Performance-based Love, Anyone?

We live in a world where love is mostly conditional – based on looks, performance, or possessions. A lot of people, particularly mental health patients, grow up believing that something is terribly defective at the center of their being. So they hide who they really are in the hope of receiving love. Feeling unlovable and lonely, they set up defenses against sharing their true selves, their innermost feelings, with anybody.

Fyodor Dostoyevksy, author of the classic “War and Peace,” describes the feeling when he wrote, “I am convinced that the only hell which exists is the inability to love.” Because people who have never experienced unconditional love always feel a profound emptiness, they perceive all relationships or activities as getting what they’re deprived of to fill a vaguely understood void within. They give love only on the condition that they get something in return.

As a psychotherapist who have journeyed with countless individuals, I feel that all mental health disease is ultimately connected to a lack of love. Or, to a kind of love that is basically conditional or performance-based. This is very exhausting to the body’s immune system. Such kind of psychological and emotional need is capable of producing physical symptoms or sickness. This is strikingly borne out of the stories too of numerous patients who go to the hospital for treatment of whatever medical condition.

Unconditional love is a healing key. In my sessions, when I’m able to get people to accept themselves as they are, lovable despite externals, they become able to heal fast and give to others from within an inner strength. This is true, especially when they realize that “perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18) and the source where they can get it. They understand that unconditional love multiplies itself whether or not it’s returned. As Walt Whitman wrote:

“Sometimes with one I love I fill myself with rage
for fear I effuse unreturned love,
But now I think there is no unreturned love.
The pay is certain, one way or another.
I loved a certain person ardently and my love was
not returned,
Yet out of that I have written these songs

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