The If/Then Syndrome and Unconditionality

One Of Us - Storypeople

There’s an epidemic that has infiltrated our culture. It creeps into families and relationships and make us all sick. Sick of each other, really.

It’s the If/Then Syndrome, sometimes referred to as the When/Then Syndrome. And it gets us all at some point. It’s that Tit-for-Tat behavior that we all loathe, and yet it’s just as much a part of us as we feel it is of anyone else. Some examples of its symptoms:

  • If she’s going to be rude to her kids, then I’m going to tell her off.
  • If he’s gonna yell at me, then I’m gonna yell back.
  • When you act nice to me, then I’ll act kind in return.
  • When you help me with the chores, then I’ll pay you.
  • But if you don’t help me, then I’ll be moody and passive-aggressive.
  • When he apologizes, then I’ll stop giving him the cold shoulder.
  • If she cheats on me, then I’ll cheat on her.

Truly, it’s all equal and it’s all pretty immature thinking. But the most mature among us fall victim to it.

We apply it to our parenting, our partners, and our friendships. Ourselves.

It’s not entirely our fault. It’s the culture we live in, one based on rewards and punishments. We feel that every action must be met with an equal (or greater) reaction. We give kids grades based on their performance, allowance based on their contributions, attention based on their behavior. We give our spouses snide comments or biting retorts. We give others parents pointed looks, or offer hurtful, harsh remarks.

And we say (and truly believe) that things won’t change unless we do these things.

We’re a culture of human reactors.

I’ve just realized I do it all the time. If Justin isn’t helping out, I am moody or unhelpful in return. If Zeb is cranky, I act cranky right back. It’s stupid, really because here’s the thing:

I need to be Who I Am, not because of anyone else, but because it’s who I want to be.

  • I want to be a kind, patient, compassionate mother – not to get a particular behavior from my son, but because I want to be that mother.
  • I want to be a generous, loving partner – not to get something from my husband, but because that’s the woman I want to be.
  • I want to listen, support, and honor others – not to be recognized, but because that’s the person I choose to be.

And what does it say about ourselves otherwise?

We expect kids and adults to “take responsibility” for their own actions and we don’t allow them to use others as a scapegoat for their own behavior. Then we yell, punish, criticize, humiliate, embarrass, lose our tempers or our patience and we say it’s because of something they did. We say it’s because we have to make a difference, because they need to change, because of some assumed outcome if we don’t.


It’s not because of what they do; it’s because of something we do. We base our actions off our expectations, instead of our intent. We sacrificed who we want to be because they aren’t being who we think they should be. And when we didn’t get what we wanted (and how often does coercion really result in real cooperation anyway?) we responded with something akin to a temper tantrum.

How can we possibly expect our children (or anyone else) to do something we ourselves can’t master?

This is what unconditional love is about: That we continue to love a person in the same exact way regardless of whether they are being kind or mean, helpful or disruptive, quiet or loud, thoughtful or inconsiderate, joyful or short-tempered, patient or rude, generous or stingy.

Anything less is not unconditional love.

It’s fair-weather friendship, the parent who isn’t there when their child is hurting, the partner who leaves you feeling alone.

And if love is not unconditional, we’d better not call it love at all.

Over the past few weeks, with engine problems and stress pouring out of our ears, I’ve been told by nearly everyone that it all happens for a reason; it all works out for the greater good, that we are exactly where we need to be. It’s so easy to apply that principle to things like dead batteries or a long pause in your plans.

But why don’t we apply the same principle to our relationships?

If we truly believe we are exactly where we need to be in tough times, that there are no accidents, and that it all happens for a reason, how can we try to change someone at all?

Every mood, every attitude, every hurtful or kind word, every helpful or hindering action from our children, spouses, friends or loved ones is exactly where and what it needs to be.

It’s all good, even the messy, the hurtful, the disruptive. It’s all opportunity, experience, chances for understanding, an occasion for contrast, a space in which to learn. Not just for them, maybe not for them at all. Maybe it’s just there for us.

There is always a bigger picture to view. We get all caught up in the details of the moment, the stories we tell ourselves, without ever remembering one of the most important reasons for the moment, for life at all: Growth.

And only by meeting people, especially children, where they are and accepting them for who they are in that very moment while remaining who we want to be, do we give anyone the opportunity to grow. Only by being the person we want to be can we allow others to be who they are, as well. Only by accepting ourselves as imperfect first, can others accept their own imperfections.

Only through unconditional love and compassion can anything be okay.

You can thrive in unconditional love for yourself and others. You can learn to cut beneath the drama and craziness of the world, parent from a place of compassion, and live an unconventional, organic life. Click here to discover how.

41 Replies to “The If/Then Syndrome and Unconditionality”

  1. Beautiful Tara and so dead on.

    “How can we possibly expect our children to do something we ourselves can’t master?”

    I find this especially poignant as I find myself expecting things of by kids that I myself am struggling with–we really are hard on these little beings and often when we are trying to make them “behave” it’s a result of our own feelings of lack of control or frustration with life.

    Sometimes I just can’t believe how deep our kids and life asks us to go.

    1. “often when we are trying to make them “behave” it’s a result of our own feelings of lack of control or frustration with life.”


      “Sometimes I just can’t believe how deep our kids and life asks us to go.”

      Yes, yes!

  2. And maybe …

    This is where unconditional love begins: That we continue to love ourselves in the same exact way regardless of whether we are being kind or mean, helpful or disruptive, quiet or loud, thoughtful or inconsiderate, joyful or short-tempered, patient or rude.

    I have learned so much of this from the Abraham-Hicks material, the unschooling blogs and a wonderful book called The Passionate Marriage. Each use their own language and shed light on a particular area, but each said the same thing in ways that I could hear.

    Thank you for a beautiful, pointed post. It’s a learning slip in and out of, but a bit more in each time than where I was before.

    1. So very true Natalie. I’m glad you pointed that out.

      Perhaps we have such hard time unconditionally loving others because we can’t first unconditionally love ourselves?

    2. This is so true! Unconditional love begins with loving ourselves. I don’t think we can truly love or give of ourselves to others if we don’t love and care for ourselves first, so this is important.

  3. This is so true!

    “We base our actions off our expectations, instead of our intent.”

    Thank you for reminding me! I used to be so great at focusing on my intent, but I’ve recently been letting expectations make me MISERABLE. I so needed this today.

    I really love your blog. Thank you for sharing your life and insight!

    1. This statement spoke to me as well. This is a big point of work for me. And the action is SO often automatic, and undesirable. And the EXPECTATION is often not really mine . . . it’s often the expectation of others (or my perceived expectation [and quite possibly inaccurate] of others).

      I love your bringing the focus back to our INTENT.

      I was listening to a teleconference last night about empowering parents and teachers to empower their children, and a similar theme came up . . . reacting vs responding. The idea was that if you find moments during the day to be still and envision your intent, you’ll be in a much better space to respond (instead of react), and hold the thought “What would LOVE do?”

      The timing and topic of your post perfectly builds on ideas already percolating in my head, now in a much deeper fashion.

      Thank You!!!!!!!

  4. “When he apologizes, then I’ll stop giving him the cold shoulder.”

    Ha! JUST did this with the hubby. Thanks for the reminder! 😉

  5. Oh so much to respond to here. For now, though: The temper tantrum. I had one last night (I was exhausted and needed sleep and my daughter was up knocking around and I was less than pleasant). I was being a jerk and she was crying. Maybe a year ago, I would have left it at that (maybe I would even have yelled at her, which I no longer do because being yelled at is, frankly, scary), but last night, I at least tried to explain to her that I was being a jerk and that I needed sleep and that I loved her. I always love her, but that must be hard for her to see when I’m fairly bursting with anger because I felt I needed to get up and deal with the noise she was making.

    I use the cliche, “I’m a work in progress” so often, but it’s still so true. Thanks for posting this. It’s helpful for me to know that there are others out there who are dealing with similar difficulties and trying to resolve them in similar ways.

    1. Yeah, I’m with you on this one. Being perfect is just not going to happen. But being real about our imperfections, striving toward growth and apologizing for our mess-ups make a huge difference.

  6. Thank you for your insight. I frequently do this and it really bothers me and makes me miserable. Yet I am always proud of myself when I let unconditional love guide me through a situation. I just needed someone to shine a spotlight on this to help me figure out that this is something that I need to work on. It doesn’t always need to be me being moody (which I allow when needed so I can explore feelings), I can CHOOSE to BE unconditional love.

    1. We all need it. And the feeling miserable part is exactly why I threw in the line about accepting and loving ourselves unconditionally. We need it as much as our loved ones do.

  7. Yay! 🙂 I’m really NOT the only one who exists in this world where I feel I want to be one thing and am that thing, but my life doesn’t seem to look or play out that way! And for me, it is VERY much about not loving myself unconditionally first.

    Thank you for saying this out loud and in the way you did. It all feels so much more clear now cause I’ve been hashing this one out with myself for some time now.


  8. Love the whole post, especially this:

    “And only by meeting people where they are and accepting them for who they are in that very moment while remaining who we want to be, do we give anyone the opportunity to grow. Only by being the person we want to be can we allow others to be who they are, as well.”

    The trick for me is staying in balance so that I can maintain Who I Really Am…getting enough rest and good food and playful activity and inspiring company. With those things taken care of, it’s easier for me to live with more connection to myself on a deeper level, and to support others where they are.

    1. Yes, definitely! I’m working on this myself, “feeding” my own self so that I can “feed” others. When I make it a priority it makes the difference between fabulous, groovy days and absolutely miserable ones.

  9. Wow – love this.

    I’ve been thinking about something similar to this myself over the last few days, more in terms of being the kind of mother that I want to be, and was planning on doing some journalling/writing to explore the ideas in my head deeper, but I think this post has given me the insight that I was foggily grasping towards – we are entirely conditioned in the Punishment/Reward cycle – be that monetary reward (salary, allowance) or emotional (the “ignore the bad behaviour type advice for dealing with children, to the sulking, moody treatment of a partner), but, acting in this way only makes me feel bad – I don’t feel good if I am yelling at anyone, far less a loved one, sulking all afternoon does not leave me in a good place at the end of the day. I realise that I need to be the person I am, loving, giving, authentic, regardless of the behaviours of those around me. And ultimately, I would hypothosise that in behaving in a truly generous hearted, kind loving way to everyone, including myself, I will either get that back or naturally move away from the people who are not able to live their lives in the same manner. It’s certainly an experiment I’m going to be trying out.

  10. awesome post!!! i scrolled back up to the top to re-read that quote in the photo… who are you quoting there? i am loving the reminder to base our actions on our intentions, rather than our expectations… 🙂

  11. great post.

    i learnt the long hard way that communication is everything and that we can’t change others only ourselves. i used to be moody if a boyfriend didn’t behave as i had hoped. fortunately by the time i got to my marriage i was all about talking it out.

    i think it’s natural to be reactionary, because we are innately social creatures, and we aren’t islands. it’s okay to be hurt and express that. it’s when we start this if/then attitude that things get messed up.

    well said.

    (ben recommending your unscooling coaching every which way… hope it’s going well for you)

  12. Beautiful, beautiful! While I feel the truth of this, I’m still trying to live it and reconcile this nagging feeling that my husband and I been giving, giving, giving to folks who just keep expecting more. I don’t want to keep score, and neither do I want to keep emptying myself in non-reciprocal relationships. All I can do is love.

  13. Once upon a time when Libra me asked my 12 year old airies son to come inside he began to argue and eventually yelled at me “I hate you” (as they do, lol) and I simply turned to him and said ‘No you don’t Tristan, you just hate what I said … now get inside’. Interstingly enough he instantly processed my words, grumped at himself and came inside. He NEVER said that again.

    Most of what he and his brother ‘threw at me’ during those early years was for ME to learn how to react from the heart and the truth. They did an awesome job of helping me shift my ways and that of the expectations of an outdated society. They were my guides for my awakening and I was their guide to navigate this society until its their time to awaken to their higher purpose for the New Earth.

    I love them to little bits an peices for their dedication to my soul’s purpose.

  14. I’m reading this thinking, “How did I miss this post? When did she write this?” And then I look at the date, and we were moving that week!

    I am so glad I am reading it now. It is so dead-on, and something that I really never realized until I became a parent — how COERCIVE we are of each other, and how painful it is.

    And how to be free of it.

    Big love,

  15. Wonderfully said. I really enjoyed reading your post, and your blog. You’ve just reminded me that while I can’t control outcomes, or control how others act what I can control is my own actions and reactions. Sometimes I find this idea to be liberating and empowering.

  16. I find this inspiring! And, at the same time, overwhelming. What do you do when you realize someone you are close to (e.g., spouse, relative) is using your unconditional love as an excuse to be keep hurting you? More than once, I’ve been in a situation where someone I’m close to feels that because I try to be even-temperd and cheerful and forgiving, it’s okay to continue to be hurtful. There are, afterall, no consequences and, as you say, there *shouldn’t* be any consequence. I’m supposed to “continue to love [this person] in the same exact way regardless of whether they are being kind or mean.” That’s hard sometimes, when in one case, I don’t see the meanness stopping or even getting any less. Sometimes, it seems like it’s actually increasing. If, as you say, “every…hurtful…word… is exactly where and what it needs to be,” what should my response to be stop the hurting from happening? Or perhaps the idea is that because the hurtful word is “what it needs to be,” I shouldn’t try to stop it from happening. I struggle against feeling that I do deserve the meanness, that you are right that it really is “what it needs to be” for me. I want to be a loving wife and daughter even when I’m being treated poorly. So maybe I’ve answered my own question.

    1. Sheryl, (((hugs))) to you beautiful woman. Please know that unconditional kindness does not equal becoming a doormat. You can shower others with love and kindness AND establish boundaries for yourself at the same time. Boundaries are not rules as to who someone else should be; rather they should be an affirmation of Who You Are.

      1. How do you then draw boundaries with how people should treat those you love, such as children? It’s okay to simply say, “I do not like it when you yell at me, so I’m going in the other room,” to a spouse or grandmparent, but when they are mistreating your children, and your children are doing exactly that, and the adults aren’t respecting it………..I certainly can not just sit there and watch someone mistreat my children, yet they live in the same house…………. How do you show them unconditional love, when they argue that your “boundaries” are simply you wanting them to meet your “expectations”?

Comments are closed.