Does Unconditional Love Really Exist?

September 14, 2019
Unconditional love exists, but is it a good thing? After all, conditions and boundaries can help protect your self-esteem and well-being in all kinds of loving relationships.

Some people say that unconditional love is the purest and noblest feeling in the world. It means loving without expecting anything in return, loving someone with every fiber of your being. It means loving someone for who they are, no matter what they do or say, no matter if they’re with you or not.

Herman Hesse said that he who knows how to love well will always win in life. However, what exactly does it mean to “love well”? Is unconditional love the perfect example of loving well? There really isn’t a clear answer to this particular question, but there are some ideas that are important to reflect on.

First of all, a lot of people would agree that a relationship based on unconditional passion can be risky. After all, people who love each other without limits or conditions often end up crossing important boundaries. If you’re in a limitless relationship, your identity and self-esteem are at risk.

Many people argue that the love parents feel for their children is the best example of deep, authentic, unconditional love. That’s a nice thought, but what if your child is a narcissist who demands more from you than just your love? What if they disrespect you and behave like a tyrant?

Emotional psychologists think that it’s important to differentiate between love as a feeling and love as the setting for a relationship. It’s one thing to love, and another to live with the person you love. Let’s delve a little deeper into these ideas.

“Unconditional love really exists in each of us. It’s part of our deep inner being. It’s not so much an active emotion as a state of being. It’s not “I love you” for this or that reason, not “I love you if you love me.” It’s love for no reason, love without an object. It’s just sitting in love, a love that incorporates the chair and the room and permeates everything around. The thinking mind is extinguished in love.”

-Ram Dass-

A mother with her son on the beach.

Unconditional love and conditioned relationships

Is it possible to have unconditional love? The answer is yes, but you have to understand the nuances.

Neuroscience actually has some fascinating insight that may surprise you. Believe it or not, researchers argue that your brain is designed to love unconditionally.

The brain and unconditional love

Dr. Mario Beauregard and Dr. Jerome Courtemanche from the University of Montreal in Canada conducted a very interesting study about unconditional love. They found that unconditional love shares the same neural mechanisms as addictive processes. There’s a reward system governed by dopamine, serotonin, norepinephrine, oxytocin, and vasopressin.

Unconditional love is similar to romantic love. There’s a mix of absolute passion, devotion, attachment, and intense affection. In a way, the brain is designed to experience this kind of intense love. However, the rational part of your brain forces you to set boundaries.

Love is one thing, relationships are another

Let’s not forget that unconditional love, at the end of the day, is a feeling. Relationships themselves fall into another category.

As you probably know first hand, love isn’t the only thing that matters in romantic relationships. If you don’t have good communication with your partner, it doesn’t matter how much you love each other. If you don’t feel empathy or respect for each other, love won’t be enough to keep things going.

This leads to contradictory and often painful situations. You might love someone very deeply, but understand that you’ll never be able to have a relationship with them.

I love you unconditionally, but I know I should let you go

You’ve seen that it’s possible to love someone unconditionally, without limits. Sometimes, that kind of love is painful. Sometimes, you know that you’re blindly in love with the completely wrong person, so you let them go for your own good, no matter how hard it is.

However, just because you let them go doesn’t mean it’s easy to move on. You know you’re better off mentally and emotionally, but you still feel that unconditional love. Unfortunately, those feelings may persist even after the relationship ends.

A couple fighting on their bed.

Loving well means having boundaries and conditions

Boundaries are even healthier and more important than you might think. They can be hard to manage sometimes, but overall they improve relationships and keep everyone happier.

Unconditional love is real, we know that. However, you have to carefully sculpt it to fit your relationship. You need to understand that, in love, boundaries and conditions are necessary. This applies to raising children as well.

You can love your children deeply, passionately, infinitely… They deserve it! However, that doesn’t mean that your child can act however they want and get their way with tantrums and screaming. In relationships, not everything goes, not everything is valid. To get along with people, you have to respect the boundaries they set. Love and boundaries aren’t mutually exclusive. If you respect the limits, love will still be there, ready to provide shelter and comfort.

  • Beauregard, M., Courtemanche, J., Paquette, V., & St-Pierre, É. ́ L. (2009). The neural basis of unconditional love. Psychiatry Research – Neuroimaging172(2), 93–98. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pscychresns.2008.11.003