An Antidote to Conditional Love

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A post-it note on my office wall reminds me:

"Stop loving people for who they could be, or who you want them to be, and start loving people for who they actually are, right now."

Strangely enough, this is not easy.

Sometimes the way that people show up in the moment is painful for me, or irritating, or downright aggravating. I so badly want them to change and be different so that I can be more comfortable.

I've stayed in some relationships far too long as a result of loving the potential more than the reality.

I'd focus on building a relationship with who I wanted them to become, instead of who they actually were.

After all, if they changed in such and such a way wouldn’t all our lives be better?

Not really.

Welcome to Conditional Love:

  • The kind of love that comes with benchmarks, performance measures and expectations.

  • The kind of love that controls, that manages, that manipulates.

  • The kind of love rooted in disempowerment, deficits and dependencies.

Don’t misunderstand me: Having a vision of how things could work better is an integral aspect of creativity, growth and change.

I am not suggesting we give up vision or hope.

However, often our subtle criticisms and demands that people be different, tragically inhibit our ability to actually create what we long for.

By focusing on changing others, we just keep getting in our own way. We keep setting up power struggles and separation when we are longing for more connection and growth.

I’ve found it far more effective to reclaim my personal power by focusing on my own responses, intentions and attitudes.

These two principles serve as a useful guide for me:

  1. Greet every judgment I have as a stepping stone to my deeper values.

  2. Lead by example. Want more of something in the world? Offer it myself.

For example, imagine an un-empathic, controlling and passive-aggressive individual … Got it?

Let's apply those principles:

  • If I think the problem is that "they aren't empathic enough,” then I may be wanting more empathy in the world. I can create more empathy in the world by responding to them with empathy.

  • If I think the problem is that "they are too controlling,” then I may be wanting more choice and freedom. I can have more choice and freedom by giving myself permission to respond authentically and not agreeing to things I don’t want to agree to (regardless of what "they" are doing.)

  • If I think the problem is that "they are passive aggressive,” then I may be valuing direct, kind and aware communication. I can nurture that in our relationship by responding with awareness, kindness and directness and making it safe for them to be authentic with me.

Once we put our focus on what kind of person we each want to be, regardless of what may be swirling around us, we reclaim our personal power and live with integrity.

Love the rest of the world as it is and focus on what you are able to influence: Yourself.

Get out of their business, and back into yours.

Paradoxically, deciding to love others, as they are, with no demand that they be different, allows others to seek change and growth, on their own terms and for their own reasons.

Accepting people unconditionally in each moment is deeply soothing and makes growth far more likely.

Counter-intuitive, but true.

As our needs to be seen, to be heard, to be known, to be accepted are increasingly met, we respond like plants reaching for the sunshine: Growing and changing - not because we are flawed and avoiding judgment or rejection - but rather because we are loved and known and wanting to expand into more of that.