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A debate about unconditional love


LaLa
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First of all, I have to mention that this is not supposed to be about my relationship(s). I'd like a theoretical debate about this topic because it's interesting and confusing to me, not because I'd have a problem related to this in my life. I guess my question has already been answered by many wise men, I just haven't read (or understood) it yet, so I'm going to try to ask members of this community willing to participate about their opinions.

The problem that confuses me is:

I suppose that unconditional love is an ideal, something it would be "good" to feel to those we feel we love. But at the same time, to defend oneself against abuse and bad treatment is also seen as "good" and important (so the good advise to those abused by their partners is to leave them and not to follow the "rule of true love" of "wanting just to give, not to take, not to expect reciprocity, ..." etc.). But these two values are in conflict, in opposition and I think that the second is obviously superior to the first for most people (at least in our culture) - but doesn't that prove that unconditional love is an absurd concept or at least something that can't work in practice, just in some special cases - namely (I suppose) when the loved-one doesn't do any harm to the loving-one? Because the second value brings a condition under which it is "good" to love: no abuse or other bad treatment. (Moreover, we often encounter the idea that it's impossible not to harm anybody we love - so... this points out to the need to set appropriate boundaries/limits (as what we consider "a too bad harm")...)

I realize that in practice, this is probably not a problem - a debate about purely theoretical concepts probably wouldn't help any people who struggle with relationships and decisions. But as I said, I'm lucky not to struggle with any abusive relationship, so this problem is interesting to me just in this pure form: Does the concept of the high value of unconditional love maintain its relevance in the light of the fact that there is the even higher (at least for most people?) value of a self-defense against abuse, torture, ...? If we say "no, you don't have to love somebody who tortures/abuses/... you", doesn't it imply that unconditional love can't be seen as an ideal? Because it seems to me that if we say "such love is not supposed to be felt towards somebody who tortures/abuses/...", it's the same as saying "this love is applicable only under certain conditions" - and this seems to make it not unconditional anymore... So then, what is the real practical role for this kind of love and for "preaching" about its value and importance?

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I believe their is no such thing as unconditional. My relationships are all based on conditions you have to give in order to take if either action is not happening the "love" is not love at all just someone using someone else to get what they want.

I suppose we could look at the relationship between me and my father, I love him to a extent of what I would deem unconditionally not because I don't have conditions but because when he breaks the boundaries or conditions I set for him I always forgive him, Wither I really want to or not I will imitatively forgive him of everything he did if he asks. For example the first time he hit me, I was so angry and hateful but he looked at me and begged forgiveness he could seem any sorrier then he was. I forgave him because he needed forgiving he needed to "know" that I understood, even if I didn't and hadn't actually forgiven him. For me that is the closest thing to unconditional love someone can get. So many other factors come into play when talking about love. For instance I would gladly let him beat me to death if it healed the pain inside that man, but it won't and the end result would be suffering on both sides; at a certain point it is no longer about love and only about safety and reason I still love my father, but I will never let him lay a hand on me again. Their are conditions for a reason...

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To "the theoretical side", I have mainly one remark, regarding sedsed's post: Personally, I don't link love to forgiveness as we can forgive also somebody we don't love at all. (Maybe sometimes we forgive only because we love, I don't know; I rather suspect that love is not the main or only reason even in those cases (as some people can't forgive and still love, at least that's what they say/feel). But perhaps the reasons are so complicated and so interrelated that it would be impossible to distinguish them and identify the role of all components... Impossible and... useless...)

Seddy, I'm sorry it's so difficult with your father... :( It seems to me that your love is "very close to unconditional" not because you pretend forgiveness (as you suggested by "I forgave him because he needed forgiving [...]. For me that is the closest thing to unconditional love someone can get." ), but because you still feel some love and care about him, you would even sacrifice yourself if you knew for sure that it would "heal the pain inside that man", no matter what he did!

It's great that you can keep yourself safe from his violence. It's great that you've realized it wouldn't make any good - not even to him. I believe that it's even possible for you to find your way to forgiveness. Not because you love him and/or that the true forgiveness would be somehow important to him. But because not having forgiven to somebody can cause pain to the one who's full of anger and/or blame. And you certainly deserve getting rid of it...

I appreciate your "summary", Jeep :):

Sometimes when looking for ideals it can be tempting to over simplify ideas, look for a one size fits all approach, but sophistication is necessary because this world contains numerous different kinds of experience for us to encounter each with it's slightly different balance of needs to be met.
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I think that anything "perfect" is an absurdity. So "unconditional love" doesn't seem achievable by ordinary humans. On the other hand, we often discuss ideal concepts, because filtering out all the exceptions makes it easier to consider the attributes of the ideal separately from the complications of real life.

On the other hand, I don't think that a relationship with an abusive person is the best refutation of "unconditional love", either. One can continue to love an abuser while also protecting oneself; it is not necessary to allow a person anywhere near you to be able to love them. So, conceivably, one could love even a murderer, and while loving them, turn them in to the authorities for the appropriate punishment.

Loving someone doesn't mean protecting them from all harm at all cost. In fact, such protection can even be seen as harmful in itself, particularly when raising a child. Children have to learn that their actions have consequences, even if (particularly if?) those consequences are harmful to them or others. It's always a balance between exposing them to irrevocable harm and sheltering them from necessary lessons.

I think a more cogent question is what happens when love for someone else comes into conflict with love for ourselves. We have to love ourselves before we can (genuinely) love others, so it might seem that the two would inevitably conflict. But again, loving someone, even unconditionally, doesn't mean giving in to them on everything. It just means continuing to love them even when you have to say "no".

Perhaps some of the confusion comes because of unspoken assumptions about what "unconditional love" looks like, in action ...

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Thanks, Mark!

we often discuss ideal concepts, because filtering out all the exceptions makes it easier to consider the attributes of the ideal separately from the complications of real life.

I also see this as one of the reasons for such debates.

Perhaps some of the confusion comes because of unspoken assumptions about what "unconditional love" looks like, in action ...

Definitely!

Loving someone doesn't mean protecting them from all harm at all cost.

This is a very important point. And I have somehow totally forgotten it in my reflexions...

a balance between exposing them to irrevocable harm and sheltering them from necessary lessons

Another ideal :P! Why does it have to be so hard to find balance, in so many areas/situations! *sigh*

However/BTW, I think that we don't always have the possibility to "give a lesson". In raising children, it's more probable as parents have quite a big responsibility/influence/authority/..., but in adult relationships, we may sometimes do even something that is appropriate and should be eyes-opening, but the other doesn't "get it" or somehow "escapes it".

We have to love ourselves before we can (genuinely) love others, so it might seem that the two would inevitably conflict.

Actually, this is something that was (years ago) in the beginning of my thoughts related to this topic (- love more generally; I started to think also about the "unconditionality" rather lately): I used to strongly disagree with the idea of needing to love oneself before loving someone else. And in the light of some descriptions of ideal/"true" love (as "you shouldn't have expectations, you shouldn't want to take, just give, you shouldn't seek reciprocity, ..."), it even seemed that the opposite might be true: That only not loving oneself at all may allow love others. But I then also knew that this (the previous sentence) was a false concept (and nobody advocated for it, even if they advocated for the "true love" I've just described). As I said: Confusing...

But again, loving someone, even unconditionally, doesn't mean giving in to them on everything. It just means continuing to love them even when you have to say "no".

I have to say it seems obvious in practice. (I mean; I know I say often "no" and still love.) But it's still pleasant to read, remember...

I have another (related) question:

Does the concept of unconditional love imply that such love should never end (before one dies)?? (So then does it mean that if a love ends, it wasn't a "good", "worthy" love??)

(Maybe, to clarify it a bit, I should say that this topic feels important to me due to some issues of mine, fortunately not (directly) related to my marriage. As I mentioned, I was quite angry that someone can think that "if I don't love myself, then I can't love anybody else". And so I wanted to "analyze" my relationships ("love" doesn't mean only romantic love!) and show (to myself) that I didn't love people just when they were good to me and "did what I want", "offered feelings I need" etc., that I was capable of (something like?) the unconditional love, ... But lately (not just these days, rather (few) years) I became uncertain because... most loves just disappear after some time (which doesn't mean being replaced by hate or total indifference!!) and... isn't it because the relationship changed, the behaviour of the person changed, our interactions changed? Probably yes. So - the conditions changed. So it wasn't an unconditional love?! So is it true I'm not capable if it??? Is it a failure to stop loving???)

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"Why does it have to be so hard ..."

Because if it was easy, we'd all be doing it? :-)

To me, the idea is to balance between two ideals. You never get to either end, because they're ideals and humans can't live there, in ideal-land. But anywhere in between is some kind of balance. And now it's not such a terrible struggle for perfection, just a continuous slight adjustment ...

It's quite easy to believe you love someone else without loving yourself ... The problem is that, seen from outside, people who haven't reconciled with themselves, yet, project stuff onto others, quite often loving in the other person things that are actually in them.

I don't think we actually "give lessons" to children either. Just, we live in such a way that they learn ... but one of those ways includes allowing them to make their own mistakes.

It's not a failure if one's loves change over time. Change is inevitable.

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I found this article about self-love and relationships. It offers a different perspective. Maybe reciprocation also helps in learning to love self? I don't know the answers. Maybe there aren't black and white answers. I think there are gray areas.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/finding-love/201105/how-love-yourself-first

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I agree, Mark (and sedsed, too). Just some little comments:

it's not such a terrible struggle for perfection, just a continuous slight adjustment ...

Yes, in practice, (me either) I don't perceive it as "a terrible struggle" and I don't seek "perfection". But when a moment comes when I try to think about it "deeply", it brings confusion and fear of being (already) a failure etc. (That's, BTW, a reason why I try to avoid thinking ("this way") about my marriage - I don't want to spoil it by "self-made confusions" etc. and become even more self-observant and self-judgmental. It's much easier with other relationships, not so much "entangled into" everyday life.)

haven't reconciled with themselves, yet, project stuff onto others, quite often loving in the other person things that are actually in them.

But don't everybody love in others (also) the things that are in them?

Beth; thank you very much for the article! I like it and I'll surely read more texts on that blog!

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Sure, if we're conscious of a trait in ourselves that we appreciate, then we're likely to appreciate the same trait in others. It's when we don't like ourselves and attempt to repress traits, that those traits end up projected.

I still have perfectionist parts; I've just learned to resist them (somewhat imperfectly!)

Can't we choose another color than gray? ;-)

Gray makes love seem too depressing; could it be a confusing mixture of pink and blue?

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It's when we don't like ourselves and attempt to repress traits, that those traits end up projected.

I see...

I still have perfectionist parts; I've just learned to resist them (somewhat imperfectly!)

:):D

My favorite color is also green. And it's a mixture of blue and yellow, so the "criterion of mixture" is fulfilled :P.

But I also like gray (as a color, not only as a metaphor)! (Yes, I'm "that strange" :D.)

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It seems I can "link" this to my recent post in Recommended reading and post here a link to a book "about love (in our modern society)" by the same author I mentioned there:

http://www.amazon.ca/Liquid-Love-Frailty-Human-Bonds/dp/074562488X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1379691004&sr=8-1&keywords=Zygmunt+Bauman+liquid+love#reader_074562488X

Quote from Amazon:

[...] The uncanny frailty of human bonds, the feeling of insecurity that frailty inspires, and the conflicting desires to tighten the bonds yet keep them loose, are the principal themes of this important new book by Zygmunt Bauman [...]

And a quote from the book:

[...] the older you are the better you know that however big the thoughts may seem, they will never be big enough to embrace, let alone keep hold of, the bountiful prodigiality of human experience. What we know, what we wish to know, struggle to know, must try to know about love or rejection, being alone or together and dying together or alone - can all that be streamlined, put in order, match the standards of consistency, cohesiveness and completeness set for the lesser matters? Perhaps it can - in the infinity of time, that is.

Is it not so that when everything is said about the matters most important to human life, the most important things remain unsaid?

[...]

Ivan Klima [a Czech writer] says: There is little that comes so close to death as fulfilled love.

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I wasn't thinking of love as being gray, but rather the answers (or our understanding of love itself) may be gray. When I think of love, I think of pink, for sure. :-)

Part of what makes love what it is is the imperfection of it, I think. Raw human emotion. Beautifully flawed... just like we are.

I like the color gray as well, LaLa. I'm conservative and prefer pastel colors over bright ones, but (of course!) pink is my favorite. :)

I enjoyed the article too, and I can relate to a lot of it.

Interesting topic. :-)

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Gray makes you look sophisticated...

I wouldn't mind it as a surrounding it's calming to me compared to black (depressing) or white (to bright).

I think love is love and no one will ever understand all of it...

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That's just my opinion about gray, you can't offend someone really with that color compared to a bright pink suit...

Oh trust me I doubt it's over just people who come here during the week have yet to add their input ;)

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Gray makes me look ... gray. But then, pink just makes me look fat. :-P

{I can't even imagine how much I would clash with bright pink ...}

It surprises you that the debate has "ended" (only paused, really) in silliness? Have you considered the crowd? :-)

"... when I try to think about it "deeply", it brings confusion and fear ..."

LaLa, perhaps when you think deeply enough about perfectionism, you find yourself talking to just one part of you. That part is afraid (as most separate parts seem to be; what separates them, in my interpretation, is what they're afraid of.) It's afraid that you're "already a failure", and that refusing to pursue perfectionism is going to doom you to mediocrity.

The interesting thing to try, having written down how the part feels while you're connected to it, is to re-examine the part's fears later, when you're more "centered" (using whatever technique works for you to get there.) From a whole-person standpoint, do you feel that it's really a choice between perfectionism and mediocrity? I'm guessing not, or you'd still be pursuing it. But then, you have the chance to refocus on helping the part with its fear.

And here we've swung back around to whether comforting is or is not a deception. As far as the part is concerned, truth is a certain way, but as far as your centered self is concerned, truth is something else. What the centered self does to comfort the part is to reassure it that the self's truth is larger, in some sense, more "true". And I agree with you that that reassurance doesn't happen by logical argument, by convincing the part by listing facts. It's pretty much an emotional argument, something the part takes on faith because it trusts the self.

But it's not a deception, and any child comforted repeatedly with deceptions will eventually stop being comforted, because the trust is gone. Perhaps that's even what happened to some of us, because their parents were trying to comfort them with ideas that the parents didn't truly believe either. What that would require would be a program of rigorous (though compassionate) honesty on the part of the self, in order to regain the trust of the child/part.

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  • 1 month later...

To "the theoretical side", I have mainly one remark, regarding sedsed's post: Personally, I don't link love to forgiveness as we can forgive also somebody we don't love at all. (Maybe sometimes we forgive only because we love, I don't know; I rather suspect that love is not the main or only reason even in those cases (as some people can't forgive and still love, at least that's what they say/feel). But perhaps the reasons are so complicated and so interrelated that it would be impossible to distinguish them and identify the role of all components... Impossible and... useless...)

Seddy, I'm sorry it's so difficult with your father... :( It seems to me that your love is "very close to unconditional" not because you pretend forgiveness (as you suggested by "I forgave him because he needed forgiving [...]. For me that is the closest thing to unconditional love someone can get." ), but because you still feel some love and care about him, you would even sacrifice yourself if you knew for sure that it would "heal the pain inside that man", no matter what he did!

It's great that you can keep yourself safe from his violence. It's great that you've realized it wouldn't make any good - not even to him. I believe that it's even possible for you to find your way to forgiveness. Not because you love him and/or that the true forgiveness would be somehow important to him. But because not having forgiven to somebody can cause pain to the one who's full of anger and/or blame. And you certainly deserve getting rid of it...

I appreciate your "summary", Jeep :):

Dieing is apart of the cycle of life
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Gray makes me look ... gray. But then, pink just makes me look fat. :-P

{I can't even imagine how much I would clash with bright pink ...}

It surprises you that the debate has "ended" (only paused, really) in silliness? Have you considered the crowd? :-)

"... when I try to think about it "deeply", it brings confusion and fear ..."

LaLa, perhaps when you think deeply enough about perfectionism, you find yourself talking to just one part of you. That part is afraid (as most separate parts seem to be; what separates them, in my interpretation, is what they're afraid of.) It's afraid that you're "already a failure", and that refusing to pursue perfectionism is going to doom you to mediocrity.

The interesting thing to try, having written down how the part feels while you're connected to it, is to re-examine the part's fears later, when you're more "centered" (using whatever technique works for you to get there.) From a whole-person standpoint, do you feel that it's really a choice between perfectionism and mediocrity? I'm guessing not, or you'd still be pursuing it. But then, you have the chance to refocus on helping the part with its fear.

And here we've swung back around to whether comforting is or is not a deception. As far as the part is concerned, truth is a certain way, but as far as your centered self is concerned, truth is something else. What the centered self does to comfort the part is to reassure it that the self's truth is larger, in some sense, more "true". And I agree with you that that reassurance doesn't happen by logical argument, by convincing the part by listing facts. It's pretty much an emotional argument, something the part takes on faith because it trusts the self.

But it's not a deception, and any child comforted repeatedly with deceptions will eventually stop being comforted, because the trust is gone. Perhaps that's even what happened to some of us, because their parents were trying to comfort them with ideas that the parents didn't truly believe either. What that would require would be a program of rigorous (though compassionate) honesty on the part of the self, in order to regain the trust of the child/part.

I know right it is hard to say that if u have not been through it yourself. only someone who have been throughout the same thing or someone who understand how u feel bro
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