Is unconditional love a myth?


It’s amazing how fast I can get used to doing nothing. I thought that not having to work would make time move more slowly this week, but it actually hasn’t been too bad. Perhaps I really did need to take the time off, because I haven’t been bored. Having nothing to do has felt OK. Or maybe that’s just the bones of the depression; that ability to sit and stare at a wall for long periods of time without wanting to find something to occupy me.

After J telling me last week that she thought we shouldn’t be carrying on with the therapeutic work we’ve been doing lately, I anticipated that therapy would be frustrating. I wasn’t sure there was much point in going to my sessions if we weren’t going to delve into the difficult stuff. I don’t have endless money to throw at treatment, and if we’re not going to work on what needs to be worked on, the idea of going there just to be with her seemed somewhat indulgent.

In my sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday it was different, but I didn’t feel like we weren’t doing any work. I just spoke about things that don’t normally come up – things that feel unimportant compared to all the trauma, destructiveness and despair. But it was interesting what emerged when I didn’t focus on the usual topics.

We ended up discussing relationships more generally. That’s important work of course. My sense of worthlessness affects how I relate to every person in my life. In all my relationships, I feel as though the other person is better than me. I don’t know how to relate to people without offering them something or doing something for them. What came up was my sense of relationships as needing some kind of currency. I have to pay for what I receive.

That led on to a discussion about ‘unconditional love’, which I found pretty frustrating. I was irritated by it because I don’t believe such a thing exists, and J clearly does. My view is that in every relationship, it’s possible for us to do something that will make the other person stop loving us. It might be unlikely, but it isn’t impossible. That sounds cynical, but to me it’s realistic. I’d like to think that unconditional love is not just a myth people tell themselves, I really would. But it’s hard to see it as anything other than a strategy people use to fool themselves into thinking they are safe and secure. I am so glad they have that comfort, but I can’t buy into it.

When J asked ‘what about unconditional love for yourself?’, the concept felt so ludicrous I actually found it hard not to laugh. Again, it sounds wonderful and I am happy that other people experience it, but it isn’t something I can in any way relate to.

My experience growing up taught me that love is always conditional. When I look back at how my brother used my love for him to manipulate me into sexual acts, it makes sense that I feel this way. I looked up to him and wanted nothing more than for him to love me and enjoy spending time with me. He twisted that into a weapon and used it to completely destroy the innocent child I was. After he was found out, he frightened me, ignored me or was totally dismissive for the rest of the time he lived with us. I had nothing more to give him, so I received no more love from him.

I had another very significant experience that solidified this perspective for me later in my life; coming out to my parents. They’ve always been quite liberal, hippy types, and as far back as I can remember I was told they’d love me no matter what. I wasn’t nervous about telling them I was gay, because this had led me to believe it wouldn’t be an issue.

Their reaction was a huge shock. Nothing in their response echoed their promises to me growing up, or their espoused values. There was no hiding their disappointment in me. My dad was so disgusted or distressed by my news he was physically ill. And my mum found it appropriate to tell me that, though there was no need for me to know.

All I needed was their support in this exciting, but challenging and scary time, and they refused to discuss it. When I met the woman who would become my wife and we were living hundreds of miles apart, I couldn’t speak about her in the house. She wasn’t welcome to visit. My dad didn’t even acknowledge her existence.

My parents completely rejected me and ignored what I was going through, just as they had when I was little and they found out about the abuse. This was the only time since then that I’d really called on them for emotional support, and once again, none was offered. I was left to deal with it on my own, hiding out in the same bedroom where I’d cried alone in the aftermath of the abuse. It was different pain and loneliness, but the experience had definite parallels.

I think after that, the core belief was set in stone. People only want me around if I am happy, entertaining, or useful. I have no value if I share anything real and painful. And I certainly have no right to ask anyone to help me with that stuff. The message I’ve always taken on board is that it is not OK to be needy and to ask for things.

That makes it almost impossible for me to reach out now, for fear of rejection or humiliation or losing the relationship. I’ve had a lot of kind offers from friends this week, who’ve asked if I’d like them to come over for a coffee and a chat. And while I am touched that they offered, I can’t accept. I can’t let myself believe that they really want to see me like this, or that if they do they will ever want to see me again.

So I’ve mostly been painting, walking, and hanging out with my dog. I also had a pretty awesome cuddle with a chicken. And for now, that feels like enough.






Main photo: Mario Micklisch, Creative Commons.




9 Comments Add yours

  1. bethanyk says:

    Honestly that last paragraph sounds pretty darn perfect. That would be enough for me too. Especially cool to cuddle with a chicken!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Take a look at your beautiful dog in that picture there: that’s precisely where you will find real unconditional love.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      Think her love is conditional on being fed and taken for walks!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. DV says:

    It hurts so much more when you’ve explicitly been promised unconditional acceptance and then get rejected.

    I love your paintings! ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      It certainly does. Glad you like them, I’ve been doing a lot more since stopping work.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Honestly, what the hell is wrong with people? I totally get what you are saying about not being able to trust in the idea of unconditional love and acceptance (really preaching to the converted on this!). It’s not surprising based on your experiences that you feel this way.

    The coming out experience should not be like this. I never understand why so many people (family especially) see it as being about them and their reaction and make a drama all it, rather than shutting up and seeing that it a massive thing that someone is sharing and it takes huge guts to do it. It’s fine to have a response but crikey, if it’s negative deal with it on your own time! I cannot believe your mum told you it made your dad ill. I am so sad to hear that they made your life so difficult and wouldn’t accept your relationship with your now wife. Good for you for following your heart. … when you know you know though don’t you?!

    I struggle to comprehend how people suddenly feel differently about you based on your sexuality – like this one bit of information changes everything!…because actually I never want to watch my children having sex anyway so to me it really doesn’t matter who they do it with so long as they are happy. The biggest thing I want for my kids is for them to find love and happiness – it doesn’t matter what body that comes in.

    My mum never acknowledged my girlfriends in public and would always introduce them as my ‘friend’….even when my wife and I had been together for years she’d still do it. It’s a little different now we are married and have two kids but it’s been twelve years in the making!

    I’m not sure about unconditional love either! I can give love unconditionally but I am reluctant to believe that I can receive love unconditionally.

    Long comment! Sorry.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Laura says:

      Ha no need to apologise for the comment, it’s always nice to hear from you. I know that ‘friend’ thing all too well myself, we got plenty of that from both sets of parents!


  5. skinnyhobbit says:

    Hi, new reader.

    My older brother abused me too, though not that badly. My parents were/are abusive are extremely conservative and would definitely reject me if I came out to them as bisexual.


    1. Laura says:

      Hello. I’m so sorry to hear that you experienced something similar and that your parents can’t accept you. That must be horrible. And any abuse is horrific, because of the psychological damage it does. We all end up minimising what was done to us, but I think it helps to recognise that whatever happened any abuse is awful and unjust. Thanks for reading. Laura

      Liked by 1 person

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