Of all the journeys of life this is the most important one you can take.
Love can be confusing because there are different kinds. It shouldn’t be, because really it’s the most basic of human desires – to love and be loved. Maybe it’s because we all feel it is something we deserve as a birth right (and it is), but it’s easy to become disillusioned when things don’t work out how we planned.
So what is this thing called love? Is it just a feeling? A feeling of gratitude, joy, warmth, belonging, pride, happiness, satisfaction, empathy, affection all rolled into one? I guess everyone has a different definition. I know it’s something that allows you to be selfless, to focus on the object of whatever it is that causes you to feel like that. And on the surface this is a good thing – but it can also be bad.
There are many different objects of our affections and love. Obviously a romantic partner, children and family are at the top of the list of people you would expect to love unconditionally – the kind of love that you give without any expectation of receiving anything in return.
Let’s examine the different kinds of love in a little more detail.
Romantic love – The starting point for beginning a family. Everyone wants to experience it at some point, to find that one person who cherishes you, accepts you for all that you are, walks beside you as a partner and totally trusts and believes in you. Someone with whom you can share intimacy and your innermost secrets – who fills your cup and makes you feel whole. If you’re one of the lucky ones who can sustain this type of love through your lifetime, then you have probably mastered the art of loving unconditionally. But sadly, divorce statistics tell another story about romantic love.
Children – To me this is who I think of when I think about unconditional love. We give birth to them and attend to all their needs often at the expense of our own, despite the fact they are initially unable to give us any reward for our efforts. As they grow and develop, we teach them right from wrong, but if they stray from our guidance we are still prepared to forgive and support them no matter what. We understand it’s all part of growing up. We are so proud of them but know when to back off and let them make their own mistakes in order to learn their own lessons. Even if the relationship blows up somewhere along the line and we become estranged from our children, we never stop loving them.
Parents – Your parents are your first role models of what’s it’s like to be loved. If this doesn’t happen as it unfortunately doesn’t with many people, then it can lead to a rather grim outlook of something that should come naturally. Assuming everything is normal however, our parents show us the unconditional love that is common between a parent and child so we go out in the world seeking to do the same thing one day. Although they may show us unconditional love, do we do the same for them or are our expectations too high?
Siblings – This kind of love can be a little more complicated. They can be very different people in personality and just their existence can teach us the negative emotions of jealousy and anger, as we fight for our place in the family, competing for our parent’s attention. Some siblings are the best of friends however and remain so for their entire lives. The interesting thing about these relationships is sibling love sometimes feels like an obligation – like you have to love them because you’re related. To me there are often conditions placed on sibling love.
Pets – This kind of love is definitely unconditional. The best example are dogs who are so faithful they will love you and be excited to see you every day, no matter what mood you’re in or what’s going on in your life. They just exist as a ball of pure joy to make you feel good. They seem to know when you need more love than usual and they give it to you. Even if they are mischievous, just like a young child, we forgive them.
Friends – The love we feel for our friends can often trump the love we feel for family members because we choose them. They are our support network who are there because they want to be and we love them in a different way. It is not the kind of romantic love we feel with a partner obviously, but just as special. There is a bond that encourages us to be there for each other through good and bad, offer advice and feel grateful for their care and attention. There is mutual enjoyment of what each side brings to the relationship through experience, conversation, advice, knowledge, fun and much more.
However, except for perhaps a few very close friends who remain embedded in our hearts for our entire lives, they tend to change. As we develop and mature we outgrow some friends. People who may once have been the centre of our social life may, after a few years, no longer fulfil our needs as we pursue different interests and go in other directions.
This sounds harsh but as you experience more of life, new people come in and old friends fall away. So if you really examine it, friend love is not all that unconditional. We make an unconscious condition that we will love them for as long as we need them in our lives. It doesn’t take away from the specialness of what was experienced together, it’s just change and change is necessary for growth.
Other types of love are for places or situations. For example you may love being out in nature because it offers a sense of peace and unity. You may love visiting certain places in the world because you feel a connection or you appreciate the culture or customs. You may love your job because it makes you feel fulfilled and gives you a sense of purpose. Although you may think you love these things unconditionally, do you really? What if your experience of them somehow changes and lets you down? They cease to be special because there are conditions, criteria on what they need to be so they can be loved.
As you can see there are many types of love but we still often place conditions on them, whether we realise it consciously or not. How then is it possible to have all these different feelings of love and make them unconditional?
The answer to this may seem complicated but it is really simple.
We show unconditional love to ourselves.
Unfortunately when talking about love, most people think outwardly about it rather than examining what should be the first object of their attention. Themselves.
I think many people confuse self-love with being selfish or self-centred. There’s a bit of a fine line it seems. I know when I was growing up it was unattractive to be someone who “loves themselves” because it usually came across as being superior to others.
We’re taught to love without judgement, although when we see things we don’t like it’s difficult not to judge. Those things we don’t like are reflections of things we don’t like in ourselves but we either do not realise that yet, or don’t want to face it. It’s normal to shy away from facing our shadows because we don’t want to admit that we have a dark side.
We grow up being taught not to cry when we’re hurting, to be a nice person, to be considerate We’re taught not to feel anger, resentment, jealousy, hate, greed so when they rear their ugly heads in our own lives we think there’s something wrong with us, and how can you love something that exhibits so many negative emotions?
Consequently many, many people have low self-esteem and self-hate issues simply because they’re not taught how to love the uglier parts of themselves. We’re too busy trying to feel love for everyone and everything around us, that we struggle when this becomes difficult because there will always be people and situations that invoke negativity.
It doesn’t matter about all of these different kinds of love and trying to make them unconditional because we are always changing. Those people and things change too so really it’s impossible to go on feeling the same way about them no matter what happens. We can only control how we feel about ourselves and then everything else will reflect back to us. If we truly learn to love our shadow side then those negative things will no longer appear in front of us because we’ve made peace with them. And if we show love to ourselves, that’s what we will receive in return.
Think about when you witness a colourful sunset. How does it make you feel? For me it’s peace and gratitude for the beauty of Mother Nature at her finest. She’s showing that to me as a reflection – so I can recognise it in myself. The more you love yourself, the more beautiful experiences and people will come along into your life.
When you love yourself unconditionally, you allow other people to love you that way as well. Realise that you can’t control everything. You have no control over some things because you were born that way. There’s no use hating your body shape or size, your hair, your skin – you have to love all of it because it’s part of you. All these things are not the real you anyway – they are just what was given to you. Love them and others will too.
Don’t push away or hide your feelings. Face them, understand them and deal with them before they suffocate you. Forgive yourself and know that you are always doing the best you can with the current state of awareness that you have. We are all perfect beings inside. Our soul knows this but it has to convince all the other parts of us that fight to keep us in doubt. Listen to your soul and don’t give power to the parts of you that try to bring you down. Accept them so they don’t control you anymore and you will find the balance you are looking for.
Opportunities will come, and people will be attracted to you because you’ll become a mirror of what’s good inside them.
And what a wonderful way to live!