So you think unconditional love isn't for you? Read on to see why you should reconsider.
Tina Turner once famously sang the question "what's love got to do with it?" and followed her inquiry by letting us all know that love is a second hand emotion. To add insult to loves injury, she then wondered why we need hearts when hearts can be broken. Good question, Tina. Luckily we have five YourTango experts to help answer the question. So, what's love got to do with it? Relationship expert Aja Duncan is joined by Michelle Maliniak, Marie Kane, Chrisi Santana, and Suzann O'Koon to help answers Tina's question. Hint: the answer is "everything".
To start, Maliniak suggests that "love" is a subjective term. "When we love, does it mean we have to like everything they do? Does it mean we never get angry or disappointed at the things they do? What does it mean to love unconditionally? It means we accept them exactly as they are. We know what we can and can not expect of them and love them anyway. It doesn't mean we give them everything they want or tolerate frightening or mean behavior — it means we protect ourselves and forgive them."
Santana adds that when you love someone unconditionally, you do nice things for them, and the feelings of joy spread from the recipient to the giver (that's you!) The benefits are not only emotional but physical as well. "Isn't it a great feeling when you do something for someone? Maybe you cooked dinner for your partner who had to work late, or spent the time listening without judgment to a friend after they had a bad breakup. Doing things for others helps with our own stress levels. Focusing on a positive action for someone else makes us feel good about ourselves. Lowered stress levels benefit not only our heart (studies have shown that love can reduce cholesterol levels, which lowers your chance of heart attack), but our whole body and mind as well."
Humans are also social creatures. We need to interact with others. Santana adds that "Showing unconditional love for others deepens our relationships. On the flip side, receiving love or help from friends and strangers can make us feel gratitude, and being grateful leads to happiness and overall good mental health."
What else leads to happiness and overall good health? The ability to forgive. Kane offers the tidbit that love and forgiveness are often interchangeable. "Unconditional love walks hand in hand with forgiveness. As we learn to forgive others, we come to a greater understanding of our own need for forgiveness. Both giving and receiving unconditional love create a space of grace, a space in which all have room to forgive themselves, to gain permission to accept their own worthiness and then to expand/magnify (or maybe even to discover for the first time) their better attributes and potentials. Unconditional love creates a space that opens both giver and receiver to more love in their lives and, in turn, leads each of us to accept ourselves unconditionally."
A common theme with unconditional love is that it's not only about the receiver — it's also about you. It is only when you love yourself that you can bring that love into the world. And what is the benefit of that? The feeling of being complete. Duncan writes, "There is another, more simple, prescription for loving our lovers, partners, spouses unconditionally than them being suddenly struck dumb. And that prescription is unconditionally loving ourselves. When we begin the daily practice of loving ourselves, of recognizing the autonomous and divine spark in our own being, of nurturing and expressing tender affection for ourselves, then we do not need to enter our relationships with our partners from a place of needs or demands. We are already complete."
O'Koon confirms that sentiment and adds the great benefit of loving yourself is others people's opinions won't affect or bother you as much. "If we experience overt judgment or opinions of others, by unconditionally loving ourselves we block the sting of a negative judgment. We could say, "thank you for your opinion" or "I'll take that under advisement", and then decide if those words are helpful to you in your personal journey of life. It is your choice to accept the words and use them or not. Negative feelings about someone else's judgment are unnecessary as you accept everything said as loving and unconditional. You have the power to interpret the words anyway you want. Why not interpret them as loving?"
Kane expertly summarizes all of the wonderful benefits of unconditional love for yourself and for others. "The more unconditional love we give, the more we are able to receive. It creates peace of mind and a mind for peace, as well as increases the net positive energy in the world. It also increases the probability that both giver and receiver will treat others with greater love in their lives day-to-day in both great and small ways." Doesn't that sound nice for everyone involved?
To conclude, Maliniak shares a touching and deeply personal story about an alcoholic niece who unfortunately was unable to get sober from her addiction. Despite the trial and tribulations of dealing with such a situation, she was able to learn just how much positive impact unconditional love can help to everyone involved. "I have a story about how I really learned what unconditional love is. I had a niece, Amy, who was an alcoholic. At first I was very angry and righteous about this. I couldn't understand why she was choosing this life — to drink and be unhealthy. She was in and out of the hospital and jail. She couldn't be at her grandmother's, my mother's, death bed at the hospital because she couldn't drink in the hospital. I talked my sister into going to AA and getting Amy into rehab, which she did. She relapsed shortly after. I was determined she had to stop drinking. She was going to die if she didn't.
Then something happened. I changed. I learned. I forgave and let go. I realized that this was the way it was going to be. I never enabled her drinking, but when she was brave enough to show up at her grandfather's, my father's, deathbed at hospice, I let her be how she was. She was drinking but I stopped judging her or trying to stop her. One of my niece's wanted to pour her vodka out and my sister and I told her no. Let her be. We would ask anyone with poor behavior to leave drinking or not. Loving someone unconditionally means you understand you can not control them. I asked Amy to take a turn watching over "Pop" and she did. She brought us peanut butter and jelly sandwiches that were amazing good. She did this all while under the influence. She wasn't driving, so she wasn't hurting anyone. She was an alcoholic and she could not stop drinking. She was obviously dying from this, and I was going to love her unconditionally whether she stopped drinking or not.
I am so glad I did love her this way. She died almost exactly a year after my father died. I had last seen her at her birthday two weeks before. Her last words to me were: "You've helped me more than you'll ever know. I love you." She was only 36. I did love her so much. And I'm so glad I did. I didn't get to ask her what she meant by helping her. I think what she meant was that I loved her even though she would die from drinking. I wasn't angry anymore. I wasn't trying to control her or punish her for being who she was. What is the payoff? She was loved and I have no regrets. This is what choosing to love unconditionally can do.”
You see, Tina? Your heart will be only be broken if you won't love. Life is a tumultuous journey for everyone so why not bring the positive energy of unconditional love to your emotional and physical self. You won't regret it, and neither will those on the recieving end.
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