Intimate love — 14 March 2010
Why unconditional love may feel overwhelming?

To love and be loved in return is a wondrous state of bliss. Reciprocal love is yearned for, dreamed about, craved and cherished when achieved. The ultimate form of love is unconditional love, where the loved one is fully accepted and valued without any preconditions, need to be changed or judgments. Why then, does receiving the greatest human gift possible overwhelm some well- loved individuals?

Most people have experienced unconditional love in infancy when they were held closely by their delighted parents, admired and awed for their sheer existence. Nothing was expected of them as they were cherished for ‘just being’.

Many researchers date love and attachment needs to early mother/child interactions. Martin Bergmann, for one, underscores that extreme dependency, focus on the face of the beloved, anxiety and longing during separation, clearly parallel the infant’s experience with the mother.

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman state, “ Love represents a cognitive, behavioral, and emotional stance toward others that takes three prototypical forms. One is love for the individuals who are our primary sources of affection, protection, and care … The prototype of this form is a child’s love for a parent. Another form is love for the individuals who depend on us to make them feel safe and cared for … The prototype of this form is a parent’s love for a child. The third form is love that involves passionate desire for sexual, physical, and emotional closeness with an individual whom we consider special and who makes us feel special. The prototype is romantic love.”

Carl Rogers’ concept of unconditional positive regard between therapist and client has been expanded to unconditional love between mates where love is freely offered without expectations.

Wendy Langford reports, “‘intimate’ coupledom has become the repository for an ever increasing range of wishes. Existential security, personal identity, emotional satisfaction, sexual fulfillment, companionship, and a life which has meaning beyond the round of everyday existence can, it appears, all come through being ‘lucky in love’. In contrast, life ‘on the outside’ is associated with insecurity, emptiness, frustration and loneliness.”

As desired as being loved is, many people become overwhelmed and fearful when they sense their lover’s awe includes viewing them as “perfect”. Being viewed as unblemished (as they felt in infancy) collides with their later socialization process in which they were corrected, reprimanded and instructed to be and act differently to become acceptable.

The most common fear is that the loving mate may, with time, become disenchanted, as did the parents once the unblemished infant turned to a less than perfect little boy or girl.

Another fear is about the risk that if one were to ever err, be displeasing or have a different view, the love will be permanently withdrawn.

Concerns about one’s worthiness accompany the disbelief of one’s total acceptance. “How can I be so flawless to my partner, when I am clearly blemished in some ways in my own eyes?” “Does my mate really know me?”

An additional fear is born out of a perceived expectation, “Can I truly reciprocate in kind with providing unconditional love in return?”

Though these fears are understandable,

• Realize that unconditional love is not an expectation about perfection. It is the sincere positive regard, affection, attraction and love that stems from appreciation – not expectation.
• Unconditional love is inclusive of imperfection. It handles faults with the same tenderness that it handles fine traits.
• Appreciate true love as pure giving –not serving the giver’s self- interests.
• Accept that those who love unconditionally- do not criticize, reject, withhold or disapprove, nor do they expect to be loved in kind.
• Understand that unconditional love rewards the giver as well.
• Relish the looks of appreciation, the affirming words and actions, the thrilled touch and feel blessed to receive the greatest gift of all – true recognition of your uniqueness and lovability.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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