When I was younger, my entire life was geared toward finding unconditional love. I was convinced that the more love I unconditionally gave, the better my chances were of finally having it in a romantic relationship and getting the Happily Ever After I deserved.
It didn’t work out that way.
I ended up becoming a doormat. Loving this way had come at the cost of my self-respect.
Today, unconditional love is something that I fully believe in. It’s also something that I don’t believe in at all.
In understanding how to be fearless, I reflect on my childhood and the dynamics of love I grappled with. Those who genuinely and unconditionally loved me often became background figures, while I tirelessly tried to win the conditional love of others—love that seemed more conditional than nurturing at such a tender age. I placed them on a pedestal, leaving my young self isolated, seemingly without a way up.
In my young perception, the only pathway seemed to be through unquestioning obedience and boundless love for them. While these adults might have had good intentions and genuinely loved me, the relationship inadvertently became a codependent one. I clung to any small semblance of love, validation, or approval, seeing it as crucial for my emotional well-being. They, in turn, relied on the facade my obedience created, showcasing their parental prowess. My unbounded love, ironically, seemed to soothe the very insecurities they had carried from their own youth.
As I got older, this “unconditional love ladder” that never seemed to be tall enough, found it’s way into my romantic relationships and friendships.
That was the beginning of the end.
Instead of all the unconditional love I gave boomeranging back to me, it created life-robbing shame and loneliness that paralyzed me in the quicksand of toxic relationships and friendships – one after the other.
Unconditional love also made me stay in familial relationships and other relationships just because there was a blood relation, history, or some other kind of connection that’s only sacred if it is held up by mutuality – not unconditional love as a testament to loyalty.
I am writing this post as I write all of my posts – Not as an end-all-be-all, but to shed my own personal light on things that may have otherwise, not been illuminated. There is an exception to everything and a different way than anything can be interpreted. I went back and forth for a long time on whether to write about unconditional love. It’s one of those topics that can be very sensitive to discuss because everyone’s beliefs regarding it are tied to their own past experiences and pain. After thinking about it more, I knew I had to write about it.
Unconditional love is something that nearly robbed me of a life. It’s also something that saved my life.
Here’s what you need to know…
According to Wikipedia, unconditional love is known as “affection without any limitations, or love without conditions.” It’s described as a love that is unchanging and knows no bounds. Unconditional love is often used to describe “love between family members, comrades in arms, and between others in very committed and connected relationships.”
Movies, fairytales, and mainstream media like to depict those that love unconditionally as heroes in this world. No matter how poorly these people are treated, how much they are taken for granted, or how terribly they are used, the light of their unconditional love seems to out-mature and out-shine the need for healthy boundaries that only unconditional self-love can initiate.
On the surface, unconditional love seems incredible – and it IS. I believe that unconditional love is necessary in relationships with those who lack a voice and are fully dependent on us. You should unconditionally love your child, your pet/animals, and the one little voiceless girl/boy who wouldn’t be reading these words right now if conditions were not put around love that should have been given unconditionally to her/him: your younger self.
It is extremely difficult to try to unconditionally love the adults we have become. I still struggle with how I feel about my adult self. But then, I look at a photo of myself as a kid and I see this helpless, defenseless, and voiceless little girl who just wants to be enough. How could I not unconditionally love her?
The moment I stopped outsourcing unconditional love to others and started giving it to myself… that was the moment I learned that loving without conditions would only be accepted/exploited by those who had the same inability as I had to unconditionally love themselves.
When it comes to romantic relationships, we are wired to pursue unconditional love. We want to be emotionally re-parented in a way that will invalidate the worthlessness that the absence of unconditional love in our childhood has consciously and subconsciously made us feel.
In my relationships today, whether it’s my romantic relationship or with my close friends…
Although there isn’t unconditional love, we love and accept each other as a whole. It’s nonjudgemental and unselfish love. It’s love that can be felt and shared on such a deeper level because it’s protected on both ends by healthy boundaries (that can only be set through unconditional self-love).
Unconditional love is not the same as being there for each other in sickness and health, destitution and riches, and through the good times and the bad.
Loving without conditions and limits in romantic relationships made me feel terrible. It translated as: “I am not enough. I don’t deserve more. Please validate me while invalidating the pain of a past you don’t care about getting to know. Please see in me what I cannot see in myself.”
I gave up on my search for unconditional love when I stopped conditionally loving my younger self. And I realized that those who require unconditional love in their romantic relationships do so because the only way they can get their needs met is by their partner having no personal limits.
When I began unconditionally loving my younger self, I started attracting relationships that made me feel safe to be myself. And for the first time, I felt loved, supported, and able to accept love (instead of always giving it without boundaries and ending up the doormat). The more you honor your boundaries, the more true love you’ll attract.
True love will never be found without unconditionally loving your younger self enough to accept what is and act on that acceptance.
Although I don’t believe in unconditional love when it comes to romantic relationships, I am always aware that without fully giving it to my younger self, I’ll never be able to experience the true, nonjudgemental, thick-and-thin love that I deserve – to both emanate and receive.
Written by: Natasha Adamo