February 18, 2016

Unconditional Love and Self-esteem - A Psychological Study of Child Abuse Victims' Emotional Journey

unconditional. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
We all need love. This is because that love make us feel connected to others, and this connection eases, or even eliminates our biggest fear: loneliness. Thus love becomes the greatest – sometime the only - reason for us to live.

But, unfortunately, love from others are not entirely secure. It comes and goes without warning. It's beyond our controls. This is because love from others usually is “conditional”, which means it happens only if we are in possession of certain conditions, such as physical beauty, wealth, social status, etc. So without these conditions, we are in danger of losing love. But, if one gains a type of love that is “unconditional”, he/she would feel the most secure in his/her life, because this love is provided regardless how he/she is, and stays with him/her as long as he/she lives. 

So where does unconditional love come from? I found that they mostly come from two sources: 1, parents; 2, one's own.

1. Unconditional love from parents 
By nature, of human or animals, parents love their kids UNCONDITIONALLY. That means, no matter how their kids are, beautiful or plain, smart or dumb, healthy or sick, parents love them just the same. This is because children are the continuation of parents' lives, so parents naturally love their kids as the way they love themselves. Also, from perspective of social responsibility, it was parents who brought children to this world without children's “permission”, so it's parents' duty to provide a secure and loving environment to their children.

People who received this unconditional love from parents are the most fortunate, because from the very beginning of their lives they learned that they could be loved just the way they are. So naturally, this “learned knowledge” has been “implanted” inside of them, became their natural “understanding” of themselves, became their unconditional self-love which stays with them as long as they stay alive. No one can take away this love from them because this self love, self-esteem, or self appreciation whatsoever is come from themselves.

Most of these lucky people rarely experience emotional problems in their adult life, social anxiety for them is just as foreign as aliens from outer space. They feel naturally to be themselves when interacting with people, easily to do their best in they jobs. They can easily reach their life potentials, personal life wise and career wise, and constantly feel content and happy.

2. Childhood without parents' love
But, not everyone is so lucky to receive parents' unconditional love. Human race became so much more complicated than wild animals, so alienated from nature that it can go beyond our comprehension. One of the most “unnatural” attributes of human race is the fact that there are many parents DO NOT love their children. They either brought kids to the world by accidents, or use their children as a means to reach their practical purposes, or to satisfy their vanity. So when their children do not fit their purpose, they dislike them, hate them, abuse them, or worse, abandon them, even kill them. 

Individuals who suffer from this kind of abuse usually establish some unhealthy mental conditions in very young age, such as the feeling of inadequate, self-loathing, etc. because not being good enough was the first “knowledge” they learned from their parents. They would develop various kinds of emotional troubles, often life time long. They had strong fear of being rejected by others, because if they were rejected, they would fall into that unspeakably dark pit of childhood, RE-EXPERIENCE that dreadful feeling of being abused, being alone, being emotionally or physically estranged, even abandoned.

So they strive very hard to gain others' acceptance and love. And by doing so, they put “others” over themselves, act according to others' needs, and eventually, they don't know what they want and who they really are. They lost that thing called "self", which is the most valuable life compass originally existed inside their hearts, bestowed by our nature, or “God”.

Thus, the harder they strive, the farther they stray away from happiness.

3, Regain unconditional love by one's own. 
But, things don't have to be one way or another. Human race has great plasticity that guarantees our resilience to a great extent (if not unlimited). For those who did not receive unconditional love from parents, as soon as they realized that their lack of self love is not due to their own nature, but “others” (parents) interference, they can put themselves in action to retrieve their own nature, and eventually regain self esteem. 

The first step of this recovery is ACCEPTANCE. They need to accept themselves as the way they are. This includes to stop beating themselves when making mistakes, stop pushing themselves to be someone else, to be “better”, to do “the best”, etc. Because initially, most of these child abuse victims did nothing wrong from the beginning. Their “wrong” behaviors or "mistakes" are mostly imagined. It was themselves who treat themselves so strictly, and this “hobby” of course is directly come from the way how their parents treated them.

This is significant. Because by doing this, they can be mentally relieved from the punishment they used to inflict on themselves, just like what their parents did when they were little. And more importantly, in case they made mistakes, real or imagined, they need to start telling themselves that “it is OK”. This was what their parents should have told them but “failed” to do so when they were young. By telling themselves that “it's OK to make mistake”, “it's OK to be fragile”, or “you are alright, you are well protected”, these child abuse victims are simply making up an extremely important stage for mental development, that is to accept our imperfection, and understand that they can still be emotional secure (be loved) even they make mistakes.

Another EXTREMELY MEANINGFUL aspect of “allowing” themselves to make mistake, or to be humans, is that during this process, there would emerge another role inside themselves – “parent”. By being their own parents, they not only provide this unconditional love to themselves, they also become “parents”, become adults who are MATURE and STRONG. So there will be no more fear! There is a tricky psychological situation here that most people who had happy childhood never know, that for most of those who never received parents love, on one hand they missed childhood, never had right to be children, on another hand they always have that primal urge to stay as child, refused to grow up, because being a child is such essential need for all of us, without it we just mentally cannot go further (This is why Michael Jackson never had been a child, but also he was mentally a child all his life). So by letting themselves eventually be a child, they would gain the “power” of parents at the same time, and finally become a grown-up. (I first learned this through a book In the Spotlight by Janet Esposito, and later I had first hand experience myself. It was overwhelming and life changing!).

Of course, after this first step, the path to self-esteem would be still long and bumpy. But no matter what, this first one is the most crucial, and as soon as it is achieved, the rest of it would naturally follow. And even by achieving this first step alone, without further progress, child abuse victims would feel a profound change, live a relatively happier life. 

Yes, love is the most important aspect of life. If one has love, he/she will be happy. Further more, if one possesses the UNCONDITIONAL love, no matter it is from parents, lovers or friends, he/she will be even happier. Ultimately, if this unconditional love is from his/herself, he/she will be fear free, worry free, because not even loneliness can deprive him/her of feeling to be loved.


  1. Wow. Such great advice and insight, Yun!

    Thank you!

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  3. For me, forgiveness has been essential. I've focused on it and deliberately developed it most of my adult life. Yet I rarely dwell long on forgiving myself. I haven't done anything of significance wrong, and nothing intentionally. So what's to forgive? Everything I believe I'm blamed for, which when I was growing up felt like everything.
    Instead, I give truly unconditional love to my children and my husband, and others who've offered me something along those lines.
    As a fiction writer, I feel a (self-defeating) "need" to achieve. Recognition or even a few regular readers elude me. Perfectionism is not rewarded but not easy to shake when you're still hoping to exceed your limits. I fail every day. At the same time, I soar past the ordinary and create writing that I, if no one else, love .I would never wish this on anyone else, and suspect my perfectionism holds me back, but I would rather achieve my goals than be happy. I can enjoy feeling content for a few hours or on vacation for a few days, but past that I become anxious. On vacation, I write sonnets (which never turn out as I had hoped) to stave off depression.

    1. Thanks Kathleen Maher for your insightful comment. I think happiness is important, probably the most important thing in life. Achievement is a relative turn, I think, because everyone can achieve something, so just depends. And I do believe what we want to achievement we must also enjoy the process as well, so the enjoyment of doing things also is the reward.
      Wish the best for your writing career.

  4. Yes, excellent analysis Yun Yi. In light of all the publicity surrounding the movie Spotlight (not the same as the book of course) and former Australian child sex abuse victims at the Vatican on the nightly news we are reminded that as well as the pivotal role parents play, other authority figures in a child's life (teachers and religious leaders) can act against the child in awful cases of sexual and physical abuse. It reminds those of us fortunate enough to remember happy childhoods just how blessed we are.

    1. Thanks Neil for stopping by. Yes, children are the most vulnerable group and they deserve the best care.