Is Unconditional Love Really Possible?
Updated February 11, 2020
Reviewer Avia James
What Is Unconditional Love?
Unconditional love sounds like an easy concept to understand. We toss around the word lightly, though, not really thinking of what it really entails. It isn't always easy, and it may not come naturally. You have to choose to love unconditionally if you want to maintain it over time. You have to commit to unconditional love if you want to make it through the hard times. So, what is it?
What Is Love?
Before you can understand unconditional love, you need to have a firm grasp of what love is in general. If you've ever discussed what love is with a group of friends, you probably noticed that everybody seems to have their own unique view of the subject.
Love can be a feeling of affection. It can be a way of thinking about someone. It can be a decision or a commitment to maintain a relationship. For some, love requires loyalty to one person. Others believe that one can have romantic love for multiple partners.
For most people, love isn't love without loving actions. So, it's also a type of behavior. Some people say love transcends time and space. Others say it's a social construct or an idea brought to us through advertising and the media.
R.J. Sternberg suggests, in his triangular theory of love, that love is a combination of intimacy, passion, and commitment. The roles of each factor depending on the type of relationship. You can love a romantic partner, a parent, a child, a sibling, or a friend. If altruistic love exists, you can theoretically love everyone in the world.
What Is Conditional Love?
Conditional love is a type of love that you give according to what you believe someone deserves. You give it when someone behaves in ways you like. They do what you want them to do or give you what you want to have. Then, if they ever fail to give that to you, you withdraw your feelings of affection and passion and your acts of love and intimacy.
Conditional Love And Perfectionism
When someone loves you only when you please them, it's easy to get caught up in trying to be perfect. The problem is that perfectionism is associated with mental conditions like depression and anxiety. One study showed a connection between perfectionism and alcohol-related problems in college student. So, perfectionism isn't exactly a positive thing.
Is Conditional Love Really Love?
Unconditional love sounds great, but what is it? We refer to it all the time. For example, have you ever heard someone say, "If you do this for me, I'll love you forever?" It's a joke, of course, but it points up a common fallacy about unconditional love. If you have to earn love, it isn't unconditional.
Unconditional Love Definition
Unconditional love is love without condition. You might define unconditional love as loving someone:
- Regardless of their faults
- Even when they don't deserve love
- No matter what they do
- When they're with you and when you're apart
- For the rest of your life
- To the exclusion of other lovers
What Is the Basis of Unconditional Love?
The definition of unconditional love makes it clear that you don't love someone else for temporary reasons. The basis of unconditional love can't be what someone does, where someone is, or how much time goes by. So, what is it?
Unconditional love comes from your recognition and appreciation of who someone is as a person. You may love your child unconditionally based on your role as their parent. It's an unselfish love that is given for the other person's benefit rather than your own.
What Would Unconditional Love Look Like?
This unconditional love definition explains why we behave the way we do when we love unconditionally. Here are some of the things you might notice if someone has that kind of love for you.
- They act in your best interest.
- They behave in ways that benefit you even when it doesn't necessarily benefit them.
- They show compassion for you when you're struggling, whether you caused your difficulties or not.
- They encourage you to live a good life without putting pressure on you to meet their expectations.
What Happens When You're Loved Unconditionally?
When someone loves you without condition, they're giving you a wonderful gift. Feeling completely loved benefits you in several ways.
Unconditional Love And Self-Esteem
Being loved unconditionally can improve your self-esteem dramatically. It isn't just because you feel valued by someone else, although that's a part of what enhances your self-esteem.
It's also because that person teaches you by example how to love you. They point out by their actions that you're worthy of love just because you are you. You realize, perhaps for the first time, that you don't have to prove anything to anyone or meet some ridiculously high standards to be loved.
Unconditional Love And Personal Growth
Unconditional love can help you learn and grow as a person. Why? The reason is partly that that person provides you with a safe base. Knowing that they're there for you no matter what happens, you naturally feel freer to explore. You feel less fear about facing difficult challenges.
Loving unconditionally provides you with benefits for yourself, too. It helps you experience joy for someone else, increasing your joy at the same time. You take joy in their accomplishments, but you also feel a connection that goes beyond achievement.
When you love someone wholeheartedly, you become more empathetic and compassionate. You're less likely to judge other people based on their life circumstances. So, you give yourself more opportunities to get to know people who are different from you. The beauty of that is that you live a richer, fuller life.
Loving Unconditionally As A Parent
When you were a child, you might have felt rejected by your parent when they punished or disapproved of your behavior. Some parents do reject their children and withdraw their love at such times.
Other parents draw a distinct line between their attitude toward your behavior and their love of you as their child. That's what unconditional love is, that pure love that comes despite behavior and circumstances. Still, they need to provide you with rules to guide your behavior and start on the right path in life.
So, how can you give your child the love they need without being too permissive? Here are some parenting tips for giving unconditional love:
- Remember that even small children are individuals with their own needs, abilities, and personalities.
- When your child misbehaves, be explicit about what they did wrong, letting them know in no uncertain terms that you still love them.
- Show by your actions that you want the best for them.
- Celebrate their victories with them, remembering that they're their accomplishments and not yours.
- Allow them to make mistakes without placing your judgment on everything they do.
- Love yourself unconditionally to teach them by example how to love themselves the same way.
Loving A Romantic Partner Unconditionally
It's very hard to love a romantic partner unconditionally. Life seems to get in the way so often. Other potential partners come along. Life can get so hectic that you lose sight of what your partner means to you. Besides all that, your partner isn't perfect. No one is, and it doesn't help matters when you push your expectations on them.
One thing that's different about romantic love vs. parental love is that it might not last as long. Once you're a parent, you're a parent for life. Your romantic partner won't necessarily be a part of your life until you die. How do you deal with the knowledge that you or your partner might change your mind about the relationship at any time? Here are some things you can do to love someone unconditionally:
- Base your love for them on their inner being rather than their physical attractiveness.
- Don't abandon them when passion temporarily fades. Remember that passion is a strong emotion that few people can sustain evenly for long periods.
- Acknowledge their place in your life in good times and bad times.
- Be a steady source of comfort and support for them.
- Accept them as they are without judging their character. When you disapprove of a behavior, remind yourself that one behavior is not the totality of who they
- Give them empathy, even if you have to remove yourself from their presence because of their bad behavior.
Loving Yourself Unconditionally
Loving yourself unconditionally is a prerequisite to truly loving anyone else. If you judge yourself harshly, you'll find it impossible not to apply those same standards to others. Plus, if you accept less of them than you do for yourself to receive your love, you'll likely judge them as being inferior to you.
If you've been taught not to love yourself unconditionally, it can be an extremely difficult thing to change. How can you do it?
- Recognize that you'll never be perfect, no matter how hard you try. No one is.
- Take joy in your accomplishments without always demanding more of yourself.
- Take care of your needs without feeling guilty about it. Remember that you deserve love, too.
- Celebrate your victories in overcoming difficult situations, events, and personal struggles.
- Understand that mistakes are opportunities to learn and grow.
- Allow yourself to accept others' love.
Does Unconditional Love Encourage Bad Behavior?
It might seem that being loved unconditionally gives you no motivation to do your best. After all, someone will love you no matter how you behave.
Wrong! The truth is that the real unconditional love meaning is that you can give it your best without fear of failure. For some people, the thought of doing their best and still failing is unacceptable. They'd rather not try than take the risk of failing.
The difference with unconditional love is that even if life proves you aren't all-invincible, you're still valuable to someone. The result is that you can be courageous in the face of the most difficult challenges and temptations.
What's more, having someone's unconditional love makes us more willing to do things that make them happy. We don't feel pushed or bullied by their disapproval of us as a person. So, when we do things out of respect for their love, we feel good about our power to do positive things.
"What If No One Has Ever Loved Me Unconditionally?"
If no one has ever loved you unconditionally, life can seem very difficult and confusing. You may feel that you don't matter to anyone. You might feel that the only way you can prove yourself worthy of love is to be completely successful in your career. You may feel that others are selfish or mercenary.
Because of your harsh or negative thoughts and feelings about yourself and others, you may develop mental health issues like depression and anxiety. These problems make you feel miserable and can even keep you from functioning well in your daily activities.
However, you can change this. You don't have to wait for someone else to offer you their complete affection, passion, and commitment. That's because you can give yourself your first dose of unconditional love.
Learning to do that isn't easy if you've never been shown how it's done. Through therapy, though, you can learn new ways to think and feel about yourself. As you do, your attitudes toward others will likely change as well. Just as important, you'll recognize real love when it comes along and know how to respond to it.
One therapy option is to talk to a licensed counselor at BetterHelp.com for online help in learning to love yourself more. They can also help you deal with any depression, anxiety or other mental health issues. Whether you learn it through study and experience or you also have the help of a counselor, loving yourself can change your entire outlook on life!