More times than not we place conditions on everything. This is especially true when it comes to love. I am not necessarily speaking of romantic love but the kind that you give to yourself. But, many of us continue to place conditions on ourselves as we do others.
There’s a quota we must all meet, and if this minimum is not satisfied, then we put up barriers and our love is constrained. Disappointment can equally set in and devastate our motivation when we haven’t lived up to our own expectations. FYI – beating up on yourself or others, whether physically or verbally, is not love.
Loving unconditionally and beginning with yourself might, for example, mean that you put your health first. Health encompasses mental, emotional, psychological, spiritual, and physical wellness. Without understanding that you need to put yourself first, you fall victim of trying too hard to care for others on an empty tank. You don’t have a reservoir of love that fuels you with the energy you need. When you run on empty, you cannot give what you don’t have, especially when you fail to recognize that you don’t love yourself enough.
Love is a word that is thrown around and overused quite a bit in our society. But, love is more than a word or a deep emotion. It’s an action, one you take to ensure that you care enough about your own wellbeing and the wellbeing of others to not always do the right thing, but do what is absolutely necessary. It is necessary for some of us to exercise daily. I know for me, I must schedule exercise time because it’s vital for my mental, emotional, psychological, physical, and even spiritual wholeness. When I don’t exercise, I am prone to depressive episodes, which come like vengeance and faster than I would ever expect or desire. I’ve learned that exercise is one of my top coping skills, one that is scientifically proven to help most people who are prone to emotional ups and downs. Exercise has especially worked on me. When I am exercising, I feel at my best.
This is why I have my Fitbit and I use it to track how far I walk. I essentially walk 5 to 7 miles every single day, roughly 10,000 to 15,000 steps a day and averaging about 35 to 42 miles a week. Exercise works for me, but so does getting out in the sunshine and soaking up Vitamin D and naturally increasing serotonin levels in my brain. Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday I walk with my 65-year-old friend Melanie. We walk our dogs religiously; we try really hard not to flake on each other. By diversifying my exercise routine and not just hitting the gym, but also walking with a friend, I ensure to get outside where I can get sunshine and also increase my level of happiness while visiting with a good friend, someone who I know I can count on. But this is just one example of how I love myself. I didn’t always love myself or know how to. I found that with love, especially unconditional love, it can take a life time to learn how to not just know what unconditional love is but to actually practice it. Sometimes it takes having a child for some of us to get a little taste of what real unconditional love is.
Sometimes, it’s extremely difficult for some to even get out of bed, let alone walk for any length. This is especially true for those suffering from a mental illness, personal tragedy or circumstance that sets them back. This is also true for someone with a body that is failing them. But, where there is a will there is a way. Down the beachwalk where I stroll my dogs throughout the day, I’ve noticed what appeared to be a grandson helping his grandmother walk. Her back was hunched over due to severe osteoporosis; she was using a walker and shuffling along extremely slow. It was like she was moving in slow motion, because she actually was! But there was a determination in her that was unmistakable. People were getting frustrated, walking around and zipping past her. But, she kept going. I’ve seen several elderly folks out walking in the same situation. I recall one gentleman that looked to be 90-something going all of 1.5 miles or so on the treadmill at the gym. He was moving slowly, but he was moving. He wasn’t lying around expecting to die. The best thing you can do for yourself when you are ill or aching is to get up and move. Especially if you have two arms and legs that are still functioning and your doctor says it’s good for you.
Of course, where we might need to draw the line when it comes to unconditional love is, for example, when we’ve got a loved one who is an addict of some kind. I often watch Intervention, the A&E docuseries. One of the major ongoing toxic cycles is when one person is an addict and family or loved ones are enablers. This same cycle rears its ugly head in another docuseries/reality show that explores the challenges of food addiction: My 600-Ib Life. With both shows, there is always an addict and then the enabling family or loved ones. In situations such as these, where self-harm is likely to take place usually directly connected to “loving” family members enabling such self-destructive behavior, then tough-love is necessary. Tough love is love, it simply is not the typical romanticized unconditional love envision in our heads. This is why the same unconditional love you first experienced with your newborn is the same type of love that one can mistaken as unconditional, enabling negative behavior when that child becomes an adult. Enabling poor behavior is not unconditional love. It’s not at all healthy or beneficial for anyone involved. It takes some wisdom and discernment to understand the big difference.
The Bottom Line:
In other words, unconditional love should not be taken out of context. You shouldn’t enable negative, self-destructive behavior all in the name of unconditional love. It can exist but it’s often limited by the conditions and restrictions we place upon ourselves as well as on others. People aren’t always going to behave the way we want them to. Situations might arise where we’re not capable of meeting our own personal demands and expectations we set for ourselves. Disappointment is inevitable, but loving yourself and loving in general should not be subject to external conditions and unrealistic requirements that can bring disappointment when expectations aren’t met.
If we walk away with nothing else, it’s truly in the old adage that love should be directed towards ourselves first. It’s necessary to ensure that love fuels first our internal engines, because without it our external world dissolves into a hopeless chase expecting to find love outside of ourselves when, instead, we’re running on empty. Before you can give to others, you need to first give to yourself. It’s like when the flight attendant is talking to you about what to do if an airplane experiences technical issues, must descend rapidly and lose oxygen. If you have a child, the first thing they instruct you to do is for you to put your own mask on first, then help your child put on their oxygen mask. Why? Because you can’t help your child unless you help yourself first. There’s a time and place for love and there’s a time and place to be a little selfish and think about you.
The most important rule when it comes to love: You can’t give what you don’t have.