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.

Bullshit.

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.

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