Conditional Love = Manipulation

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An article posted in last week's NY Times has been gnawing at me all weekend. It cites a study performed by two Israelis & a "leading American expert on the psychology of motivation." The single-page piece is titled » "When a Parent's Love Comes with Conditions" .. or » "When 'I Love You' means 'Do as I Say'."

Conditional Love = Manipulation The article can be summed with the following quote:

"The primary message of all types of conditional parenting is that children must earn a parent's love. A steady diet of that, Rogers warned, and children might eventually need a therapist to provide the unconditional acceptance they didn't get when it counted."

Doesn't it seem odd that a study was required to determine that rationing of love & acceptance (like gasoline during a shortage) based on 'performance' .. is detrimental to children? Duh.

First, conditional love is not love. Let's call it by its real name » manipulation. And it's the worst kind of manipulation, cuz children, especially young ones, are at the mercy of their parents.

Moreover, they do not yet possess the skills necessary to recognize and defend against such insidious tactics  .. from people they're so dependent upon (for eveything).

Now, do you know anyone who enjoys being manipulated? Cuz I don't. Heck, even people who enjoy pain don't like being manipulated. Cuz it doesn't really hurt; it just feels slimy. [Speaking of slime & pain, refer to my comments about boiling a frog near the end.]

Not very difficult to tell the difference, either. Kids (who happen to be particularly sensitive) can spot a fake all-the-way across the coffee shop and will turn away .. while gravitating wholeheartedly to the genuine. You can actually observe this play out.

There are many things a parent can use as leverage to encourage (or discourage) a particular behavior. But love should never be included in the leverage toolkit. Same goes for affection & attention .. things too precious to be used as mere bargaining chips.

Withholding love & affection based on behavior is cruel. Sure, it might elicit the desired response .. in the short term. But the child will grow to resent it (.. as does anybody who's being manipulated). Used consistently and frequently enough, it will instill deep-seated feelings of inadequacy .. that may never go away. (You might even know someone like this .. with deformed self-esteem.)

Many times, when a child is acting out, I'd wager it's *because* he or she is not getting the emotional support they need (from a parent). That would be like telling a hungry child » "Stop fussing or I won't give you any food."

[ In the military, we had a saying » "The beatings will continue until morale improves." Same principle. ]

Whichever side of the great nature vs nurture debate you tend to favor, you always return to » the parents .. as the prime causal agent for how a child turns out .. whether it be on count of their genes or their parenting methods (.. or a combination of both).

We were all kids once. (Well, most of us.) So we all have many years of first-hand experience from which to derive our opinions .. of what works, and what doesn't (.. and what really suks). My point is, it's not rocket science.

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If you divide any group into those who received too much love growing up, and those who could've used more .. I'd wager you'd wind up with one room over-flowing, and another sporting a few lonely folks. (Can almost hear the echo in there, can'tcha?)

Jungle Book, Baloo & MogliAdmittedly my parenting experiences are far from normal. I have the Bug for only a few days each week.

When your time together is limited and repeatedly threatened, discipline falls to the bottom of your parenting priorities.

And my focus is on a 4-year old. As children grow, they become increasingly autonomous, and therefore more responsible for their own behavior (as the parents' role gradually diminishes).

But you don't need an advanced degree in Psychology to know that most of the more serious issues adults deal with can trace their lineage back to childhood, and often to the parents .. either directly or indirectly. No one else has so great an influence & effect (.. for better or worse).

That's why two kids who grew up next to each other, on the same street, and who went to the same schools, and took the same classes, and played the same sports, and attended the same church .. can have such dramatically different outcomes.

The healthiest people I know (psychologically speaking) are those who had the courage to confront the unfortunate things life dealt them (often during their most vulnerable years), and the yucky feelings that arose as a result. They (bravely) dealt with these issues .. and moved on.

But people obviously can't deal with things they refuse to accept ever happened. Denial, we all know, is a beautiful thing. It has the power to eliminate all our problems & eradicate our imperfections .. which is why I employ it myself on a regular basis, and heartily recommend it (.. for a while, anyway).

Unfortunately for little ones, this is often the only tool at their disposal. So into the closet-of-denial goes another monster, ushered forthwith .. to be dealt with at a more opportune time .. when they are better prepared, and better equipped.

This is where love & acceptance come in. Because it's difficult to deal with that monster locked away in your closet if you're concerned that the person(s) who you look to for emotional support (a parent? spouse? best-friend? significant-other?) might withhold their love and/or acceptance if they see how ugly that sucker is.

Or worse » they might judge, criticize, condemn or reject you. So it's best to keep that dude locked away .. where nobody can see. Better yet, swallow the key .. so that it (like a vampire) never sees the light of day.

Anybody who has tried to exorcise these demons knows you can't do it alone. So the only way to oust them is to tell a confidant & enlist their support. And there's no finer support than » Unconditional love. It's the only power-source (that I know of) capable defeating closeted monsters. And it carries none of the side-effects associated with popular alternatives.

Even more disturbing is the notion that some scholars seem to suggest employing the techniques associated with conditional love. Here's another quote:

"Albert Bandura, the father of the branch of psychology known as social learning theory, declared that unconditional love 'would make children directionless and quite unlovable' -- an assertion entirely unsupported by empirical studies. The idea that children accepted for who they are would lack direction or appeal is most informative for what it tells us about the dark view of human nature held by those who issue such warnings."

Let's face it, even under the best of circumstances, kids are gonna have a challenging time in today's world. The last thing they need are deep-seated feelings of insecurity or inferiority because their parents got stingy with the love & affection when they needed it most.

SpigotAs a side-note, I would argue that the ability to ration love -- turning it on-n-off .. like a spigot -- is a good indicator that this so-called 'love' is not real.

Cuz when you truly love someone, you CAN'T turn it off (.. not even when you wish you could). True love has no throttle valve.

I'm not talking about having a bad day .. which we all have from time to time. Rather I'm talking about making a conscious decision to 'withhold' .. as it were, when it is in our power to give .. and when it's clear that someone we claim to care for needs that love.

Ya know, as adults we're sometimes faced with the question » Is faux-love better than no love? (Hey, that rhymes!) But kids should never be put in that position.

[ Regarding that choice .. as a friend once said » "Once you've tasted prime-rib, it's hard to go back to baloney sandwiches." ]

Only thing I'm not sure about is whether it's possible for someone who grew up in a home where the 'love' was rationed conditionally .. to love their own kids UNconditionally .. for who they are, rather than what they do (.. or how much they earn, or what kind of car they drive).

Some claim this would be difficult .. cuz it involves unlearning a learned behavior .. one that has been entrenched and reinforced over many of the most-formative years.

But I feel these folks would be MOST motivated .. since they know (better than anyone) how krappy it feels to have love & affection rationed according to the whim of a parent who determines when & if they are deserving enough, and what effect this kind of manipulation might have on their self-esteem.

The problem with overcoming dysfunction in the home is that » applied early- & often-enough, it eventually starts to appear normal (.. cuz that's all kids know). It's kinda like boiling a frog. They become accustomed to the damage if it's applied gradually over an extended period. We all want to believe we're lovable. This is what keeps some of us in an uncomfortable pot as temperatures rise.

A chief characteristics of love, it would seem, is » a desire to GIVE. Everybody is familiar with John 3:16 » "For God so loved the world .. that he GAVE..."

And no place can I find where it says anybody ever asked God to send his "only begotten." This would imply that love seeks to give without a corresponding request.

The Bible describes love as "not self-seeking." Whereas conditional love (i.e. manipulation) is always associated with » GETTING.

Next time you raise a glass, make a toast .. "to Unconditional Love." Cuz 'withholding' should be relegated to taxes.

One other thing I'm curious about » are there some people who simply cannot love? (.. for whatever reason) I mean, they are incapable of love. But love means different things to different people, right? Still a good question.

One person suggested a financial explanation, saying, "Kids who grow up 'without' learn to GET. Cuz they get lots of practice. But love is about GIVING. Hard to give when you have nothing."

As a closing thought, I'm convinced that a relationship in which two people truly love each other (unconditionally) .. is the closest thing to heaven-on-earth any of us will ever experience (.. next to a blazingly-fast SCSI hard drive). If you find something better, send me a sample (.. packaged, in a plain, brown wrapper). ■

Along these lines, you might enjoy an entry posted April 10, 2012, titled » Fatherly Advice with a Focus on Unconditional Love

For more along these lines, here's a Google search preconfigured for the query » conditional love manipulation

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