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Is unconditional love an oxymoron?


I've been marinating for a week now. My emotions are tangled and confusing; I'm not sure I have the best words to paint a picture. Basically, I'm fed up and I don't feel I'm able - or allowed - to express it. Last night I wrote a lengthy post and let it all out. It felt good; there was relief finally. I was ready to hit publish - because these days I'm learning how to not be scared of just saying it - but then I read it aloud to my husband. "It's very face-stabby and throat-slashy."


I have big emotions and open wounds. Apparently, this is not the time or place to share exactly how I feel because it would be too hurtful to potential readers, but keeping it inside is hurting me. I sit back and assess my words. How can I say these things softer? And why do I have to? When can I stop hiding the truth of my hurt?

Why must things be swept under the rug to keep the peace? Dancing on top of it doesn't mean it's not there.

This is why I need a life coach. And probably why I'm going to find a local therapist as well.

Cognitive Dissonance

Having been in church surrounded by those enamored with following Jesus, I think many Christians would say they are learning - or have learned - how to love unconditionally because of their faith. But it's because I've been in the church that I've come to believe unconditional love is unattainable.

Psychologist Leon Festinger proposed a theory of cognitive dissonance centered on how people try to reach internal consistency. He suggested that people have an inner need to ensure that their beliefs and behaviors are consistent. Inconsistent or conflicting beliefs leads to disharmony, which people strive to avoid. - reference -

Is unconditional love an oxymoron?

For example, you love me but I am making you psychologically uncomfortable. Now you need to decide how to avoid the internal struggle and recreate a harmonious existence where what you believe about me changes or you extract me from your life. Maybe it's because I have left the church. Maybe it's because you've never done what I'm doing - this discovery thing - and it's just too scary to consider. Maybe you think my journey is going to devalue your own. Whatever it is, you have grown unsure of me. You create a new narrative of who I am in your mind; a narrative that tells you I am crazy, irrational, stupid, thoughtless - basically, I'm not the person you thought I was or have always known me to be. And you rest in that narrative because you need to be comfortable with your choice; you need to be right.

Before you get all up in arms and message me private protests or faux apologies, you have to know this: I do the exact same thing. I'm not immune to it. We all do it. Our brains do this to protect us from feeling the pain of change or opposition. No matter what situation we find ourselves in, we can always justify that what we have chosen is right. Perception is reality.

So if this theory of Cognitive Dissonance is accurate, then is it safe to say unconditional love cannot exist?

  • Can I love someone if it means I won't be right?
  • Can I love someone if they do something I believe is wrong?
  • Can I divorce love from my beliefs?

What is your definition of love?

We all carry a set of beliefs and feelings of love. There are moments where our beliefs and the love we feel interact. As our beliefs change, our feelings of love change. If we stop believing someone is a positive force in our lives, our love for them shifts. And therein lies the rub. Conditional love is not enduring because our beliefs get in the way. Maybe the problem in pursuing unconditional love is directly related to our definition of love.

On Facebook and Twitter, I inquired, "What is your definition of love?" Jesus on the cross and religious-centric answers were the main contenders. Clearly, I should have been more specific.

I updated the question with, "What does love look like between humans? How do you love another person, and how might another love you?"

"Love: wanting the best for someone, sticking with them through thick and thin, speaking the truth to them, hoping for the best for them, assuming the best about them."

"For me, when I tell someone I love them, it means I love them in the exact same way I love myself: I respect them, I'm amazed by every wonderful thing that person can do, and I see them as equal to myself. That's the best way I can put it in words. Feelings are hard to describe."

It's beautiful, these responses, and my heart aligns deeply with each. And yet, I wonder at what point conditions might prevent this kind of love. Speaking the truth - who's truth? Loving as we love ourselves - what if we don't even like ourselves very much?

Love does not equal agreement.

I've been raising money for The Discovery Project a little over a week now. I'm halfway to my goal. I should be dance-partying it up, right? I should linger in my feelings of overwhelm, marveling at how generous people are when you state what you need and you ask for help.

But it's all too easy to focus on the ones who have said no, either in lengthy messages or simply by quoting scripture at me - which, just to be clear, is not a good form of communication when you don't give any context. These people do want the best for me, they just want it in a way they can stand behind and agree with and promote. I believe, based on our definitions above, this is love - but it certainly hasn't felt like it.

Can love be something that is projected and not accepted?

If I don't feel love from you, does that mean you don't love me? No. It just means I don't perceive your love in the way you perceive it.

Our beliefs are sacred and deeply personal to each of us, and keeping them in tact is often more important than loving outside of agreement. Nobody spends time searching for ways their beliefs may be wrong. Believing a certain way perpetuates our actions, and while you may - in your heart - feel you are being loving towards someone, that person may not feel the love.

So what do we do? We say we love and then mark it with conditions - perceived or real.

  • Can you love someone whose beliefs are not in alignment with your own?
  • Does loving someone mean we must agree?

I'm beginning to understand why "Love the Sinner, Hate the Sin" is not helpful to anyone in any way. And this week I'm learning how donations - or the lack thereof - to support this next chosen step in my journey does not necessarily reflect the love someone has for me, it may more accurately reflect a shared belief.

Love does not equal agreement in my house.

We are in the process of losing our religion. [Part 1]

The Discovery Project