What Is Radical Love?

Medically reviewed by Laura Angers Maddox, NCC, LPC
Updated March 15, 2024by BetterHelp Editorial Team
Content warning: Please be advised, the below article might mention trauma-related topics that could be triggering to the reader. Please see our Get Help Now page for more immediate resources.

Radical love is a concept that has been embraced by individuals and groups around the world and throughout history, in both religious and nonreligious contexts. It’s relatively easy to understand conceptually, but can sometimes be a challenge to put into practice. Many people consider radical love to be the goal in their relationships and family life. It can be used to find gratitude and ultimate purpose in parts of life that may have lacked them previously. 

Note: The concept of “radical love” shouldn’t be mistaken for the debut memoir by Zachary Levi, Radical Love: Learning to Accept Yourself and Others. While the book may include elements relating to radical love (with one description stating that “Radical Love combines witty, touching, and powerful commentary…to help you on your own path to mental wellness.”), it pertains more to the life and struggles of actor Zachary Levi. 

Let’s take a closer look at the definition of radical love and what it can mean in your day-to-day life.

Everyone is worthy of unconditional love

The definition of radical love

The term “radical” can be used to describe something whole, complete, and thorough. A radical change, for instance, is one that completely overhauls existing standards. Radical love, then, is love that’s full, all-encompassing, and given without criteria or strings attached.

In more common terms, radical love is unconditional love. It’s given freely without having to be earned and regardless of what’s received in return.

This type of love is unmotivated by the possibility of reciprocation or reward. Its ultimate purpose is selflessness, compassion, understanding, and gratitude. It’s the kind of love that can be felt for all of humankind and everything on earth from a perspective of interconnectedness and interdependence.

There are relatable illustrations of radical love depicted by most major religions in some form or another. From the Judeo-Christian tradition to Islam to Eastern religious practices such as Buddhism, the concept of radical love is encouraged by each. It’s the type of love that’s exemplified in stories about major figures in these religions, too: Abraham of the Old Testament, Jesus of the New Testament, the prophet of the Quran, and Siddhartha of Buddhism. Radical love is the ultimate expression of wholeness and contentment and is thought of by many as the truest form of love in existence.

What radical love is not

Radical or unconditional love may be construed by some as too forgiving or too accepting. This, however, is a misunderstanding. Unconditional love doesn’t mean being a doormat or allowing your own mental wellness to go on a downward spiral for the sake of another. Rather, it means loving without requiring anything in return, including a certain level of behavior or performance. It means loving yourself as well as the other person, and offering both of you forgiveness and grace when it’s safe to do so.

Radical love is not a free pass. Loving someone unconditionally does not entitle that loved one to behave in ways that are harmful to themselves or others. Radical love endures, but it’s still honest and can take the form of people speaking the truth to those they love. It doesn’t mean staying silent and sitting idly by while someone hits rock bottom or harms others, nor does it mean ignoring underlying issues when change is necessary. Instead, it provides a space where all parties can feel safe and comfortable being their authentic selves in healthy community with each other.

Radical love in different contexts

Radical love can contribute to a meaningful life in many different ways. Let’s take a look at how it can manifest in various types of relationships. 

In parenting

The parent-child relationship is arguably one of the most important places for radical love to exist. Much damage can be done to children when they’re raised in an environment where love is conditional, including emotional challenges, interpersonal issues, and even mental illness. Radical love in parenting means that love is not used as a reward in response to certain behaviors, but is offered without any sort of expectation. Telling your child they are the “most inspiring boy” and other examples of positive reinforcement can be a great way to let your children know you love them. 

It’s important to note that radical love in parenting doesn’t mean foregoing discipline or letting children do whatever they want. Helping your kids learn valuable lessons, like how to be kind and responsible, is part of your job as a parent—it just all comes down to how you go about it. If your child hits their sibling, for example, a conditional love approach might focus on how they’re bad for having taken such an action. Unconditional love, on the other hand, might focus on how and why the behavior itself is the issue. Otherwise, the child may learn that they’ll only be loved if they perform perfection and never make mistakes, which may lead to issues later (like a lifetime of crippling anxiety.)

In romance

In the context of a romantic relationship, radical love typically has to start with the self. In general, only once you love and accept yourself wholly can you offer that kind of love and acceptance to another person. Again, this concept doesn’t involve not holding yourself or your partner accountable. In fact, radical love can be about owning up to your mistakes, setting boundaries to defend yourself, and otherwise taking care of your health and well-being are all important components of radical love for yourself and your significant other. The important thing to remember is that it’s not transactional. Giving love to this person isn’t contingent on them being perfect, or on them giving you the exact same amount and type of love. It’s about loving them as a complete, complex, flawed human being, just as you love yourself. This applies even if your significant other is experiencing mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression. 

In friendship

Close friends often see each other at their best and at their worst. Instead of judging your friends for their mistakes or lack of career successes, radical love is about meeting them where they are and supporting them while still honoring your own space and needs. Radical love means wanting what’s best for our friends and for ourselves and doing what we can to help cultivate that. It could take the form of providing a listening ear, for example, or offering honest feedback when they voice their personal disappointments. Radical love isn’t always upbeat or easy, but it does always aim to accept and support another individual as their complete self.

Everyone is worthy of unconditional love

The journey toward radical love

Part of showing radical love to yourself and others is understanding that we’re all imperfect humans who will inevitably fall short from time to time. This concept means striving to offer consistent, enduring love through shortcomings. If all love were conditional, there would eventually be none left because everyone makes mistakes. Radical love means extending forgiveness, compassion, and grace to ourselves and others even in the face of flaws. It’s not always easy to find joy in a relationship, especially in a society that has us believe that all things are transactional and that every cent must be earned and accounted for. That’s why showing radical love to yourself and those around you can be thought of as an emotional journey on which you remain over the course of your life. 

Relationships of all types can be difficult, even when they’re characterized by radical love. That’s why some people choose to turn to mental health services to help them work through the relational challenges they may be facing. A therapist can help you identify strategies to increase your levels of radical self-love, for instance, or build communication or boundary-setting skills that you can use in your romantic relationships or friendships. By providing mental health services, a therapist may also help you heal from childhood trauma or a past relationship where love was given to you conditionally. In addition, they can support you on your own path toward mental wellness and radical love.

If you’re interested in getting the support of a therapist, online therapy is one convenient option. With a virtual therapy platform like BetterHelp, there’s no need to travel to a therapy center; you can connect with a licensed therapist from the comfort of your own home. If you are experiencing mental health challenges, like crippling anxiety and depression, it may be easier to meet with a mental health professional online. Research suggests that online therapy offers similar benefits to in-person sessions, and one study even reports that participants say this format feels more personal. The most effective therapy method is usually the one that feels most comfortable for you, so it’s typically best to seek out a therapist in whatever way feels right. If you’re interested in learning more about BetterHelp, you can start by checking out client reviews of BetterHelp therapists below.

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“Yvonne helped me hone in on the root of the issues I was dealing with and helped provide me with tools to improve my outlook and self-esteem. She helped me realize the ways of thinking that were not serving me and take steps to overcome my fears and insecurities. She's also been great at providing me with perspective. I have loved working with her".

“What a wonderful human! Sarah listens intently and always gives me another perspective to consider. Not right or wrong, just a different way to think about my concerns. She is delightful and insightful.”


It can be difficult to even conceptualize radical love if you’ve only ever experienced conditional love. Understanding more about the forms it can take in different kinds of relationships can help. In addition, seeking out mental health services or getting support from a licensed therapist can be a helpful tool to deal with past trauma or periods of conditional love.
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