Love is Not a Reward for Good Behavior

Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash

Your relationship with your parents went one of two ways.

They either accepted you for who you were, whether or not you did what they wanted you to do; or they rejected you or tried to change you when you failed to do what they wanted you to do.

If they rejected you and then you did what they wanted, you were fine. But you could never really feel secure to express what you wanted to.

Also, you could never really be yourself. You were just an extension of them. You needed to prop up their self-image and self-esteem.

It isn’t that the first type of parenting I mentioned earlier was neglectful and that the child was never reprimanded or encouraged to consider safe options. Guidance is an imperative aspect of parenting.

It’s just that the child was never made to feel that they were wrong for liking what they like, being fearful of things that intimidated them or being angry at things that upset them. They were allowed to be who they were and to express themselves.

In a word, they were validated.

On the other hand, kids who were invalidated growing up become adults who cannot validate themselves. They second-guess and overthink everything they do. Many grow up to become perfectionists because as children they needed to appease their parents in order to get love.

Or perhaps, they needed to avoid punishment and condemnation for doing something “wrong.” Whatever the motivation, they are never secure that what they’re doing is okay.

They do not understand that it’s not if what they’re doing is okay. It’s about whether or not what they’re doing reflects who they really are.

Here’s where things get really hairy. Not only does this kind of parenting cause the child to wander through life rife with insecurity, they unconsciously take on the behavior of their narcissistic parents.

They learnt that love is a reward you get for doing what someone wants, and then they demand the same from their partners and even friends.

I’ve heard it said that people need to earn respect. Based on the definitions of respect I’ve read, there are two ways to define respect.

The first is to greatly admire and appreciate someone or something. The second is to take someone or something into consideration.

In the first definition, someone needs to do something you value before you value them. In the second, you are simply giving courtesy and regard. It isn’t earned. It’s a right that everyone has.

This is also the divide when it comes to giving love. Some will not give love because the other person doesn’t meet their standard. But on the other hand, some give love because they understand that love isn’t about approval, it’s about acceptance.

It’s about realizing that someone’s values, perspective and way of life may differ wildly from your own, but you still treat them with civility and consideration.

You might think there are situations where this is impossible. But maybe you will agree that for a child to never have this level of validation is not only damaging to the child but also dangerous.

As I mentioned before, a child who is raised to believe that love is a reward for “good” behavior will not really know what they believe and what they want. But there is another possible response to this.

A different child may revolt and believe whatever they want and never listen to anyone. The irony is that this child is mimicking their parents’ resistance to anything that they don’t believe in or value.

And so the sins of the father are now the sins of the son. One generation treats love like a raffle and the next generation continues the toxic tradition.

For those of us who really don’t know what unconditional love is, it doesn’t matter if you’re a boomer or a millennial. We all got stuck with the same notion that love is something you earn when in reality, love is something you decide to give.

It doesn’t mean you approve of people who betray your trust. It doesn’t mean that you turn a blind eye to those who fail to respect boundaries.

What it means is that you call it out for what it is, leave the relationship if you are led to because you know what you want, but you continue to honor that this person is merely living out the programming they inherited from their parents.

Besides, as adults, no one has a right to tell anyone how to be. If people see the folly in their ways or are introduced to a new perspective but then they suffer from cognitive dissonance, they are going to need people who will listen, not people who lambast them.

If you see yourself as someone who was raised in the ways of conditional love; if you are someone who sees that you have been giving love when someone did what you wanted but then withdrew love when they failed and are interested in looking at things from a new perspective, that’s awesome.

Your healing will take place the moment you start to validate what you feel inside. No more second-guessing. When you hear the critical voices of your parents in your mind, you ignore them because you know these words are not for you; they were for others.

Then you realize that your parents’ desires and values weren’t wrong. They were just for others. Everyone has their own path and now you are on yours.

Maybe you weren’t given the best example on how to love, but you can always change to something that makes more sense for you.

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