “grey.” Over time, repeated exposure to similar harsh words of conditional love become internalized as a part of our innate worth or lack thereof. This is why, as adolescents and adults, we do not even stop to question ourselves when we start to self-motivate (and later to motivate our own children) using the same techniques our parents, teachers, and caregivers first used on us.
Do you wonder if you do this? To find out, think back to a time – recently or in the past – when you scolded yourself by saying “Look how stupid you are – how could you have done that!” or “If only s/he would ask me out/give me the job/give me an ‘A,’ then I would know I am worth loving.”
How Conditional Love Limits Us
If you can think of an example to the contemplation above, then you already know how limiting conditional self-love can be, and you know how impossible it feels to practice the Golden Rule to “love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Golden Rule essentially states that what we wish to receive from others we must first learn to give to ourselves.
But how do we do this? Stay tuned next week for some practical exercises that can give you a direct experience of how powerful the skill of unconditional self-love can be.
How Internal Family Systems (IFS) Therapy Can Help
At Southlake Counseling, we have experienced how painful conditional love can be. We know it is difficult to do or be our best when who we are and how we perform feels inextricably linked. And this is where IFS Therapy can help.
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 students 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!