Unconditional love is a gruesome, painful and sacrificial way to care for another human being. It isn’t butterfly kisses, a steamy night of passion or the joy a son brings to his mother’s heart. It is so much deeper than that. It is endless. It is profound. It’s powerful.
But is it possible? Science1 says it is. Mario Beauregard, a professor at Montreal University’s Centre for Research into Neurophysiology and Cognition, conducted a study and found that not only do all humans have the capacity to show unconditional love but, more importantly, specific areas of the brain are activated during this process, releasing dopamine—the chemical involved in sensing pleasure. Loving unconditionally is a mutually beneficial endeavor.
Loving someone unconditionally means loving the very essence of the individual. Just as they are. Despite what they do or fail to do, with no expectation of anything in return—including love.2 However, it is one of the most misunderstood concepts. If offering unconditional love is your mission in life, you need to beware of these 3 subtle differences:
It is supporting a person through every situation they face. Sticking with them through the good and the bad. It is not, however, blind devotion, unrelenting commitment and enabling bad behavior. Loving someone unconditionally involves doing what is best for them no matter what it costs you.
When you love a person you want to see them happy, but that does not mean neglecting yourself or becoming a doormat. When you allow yourself to be mistreated you are teaching your loved one that it is o.k. to mistreat people. You are reinforcing bad behavior.
Forgiveness is a vital component of practicing unconditional love. It means you must be quick to forgive but at the same time, not available for abuse.
Many people misuse this concept as an excuse to remain in toxic and unhealthy relationships or to explain why they refuse to hold their loved one accountable.3 Often times, this is seen in abusive relationships. The victim may claim to stay with the abuser out of love. But sometimes love may mean severing ties, calling the authorities or taking other extreme measures to get them the help they need. You do what is best for the individual despite the cost.
Love is an action not a feeling. It is a conscious choice that you make repeatedly—moment by moment. It doesn’t happen naturally. When a mother gives birth and holds her child in her arms for the very first time, we have been led to believe that the love is instant. And as magical and poetic as that sounds, it simply isn’t true. That mother chooses to love her child. Many times that choice is made and solidified some time during the pregnancy. Think about it. When a woman discovers that she is unexpectedly pregnant, she does not immediately fall in love with the fetus. It takes time. She must choose to love her child.
Providing for the happiness of your loved ones whenever you can is important and necessary but your desire to please them shouldn’t come at their detriment.
If a mother discovers her child is using drugs—love demands that she do whatever she can to assist them in breaking the addiction. Whatever it takes. And as painful as it may be, sometimes that involves allowing them to hit rock bottom, go to jail, or even become homeless. Pain and heartache forge character and tenacity and help us to grow. Watching someone you love suffer is brutal, but sometimes it’s necessary. Allow your loved ones to experience set backs and fall. Just be there to pick them up when they do.
Unconditional love is the complete and total acceptance of a person “as is.” It involves not withholding love because you don’t agree with their life choices. You don’t love because of—you love in spite of… Adopt a “care less” attitude.4 Meaning, I could care less what you decide, I love you anyway. It means staying away from controlling behaviors and passing judgment.
That said—this doesn’t mean you stand blindly by and watch someone—especially a child—run head long into danger.
Many times a parent will not chastise a child, or challenge them for fear of retaliation or losing the child’s love. Enabling bad behavior is not love.5 Unconditional love seeks what is in the best interest of that person above all else. It is supporting and nurturing that person into being the best version of them self.
Unconditional love is transformative. It has the power to change you and the person you love. It is a balancing act that requires you to constantly adjust and readjust your actions and attitude. But it is worth it in the end. Some of the benefits of learning to love unconditionally are:
How can finite beings love infinitely? When most people think of this kind of love, people like Mother Theresa, Ghandi and the Pope come to mind. But how can we—mere mortals—transcend our inherent, natural tendency towards selfishness and love without condition or expectation of a reward?
Here are 10 things you can do to begin loving unconditionally:
What actions will you take to demonstrate your unconditional love?
 Daily Mail: The Greatest Love of All: Studies Show That Humans Are Capable of caring unconditionally
 Live Bold and Bloom: Unconditional Love, The Key To Lasting Relationships
 Psychology Today: What is Unconditional Love
 Wikihow: How to Love Unconditionally
 Mind Body Green: Unconditional Love: How to Give It and How to Know When It’s Real
 Dr. Wayne Dyer: How to Forgive Someone Who Has Hurt You: In 15 Steps
 MindTools: Empathy at Work
Article adapted from original on Lifehack.org