Unconditional love is one’s deepest need and each one of us intuitively recognises at our core the essential value of it. I experience the greatest joy in loving when I can open to another without reservation and judgement and fully hold the other just for who he or she is. Equally, I feel unconditionally loved when others are unreservedly open and appreciate me for being me. Such love has unbelievable power, bringing to consciousness a larger presence within each of us that allows us to experience the infinity and profundity of what it is to be a unique human being.
There is a poignancy about the fact that one tends to experience flashes of unconditional love most powerfully in beginnings and endings – at birth, at death or when first ‘falling in love’ – when the essence or suchness of the person who is the target of one’s affection shines through and touches one directly, and when this is reciprocated, there emerges a wonderful unconditional dance of intimacy. However, these transcendent moments tend to be temporary and elusive because, inevitably, the defensive doubts, fears, insecurities that were present before and are still present now, raise their heads and, sadly, the relationship quickly shifts from being blissfully unconditional to being darkly conditional. Doubts about self can give rise to being cautionary: ‘Am I being too open?’; ‘Will I get hurt?’; ‘Can I trust this person?’; ‘Will I get my needs met in this relationship?’; ‘Can I tolerate differences between us? Openness now gives way to a closing down, manifesting in ‘ifs’:
- ‘….. if I get my needs met’
- ‘….. if I can trust you’
- ‘….. if you don’t hurt me’
- ‘….. if you’re always there for me’
- ‘….. if you see things my way’
- ‘….. if you don’t judge me’
This powerful tug-of-war between loving unconditionally and relating with conditions is designed to bring to consciousness the deeper reality of the present nature of one’s own relationship with self. After all, it is not my lover’s or partner’s responsibility to ensure my emotional security; on the contrary, this is my responsibility. I become consciously adult only when I unconditionally love my self and take responsibility for all my feelings, thoughts, words, dreams and actions towards myself and others. The relationship with the other always reflects the state of one’s own interiority and thus provides the most potent opportunity for one to love and know self. As long as one expects the other to be the source of one’s happiness, then unconditional love goes out the door and the shadow of conditionality quickly enters in. It is this conditionality that needs resolution, not from without but from within.
The most profound relationships present at birth, death and ‘falling in love’ times can be powerfully usurped by a tenuous or elusive or lack of unconditional intimacy with self. When I talk about unconditional love many individuals have exclaimed: ‘isn’t unconditional love of self selfish?’ My response is that in taking the true meaning of the word ‘Self-ish’ unconditional love is selfish, because it implies taking total responsibility for self. In the Catholic meaning of the word, unconditional love of self is seen as narcissistic (‘me, me, me’). However, there is a profound difference between Catholicism and Christianity. Christ emphasised ‘love your neighbour, as yourself’; whereas Catholicism dropped the ‘as yourself’ and, tragically, lost the essence of Christianity, of spirituality and, indeed, of what it means to be fully human.
When I am in relationship with another and have a deep unconditional intimacy with my Self, I bring the light of my fullness and wholeness to another and can fully appreciate his or her wholeness and fullness – no strings attached. However, loving another unconditionally does not mean I want to live with that person. To unconditionally love another is absolutely crucial to human beings living in harmony with each other, but to go and live with someone involves more than unconditional love, a matter I will write about next week.
Dr. Tony Humphreys practices as a clinical psychologist, is an author and national and international speaker. His book, with co-author Helen Ruddle, Relationship, Relationship, Relationships: The Heart of a Mature Society is relevant to this article.