by Kara-Leah Grant
Recently in our Heart of Tribe Facebook Group, one of the participants asked me to elaborate on what it means to love people – especially family – unconditionally.
“For me, to do this fully would at times be to my own detriment. Sometimes it’s just too much ‘stuff’, too much drama. What do we do when we can’t hold that space for them? Or worse…when their stuff is just toxic. And how to discern when to do this and when you just…can’t/shouldn’t.”
That first sentence is important – to do this fully would at times be to my own detriment.
That sentence reveals an underlying assumption about what it means to love unconditionally – because real love is never, ever to our detriment. It’s just not possible. That this is a concern highlights that way we perceive love in our Western society.
So I want to backtrack.
What does it mean to love someone unconditionally?
For one, it means that you don’t mind what they say or do. What they say or do has no impact on your love for them. Your love for them flows out of you at all times – you never shut down that flow.
Whatever they do, whatever they say, you fully accept it.
Ok, I accept you, as you fart in bed, play video games until 2am in the morning, fill my children up with sweets when they come to visit you, vent your anger on me. I do not judge you. I do not wish you were different. I accept you. This is who you are.
But this is only half of the equation. The next part is the most important part. This is the power aspect of the equation. In this part of the equation, we ask the simple but powerful question:
If this is so, then what?
If you’re going to fart in bed, how am I going to respond – while I continue to fully love and accept you?
If you’re going to play video games until 2am in the morning, what’s my response?
If you’re going to vent your anger at me, what do I do?
Because to fully love and accept a person DOES NOT mean to fully love and accept their behaviour, or their words. It means you love the person – and you respond appropriately to the behaviour in a way that is loving to BOTH you and them.
This might mean naming very clearly what they’re doing and how you feel about it. It might mean removing yourself completely from a situation because you’re not going to subject yourself to that experience. It might mean choosing not to allow this person in your life. All the while loving them completely unconditionally.
This is when our ability to communicate clearly, stand our ground, put ourselves first, and risk losing the approval and conditional love of other people is tested.
Because when you learn to love unconditionally, other people don’t always like it.
Case in point.
I had a confusing-as-all-hell, manipulative and abusive relationship with a man for a number of years. I thought I loved him deeply, but I was always on at him to change his behaviour and sort his shit out so our relationship would get better.
One particular evening, after a difficult week – month – year – I walked in on him engaging in some behaviour that I didn’t want to be around, and that I didn’t want to have around my son.
Normally, I would get angry and mad and we would fight and it would be a huge mess. This time, something in me changed completely. Instead of going into all the old patterns I paused. I stood there and breathed and felt into the reality of the moment. I saw through the behaviour of the man to the deep pain that was causing it, through to his unconsciousness around his own pain and through to his unwillingness to look at that unconsciousness and pain.
I saw it all. And in that moment, I finally loved him – I completely accepted who he was.
I walked out of the room and back to the lounge and stood there. Ok, this is who he is. I fully accept him in this place.
Now, how do I want to respond?
In that moment, it was clear. His pain was not mine to fix or heal or rescue. And I didn’t want to live out those experiences anymore. My response was to walk away – with total unconditional love.
That was the end of that relationship. Not because I stopped loving this man, or because the love wasn’t strong enough, or because he didn’t love me. But because I also loved myself unconditionally and realised I didn’t want to keep choosing that reality.
Most of what we think of as Love in today’s society is really a bargaining chip – a way of getting other people to behave the way we want them to behave so that we feel the way we would like to feel.
And when they deviate from making us feel good, we shut down the flow of love to create leverage so they’ll behave how we want them to behave.
This is not love.
It’s the same thing in family situations.
There’s often deep, painful wounds from childhood still running old patterns in our unconsciousness and these patterns prevent us from unconditionally loving our family.
To do so would feel painful and vulnerable because often all the old unexpressed pain and hurt from decades ago is still residing in our hearts.
But the only way to love is to do this – to open up, be vulnerable, and feel whatever needs to be felt in this moment.
That’s the hard work on our side – being courageous enough to feel fully what’s going on inside of us in each moment.
Plus, it doesn’t always mean that things get easier once we start loving in this way. We can still find ourselves in toxic or abusive family situations. However, when we’re loving unconditionally, our relationship to these situations change as we make no attempt to change or control what is happening.
Instead, we acknowledge the reality of it and choose how we are going to respond in the face of it.
This is hard. Fucking hard.
Often the response we know we need to take – like opting out of a regular family lunch because we’re continuously harassed by one family member and no other family member takes it seriously – upsets our family.
We have to be courageous enough to handle the fallout from our actions.
Because when we love unconditionally, we shine the full light of love on al the unconscious behaviour that is happening.
And no one likes that – not when they’re intent on staying unconscious. This is ok. This is the choice we make – to face our unconsciousness or to hide from it. Not everyone we love will want to face their unconsciousness.
Start loving unconditionally and you’re choosing to face unconsciousness. In yourself, as you clear out all the old pain and hurt from your heart, and in other people as you stop behaving the way they would like you to behave.
Real love doesn’t care what you do though, how you act, what you say or how you behave. It accepts all of you, as you are, in each moment, even the most unconscious moments.
So next time you feel like you’re being pushed to the edge of your ability to love unconditionally, check in with yourself.
Are you FIRST loving yourself unconditionally?
Are you completely accepting the other person as they are?
And if you are accepting them as they are, and you are loving yourself unconditionally, how do you want to respond to what’s going on?
Notice if there’s hesitation or resistance to saying or doing what you know you need to say or do.
That resistance or hesitation points to fear – usually fear that this person won’t love us anymore.
But you know what?
That’s none of our business.
Our only business is to love.
And to respond truthfully to reality as it presents itself.
This is real love, unconditional love, powerful love, centred love, the kind of love that is always within, never runs out, and spills out everywhere. Best of it, it never depends on a subject – on the other.
It only requires your courage to open up and let it flow.