When you hear unconditional love, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? Is it a mother’s love for her child? Something you dream of having in your relationship? Or something that means you have to love someone even when you don’t want to and just let them treat you however they want?
No matter what associations pop up, there are a lot of common misconceptions about unconditional love and what it actually means in practice. Unconditional love used to be something that was encouraged to “seek out” and romanticized. Today, I feel like the opposite is true. The new norm is “no adult relationships are unconditional, no love should be unconditional, of course, there are and should be conditions.”
But it’s difficult to sort out what’s true and what’s not, what’s healthy and what’s not when you don’t actually understand what unconditional love means.
Love is a feeling
I think we can all agree that love is a feeling. A feeling that we feel inside of our bodies when we have certain thoughts. We can think thoughts about a person, a pet, a home, a country, a celebrity, weather… we can generate love in our bodies about anything if we are choosing the corresponding thoughts about it.
What’s important to know about feelings is that no one else can ever feel our feelings for us. Just as we can never feel another person’s feelings in our bodies. So when you feel love for someone, you’re the one who feels it. Not them. If they “feel your love” it’s because they are generating love in their bodies, thinking about you/your love for them.
The reason this is so important to understand is that a lot of us live with the idea that our feelings can benefit or punish those around us. We withhold love because we think it punishes the other person. Or we hold a grudge because the other person doesn’t deserve that we let it go. We are very selective with our good, positive emotions because we don’t want other people to “benefit” from them if they “don’t deserve it.”
But you’re the only one who feels your feelings remember? Not them.
So unconditional love does not mean “I give and I give and I give and other people get to treat me however they want, I’m just going to give love to them.”
Unconditional love literally just means that you have not set any conditions on the love that you allow yourself to feel inside of your own body.
Unconditional love is a choice and an experience between you and you. On your inside. Not between you and another person. So when you withhold love from someone because they “don’t deserve it”, the only one you’re withholding love from is you and your body. Period.
Feelings drive your actions
The feelings we have in our bodies fuel, drive and influence our behaviors, actions, inactions, habits, and how we show up in the world. And this right here is my guess as to why a lot of people are opposed to unconditional love.
A lot of us think certain behaviors are associated with love and others are not.
Yes is love.
No is not.
Agreeing is love.
Disagreeing is not.
Giving is love.
Taking is not.
I’m sure you can think of other examples where a behavior = love and the other behavior is definitely not love. But what I want to show you here is that love is a feeling, yes. And yes, feelings drive actions. But not specific actions. Love is not hardwired to only mean yes, agreeing, and giving. Love can also mean HOW you do something, what you DON’T do, and when you do it.
Love is just the fuel or the energy from which you take your desired actions. You can say yes from love or yes from fear. You can say no from love or no from hate. You can agree from love or you can agree from laziness.
The biggest difference is how you get to feel in your body while you do it.
Sometimes, love sounds like no. And when you say no to someone, they might not go “Oh man, thanks for saying love-no, that makes me feel so loved and wonderful.” They might get pissed off and upset and frustrated with you. Because once again — they don’t feel your love. You do.
Love and unconditional love is a gift you give yourself. Not other people.
Never at your own expense
The prerequisite for unconditional love for others is love for yourself. You never want to love someone and take action for someone else at your own expense. Once you love yourself and you know you have your own back no matter what, you are free to do whatever you please for other people. Because you want to. Not because you think you have to.
Unconditional love does not mean that other people get to treat you however they want and you just stick around and accept it.
Boundaries are not the antonym of love. Boundaries just mean that you make intentional choices about how to keep yourself physically and mentally safe. And it doesn’t require that you withhold love from the person who is crossing your boundaries. You get to feel love in your body the whole way out the door.
So, we just covered how feelings fuel our behaviors and actions in the world. If we combine unconditional love inside of our bodies (meaning we just choose love because we want to and we don’t make it conditional on what other people are or aren’t doing) with love for ourselves first, then love is never a bad idea.
Love in your body does not create any bad results for you, as long as you love yourself first.
To summarize, these are the most important aspects of unconditional love:
- Unconditional love means you don’t put conditions on how much love you get to experience in your body. It has nothing to do with other people.
- Unconditional love is never at your own expense.
- Sometimes love sounds like no.
- Boundaries are not the antonym of love, they are a result of love (for yourself).
- You can take any actions you want from a place of love.
- If you don’t want to love someone, that’s okay, but you’re not punishing them by not loving them. You’re literally just withholding love from yourself.
- Love is never a bad idea.