Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Why conditional love works, or not

When you are in a relationship, with people, friends, lovers, kids, family, you have two choices in how to interact with your affections: conditional, or unconditional love.

Conditional love leaves room for excess, with children specifically, to abuse the relationship and get away with possibly horrible, horrible things. Unconditional love gives one a lot more leeway in handling relationships. But, have room for screwing it up. Some women like to use conditional love by withholding sex from their lover. Just about all therapists agree, this is a bad thing for a relationship and usually ends poorly. Men traditionally have used power or money in the same way with women.


Well, these are adults. They should be able to figure it out. Read a book, see a therapist, talk to your friends (and be honest). But for children, they have no chance of control and are fully in our care. If you give love to your child, regardless of what is going on, then why can't they just take, take, take and have no regard for what is right or wrong? Love is a powerful thing after all. If they do something wrong, and you show them love, won't they think that they can just get away with what they did and do it again and again? But if you pull your love from them, isn't it extremely affective and won't they crave the love even more feeling obligated to always follow your desires? They will do anything at that point, to gain that love back. Right?

Dr. Jim Taylor says conditional love is good. But you can use, and many, many people do, the wrong kind of conditional love. Dr. Taylor is internationally recognized for his work in the psychology of performance in business, parenting, and sport and has extensive credentials, available on his website.

He mentions "outcome love" and "dangling-carrot love". Outcome love is when your child, as example, fails in a task and you react very negatively, pulling your love and even doing things that exemplify it, saying you don't love them, breaking their things, etc. Children tend to react poorly to this. With dangling-carrot love, its perhaps best to quote Dr. Taylor here:

"One of the obstacles to children's success and happiness occurs when parents use their love to threaten and control them. Love becomes a weapon when parents make their love conditional on their children's success or failure, what I call, "outcome love".

"Another painful and destructive form of conditional love is "dangling-carrot" love, in which love is promised by parents and held seemingly within reach, but is never truly attainable.

"If you are a parent who communicates dangling-carrot love, you would show it by never being completely satisfied with how your children perform. For example, your child brings home a test in which he earned a score of 94 and you ask, "why did you miss three questions?" Or, your daughter receives a standing ovation for her dance performance, but the first thing you say is that she missed three steps in her choreography. In both examples, your children succeeded by most anyone's standards, yet their achievements were still not completely worthy of your love. Why do parents use this destructive kind of love? Probably in the mistaken belief that if parents give complete and unlimited approval of their children’s achievements, they will never achieve up to their fullest abilities."

Having seen these types first hand in the history of individuals I've been in relationships with, I've seen how very destructive it can be to a child; for the rest of their life, and on into their children's lives.

Dr. Taylor goes on:

"Instead of outcome or dangling-carrot love, you should use "value love", in which love is conditional on your children's adopting essential values and acting in socially appropriate and ethical ways. Value love nurtures the development of positive values and moral behavior, fosters healthy growth, and encourages achievement and happiness."

"Finally, children raised with outcome and dangling-carrot love internalize their parents’ style of love and use it as the basis for loving themselves. In other words, they come to only love themselves when they live up to the now-internalized expectations and they hate themselves when they fail to do so. Children raised with value love, by contrast, ingrain that healthy style of love and are able to love themselves independent of the successes or failures they experience in their lives."

Dr. Taylor may have a point in his contentions. But it worries me. I suspect that unconditional love may be more affective overall. Why? Because most of us have to live our lives and simply aren't smart enough to use conditional love correctly or in all instances and the child will suffer for it. In using unconditional love, but, still using corrective and more importantly, educational methods, I believe that people in general will simply have a far better result.

In this way, you love your child always, but when they are wrong, you correct them: "I love you, but you did not do this right." Or, "what you did was wrong and we shouldn't do those kinds of things. I love you, and I want you to be the best person you can be."

To ever pull your love, for any reason, is destructive. If you use conditional love, you give to them, a polarizing effect. Life really is a series of grayness, seldom with a black and white, right and wrong reality. Too many people believe there is, for the most part you find this in religious types. But that view is lazy and uneducated.

Too many times in a situation involving a good and bad person, both are actually doing things for what they believe to be a good reason, and they appear bad to the other because their view is that they are the good individual in this situation. I've infrequently, found myself realizing later that I was actually the bad one in a situation but had been too close to things to see that at the time. But, in hindsight I later realized I might have done things differently.

In teaching a child that there is only right and wrong, it simplifies life for them. This is good, for a while. Much like allowing them to believing "magic" gives them an ability to see the "magic" in life all around us. Much like a swat on the butt is good to teach them things that could save their life (getting burned by fire, running into a busy street, etc.). It is something you do when the child has yet the capability for communicating.

Before a child understands words, if they reach for a flame on the stove, you show them "No" by having them reach for the flame, slap their hand and say "No!", about a half second after. This way, they understand the movement, feel a negative affect in the action, and hear a word they will hear again and again over the years, that is associated with avoidance behavior. It takes a partial moment for them to conceive the word "no", for it to hit the brain the same time as the slight pain in the hand. This has the double effect of now pairing a word that can be used later and being associated with a "stop-action" response.

Once a child can understand, especially when they can appropriately and verbally respond, parents should no longer use pain but words, in managing their behavior. Many parents make the mistake to continue beyond that time. They spank young children, then continue to do so long after its effective.

First, spanking is typically too much response to bad behaviors; second, using a spanking after the child can communicate is innately offensive to the child and even they do not know why that is so. Also, a spanking can hit its point of usefulness quickly. They child may believe they deserve it, but how much? One swat? Two? Three? At what point is it useful and then, counter-productive? This can lead to confusion and eventually, other negative emotions such as bitterness, anger and eventually, hatred. Then, you really have a problem.

To sum up, love is very effective in relationships. Give it some thought, don't misuse it. And if you are confused by all this, then look into it, educate yourself and work out how to use it appropriately. Like anything else, and certainly, anything I ever talk about in these blogs, don't take my word for it, but figure it out for yourself.

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