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Last week, I gave a talk to a local group on communication and conflict. If you are a regular reader, you know one of my biggest beliefs is that what we all crave is a little validation and unconditional love. Especially when we are dealing with conflict, we need to have the ability to hear people’s stories and understand their perspective.
One of the women at the presentation came up to me afterwards. She had the belief that if you unconditionally love someone they will take advantage of you or not perform their best. She told me the story of her adult son who was struggling to get his life going and had made some bad decisions. She felt one of the reasons he was struggling was because she had loved him too much. As we talked more, I began to realize there is a difference between unconditional love and love with no personal boundaries. Unconditional love is the concept of I know you are doing the best you can with what you have, it is being present to someone in need and holding the space. Love with no boundaries means I allow you to take advantage of me, to hurt me, to belittle me in the name of love. In the brief conversation with this woman, it became clear that her son was taking advantage of her generosity and her kindness. It also became clear that what she thought was unconditional love (financial support and helpful guidance) was laced with criticism and judgment.
It is my belief when we unconditionally love someone when we allow them to be all that they are failures and strengths, personality glitches and generosities, people soar to meet our expectations. Unconditional love is such a rare and wonderful gift. We all want to be loved just for being who we are. When someone gives us that gift we want to strive to be the best person possible. However, to unconditionally love someone doesn’t mean I need to accept someone’s rude behavior, or put up with someone’s disrespect and lying. I can unconditionally love someone and have strong boundaries that don’t allow that behavior in my presence.
Unconditional love means I see in you all your wonderful gifts and strengths and I am going to continually point those out to you AND when you are struggling and making bad decisions I am still going to see all the wonderfulness that is you. I am not going to judge you or criticize you AND I am going to have strong boundaries so you don’t take advantage of me or hurt me because you are struggling.
As the woman walked away, she said she had never thought of love that way. She said she realized that she was more angry at herself then her son because she didn’t have good boundaries so she allowed him to take advantage. Don’t get me wrong, the son was clearly in the wrong for hurting his mother, however she also had some responsibility in allowing to happen repeatedly.
Unconditional love is not for the weak of heart. Unconditional love requires the strength to love them anyway. It requires the strength to set personal boundaries so you can love from a distance if need be. It is not critical, belittling or manipulative it is open, full and accepting. Unconditional love allows us to see the best in other people and allows them to become their best. Bottom line, unconditional love is a wonderful, challenging, difficult gift we can give to ourselves and those close to us.
What are your thoughts on unconditional love? What do you struggle with around this concept?