When is unconditional love truly that—versus codependency? I tend to hang in there with relationships long after they are good for me in the name of “unconditional love.” Even my (adult) kids tend to take advantage of me and often treat me poorly, but I hang in there and keep trying. At what point am I fooling myself? How do I practice unconditional love and protect myself at the same time?
The concept of unconditional love is sorely misunderstood. I once had a teenager in one of my workshops and we were talking about integrity agreements and mending broken agreements with family and friends. I mentioned that there may come a time when one’s family doesn’t accept their apologies and attempts to repair the relationship if the damage is too great, or too repeated. This young lady said that parents were supposed to love them unconditionally. The way she saw it, her parents’ job was to love her unconditionally, which meant to her that she could do whatever she wanted, without ultimate consequence. In essence, she was using “unconditional love” as permission to behave poorly.
So, here is my take on it: Unconditional love is a spiritual quality worthy of striving for and embodying. Unconditional love is a matter of respect and a lack of judgment. When you unconditionally love someone, you respect their right to explore, to make choices, to make mistakes, to learn, to suffer and hopefully to grow. Unconditional love does not mean you have to unconditionally accept being treated poorly. Unconditional love may mean that I love you, care for you and pray for you, honoring the life path you have chosen for yourself—from a safe distance for myself.
The Golden Rule is, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” The problem with this rule is that if you treat yourself poorly (due to low self-esteem), you will allow others to treat you poorly. Perhaps a better rule for how you are treated is, “Do unto yourself as you would have others do unto you,” as people look to us as the first example of how to treat us. When it comes to how to treat someone else, the golden rule should be, “Do unto others as they would have you do unto them.” We need to treat others the way they want to be treated, not necessarily the way we would allow ourselves to be treated.
It may be helpful to you to clearly understand the concept of separating the deed from the doer, as it is possible to love a person, but not allow their behavior in your life. When someone you love, like a child or a spouse, chooses to partake in activities and behaviors that are self-destructive, disrespectful and/or potentially harmful to you or others within your care, it is your responsibility to protect yourself. You can continue to love the person, but remove yourself from their behavior.
My motto is: I will love you unconditionally, but I will not play with you unconditionally or live with you or finance you, be intimate with you, or make excuses for you unconditionally. When you do these things unconditionally, you risk being “codependent” or being a doormat. Ultimately, this will cause you to feel like a victim, but you will want to blame the other person.
I have found that we are actually doing others a disservice when we allow them to mistreat us. For one, they are hurting their own spirits when they mistreat someone else. The other issue is that you are not showing them or modeling for them how to set appropriate boundaries, how to respect oneself or how to respect others. I have found that when someone mistreats others, they often need to learn to set boundaries for their own treatment, as well.
Intellectual Foreplay Question of the Week:
Can you love without judgment?
Love Tip of the Week:
The clearer you are on your own value and worth, the clearer your boundaries will become.
Eve Hogan, author of How to Love Your Marriage, Intellectual Foreplay, Virtual Foreplay, and Way of the Winding Path, is also the proprietor of The Sacred Garden, a nursery and healing sanctuary in Makawao. It is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For coaching or speaking events, call (808) 573-7700. Website: www.EveHogan.com Blog: www.AskEveAdvice.com. Send questions to AskEveAdvice@aol.com.