mother looking lovingly at her smiling infant

Appreciating the Power of Unconditional Love

Love. The subject of songs, novels, poems, sermons. Love is what we humans need to survive and thrive in life.

Consider the cruel experiment by Frederick II, Emperor of Germany. In 1211 in an attempt to discover the natural “language of God,” he wanted to find out what kind of speech children would have when they grew up if no one ever spoke to them. He allowed foster mothers and nurses to provide physical sustenance to the dozens of children in the experiment, to bathe and wash them but in no way to interact with language or in any kind, tender or loving way. Frederick never found out what “God’s preferred language” was because it never emerged; the children never spoke any language and all ultimately died in childhood. Author Ashley Montague, in her book Touching: The Human Significance of the Skin, showed us what a powerful and tragic experiment this was!

Love can even be measured in brain activity. According to Dr. Louis Cozolino in The Neuroscience of Human Relationships, Second Edition, in experiments when subjects were shown pictures of their loved ones, certain areas of the brain showed heightened activation including the insula, interior cingulate, caudate nucleus and putamen. There was decreased activation in the amygdala, posterior cingulate, and the frontal, parietal and temporal cortices. The study suggests that the experience of love is a combination of at least two processes, decreasing the activation of the fear system. “Love is a relief from scanning the outer world for threat and our inner worlds for shame. Love turns off the alarm, cancels our insurance, and frees us from worry…. Love is a drug— in fact a number of drugs, (including endorphins and dopamine) resulting in similar patterns of brain activation as seen in taking cocaine.”

Note that here, Cozolino was describing unconditional rather than conditional love. It can be helpful to differentiate between these two categories of love since each has a different impact on a person, especially a child.

According to various articles online,

  • Conditional love is based on specific criteria being met, while unconditional love is given without any expectations or conditions.
  • Conditional love can sometimes feel uncertain and inconsistent, leading to anxiety and stress, while unconditional love typically provides stability and security.
  • Conditional love may only have passion or intimacy or a mixture of both, while unconditional love has all three of the core factors, namely, intimacy, commitment, and passion.

According to a blog article from Psychology Today “Feeling unconditional love has both receiving and giving aspects. It also has a lot to do with trust. Carl Rogers used the term “unconditional positive regard,” which underscores our need for genuineness, authenticity, self-disclosure, acceptance, and empathy. While the term was mainly used in the clinical realm, it can apply to all relationships. It’s really about caring for one another as separate identities, honoring and respecting each other’s opinions without judgment.

Conditional love, on the other hand, means that there are certain conditions, likes, and dislikes that determine the extent of our love. It’s about someone matching our personal needs, desires, and outlooks. 

Clearly experiencing love and being able to love others is extremely powerful in our lives. Being able to differentiate between conditional and unconditional love can clarify how we are giving and receiving love and how that love is impacting us or others. By becoming more aware of these two different kinds of love, we have the power to offer unconditional love to those who are important to us because of the many wonderful ways it impacts them and our relationship. We also can learn to look for and even request that those who are important to us offer us unconditional love.

In my next blog I will invite my readers to continue this exploration.

Invitation for Reflection

  1. When you think about the people in your life you love, to what extent is that love more conditional versus unconditional or a combination of both? What is an example of how you love them conditionally? When you are loving them conditionally, how does that impact your relationship?
  2. How is your relationship different when you love them unconditionally? What are some examples of how you love them unconditionally?
  3. When you think about people in your life who love you, to what extent is that love more conditional versus unconditional or is it a combination of both? If they love you more conditionally versus unconditionally, how does that make you feel? How does that impact your relationship?
  4. If they love you more unconditionally, how does that make you feel? How does that impact your relationship?
  5. If you realize you are loving people more conditionally than unconditionally, are you interested in trying to shift to loving them unconditionally? What do you need to do to accomplish that?

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One response to “Appreciating the Power of Unconditional Love”

  1. Kristen Veacock

    Diane,
    What an important topic! I so appreciate the questions you offer to help us dig a bit deeper in our lives and relationships with others. I think I am going to start a journal as I read your articles to reflect and explore these various topics so that I can change areas that need changing, and reflect the unconditional love our Savior exemplifies to us in His word. Thank you for these articles. They tremendously bless me.

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