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30 Nov '12

Conditional love is toxic love

Posted by T.J. Addington in conditional love, love
Many people I know grew up in homes characterized by conditional acceptance and love - based on their performance. Along with conditional love comes a shame based culture where all "failures" are met with overt or or subtle messages  of dissaproval from parents. 

Conditional love by parents is toxic love which causes all kinds of personal dysfunctions on into adulthood. It impacts one's view of themselves and one's view of God in deeply negative ways. Many struggles that last long into adulthood can be traced back to conditional love by parents.

Those who grew up with conditional love often believe they are never good enough: for themselves; for others and for God. This drives them to prove to all three that they are in fact good enough. How many men, for instance, are driven to prove to their fathers that they are worthy of their father's approval and love - sometimes long after their father has died! Driven people who have something to prove are often trying to prove something to parents who did not unconditionally love them. They also live with the daily private pain that they don't measure up. A legacy of a shame based rather than grace based upbringing.

That pain leads to lack of self acceptance, a drive to prove oneself, and living with a deep wound in the soul. It can lead to all kinds of unhealthy behaviors and addictions that come from the pain of never being "good enough." On the one hand we feel we need to prove ourselves. On the other hand we know we are not good enough. That double bind can lead alternatively to having impossibly high standards for oneself and unhealthy behaviors since we don't respect ourselves. It is a painful and confusing place to live.

Even more serious is the impact on one's relationship with God. How many people are still trying to earn God's favor by their service, obedience and energy, even after they are Christ followers? Yet the whole premise of grace is that we cannot and need not earn His favor. His forgiveness and grace was bought on the cross in His death and resurrection. It is freely given to people who don't deserve it. 

Not only that but there is nothing we can do to make God love us more and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less. His love is free and unconditional to all who choose Him. Not once in Jesus' ministry did he shame or show dissaproval to those who came to Him in faith. Rather he freely forgave, never shamed but accepted them and called them to a life of followership and obedience. 

Think about this: There are many churches that are performance based - rules, regulations, expectations about all kinds of issues that are just plain legalism. That conditional acceptance is toxic, antithetical to grace and creates wounded faith and graceless Christianity.

Those who grow up in homes where there is unconditional love find it much easier to understand the love of Jesus. After all, they did not need to live up to some standard for their parents to love them. Those who grew up with conditional love often see God as a God of conditional love who is performance rather than grace based. A sad legacy of conditional love in childhood.

If you are a parent, think carefully about the messages you are sending your children. If you grew up with toxic love, do what you need to do to get free so that you can accept yourself, live without the need to prove something to others or to God and to relax in the freedom of Grace.