by Jennifer Stuck
I’ve been bombarded with the idea of unconditional love for as long as I can remember. Everywhere from home, to church, to Valentine’s Day commercials, people have pushed the concept that I should show love with no strings attached and expect nothing in return. People throw around phrases like “Blood is thicker than water”, “Love thy neighbor as thyself”, and “Love means never having to say I’m sorry.” But what does this type of thinking do to my personal boundaries? And more importantly, why SHOULDN’T my love have conditions?
I’ve recently become aware that the belief in unconditional love has interfered with my healing from childhood sexual abuse. In the past, I found it difficult to express anger towards the people who hurt me. My abusers weren’t my family and I never loved them, but I did care deeply about the people in my family who failed to protect me. The positive feelings I felt for my family coupled with the anger I felt about them neglecting me was confusing.
I was always taught that I should love no matter what, forgive all mistakes, and never question their place in my life. They were my family after all. But my anger went against the definition of unconditional love I was always taught. My seemingly contradicting feelings left me feeling guilty for not loving my family enough. If I just loved them more like I was supposed to, I wouldn’t be having those negative thoughts about them. I was already harboring guilt after being sexually abused, and the idea of unconditional love just piled on more.
On top of adding to my guilt, being told I should love someone even when they have hurt or neglected me was like being told to ignore my personal boundaries. Years of childhood sexual abuse had already taught me to ignore my feelings and put everyone else’s needs first. The belief in unconditional love just reinforced that. According to everyone else, my feelings didn’t matter and I had no choice in who or when I loved. I wasn’t allowed to place conditions on my love. I was supposed to love them no matter what they did. But that was in their best interest, not mine.
The whole concept of unconditional love has been used by abusers and the people who protect them for generations to keep victims silent. When you think about it, who else would require love without conditions? Anyone who treats me the way I deserve should have no problem living up to certain standards. Abusers and manipulators are the ones who have something to gain from unlimited love.
The truth is if someone doesn’t respect me or my needs, I am under no obligation to love them. I will treat every human being with a certain level of respect and dignity, but beyond that, it is my choice when I love and who I love. In fact, it is healthy to have standards for the people I care about. My standards and personal boundaries are there to protect me from further abuse. Nobody who loves me would abuse me, and I have no reason to love anyone who would abuse me. I’ve broken free from the idea of unconditional love and it feels good.
Jennifer Stuck is whole-heartedly pursuing physical and emotional health and is determined to heal the wounds of her childhood sexual abuse. She loves to write, especially poetry. She is currently studying for a career in Physical Therapy. When she isn’t in school Jennifer is at home spending time with her two beautiful daughters.
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