If, like me, you have been on the receiving end of unconditional promises only to be kicked in the groin at our first slip-up or failure to meet the expectations of our ‘supporter’ you will understand the pain, frustration, confusion & often, downright anger that can result.
So these days my first question is, “What are the REAL chances of unconditional love or support actually happening?”
In most cases it is around zero.
This is actually a useful question to ask as it helps us to avoid the unexpected.
If we talk about unconditional it means exactly that, ‘without ANY conditions’ so it must when there is no sign of gratitude, when we are met with cynicism or rejection, when we are criticised, when we see no sign of progress.
For some of us, that type of commitment is something we have measured & accept; for some of us that type of commitment will potentially destroy our confidence, self-belief or quality of life.
When we are dealing with vulnerable or needy people the consequences of failure are potentially huge, even life-threatening (for all concerned) so the need for realism becomes even more acute & important. If we are unrealistic, we rapidly enter stormy waters where many friendships or relationships sink & die.
It all comes back to those 2 letters; ‘un‘
Perhaps in pursuing unconditional we are aspiring to achieve something that is beyond our grasp (the impossible)?
If we look at those who have seemingly achieved this (Mother Teresa of Calcutta for example), reading their memoirs & diaries reveal the incredible levels of sacrifice it takes to be almost successful. I would argue that most of us are unable to achieve such levels of commitment & service BUT that does not mean that we cannot provide a healthy & effective level of support to our friends & those who need us.
But what if we are coming at this from the wrong direction?
What if we are setting ourselves an unreachable target & therefore, guaranteeing failure, difficulty or more problems than we need?
What if, instead of declaring unrealistic unconditional love or support, we declare realistic conditional love or support with realistic & healthy ‘boundaries’ to what we offer?
- Unconditional – ‘not subject to any conditions‘
- Conditional – ‘subject to one or more conditions or requirements being met‘
I don’t see this as a case of copping-out; I see it as a case of accepting my failings & fallibilities & giving myself the best chance of doing my best for others. Such commitment WILL undoubtedly include sacrifice of time, effort, energy & emotion.
Here are a few suggestions that will help us to be more effective in our unconditional love & support of others.
Start by asking yourself a few basic questions:
Who am I doing this for?
Can I see it through to completion?
Do I have/will I need support myself?
Am I prepared to take on the commitment?
Can I help?
Check Your Motives:
Some of us have a need to receive a reward for what we do. We should be very careful if our motives to help include:
– a need to be seen to be doing good
– personal gain
– a need to fill a void in our own life where we have been deprived of the very thing we promise
Set Your Boundaries (Know Your Limits & The Limits of the Persona You’re Helping)
This is arguably one of the most difficult parts because we are full of good intentions & have a desire to see change for the better in the person we’re helping.
Failure to set these boundaries will almost certainly lead to problems & potential disaster later.
A simple phrase to help with this is, “I can help you with this [or I can do this for you] …. but I can’t help here [(or I am not prepared to help here (for whatever reason)] …”
It is often a good idea to write this down because once you get a few months down the line it is easy to forget exactly what you did agree.
A Word of Caution
How much we can help some people is restricted by our experience, expertise & their issue. For examples, addicts of any kind & those with psychological problems are notoriously difficult to help.
Does this mean we shouldn’t try?
Not at all!
BUT it does mean that unless we are specifically trained, how we help & what issues we help are restricted. It also means that we support alongside those who ARE trained in these areas. This can be really difficult when the going gets tough, but asking the right questions at the outset will increase our chances of really helping (rather than hindering or making worse).
Never Lose Sight of the Desired Outcome or Who The Benefit Is For
We can become so embroiled, hooked-in & engaged in our support that we lose sight of why we started helping them in the first place. All-too-soon our focus shifts back to ourself & we shift into self-protection mode. Our aim for helping others is usually centred on their situation improving in some way, on them getting through a tough patch in their life, on them chucking a habit or addiction etc. The focus of outcome is for the person we’re helping.
If we learn something or benefit along the way that is a bonus.
So, in conclusion, rather than promising unconditional love in its truest form, we need to be honest & set realistic boundaries which make it clear where we can (& cannot) help.
Our culture presses upon us, as never before, the need to succeed, to be beautiful, to be without blemish, to not make mistakes, to get what we want how we want & when we want. Many of the human traits that make us unique, creative, valued & different try to be erased by a society that openly promotes exactly those same attributes. We live in a world of contradictions in which there are many victims who desperately need the help & support of others. Unconditional or as I prefer realistically conditional love & support has the power to heal the wound of these paradoxes & contradictions, to transform lives, regenerate where the locusts have eaten & give new purpose & direction. We can be players in these scenarios.
It can be a long, lonely, stony, painful path along which we receive rejection, abuse, criticism, anger, threats, emotional bribes & manipulation. However, the fruit of persistence & wisdom can also be changed & restored lives. Very few things are achieved without effort, commitment & a degree of pain. Don’t be discouraged. You may reach a position where you have played your part & it is time to hand on to another person, support group etc. This is not failure; this is wisdom 🙂
Remember, that this short article hardly scrapes the surface. It is aimed at unconditionalhelp where, by definition, we are usually entering into something that is medium or longer-term. It should not be taken lightly as we can leave things in a worse position than when we started.
These principles may also help with other day-to-day situations where we can support others.
I hope you have found this useful & I would love to hear your comments & experiences.
Take care until next time …