About a year ago, I realized my self-love was conditional. That in my mind I’d crafted a checklist that had to be complete to deserve my own love. It wasn’t something I’d consciously sat down one day and written out. It was an accumulation of a lifetime of stories and ideals I’d gathered. Some were my own. Some I’d taken from others. Look this way. Act that way. Achieve this. Be good. Earn the love and praise of others to prove you are deserving of love. Around this time I also realized I wasn’t able to receive unconditional love. In theory, I knew it existed. But I wasn’t going to test the limits. Of course, my parents love me. I had never done anything to disappoint them. But underneath was this fear of “but what if I did?” And I was not willing to find out. Even, especially, if I disappoint myself. It’s easy to love the parts that are easy to love. The parts others praise me for. My kindness. My strength. My love for other people. It’s harder to love the parts that invoke shame. Parts of myself I hide as not to inconvenience others. The part of me that feels resentment. The part of me that is sometimes too tired and worn out to choose love. The me that used to pinch my body and feel disgusted. I’ve come to realize that none of these parts are singularly who I am. I am the one that watches. That witnesses it all. That sees the resentment and the shame. That sees the strength and love. Through that, I’ve come to be the soothing voice to calm my own nerves and fears. The gentle touch to hold my heart and feel the rhythm of life course through me. It’s okay if I fall. It’s okay if I make a mess. It’s okay if I am not ____ enough.
When we condition our own love, we condition all other love. We put gates on our hearts. Even when we claim unconditional love, it is often based on our relationship to our understanding of someone. Unconditional love for my mom, but not for the men I teach in prison, is not unconditional love. There is an underlying sense of earning it. I love my mom unconditionally as long as she gave birth to me, raised me, and gave me love back. But what if we truly, fully, loved. No prerequisites. No checklist. Whether we have met or not. Whether you have shown me kindness or not. Whether you have committed a crime or not. What if we found this unconditional love for the parts of us that are bigger than all of that.
It all starts with you. With examining your inner boundaries of love. What if tomorrow everything changed? You lost your job. Your appearance changed. The people who love you suddenly were not there to validate your worth. Your outward construction of “you” disappeared. Now what? Could you still choose love? Or what if those you love suddenly didn’t fit your mold? By finding true, pure unconditional love for yourself, you find love for all. I can’t help but hear Dionne Warwick… “What the world needs now is love sweet love,
No, not just for some but for everyone.” And especially for ourselves.
-By Moira Killoren