Unconditional love means love with no strings attached

unconditional love

The meaning of unconditional love

Like many of us, I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My mother suffered with a mental illness which made her unable to empathize or show compassion, even to her children.

My father, on the other hand, was distant and unemotional. Neither of them offered encouragement or direction.

They never seemed to care about me, so I worked hard to try and win their love.

I grew up feeling like love had to be earned, and I never could seem to do the right things to get it.

Unconditional love is love you don’t have to earn. You should be able to make mistakes every day and still be worthy of love.

Maybe you are missing that kind of no-strings-attached love in your life.

Unconditional love is love you don't have to earn. Click To Tweet

Looking back on a life filled with limited affection, I’ve discerned six conditions people place on love.

In subtle ways they tell you they will withdraw their devotion if you fail to meet one or more of these demands:

1. You entertain me.

This condition says I will withdraw love if you want to talk about your problems or get too heavy with your needs.

This condition causes us to detach from our true selves as we keep things light regardless of dark feelings.

We withhold ourselves for the pleasure of the other person. Rather than challenging that person to see us as we are, we hide.

Both people are denied the right to grow and change and self-reflect. Without a savior, it is too scary to enter into your dark side.

2. You keep my secrets.

This often happens in families when the scapegoat or whistle blower finds herself ostracized and abused simply for pointing out the truth. Rather than face their problems, the family demonizes the scapegoat.

They pretend to themselves they’re all right while the scapegoat is all wrong. Only if she goes along with the lie, will she retain their love.

3. You give me sex.

This one is self-explanatory and happens all too often in the modern dating world. You get the message they can get it somewhere else if you don’t comply with their demand.

This culture keeps both men and women giving into something they may not want. Giving away sex only semi-consensually takes a huge toll on the soul.

4. You fulfill my needs.

unconditional love

This sounds okay, even like a love song, but can be dangerous when you are expected to meet another’s needs in order to receive their love.

“That’s why we need Jesus,” my friend said, which came as a huge relief to me.

When I discovered no human being could fulfill all my needs, I could let them off the hook and just love them.

5. You make things easy for me.

Similar to #1, this kind of faux love requires you not to rock the boat. You are asked to maintain the status quo, pretending things are fine when they’re not.

You don’t question the person when they let you down. Nor do you challenge them to do better. You are unfailingly supportive even when it makes you sick and exhausted.

6. You must be successful/perfect.

I had always suspected my family would reject me if I messed up. Those fears were realized when my marriage ended and they refused to support me.

As long as I agreed not to talk about my divorce, they would continue to tolerate me. Of course, that became a “love” I could no longer bear.

I learned to turn to God for love instead and accept the limitations of my human family.

True unconditional love

Perhaps you have suffered some or all these conditions on love and even live under them now. Maybe you’ve never known unconditional love.

Love with caveats is no love at all because it's constantly at risk of being lost. Click To Tweet

Love with caveats is no love at all because it’s constantly at risk of being lost. True love is secure and withstands human error.

If the people in your life won’t love you without conditions it’s not your fault, it’s theirs. It means they’re afraid of feeling exposed and vulnerable. A weakness on their part they refuse to face.

Pruning: getting rid of the good to make room for the best

pruning

Boundaries author Henry Cloud uses pruning as an image to describe how we should practice self care in our lives.

Gardeners prune rosebushes to help them flourish. It involves cutting away healthy buds to give the best ones full access to the resources of the vine or bush.

How can you use this concept of pruning to live to your own highest potential?

It helps to view setting boundaries as a three-step process.

1. Garbage removal

In this stage, boundaries involve eliminating things from your life that serve little to no purpose.

When you first start setting boundaries, it’s easy to know what to snip away. You have so much in your life that’s not working for you.

You take years of toxic baggage to the curb. Slowly, removing things that don’t serve you helps you figure out your likes and dislikes.

You uncover who you are and what you value. And you begin to align your life with those things.

Now you’re in the second stage.

2. Re-organization

You’ve become a little more discerning. If you’re an introvert, for instance, you might decline to host a big event.

If you’re aiming for a house with less chaos you stop to consider every purchase before you make it.

You live by the William Morris quote, “Have nothing in your homes that is not useful or beautiful.”

"Have nothing in your homes that is not useful or beautiful." Click To Tweet

With practice, these boundaries have become easier to set. They are now a matter of preference rather than life or death.

You reach a point where you’ve gotten rid of all the junk that took up space in your life. You’re beginning to look around and like what you see. But there’s still more work to do.

This is the third step where pruning or refinement comes in.

3. Refinement

You’ve removed all the garbage and re-organized what’s left. You look around at a pristine castle and wonder how you can make it better. The castle is you, by the way.

Now the decisions about what stays in your life and what goes are less obvious. It’s no longer a matter of bad vs. good but good vs. best.

You’ve got mostly good things in your life now. But if you want to fulfill your God-given potential you’ve got to make room for the best.

That’s why some people say, “New level, new devil.” The more personal growth you achieve, the harder it becomes to improve.

Now you look at the time you spend on certain activities. And even the people with whom you spend that time.

Instead of, “is this any good for me?” you ask, “is this the very best use of my talents and resources?”

You’ve cleared so much clutter from your head that you no longer react to life. Now, you make intentional choices to use your gifts for the greatest good.

Pruning in all areas of life

The pruning principle works in other areas of life as well. Take your children’s extracurricular activities, for example (if you have them).

Many parents want to expose their kids to as many opportunities as possible. But it’s impossible to excel at everything.

Helping your child pick his favorite activity will ensure he derives more satisfaction from it. He will be able to focus and improve when he’s not stretched thin over multiple commitments.

Pruning applies for weight loss if that’s an area you’re working on. If you’re overweight and decide to eat healthily the pounds come off quickly at first.

Then you reach the dreaded plateau. It’s always the last few that are the hardest to lose. New level, new devil.

Pruning to align with your values

It’s tough to face but even people fall into this category. Good people sometimes need to be pruned from our lives to make room for what’s best.

For example, when our values misalign or we outgrow each other. When I quit drinking I stopped spending time with certain people.

They weren’t bad. But friends whose social lives centered around drinking would never help me be my best self.

Time becomes more precious as we get older. As a result, we have to discern with whom it’s best spent.

If you want to reach your goals, surround yourself with people who understand and support those aims. Click To Tweet

If you want to reach your goals, it’s important to surround yourself with people who understand and support those aims.

Pruning takes self care to the next level. It challenges you to eliminate things in your life that might be good but not the best for you.

And give your attention and focus, like the rosebush’s resources, to growing a few buds to their glorious potential.

Emotional neglect: how to know if you’ve experienced it and 3 ways to heal

emotional neglect

Have you heard of emotional neglect? You’re probably more familiar with the term emotional abuse, which acknowledges you don’t need to be hit to experience harm.

Sometimes, emotional abuse is so bad people have to estrange from their families. We accept that even without physical scars, emotional wounds run deep and deserve to be acknowledged.

Perhaps you have wondered if you were emotionally abused because of the deep hurt you experienced growing up. But your parents didn’t call you names or scream at you.

You find it difficult to put your finger on what happened to you. But you know your childhood experience has left lasting scars.

You see the praise and affection your friends receive from their parents and wonder what that’s like.

You witness them calling their mom for help when they go through something hard. And their mom offering comfort and advice, while you have to handle things on your own.

It’s possible you have trouble understanding what happened to you because you’ve experienced emotional neglect rather than abuse.

The problem is less what your parents did than what they didn’t do. And that’s why it can be hard to describe and recognize.

With emotional neglect, the problem is less what your parents did than what they didn't do. Click To Tweet

What are the signs of emotional neglect?

Emotional neglect can show up in a number of different ways. But here are seven signs that may sound familiar to you:

1. Your parents were either focused on rules or overly permissive. Either way, they seemed to care little about your feelings.

2. You never learned to set boundaries or establish healthy coping mechanisms as a result.

3. You rarely received positive feedback from your parents or even constructive criticism. They never helped you see your strengths and weaknesses or develop your talents.

4, Your parents’ needs took precedence over yours. If you were struggling, they did little to help you understand what you were feeling.

5. You can’t talk to your parents about emotional topics and if you do they make you feel worse. You’ve learned to keep your feelings to yourself so as not to overburden others.

6. You are over responsible. Good at caring for others but not so good at caring for yourself. You may feel resentful about how much you give and how little you receive.

7. You are unduly hard on yourself and even feel like you have a fatal flaw that makes you defective. You feel that if people really knew you they wouldn’t like you.

It is within your power to heal from emotional neglect. Click To Tweet

If you see yourself in the above descriptions and believe you’ve been the victim of emotional neglect, take heart. It is within your power to heal.

Here are 3 things you can do.

1. Understand that emotions are not bad, they give you information

If you were never taught to deal with your emotions, it makes sense you’d have trouble regulating them.

I used to avoid emotions and misunderstand them. Anger to me was so all-encompassing it could take me out for a whole day.

For that reason, I’d avoid feeling angry until I blew up. Then experience tremendous shame and guilt.

I’d avoid sadness because I feared that would throw me into a deep depression. I’d try to talk myself out of a low mood instead of allowing myself to feel and process it.

Now, I understand anger is often justified. It might be a sign that something needs to be changed or addressed.

And rather than deny sad feelings, I surrender them to God and ask for His comfort. It lasts less than a day and I come out on the other side feeling refreshed and renewed.

emotional neglect, boundaries

2. Learn to set boundaries and develop routines

If you suffered emotional neglect as a child, you probably didn’t feel like you could say no or ask for what you wanted.

As you learn to protect yourself through boundaries, you’ll feel safer and experience more authentic relationships.

You may have never learned the value of routines like getting up early or making a healthy lunch for work. Or find it hard to motivate yourself to do them.

They may seem pointless or tedious to you, but they are important elements of self-care.

When you take care of yourself through routines like exercise, healthy eating, and getting to bed at a certain time, you will experience increased health and self-worth.

You have to become the parent to yourself that you never had.

3. Spend time discovering yourself

Take time to journal and understand yourself. Treat yourself as you would a cherished loved one. Take yourself out on dates and pay attention to your likes and dislikes.

Figure out what gives you comfort and fulfills you and do more of that. Maybe you want to read for a whole day. Or go for a meandering walk.

Engage in activities that bring you pleasure and consider connecting with others who share those interests.

No contact: How to protect yourself from toxic people

no contact, toxic people, boundaries

Have you ever had to go no contact with someone? Or wished you could?

Maybe you’re stuck in a relationship right now that’s causing you a great deal of pain. The person treats you in emotionally damaging ways.

Every interaction leaves you feeling ashamed and confused. They behave in bizarre ways, then hold you accountable for your normal reaction to that behavior.

You may be dealing with what we call a toxic person or relationship.

Here are three ways to deal with toxic people.

1. Tell them how you feel.

Let them know you come away from them feeling bad about yourself. Give recent examples of things they have said that hurt you.

Ask them what they meant when they said those things. It’s possible the person will respond positively to your query.

They may not have known how their words hurt you. Or they may be willing to do some work to understand why they behave the way they do.

Your courage to confront can be a great catalyst for personal growth for both of you. Yay, you!

Unfortunately, this scenario is rare when difficult people feel challenged. Bringing your concerns to the person, no matter how lightly you tread, may not work.

Truly toxic people have no interest in changing. They point the finger at others and never at themselves.

Truly toxic people have no interest in changing. They point the finger at others and never at themselves. Click To Tweet

They will say you are too sensitive, imagining things, or lying about what they have said or done.

A toxic person turns around and unfriends you because you had the gall to stand up for yourself. She slings mud about you to mutual friends or family.

This brings us to the second way to deal with toxic people.

2. Go no contact.

You’ve done your part by making the brave move of confronting the person. They’ve refused to acknowledge your feelings. Or the chance they could have done anything wrong.

It’s clear they care more about holding onto a false image of themselves than their relationship with you. The obvious answer is to leave the person.

You may decide to tell them of your decision to end the relationship. But based on their response to your truth-telling, you my choose not to.

Why expose yourself to more of their negativity and blame?

This will be excruciating if you’ve become enmeshed or codependent. You will need support to follow through with your decision.

Stop phoning, texting or emailing them. When they contact you, refuse to reply. It might be easier on you if you block their emails and phone numbers on your devices.

There’s no need to tell anyone of your decision. But if you have trusted friends or family that would understand, enlist them to help you stay strong.

Resist the urge to explain. You’ve done nothing wrong and don’t need to defend yourself. Focus on moving forward rather than revisiting this dead relationship over and over.

But what if it’s a close family member bringing the toxicity? Getting up and leaving may not be the optimal solution. In this case, no contact feels extreme or impossible.

You want to leave the door open to a possible reconciliation. Or avoid a family crisis over the issue.

Caveat: if someone is threatening you physically or emotionally, then it’s time to get help or make plans to leave. This post deals with situations that don’t have you in immediate danger.

3. Limit contact.

An alternative to estrangement can come in the form of a psychic adjustment. It means relating to a friend or family member in a new way.

Rather than deal with the fallout of a severed tie, would you be willing to spend one or two hours with this person in a controlled environment?

Perhaps meet them in a coffee shop and make small talk. This might sound superficial. But it keeps alive a relationship that’s not so simple to dissolve.

It also buys you time to decide whether to continue the relationship for the long haul. You get space to arrive at a healthy conclusion about whether you can tolerate this person in your life.

How to practice acceptance and gratitude without staying stuck

acceptance

Acceptance is important for avoiding frustration and impulsive decisions in our lives. But it’s okay to acknowledge when things aren’t okay.

If your husband ignores you and you say you’re grateful he doesn’t beat you, that’s unhelpful.

Acceptance taken too far will start to look like settling. Rather than acknowledging legitimate grievances and taking actions to change them, you avoid doing the work.

Acceptance taken too far will start to look like settling. Click To Tweet

When I first stopped drinking alcohol, for instance, acceptance helped me climb out of a self-pity party and appreciate all that I had.

But there came a point when I had to deal with the things I could no longer accept. Like the toxic people in my life.

What is healthy acceptance?

When acceptance crosses the line into passivity, it’s no longer serving you. Nothing changes when we keep telling ourselves to be happy where we are.

Here are three ways to avoid feeling stuck while continuing to practice healthy acceptance and gratitude.

1. Envision your future

Rather than saying “when x happens, then I’ll y”, act as if x has already happened. Take on the habits and routines of the person you want to become.

For example, you could say “when I get a job, then I’ll start waking up early.” But, setting the alarm before you get the job forms a good habit that makes you more like the person who already has the job. That mindset sets you up to snag the position.

Take on the habits and routines of the person you want to become. Click To Tweet

Or: “Once I get published I’ll call myself a writer and commit to a daily writing practice.” Truth is, sitting down to write every day makes you a writer.

And that discipline, often practiced in obscurity for years, is the only way to get the book deal and title of published author in the first place.

Acting like the person you want to be is the best way to invite change into your life.

Who is your future self and what do you need to do now to make that vision a reality?

2. Learn from your past

It takes humility to acknowledge past mistakes and learn from them. Before I knew God, I avoided thinking about my past. I stuffed it down or made excuses for bad behavior.

I had to justify myself because there was no one else to justify me. Thinking about my past transgressions made me cringe.

So, I avoided looking at them and, therefore, missed the lessons.

When I started drinking at 16 to deal with my problems instead of facing them head on, I stunted my growth.

When I finally recovered, my emotional age was stuck in the teens because I had never dealt with or processed anything in a healthy way.

I had to acknowledge and even write down my past mistakes. I learned quickly the importance of taking responsibility for your part in any conflict.

I grew more in a year than I had in the previous twenty. Learning from past mistakes keeps us grounded, humble and, moving forward with a growth mentality.

3. Focus on things inside your control

The serenity prayer says to accept the things you cannot change and change the things you can. But how to know the difference?

We only have the power to change things under our control. Trying to change things outside our control, like people, is futile. It leads to frustration, anger, and hopelessness.

We only have the power to change things under our control. Click To Tweet

What you do have the power to change is yourself and your attitude. If you’re tired of hearing someone complain about the same problem over and over and refusing to do anything about it, you can stop listening.

Or, better, you can let go of any expectation that they will change and listen without prejudice. Or you can pray for them.

When I discovered the power of prayer, a whole world got lifted from my shoulders. Give it to God. He can handle it.