It’s Valentine’s Day. True, a “Hallmark Holiday” for many, but a good excuse nonetheless to look at Love.
Love is a vast topic, and perhaps the only topic truly worth discussing. Love is, in the end, everything. But love is also incredibly misunderstood.
The concept of love that many of us grow up with is (quite unintentionally, most of the time) conditional: The basic assumption is that “I will love you when/if you do this.” This assumption is not typically stated out loud (although sometimes it is brutally drilled into kids’ bodies-minds), and most parents really would never mean or think such a thing. But whether they are aware of it or not, parents’ actions and seemingly benign statements can sound to a kid like...
The flip side of these beliefs is that as kids, we start to believe, “If I don’t [do these things/act this way] I am unlovable and will not be loved” and “I am not good enough just as I am.”
Because we are human, unless we are explicitly told that those conditions do not need to be met in order for us to truly be loved and deemed lovable, we bring those conditions into adulthood. There, we place them on ourselves, on our partners, on our kids and our colleagues.
As adults, we can easily identify the conditions that we place on ourselves (or that we feel have been placed on us by our parents, culture, or society) when we hear ourselves using the word “should.”
Since I started my long-overdue, much-needed sabbatical, I can’t even count the number of times I have felt a strong anxiety and the overwhelming feeling that I SHOULD be performing or producing something. After some searching, I found that the judgments I absorbed somewhere along the line sound something like:
Those are all judgments. They are all false. They probably sound really familiar to those of you like me who grew up in an enormously competitive, capitalistic society. Messages/judgments similar to those are deeply ingrained in all of us, and thus, we all are susceptible to falling into judgment of ourselves and others.
Luckily, I now know the antidote to judgment. It’s unconditional love.
This is an active practice (and yes, it is a practice) that we all have available to us, anytime we notice we are judging ourselves. Common judgments I hear from friends and clients include things like:
Here’s how I have learned to eliminate the "shoulds" and welcome unconditional love into my own life:
Step 1: Notice the judgment. What behavior or choice am I telling myself is wrong or bad?
Step 2: Ask if it's really true. Will someone die or something awful happen if I do not do that thing/change that "bad/wrong" behavior today, right now, or soon?
Step 3: If the answer is yes (such as with the statement, "I should take the car in because the brakes don't work right"), then I go on with doing the thing and feel good about actually doing what needs to be done to avoid an emergency or tragedy. If the answer is no, which it typically is, then I notice and accept the fact that I somewhere, somehow, learned that that thing I am judging about myself was not an acceptable way to be or thing to do--even though I know for a fact that that statement is not true for me, at this time.
Step 4: Ask myself “Do I want to change or do XYZ differently? Is that something I willingly and lovingly want to change or do today, right now, or soon?”
Step 5: If it’s not, decide then and there to love myself and my behavior or choice. Then give myself compassion and forgiveness for being perfectly human, and decide to feel deep gratitude for the fact that I am alive and get to experience this amazing thing called Love. From myself! Any time I want!
You know when you are actively practicing unconditional love when you can decide that you will not perform or engage in a "should" and you still totally, authentically, deeply love yourself.
I have about a billion other thoughts and connections to make about love and judgments, where judgments come from, how we can figure out which internal messages are true or false for us, how we decide to change things we truly want to change, how judgments ruin our relationships with ourselves and our partners/loved ones, and how we can stop judging others in a marketing-driven world in which nothing and no one is ever deemed “enough.” Not so long ago, I would have told myself I “should” edit this post, add more to it, streamline the argument, etc etc. But I’ll leave it as it is. The sun is shining and I WANT to meet a friend for a writing date. I’m incredibly grateful I made the choices I have made so I get to do exactly that.
I wish you all unconditional love on Valentine’s Day and every day! You are perfect and enough just as you are!
Coach, listener, retreat leader, sense-maker, and student-centered teacher; constantly curious student of life. Caring wellness expert with decades of experience, a back full of metal, and a heart overflowing with Love.
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