Is it healthy to love unconditionally?
The Dali Lama, parents, and if you’re on a spiritual path — all teachers, pointed to unconditional love as your path to freedom didn’t they? Yet too often we mix unconditional love up with abusive love. There is a difference between unconditional love and compassion.
In it’s healthiest sense, unconditional love means to love someone without trying to change them, embracing them in our heart regardless of flaws or mistakes. Think of your pet or your child. If they pee on the carpet or spill a glass of juice, you’re going to love them anyways. Wake you up in the middle of the night howling or behave poorly in the car and you’re going to love them regardless.
Now, think of your significant other. Love has it’s ups and it’s downs doesn’t it?
You don’t bail when the going gets tough or even when your partner goes through a tough period of growth and acts less than appealing. You have patience and well … unconditional love in your heart.
But oftentimes, especially in families, phrases like family first, we’re family, or unconditional love are used as weapons. Weapons that keep us tied together regardless of abuse.
When you experience an upside down childhood where you’ve had to parent your parent instead of being the child, it’s easy to mistake unconditional love for abuse. Same goes for sibling or relative abuse, you’re taught that family is family and you stick together no matter what.
A child can’t leave the family for obvious reasons, so instead to survive in the mind of a child, you make yourself wrong and try your hardest to change, justifying bad behavior and interpreting (in your little kid’s mind), abuse as love.
Fast forward to adulthood and you’ve now equated love with the up and down drama of childhood.
Perhaps you have a parent in your life or a sibling that continues to abuse, yet guilt and thoughts like: but I love them, they love me, they’re wounded or I need to have patience and unconditional love flood your head. These thoughts keep you bonded together in family because that’s what families do right?
Here’s the truth: You can love someone, but you don’t have to continue to endure abuse.
If a parent or family member continues to emotionally abuse, bring drama, or hurt you in any way, you do not have to participate with this person as an adult. Unconditional love starts with YOU first.
This means loving your inner child. I.E.: YOU.
You are not meant to sacrifice your life for your family. Abuse is abuse. I once believed enduring emotional and verbal abuse from my mother was my karmic lesson to love her no matter what, then I realized that perhaps my “lesson” if you will, was to finally love myself first, and love myself enough to say no more.
Thoughts like: I’m going to love myself first, I’m going to protect my heart and my mental health, and I’m going to create a boundary of safety around myself, are signs of a well balanced, healthy adult.
Do I still love my mother? Absolutely, but I love myself first.
Once we reach adulthood, we become our own parent. Healthy parents don’t put their children in the line of abusive fire, yet spiritual New Age teachings say a sign of spiritual growth is to be able to go home to family and not get triggered.
Well, yes and no.
Triggered over your parents still bossing you around or your sister criticizing you is one thing. Enduring emotional and verbal abuse is quite another. So set aside guilt, and if you need to take a major time out away from an abusive family member, know in your heart that you’re being a healthy adult parenting your inner child.
Unconditional love and compassion are two different things. Compassion for all beings regardless of behavior is healthy.
Unconditional love for others in healthy relationships is indeed beautiful.
Unconditional love regardless of abuse isn’t healthy. It’s self abuse.
Unconditional love for yourself in abusive or unhealthy relationships is not only necessary, it’s healing to everyone involved. Once you step back from someone and love yourself first, you allow them the space to heal their own life.
Photo credit: Flickr/libertygrace0