As children we have a need to belong. As such we seek to be loved by our caregivers. But loves comes in two forms. It can be either conditional or unconditional.
Unconditional love is when we are loved for who we are, no matter what we do.
Conditional love is when we are loved for doing what other people want us to do.
In the ideal world all we would have is unconditional love, but in reality we are surrounded by conditional love, which we receive from the authority figures in our life - our carers, parents, teachers and religious educators, media and television. The child whose school report is poor and whose parents react with anger. The girl who is told constantly by her mother how proud she is of how pretty she is. The boy, whose coach shouts at him for missing a kick. All of these are ways in which children learn what they must do to be valued: to do well at school, to be beautiful or to be athletic, for example.
What happens when we rely on conditional love is that we develop conditions of worth.
Conditions of worth are the messages we take on board about what we have to do to be valued. Conditions of worth are often very subtle. Nevertheless, this subtlety is all the more powerful, since it can render us unaware of what our conditions of worth are. Each of us has our own conditions of worth.
How would you complete the following sentence?
If I am to be of value, I must...
Just quickly say what comes to mind.
Typically people say things like:
Don’t get angry
Never let others see weakness
Do as you are told
Be the best
Do any of the above sound like you?
How did you learn this? Do any specific memories come to mind?
Are there decisions you have made as a result of your Conditions of Worth?
Sometimes a person’s conditions of worth can propel them to great success. But because conditions of worth arise from other peoples’ dreams and expectations and not our own, they do not always align well with our natural talents, interests and abilities. As a result, it is more likely they lead to a life of unhappiness and a lack of fulfilment.
Don’t let your conditions of worth drown out your own inner wisdom for discovering what’s best for you. Spend time thinking about your answers to the questions above.
Learn to recognise your conditions of worth so that you control them rather than them controlling you. If we can free ourselves from our conditions of worth we can more readily learn to be ourselves.