I have heard and even used myself the expression “love can heal the world”. Lately I have been questioning the concept of love; we throw the word love around, which in reality has different meanings for different people, as well as the context of how we use the word. For example, I might say, “I love your dress”, “I love you”, “I love my children”, “I loved that movie”, “I love my spouse”, or “I love my parents”. In the context of this article, I am speaking about the love we have for other living and breathing creatures, and more specifically human beings. Even narrowing down the term love and using it in context about people, the way we use the word “love “ and what it means is ambiguous. Love can be defined as an action, expression, or emotion. Love can be expressed as a thing by using it as a noun, or an action by using it as a verb.
Although we may have different ways to use the word love, there are types of “love” that we need to question as to whether or not they actually meet the criteria of love: Unconditional love vs. conditional love. Unconditional love involves both a genuine care and concern about an individual, which involves both recognizing that individual as a unique individual with both strengths and weaknesses. We express our affection for that individual, which does not necessarily mean that we condone or support their negative behavior, but we still have positive regard for them as a person and human being. We set limits of what is acceptable behavior in the relationship that is healthy for both individuals, balanced with respect for both individuals. This type of love is mature, respectful, and may transition through time according to the developmental stages of each person in the relationship, and what constitutes appropriate roles for these individuals. For example, I think of unconditional love I have towards my children. My oldest daughter is almost 23 years old and I have experienced as a mother our relationship from her being an infant to entering the world as a young adult. As an infant, all of her needs were met through me and she needed different levels of guidance through each stages. Through each stage of her development, her independence grew, as she became a unique individual. Both of us through these different stages made mistakes, but my love for her and I believe her love for me is not conditional. I recognize she has both strength and weaknesses, as I am sure she realizes I too as a person have strength and weaknesses. I will love and respect her as a person, regardless of the mistakes she makes, or if she has different ideas and values than my own because she is my child that came from my womb. Although I may not support her behavior through either financial means, as well as I may voice my concerns, at the end of the day, I still love her. I experienced this same type of unconditional love from my parents, who often disagreed with my life choices, but have provided emotional support (and yes even financial support) through different periods in my life. My family of origin is not perfect, and yes, we have dysfunction that flows through our relationships, but conditional love was never a part of those relationships.
Conditional love involves only showing affection for an individual when they behave or act in accordance with one’s wishes, commands, wants, or desires. Conditional love damages an individual in that they only believe that through their appearances, achievements, materialistic offers, and yes even handing over their own control will win them the love of another person. Conditional love is often used as a form of emotional abuse in which one individual places conditions of giving their affection to another person; it is a form of being selfish, narcissistic, shallow, manipulating, and controlling another person. We have all seen this type of love, from the parent that expects their child to follow all of their commands and the parent showing love is conditional upon the child meeting those demands. We have seen this through spouses that expect their mate unquestioningly to obey their authority, and meet all of their needs. We have seen this through friends who stand with us through our bright times, but mysteriously disappear during our down periods in life. Conditional love places restrictions on individuals, and never allows them to develop to their full potential. This is not “love”, and when we come to fully recognize this as a species, we may realize that “unconditional love can heal the world”.