Unconditional love for ourselves and others is one of the main topics of my blog. I often refer to unconditional love as treating ourselves and others with dignity or respecting our light.
While the idea of unconditional love sounds good initially, I find a lot of people are confused by or skeptical of it, and in fact, when I was younger, I remember being feeling both confusion and skepticism about the concept.
So, I wanted to write a Q & A style blog post that clears up some of the common misconceptions we have about love. I have organized it in an interview-style format, in which I interview myself.
Q. Shelly, you write about unconditional love on your blog a lot. Could you explain what exactly unconditional love is?
A. Unconditional love is the conscious choice to honor our dignity and the dignity of others in all of our words and actions. I can explain that more if you like.
Q. Yes, please do. Tell us more what you mean by honor and dignity.
A. When we honor something, we take action based on a realization. We realize that people possess dignity always. It is not something they earn. People’s dignity is the natural ability all people have to be loving, wise, creative, and compassionate through their own unique personality. As they do this, they light up their corner of the world.
I also refer to our dignity as our Light, our Wise Self, or our Baby Magic.
Our dignity is something all of us are born with, and we can never lose it, although we can forget it or cover it up. When we realize people have this dignity, we take action in accordance with this realization, and that is honor.
Q. What would such action look like?
A. It would be impossible to make a comprehensive list of actions showing honor. Here are a few, basic things. When we treat ourselves and other people with kindness, compassion, and respect (which is love), and we honor their dignity.
This means that we encourage ourselves and others with our words. It is really easy to say harsh and critical things to ourselves and others, but these kinds of things crush our spirit. When we speak loving words to ourselves and others, we strengthen people’s spirits.
It may also mean that we do loving actions such as helping people when they are in need to or doing things we know will encourage and serve them.
Q. What are loving words exactly?
A. They are words that recognize the goodness and beauty in others. For example, I love to reflect back to my husband and family and friends the good I see in them. I might say things like, “You work so hard” or “You’re really funny” or “You did such a great job on that project” or “You look so lovely today”.
I also like to tell people, when it is appropriate (such as my close friends and family), “I love you” or “I care about you” or “You are amazing”. Words like this have the capacity to remind people of their dignity and to remind them that we are committed to honoring their dignity. This can help us feel safe and nurtured.
Loving words are really important, I think, because for some reason, we tend to use our words quite often to criticize or be catty or sarcastic in a destructive way.
Q. Why is the topic of unconditional love so important to you? You seem to write about it all the time.
A. I do write about it all the time. It’s important to me because I think a lot of people in the United States (and possibly the world) are sad and lonely and anxious, and they feel unworthy and unlovable. There are a lot of reasons for this, but one of the main reasons is that current U.S. culture often does a poor job of honoring people’s dignity.
Our culture is currently characterized by toxic competition in which only a few people who meet arbitrary standards of wealth or talent or intelligence or beauty are considered special. We seem to think, culturally speaking, that there is a scarcity of good things like love and recognition and security and comfort in the world. So instead of honoring everyone’s dignity, we have created this cutthroat competition in which we are all competing for scarce goods.
This is why, I believe, reality TV shows like Survivor and stories like the Hunger Games are so popular. They are our current reality.
The result of all of this is that we walk around with a constant feeling that we aren’t good enough and that we are unlovable and unworthy.
Q. But isn’t unconditional love a bit dangerous? I mean, if we love people unconditionally, aren’t we just excusing their bad behavior?
A. First of all, it is important to remember that we need to honor our own dignity as well as honoring people’s dignity. This means that we do not tolerate it when people are cruel or disrespectful to us or when they bully us. You wouldn’t permit someone to bully your best friend, and you shouldn’t permit people to bully you either.
So, it is crucial to remember that unconditional love requires that we always stick up for ourselves and for others, and this means that we call out other people when they act badly to ourselves and others. But there is a difference between rebuking someone for being a bully and treating them like a piece of garbage. We can do the first without doing the second.
For instance, if someone is treating us badly, we may say, “You cannot speak to me that way” or “You cannot treat me that way”, and we can refuse to engage with them until they adopt more respectful behavior.
When we respond this way, we honor people’s dignity while making sure that they do not disrespect ours.
Q. But what if someone keeps treating you badly even after you rebuke them? How do you love them unconditionally then?
A. Sometimes we must cut ties with people who continually act cruelly towards us. We must do this in order to love ourselves. In this case, we might love others from afar. We can hold onto hope for them. If we believe in prayer, we can pray for them. And sometimes we must cut people out of our lives completely and trust them to the power of the Universe.
This can also be an act of unconditional love. When we firmly shut the door on someone who continually mistreats us, we are speaking the truth to them. That is love. We refuse to continue to participate in their disease—their disease in this case is their refusal to take responsibility for the harm they cause others.
Q. If we love ourselves unconditionally, isn’t there a danger that we will stop trying to be better people? It seems like trying to earn love or prove our worth makes us better people.
A. I understand this concern because I used to think this way all the time. The older I get, however, the weirder I think this kind of logic is, and here is why.
We recognize the value of unconditional love with almost everything else but ourselves. For instance, if we have a plant, we water it and make sure it has sun. Why? Because we know that if we show it love in this way, it will become its beautiful plant self.
We do the same with our pets. We feed them and snuggle with them and play with them. This is how we shows them unconditional love. And when we do this, they become healthy and strong and happy.
The point is that unconditional love in both these cases, and in many others, doesn’t stunt growth. It is the very soil that nurtures growth.
So, it is very odd that when it comes to human beings, we suddenly think that they don’t need this nurturing soil. Instead we often think that criticism and withholding love is the appropriate soil for growth. This would be like refusing to water a plant or feed a pet and expecting it to flourish.
Q. But how can we love ourselves unconditionally when we have so many faults and shortcoming?
A. There are two ways we handle this, I think. The first way is to realize that many of our own perceived imperfections are not shortcomings at all but unrealistic expectations we pick up from our culture. For example, such perceived shortcomings might be thinking we are not successful enough or talented enough or sophisticated enough or thin enough or beautiful enough or whatever.
In many (if not most of these cases), we are perfectly fine the way we are, but through pressures like the media and toxic cultural competition, we become convinced we are unworthy and gross. Unconditional love can help us recognize and rid ourselves of these cultural distortions.
Secondly, sometimes we do, indeed, have faults and shortcomings that we must address. I would argue that unconditional love provides us with the strength we need to make these changes. Sometimes the bad habits or problem areas we develop in our life are negative coping behaviors we develop in response to a perceived lack of love. For instance, we may develop serious anxiety or addictions or become hyper-critical, all as a response to feeling unwanted or unloved. In these cases, showing ourselves unconditional love can provide us with the strength and emotional support we need to change.
And sometimes we just develop bad habits because of carelessness. Unconditional love for ourselves still creates the idea soil for us to change. It helps us to realize that we are better than our bad habits and that there is a bigger, more beautiful version of us waiting for us.
Q. I have one final question. What if someone feels horrible about herself and unconditional love feels impossible? What should a person in that situation do?
A. Well, first, I sympathize with this. Most of us at one point or another feel horrible about ourselves. It is a painful feeling. First, I would encourage this person to try to view herself like a plant or a pet. We recognize that even when we feel horrible, we can take actions to nurture plants or pets.
Then I would encourage a person to do nurturing actions towards herself like she would a plant or pet, even if she feels horrible.
These nurturing actions can be basic things like giving ourselves sleep, good food, movement, and time to rest and be quiet. It can also be things like engaging in life-giving hobbies or saying nurturing and kind things to ourselves (like affirmations). Or it can be things like distancing ourselves from hurtful and unkind influences in our life.
The more we act in nurturing ways towards ourselves, the more we feel loving towards ourselves.
Q. Thanks for talking with me today, Shelly. And we get along a lot better than we used to, don’t we?
A. You’re very welcome! I like talking with you, Shelly. And you’re right, we do get along a lot better than we used to. Thanks for loving me unconditionally. It makes a big difference.