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Conditional vs. Unconditional Love: How to Tell the Difference

Just the mention of the word love creates warmth in a human heart that cannot be fully expressed through our limited vocabulary. Yet, many times we are unable to allow ourselves to experience this pure form of love or share it with others unconditionally.

Love can be simplified into two primary categories: conditional and unconditional. But what causes us to express one form over the other? Why do we sometimes feel the need to withhold our love even when we know in our hearts it is what we all need the most? If you follow any spiritual teacher or read a self-help book, you will learn about the unconditional nature of love. Through a spiritual lens, true love is always unconditional because we are made from it and of it. No matter what we do or do not do in this human existence, we are still loved because, just like any other human in this world, we carry within ourselves pure love. However, on a human level, the love that we experience in our lives through relationships is mostly conditional. ‘Human love’ is set on various conditions like expectations. If you meet my expectations, you ‘earn’ my love. If not, I will withhold it from you until you do.

Our ego is one of the main reasons we don’t allow ourselves to express or receive love unconditionally. Our ego, a false sense of self, creates conditions, sets expectations, and is rooted in fear and self-preservation. Through a conditioned mentality, we have come to believe that to give or receive love, we must become worthy of love and earn the right to love. We do this by behaving in a way that is considered desirable by the society we live in.

Sadly, the true essence of love has largely been lost, and the phrase “I love you” is being used in vain. So how can you distinguish conditional from unconditional love?

Signs of Conditional love:

Any time there is an “if” or “but” involved, you can be sure the statement is conditional.

If value, appreciation, or affection are lost when unpleasant emotions are involved. For instance, if a spouse loses affection for their partner because they do not appear a certain way, or a child disappoints their parents and the parent feels ashamed of their child or disowns them—these are signs of conditional love.

We can also withhold love for ourselves when we exhibit perfectionism, negative self-talk, and hold high or unrealistic expectations. Additionally, society has taught us to look outward for self-worth instead of inward. Unless we have evolved and learned to accept and value ourselves exactly as we are and not what we have, we may withhold love from ourselves until we have obtained material wealth, a fancy title, a socially acceptable appearance, etc.

Signs of Unconditional love:

Unshakable reverence.

Total acceptance.

An indescribable and everlasting feeling of appreciation and affection.

The above is not often experienced and takes a deep level of connection to either a higher power or a higher sense of self. This is not to say that you cannot feel sadness, anger, frustration, or concern. However, when those feelings are present, they do not change your perception of yourself or others but are accompanied by compassion, understanding, and support.

When we begin to understand the power of loving ourselves and others, flaws and all, transformation happens starting from within. Until then, we will continue chasing our tails, going around in circles believing how bad this world is for not offering us the love we truly deserve! Until we understand that we can’t give to the world what we don’t give to ourselves first, we will continue to live the same life through different situations.


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