Unconditional Love

To live life romantically is such a beautiful notion. You see the world for all that it offers and politely ignore all that it is. The lover professes unconditional love for their beloved, yet so often such undying love ends in heartache. Was it unconditional, or was it one-sided? I once heard that the one who loves less controls the relationship. I think that is mostly true.

Unconditional. That’s a huge claim to make. Unsurprisingly I decided to test its veracity by observing those around me who often profess to uphold this claim of unconditional this and that. Love, for starters, is grossly misunderstood and overrated by most people. Obsession, infatuation, or lust (or all three) are usually at play long before love even enters the picture. Having said that, I believe that unconditional love is real. However, it probably doesn’t take the form that most assume it to be and probably shouldn’t be called love to begin with. I think commitment and sincerity are more attuned to reality than the vagueness of love.

Too many confuse love with acceptance, and far too often that acceptance is based on the fear of rejection. We accept untoward behaviour or allow people to take us for granted under the guise of loving them unconditionally, while the truth is closer to the fact that we are usually fearful of not finding something better if we reject such treatment. Being alone is infinitely more scary to most people, more scary than dealing with an abusive or unfulfilling relationship. Having someone, to many, is better than having no one, even if that someone holds them back from being who they are capable of being. Yet they stay in such relationships believing that it’s unconditional love, more because they’re hoping to receive unconditional love in return.

But here’s the rub. When we hope to receive unconditional love by making such sacrifices of our own peace and sanity, it implies that we have yet to unconditionally love ourselves. In the absence of that self-acceptance, we look for others to accept us first so that we can convince ourselves that we are worth the investment of love and life. We therefore fool ourselves into believing that unhealthy relationships must be endured simply because we would expect others to do the same for us if we were the unhealthy contributors to a relationship. The irony is that we are such contributors when we settle for less.

That’s all fairly obvious for those not in denial, but it still doesn’t quite define what unconditional love really is. For me, unconditional love is not being infinitely tolerant, but instead, it is about being intolerant of anything less than what you know the person you love is capable of achieving. Apply this in a parenting scenario, or a marriage, or a romantic liaison, and you’ll see how it holds true. If you love someone, you won’t allow them to do something that you know is going to harm them, or cause an oppression against others. The moment you tolerate such behaviour from them, you prove that your love for yourself is greater than your love for them because being unpopular erodes the self-worth of the fickle.

Stated differently, what is usually considered to be tough love is only possible from those that are confident that the acceptance or rejection of others does not define who they are, or how they see themselves. You have to be accepting of yourself as a whole person within the context of a relationship before you will be willing to push for a correction or adjustment in behaviour from the person you’re with. However, it also means that in accepting ourselves, or others, we need to recognise the weaknesses or bad habits that detract from our wholesomeness as a human being, coupled with the resolve to work at improving it. The same must be true for how we view others if we are to profess that we love them.

It cannot be love if we enable destructive behaviour. Perhaps that needs to be rephrased. It is not love for the other that enables destructive behaviour, but a lack of love for the self that allows it to continue unchallenged. When we subject ourselves to abusive relationships, we fool ourselves into believing that if we wish to be accepted, then we need to be more accepting of others. That’s far too idealistic to be healthy. The reality is closer to having a clear conviction about what we stand for before we agree to stand for everything.

More importantly, if our greatest fear is how we will be perceived if or when we object to something, then again, we are more concerned about ourselves than we are about making others feel judged. It feels like I’m over complicating a really simple issue. so here’s a final take on this.

You need to know what you stand for before you can be accepting of others. If you don’t, you are not accepting, you are assimilating because of a need for inclusion. That fear of rejection or isolation is grounded in the fact that you judge yourself harshly, and have a lack of conviction in improving those traits of yours that you would rather others don’t see. To deflect attention away from such weaknesses, you embrace others without question so that you don’t give others reason to question what you’re about.

We see this playing out in parenting all the time. Parents that won’t accept that their children are wrong or downright abusive because such acceptance confirms that they may have failed as parents. Women and even men remain in emotionally and physically abusive relationships because they’re afraid that no one else will accept the distasteful view they have of themselves, while trying to convince the world that they are only holding on because they truly believe that their partner is a good person behind all that anger, or insecurity. Or worse, they remain in the relationship because of the children that they don’t want must be raised in a broken home, not realising that they’re effectively teaching their children that it’s more important to grin and bear it than it is to stand up and do the right thing.

We project our insecurities on those around us, and then over compensate for theirs in order to ensure that ours are not discovered. Then we wrap it up as unconditional love because that is more palatable as a concept for us, and is found to be more endearing for those from whom we seek acceptance. We do this while forgetting that unconditional love is being willing to point out what’s wrong so that we can work on making things right, rather than suffering the wrong because we don’t want to offend or be seen as unpopular. Unconditional love is what drives us to demand nothing less than what we believe is possible from those we care about, because the only time we can claim to truly love them is when we want for them what we want for ourselves. If we desire less for ourselves, then we seek to live vicariously through them instead, which once again confirms that our love, as unhealthy as it may be, is in fact for ourselves more than it is for others.


5 responses to “Unconditional Love”

  1. I think I understand what you’re saying- to me that’s what Islamic psychology would be like. taking a fresh approach in applying the Quran and Sunnah by basically opening up its deepness and bringing it to eye level and connecting it to the simplest or most typical themes of day to day life. and then defying the hoaxes and common misconceptions that we all tie ourselves to without second thoughts. Okay maybe I spoke too much…but one last thing about this entry- I didn’t see you mention the love of God or the faith in God in relation to this issue 🙂

    • You’re touching on an important point that I always find myself contemplating. I believe that any claim to a divinely inspired religion must ensure that following the dictates of said religion must lead to a balanced life. Not a life of excess or self-imposed hardship. My personal experience of Islam has confirmed that the principles align with this objective. We lose this balance when we resort to extreme interpretations of rituals and practices which contradicts the Sunnah where it tells us that this way of life was not intended to impose a hardship on us. What we fail to recognise, often, is that when we avoid what we think are unreasonable demands by Islam, we actually end up indulging in other forms of material excess that causes us sleepless nights or ill health. So the important point for me is to always try to determine how the wisdom of Islam plays out practically in a life that is not necessarily guided by Islam but is guided by a need for balance or harmony. I think that such a pursuit automatically leads us back to Islam, and therefore, to Allah. Anyone that contemplates the enormity and magnificence of the creation cannot but be left in awe of the Creator. There is nothing, even in our own lives and in this material world, that comes into existence without a cause. It therefore defies logic to believe that this universe as we observe it is a result of a fluke, because even if that were true, it will never answer what came before that fluke to allow for anything to exist before it could interact by fluke.

      Sorry, this is turning out to be a post in the comment thread, but I hope that answers your point that you raised. 🙂

  2. this was well written ! ” because the only time we can claim to truly love them is when we want for them what we want for ourselves” similar to the prophet’s hadeeth.. it’s amazing how the Rasul (SAW) totally nailed what love is.. and this piece seems to explain that hadith to a deeper yet more open level 🙂 and with that in mind, one can really see how it so so directly tied to one’s own Iman overall, and furthering on to the discovery of serene humility.

    • Absolutely, alhamdulillah. It’s difficult not to find inspiration in the absolutely distilled wisdom found in the Sunnah or in the simplicity of principles in the Qur’an. If only we’d stop viewing it all in such a ritualistic way, we’d be able to derive so much more benefit from it.

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