Painful Giving–How NOT to Give Unconditional Love

By Greg Baer M.D.

January 21, 2015

Giving Love with Expectations is Not Love

All her life, Luisa had experienced painful difficulties with relationships. She had not been unconditionally loving toward her two husbands or her children, for example, but instead had practiced the exchange of Imitation Love. 

Knowing that who we are is almost uniformly a reflection of how we were raised, I asked Luisa about her childhood. She said that her mother had been a very giving woman, always doing things for her and everyone else. She couldn't imagine a more loving person than her mother.

After I asked a few more questions, it soon became apparent that although Luisa's mother certainly did render a great deal of service for her daughter and others, it was not offered unconditionally. In return for her giving, Luisa's mother expected gratitude, respect, cooperation, and more. If her expectations were not met, she motivated Luisa and others to get what she wanted, using irritation, guilt, victimhood, and other tools that she used without hesitation.

Parents and Children Trading Love with Expectations

In short, Luisa's mother rarely gave anything. Rather, she constantly invested in other people and traded with them, so that she'd get what she wanted for herself. Each time she did something for her daughter, she was really throwing out a baited hook, and Luisa—eager for attention—gobbled it up.

But then Mother reeled in the line, and Luisa had to "pay" her with gratitude, respect, or affection. Mother had been pulling on that line so expertly and regularly, and for so many years, that Luisa had become accustomed to being reeled in. She actually expected that when Mother did something for her, she would have to repay her in some way. Moreover, her mother had convinced her that this exchange was called "love." What a relationship.

I have seen this parent-child training program conducted countless times all over the world. It's so common that it has become accepted as normal in almost all societies and families. Parents tell their children that this is the definition of love, and their children have little choice but to accept it.

These children, in turn, learn to play the same game with everyone around them: their own children, their partners, their friends, their co-workers, and so on. The price for such "giving" is high, because it excludes Real Love, the primary source of genuine happiness.

Offering Gifts of Love with No Expectations

As we share our time, talents, and resources with those around us, we must ask ourselves whether we offer truly unconditional gifts—gifts that have no strings, no hooks, no expectations of gratitude or reward of any kind. If so we will feel no disappointment on the occasions when we receive no gratitude or reward in return for our loving acts. 

If we give such unconditional gifts, we will bless both those to whom the gift is given and ourselves. But if we give with expectations, the hooks we place in our "gifts" will tear the hearts of those who receive, as well as our own hearts. 

The more we are aware of the potential perils of giving, and the more honest we are willing to be with ourselves, the more we will be able to avoid the pitfalls of trading and instead embrace the joys of unbridled giving.

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About the author 

Greg Baer, M.D.

I am the founder of The Real Love® Company, Inc, a non-profit organization. Following the sale of my successful ophthalmology practice I have dedicated the past 25 years to teaching people a remarkable process that replaces all of life's "crazy" with peace, confidence and meaning in various aspects of their personal lives, including parenting, marriages, the workplace and more.

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