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Saturday, February 5, 2011

More on Unconditional Love and Boundaries

Ilene Wolf's website, HEAL (Healing Emotionally Abused Lives) is one I check in with from time to time. Ilene, a survivor of emotional abuse, calls herself a writer/teacher/activist. Besides those she helps online, Ilene has helped a lot of people in the area where she lives through "care circles" which she runs, public speaking and personal life-coaching. Her insights have been helpful to me on more than one occasion as I’ve processed things from my past.

Recently, a discussion she had posted in the “Howl” (which is her blog at HEAL) was about unconditional love and boundaries. These are concepts I’ve been trying to understand and redefining for some time.

In the week before I wrote this blog entry (which shows some of the growth I attained about boundaries) I read what Ilene had to say about unconditional love.

She said:
Many times, when we’re connected with someone, be that someone a parent, a child, a sibling, a spouse, a friend, or some other relationship, we may look at a person’s behavior and say something like:

I don’t like or approve of the behavior but I still (unconditionally) love the person.

Given that pronouncement, we can proceed with taking actions that can demonstrate love for the person while simultaneously maintaining appropriate and healthy personal boundaries.

In some cases, this may mean taking actions that may “appear” as being “harsh” towards the badly
behaved person. In other cases it may mean expanding the physical or emotional “distance” between yourself and the badly behaved person. You can do these things while still loving the badly behaved person unconditionally.
I read this and thought, how on earth can you call it unconditional love if you have to sometimes distance yourself from a person?

I posted this question:
If you take the love away, even briefly, that doesn't sound unconditional... If you have to set specific boundaries around the relationship - that is a condition, isn't it?
It made sense to me at the time, but I believe I've found the flaw in my logic.

There were a few responses to my question, but one – posted by another reader at HEAL - really helped me visualize the concept of unconditional love. Maybe it was taking the human element out of it that made it so clear, or maybe it was just having a good concrete example to which I could relate. I thought her answer might be helpful to others, so I asked if she minded me using it here in my blog. Since she had no objection, here is what she said:

I greatly enjoy ice cream. But I know that I'm not going to have just a little and that is bad for my goal of keeping in shape and healthy. But do I still "love" ice cream "unconditionally"? Yes, of course. It is just that I have learned over time that I am better off without it around. And, I have also learned there are other foods that I can enjoy sensibly and/or are healthy for me
See, the flaw in my logic lay in my definition of love. Love isn’t about spending time with someone, holding their hand, or putting up with their crap… unconditional love simply means that even if you can never be around the person you still accept them for who they are. C called it "accepting their Being-ness."

Sounds simple enough, right? Haha, sure...

I am moving towards a kind of acceptance of my parents that is different from what I've experienced in the past. I don’t have to be with them or do the things they want me to be or put up with their crap. I just have to accept that they are who they are, and then I have the option to set boundaries around behaviors that don't suit me.

I'm still working on writing out exactly what those boundaries will look like, but the world has opened up so much around it. I see options I didn’t see before, possibilities I couldn’t comprehend, and I have hope that I will (this time) be successful in setting healthy boundaries with my parents when they return from Florida in the spring.


  1. This is so exciting and such a big step - I am so happy for you Shen!!!

    I like the example with ice-cream, its clever and really gets the point across that we can love someone and still set boundaries.

    Take gentle care

  2. Not with you on this yet.

    It seems as if the concept of unconditional love is some how seen as something that is done for the one that is loved. I do not buy that love not expressed is nothing more than than the sound of one hand clapping.

    It is kinda like when someone says they will pray for me. Do not pray for me unless it does something for you. It will have no effect other than for you.

    Using the sundae metaphor the sundae is not effected by my love for it. It is all about me.

    If I love someone unconditional. I am there for them within the boundaries/context of my relationship. I honor that relationship as best as I am able.

  3. Hi Shen, it is a big thing. I'm glad you are feeling liberated and able to anticipate setting good boundaries.

    Send you as much encoureagement as I can through the ether.

  4. I'm not sure your logic is so faulty. It's important also what others think too. Others think that it means more about what you do, in which case you have to find a balance. Well said.

  5. Good for you, goos luck with everything:)


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