By Dr. Jan Hittelman
There has never been a doubt in my mind that becoming a father was one of the most profound experiences of my life. In a moment my world vision changed forever. Current events were suddenly so much more important because they would impact what would become my daughter’s life. As a young man, if it didn’t affect me directly, I didn’t give it much thought. Everything changes because of that unconditional love that is born in your heart when your child’s heart starts beating. This is a pure inborn love that is likely genetically predetermined to ensure the survival of the species. Either way it is clear, strong and lifelong.
During infancy and the first years of life, we develop a deep bond with our children. A bond that is usually impossible to break. When this process is disrupted early in life and there is an ongoing absence of caregiver warmth and nurturance, there can be significant psychological and even physiological trauma. The resulting psychological condition is referred to as Reactive Attachment Disorder. This can result in lifelong social and emotional challenges.
As parents we may occasionally stray from that initial pure love and get distracted by the details of life that get in the way; everything from dealing with our own issues to getting our children to do their homework. Before you know it, we may be contributing to our children’s disappointment of being denied that unconditional love. It can be difficult, if not impossible, to sustain.
I wonder if we all secretly wish to experience that unconditional love from our children, parents, family and friends. Is it unrealistic to expect this level of pure love from others? Unfortunately it probably is. If we’re lucky, we experience these precious moments from time to time in our relationships. The more frequently this occurs, the more fortunate we are.
There are many theorists who believe that in order to truly experience unconditional love, you must first provide it to yourself through self-acceptance. Too often we beat our selves up and become highly self-critical, carrying the weight of guilt, shame and self-blame. By becoming more self-accepting and self-nurturing, we can more easily give and receive love unconditionally. Consider going easier on yourself; try to hit the brakes when you’re being self-critical. Allow yourself to focus more on what you’re doing well and take a moment to experience that feeling of satisfaction. Even if our parents did not always provide us with the love that we desired, we can still be that loving parent to ourselves and fill that void.
All-encompassing ongoing unconditional love is an ideal that perhaps can never be fully realized. What is possible, however, is to make a more conscious effort to give unconditional love to others and be more self-accepting of ourselves. All that is necessary is a true awareness of this process and the motivation to put some effort into it. Now that you know, what will you do?