The highest form of love is love without condition, the total embracing acceptance of all that we are.
This is the welcome that we all seek as our birthright into life in this world, loving acceptance of all that we are, simply because we are. This is the love the child longs to see mirrored in its parent’s eyes to help fortify a deep sense of worthiness, confidence, and lovability that encourages the journey to individuation, to becoming all that we truly are in this life. This is the love we seek in partnership, a loving embrace of all of our body self, all of our virtues as well as all of our sins.
In our time, the longing for unconditional love has come to be felt as an inalienable right, an entitlement. If one does not experience unconditional love immediately one feels empowered and righteous to end a relationship or marriage rather quickly. However, relationships are cauldrons where confronting the unacceptable, in both self and other, is part of the process of growing. If one exits a relationship due to unmet acceptance too prematurely the opportunity to experience the coveted “unconditional love” may be missed.
The first challenge in achieving unconditional love is to unconditionally love the self. The process of socialization we all encounter growing up leaves us with a huge shadow self, a rejected part of the self that we are taught must be forsaken due to its unacceptability.
Do we know that shadow self? Do we hate it as it has been hated? Do we expect a partner to remedy our disdain for a part of ourselves that even we do not love, expecting another to lovingly accept all of us?
Can we actually turn over that unwanted shadow self to another to make it wanted? We can try, but we’ll never fully believe the outcome. Even if a partner claims love for that which we hate in ourselves, it will not be redeemed. We will either need constant reassurance to silence our inner doubt or we simply won’t believe our “naive” partner. We will retain the “true knowledge” of our unacceptability.
In other ways, it might just be that parts of ourselves deemed unlovable might indeed be immature, with a limited capacity for relationship. Young children are far more concerned with themselves—primary narcissism, it’s called—than the needs of others. This may be quite appropriate at an infantile stage of development, but it is hardly adaptive to adult relatedness, which requires a fuller knowing and appreciation of another, as well as of self.
Our challenge might be to love that very infantile part of ourselves but realize that it is also anachronistic, non-adaptive to adult life, and unacceptable when acted out in adult relationship. This may be a case where we need to access the loving but firm adult/parent within ourselves that sets boundaries upon the demands of an infantile part of ourselves. This may allow for adult connection with another where we can share the fullness of ourselves but don’t burden the relationship with expectations that need to be grappled with within the self.
When Buddha speaks of loving compassion he speaks equally of detachment. Unconditional love—acceptance of all—does not mean attachment to all. (Attachment in this sense meaning having to engage in the acted-out entitlements of another.) In detachment, we can fully love and accept another yet insist that they manage their own infantilism.
Unconditional love is not unconditional license. Unconditional love is full acceptance of what is, while assuming full responsibility for integrating it into the self and into life at a level where life can receive it and help it to grow. Ironically, the key to unconditional love is complete loving acceptance of self while facing the conditional reality that we must grow up!
If we have been failed by those entrusted to connect us with unconditional love we must pick up the mantle of finding our way there on our own, beyond blame and bitterness. Our truest parent, Mother Earth, entrusts us with this journey as she evokes a healing process that requires deeper connectedness and love for that which has been rejected. If we are here we have been invited to partake in this great healing crisis, our own and that of the world now. It all begins with the journey of unconditional acceptance of the self.