Conditional Love

Literature is filled with references, and musings upon, unconditional love. Self help and motivational reading is full of treatises on the subject, which rightly comes from philosophical and religious musings on it. Yesterday, I spoke with a lovely woman whose sister refuses to “take her medication” leaving the family up in arms, and wringing their hands. I listened as she told me of her sister and her troubles, and the hurt it was “causing” in the family. Throughout the narrative I watched as her face told the real story. She reflected disgust, dismay, condemnation, anger, even rage. Thoroughly unaware, this lovely woman told me more with her face than she did with her words.

When she stopped, I asked her sister’s name. Her brows shot up in surprise that I would want to know, but as she told me her sister’s name, her face beamed with radiant, glowing love and she smiled for the first time in the conversation. Clearly, there was something much deeper here than a simple recitation of recent, unfortunate events.

The story is one heard all over the world: a family member is “sick” and “needs” medication but refuses to take it; the person is angry and isolated; the children are upset; grandparents are offended and hurt; siblings are at a loss. If you don’t see a pattern here, then I am concerned for you. The pattern is simply: the focus is on everyone else’s reaction and the concern is not for the “sick” person, but for the feelings everyone else is experiencing. That’s disturbing.

Additionally, I believe that in her case it least, the outcome of the situation is built on the paradigm of “better to sacrifice one for the good of the whole.” It is an unconscious relational play in which the victim is given up as sacrificial lamb in order that the family unit will survive. This paradigm and conundrum is as old as the Mariana Trench and almost as deep. We continue to act upon the sins of the fathers as if we have no other choice, when in fact,we do. We do not live in caves (with a few notable exceptions) and our survival is not dependent upon supremacy within the tribe.

She indicated that she invited my response, as she was aware that I had difficulty with my family also. I was clear that my situation was far different than what she described, but I reminded her that we all have felt sorrow, pain, anguish and depth that we often feel no one else understands. I explained that when people are fully rejected they often then do commit suicide, rather than “straighten up and fly right.” Rejection of our humanity results in loss of identity, loss of self worth (whatever might be left of it) and loss of our right to co-exist with others who are supposed to love us (and who assured us they did).

It is the classic tale of “I Will Love You If…”

  • you take your medication
  • believe what I believe about you
  • accept the labels I give you
  • agree with everything I say
  • behave as I dictate
  • insert your favourite here

We live in a world that values talking without resolution, an endless stream of emotional vomit, with no real cure. Most of us would rather continue to spew venom, and never truly come to healing. It’s comfortable there and we don’t have to examine ourselves. Better, we never have to ask in this day and age of “brain chemistry” what we might have done that contributed to another person’s suffering.

I am not a psychiatrist and have no opinion whether her sister should take medication or not. But I do see that millions of people take those medications and never truly heal. I see very little healing in the world of medicine today. I see many people continuing to spew venom, and continuing to foster hatred for those they are duty-bound (yes, I said it) to love. I also see condemnation from their family members when they do not do as they are told and “take their medication.”

I encouraged her to try and find out why her sister felt isolated, and why she was isolating herself from her family. I reminded her that those who are marginalized will often take their own lives in desperation when “boundaries” go too far and become outright rejection of human frailty, and human essence. (Those who know me personally know exactly what I think of “tough love” and its proponents.)

What has become of us, that we no longer allow a voice in others because we are too engaged in “honoring ourselves?” We are like the endless whine of mechanical machines, no longer capable of honoring humanity in other people, no matter how flawed they may seem to us. We are self-righteous, self-sanitized, and self-absorbed with little or no compassion or understanding for anyone whose mind and heart do not perfectly align with ours.

Certainly, we are allowed to have boundaries. Certainly, it is healthy to express concern. But when we become controlling, manipulative, self-important asshats, we truly are lost as a species. As a woman of faith and love, I mourn for those that are truly sick, and it isn’t always those who “need” medication.