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“It’s everyone’s birthright to love and be loved unconditionally.” - Monica Berg
As infants, the things we need to survive can be counted on a single hand: food, warmth, and shelter. That’s it. But in order to thrive, we require love. When our needs are met, we feel content, like everything is right with the world. Our needs never really diverge from those original things. Without question, we need certain things to keep our bodies alive and well. But the essentials remain constant.
For the first few years of life we are little receivers, taking in nourishment, care, and love. We’ll take in all the love we can get. But sometime during early childhood, we learn how good it feels to share. Spend time with a toddler and you may find yourself on the receiving end of all kinds of treasures—a leaf, a ball, or a half eaten cookie. When toddlers see how delighted we are by these “gifts” they find other things to give us and the game continues.
On the flip side, we also learn how much we don’t like it when things are taken away from us, hence the terrible twos. For the most part we outgrow this resistance to share with the help of our parents, caregivers, and teachers. But if we do not learn to love unconditionally, somewhere along the way to adulthood we become selfish, desperately to clinging to things, people, and experiences, believing that they make us complete. Along with our selfishness, the ego grows, layer upon layer, preventing us from seeing the Light that radiates from our core being. We feel that we are somehow lacking and that we need to receive in order to compensate for this lack.
The Desire to Receive for the Self Alone makes relationships messy. We never stop needing love, but when we don’t share it, we become clingy, jealous, demanding, or paranoid. Instead of a constant flow of mutual giving and receiving, we focus on the receiving, trying to either coax love out of others or withholding love in order to protect ourselves from getting hurt. According to Michael Berg:
"Most of us inject a large element of selfishness, of the Desire to Receive for the Self Alone, into our relationships, even with the people we love most. No matter how pure our love is for another person, if there is selfishness attached to that love, the relationship is fated to end."
Such actions leave us feeling even less worthy of love.
The key to healthy relationships (romantic, platonic, or otherwise) is something kabbalists have known and put into practice for centuries—unconditional love. Unconditional love means taking yourself out of the equation and giving love without any expectations or hopes of receiving in return. It is an unselfish exchange between two people. Without give and take, there is not space for love, because real fulfillment—real love—requires that each person play the role of both giver and receiver. It doesn’t matter whether the relationship is between a parent and child or husband and wife.
Many relationships are built on ego interacting with ego, which creates separation. When this happens we feel disconnected, devalued, and unloved. Insecurity builds another layer of ego and the cycle of selfishness continues. Love is not about our own personal needs. Love is recognizing yourself in the soul of another and it is helping them to see themselves. “What we need to learn,” says Karen Berg, “is that when we love somebody and we are their friend or partner, even though they have mood swings, we still need to be able to give them love that has no agenda. This doesn’t mean that we cannot set healthy boundaries or that we have to put up with someone treating us badly. It does mean, however, that we need to allow those close to us to feel that they are a part of us—even when they don’t feel right or act like a child rather than an adult. Remember, the only way we can receive such a gift as unconditional love is when we are able to extend it ourselves.”
Sharing in a loving relationship can be just as fulfilling as it was when we were two years old. When we strip away the layers of ego that have built up over time, we can feel whole, happy, and share love unconditionally.