She didn't become an easier person to deal with. Loving her is something I did for ME!
When I was young, if someone had suggested that unconditional love would bring me closer to my mother, I would've called them crazy.
With my stories of suffering at her hands spanning decades, it shouldn't come as a shock that I didn't think that loving her (let alone unconditionally) would ever be possible.
I spent years feeling chronic anger, bitterness, and resentment towards my mother. Although I knew it wasn't good for me, I believed that those emotions protected me.
I was afraid that if I let those feelings of hurt go, she would "win"—I would end up giving in to whatever she wanted and would always have to agree with her, which meant that I'd never escape from her abusive or dysfunctional behavior.
I wanted to love her, but I didn't know how to do that AND preserve myself.
For me, it was an either/or proposition: Either I stay angry and protect myself OR I love her and let her swallow me whole (at least that's what it felt like would happen).
And that's because I didn't understand that unconditional love is an emotion that I get to choose to feel—not a concept, action, or behavior that is forced on me.
All emotions—from fear and anger to joy and love—are nothing more and nothing less than vibrations that we feel in our bodies.
Shame usually comes with a hot, prickly feeling around my face and neck. Grief is an exquisite ache in my throat and heart. Anger feels like the wind has been knocked out of me (and it's heavy too); I feel slightly choked. Anxiety is weak knees and a shakiness in my belly (sometimes I actually shiver).
And love? It's like a heart-melting and warm sensation in my chest. The more I understand about love, the more I know that it's not an emotion that comes with conditions. You either feel it or you don't.
If you'd like to cultivate more unconditional love in your life, here are some simple steps you can take:
Step 1: Close your eyes and take a deep breath. Unlock those shoulders. Soften your eyes. Take another deep breath.
Step 2: Think about someone or something that you love. Think of how much happiness this person or thing brings to your life and how much you love them.
Step 3: Continue focusing on this person or thing until you start to feel a physical sensation. Describe it. Where in your body do you feel it? Does it have a texture? A temperature? A color?
Step 4: Now think about someone for whom it's hard to feel love. Summon up any anger, resentment, and bitterness you have towards this person until you start to feel it physically. Get to know it just like you got to know what unconditional love feels like. Which feels better?
Step 5: Understand that choosing to feel unconditional love is a favor you do for yourself. It's available to you right now if you want it.
Step 6: Understand that loving unconditionally does not mean tolerating bad behavior from others, or even having to see or speak to someone. It just means that when you think of this person, you choose to still feel amazing.
And because I like the way unconditional love feels, I made a conscious choice to feel it for my mother, rather than choosing anger, bitterness, and resentment (which don't feel so great). When you choose to feel love, you get to do so without condition.
Now, that's not to say that I feel unconditional love for her 24/7.
Emotions ebb and flow and, as human beings, we're made to feel all of them.
But I've learned to notice what I'm feeling, and how to connect those feelings to the thoughts I am thinking, rather than to what she says or does. What has most helped me love my mother is understanding that she doesn't have to change in order for me to feel it. There are no conditions.
It's my responsibility, not hers.
As a result of choosing to feel unconditional love for my mother, I understand that—as imperfect as we both are—she was (and still is) the perfect mother for me, and I am the perfect daughter for her.
I can now embrace the qualities in me that are also in her, whether I like them or not.
I've also established boundaries that come from a place of love and respect for both of us.
And most importantly, when I let her off the hook for being responsible for my feelings, I also let myself off the hook for being responsible for hers. We are two autonomous women. A mother and a daughter. Powerful in our own rights.
Most people equate unconditional love with tolerating bad behavior. Here's what I ask you to consider:
Love is ALWAYS an available choice. You don't always have to make it, but you always have the choice.
Love doesn't know the difference between conditional and unconditional. Loving unconditionally does not mean tolerating bad behavior or not having boundaries—in fact, I'd say good boundaries are part of what allows love to thrive.
Karen C.L. Anderson is a writer and master certified coach who helps women embrace their pasts without shame or fear so they can fully show up in their relationships as their amazing and authentic selves. It's all about profound self-trust, baby! Sign up for her email newsletter for exclusive content and offers.