Developing the Capacity for Unconditional Love

January 19, 2021

“Try to limit your pain, and you will also limit your joy and capacity to love.”

– Emily Gough

Pain is inevitable. Joy and love are not necessarily, because they require you to open yourself up enough to truly feel.

In some ways, you are the one that determines how deeply you can feel.

But most of us walk around in a state of avoidance, or trying to shut down certain parts of ourselves, prevents ourselves from feelings and experiencing certain emotions because it’s uncomfortable. We don’t know how to self-soothe or how to manage the emotions and it scares the shit out of us.

Particularly when it comes to love, because when we open ourselves up to love, we open ourselves up to the very likely possibility of pain and hurt at the same time.

Listen now by tapping play on the podcast player above, or keep scrolling for the full transcription & references from today’s episode!

Developing the Capacity for Unconditional Love

You’re listening to Episode 249 of the Room to Grow podcast. I’m Emily Gough, a human connection coach, speaker, and mental health advocate with an insatiable sense of curiosity and adventure, always asking more questions and using the power of stories to teach, learn and grow. It’s about allowing for room to grow. And this podcast focuses on three main pillars; human connection, personal growth, and freedom. We cover topics like relationships, and cultivating genuine supportive connections with ourselves and others, speaking your truth, shattering personal barriers, radical self-acceptance, and courageously leaning into your skill sets. Whether it’s a solo episode, or bringing on highly curated guests with incredible stories, experiences, and expertise to share, we’re leaning in and taking the entire idea of growth to the next level, all while still covering the uncomfortable topics that many of us like to avoid, there’s always more room to grow. Let’s do this.

Hey, Hey, welcome back to the Room to Grow podcast Emily here. And today we’re going to be talking about developing the capacity for unconditional love. And I’m going to go into a little bit on this about what unconditional love actually means. And what it does not mean, because there can often be some confusion about that, and how to sort of start to build, how to build the capacity for this because it’s not an easy thing to do. It is really not an easy thing to do. And there are a lot of people that never get to the point of being able to give that kind of love either to themselves or to anyone else. But it can be absolutely transformative. So I’m really excited to dive into this one. 

I do just want to say for anyone who wants more information on the Room to Grow mastermind, we have gotten started, but if you want more information about how to get in on the next one, which will be coming in a couple of months, make sure to send me a DM over @emilygoughcoach, or you can reference everything in the show notes as well or over at room to grow the room to grow mastermind is something that has been born from this podcast. So everything that I teach on this podcast is largely the foundation for the room to grow mastermind, where I actually get to coach you in real-time, we get to go so much deeper into all of this work into everything to do with communication boundaries, becoming a stronger, more resilient human who is able to show up better for yourself and for the people in your life, to like and trust yourself more, these are all of the things that we’re digging into. So I would love, love, love to get you on the waitlist for the next one and to make sure that you have all the information so send me a DM and you can always pop into the show notes and everything will be over there. 

Okay, so let’s talk about this developing the capacity for unconditional love. First of all, I want you to think about what that even means to you. Like when you think about unconditional love what comes to mind, what is it that your mind jumps to when you think about that. Because to me and I can only speak from you know my experience and my learnings but to me, unconditional love is something that means loving someone without the expectations attached to it. Without the strings attached to it of Okay, I’m going to love you, but I expect this in return, for example, I expect love in return. Because that is is usually what is attached to it we will often give love with the expectation that we will receive it in return, particularly obviously in romantic relationships. And the value of unconditional love and to be able to offer that to someone that is what it is truly and deeply felt. Like when unconditional love is really truly given, there’s no value that can be placed on that because it’s priceless. But unconditional love requires a ton of mental strength and willingly allowing your ego and pride to be bruised because unconditional love does not come with a guarantee of reciprocity.

However for me personally and there are people who will disagree with me on this not everybody feels this way. But for me personally, I would rather be able to let someone know that I love them, even if they don’t love me in return. Because what a gift it is to be able to give that when it’s straight from the heart when it’s pure and genuine. As you know anyone who has started listening to this podcast or who has been listening to this podcast for a while knows that my principle number one is to be genuine. Okay, we don’t fuck around. There’s no bullshit. You if you’re going to give unconditional love. It has to be from the heart because to me, anything less than that is not unconditional love anyway. But when you’re giving love in general, it needs to be genuine. But especially when you are extending unconditional love to someone that has to be genuine. Otherwise, it isn’t unconditional. But I’ve always been of the belief and I think that most would maybe agree with me on this. There are very few people who will truly love us in our lifetimes, particularly if we’re talking about romantic love. 

And when I’m saying this about unconditional love, and how that might mean extending it to someone who doesn’t necessarily love you in return, I want you to really think about this. I know I kind of already asked you that. But what is your initial gut reaction to that? Like fear of rejection and hurt, abandonment, a kick to the ego? Those are all very normal human reactions to that too. There’s so much fear that often gets built around when and how, or if you should say, I love you in a new relationship, right. And to me, I kind of I don’t really pay attention to any of those so-called rules. Because if I feel it, I’ll say it. And of course, it’s very because I have a very blunt, direct personality anyway. But that is hugely, hugely vulnerable. However, I also know myself well enough, No, I do not give love easily. Like, especially if we’re talking romantic love, like, that’s, that’s very rare. So if I feel that for someone, I know that that’s like the real deal. I don’t go saying I love you to everybody on random street corners, let’s put it that way. Unless it’s, you know, we’re platonic, obviously, just with friends and stuff. But we’re talking romantic love, that’s not something that I go giving away as, as I think many of us would likely feel that if we’re talking about a significant romantic relationship, most of us like like I said, you know, most of us will not have many people who truly love us, or that we truly love in our lifetimes.

But unconditional love also means loving yourself unconditionally. First and foremost, though. And here’s the thing. If you practice loving yourself unconditionally, including your flaws, then the idea of someone else being able to love you that same way might not feel quite so outlandish. Imagine that concept. So many of us feel on some really deep level, at least at some point, or that you have felt this way at some point in your life, that you are unlovable. Many, many of us feel that way on some core level. And that can be a big part of the healing work that we have to do. But if we are able to come to a point where we have practiced loving ourselves unconditionally, including all of our flaws, including all the things that are so incredibly imperfect about us, then the idea of someone else, being able to love us that same way, doesn’t seem so out there anymore. It’s like, Oh, well, if I can love these flaws, then I think that there’s somebody out there who could love them too. And when it comes to loving yourself, there can be a huge amount of confusion about this. When it comes to loving ourselves, it doesn’t mean that you can’t still want more for yourself and want to improve parts of yourself. But it means acceptance of where you are at in this current moment, held in balance with acknowledging that there are aspects of you that you would maybe like to shift or improve upon, but that acceptance is the key. So many of us will try to, you know, affirm our way into, I love myself, I love myself, I love myself, but we don’t actually accept where we are right now. And that’s part of that version of accepting yourself with the flaws and imperfections, just like we would hope another human being would accept in ourselves as well, just like we accept in other human beings that we love. We love people, you know, not because of their flaws necessarily, but we love them the whole package flaws and all imperfections and all. It’s a package deal. But that acceptance has to be there. Because without that acceptance, we’re just building on quicksand. It’s not going to work.

Now, to be clear, unconditional love does not mean tolerating bad behavior, disrespect, or abuse. Need to be very, very clear on that. Unconditional Love does not mean that you tolerate bullshit. Sometimes unconditional love will mean loving someone from afar but recognizing that you need to walk away or put space between you and that other person. Because you have to love yourself first. And I know we’ve heard that, on like1000 different, you know, Instagram posts and, and affirmations and whatever, but it is true, you still have to, at your core love yourself, first and foremost. And sometimes unconditional love is going to mean having to love someone from a distance, that you, you won’t necessarily still be able to have them in your life because they are not good for you. Doesn’t mean they’re bad person doesn’t mean they’re toxic, doesn’t mean that they’re, you know, terrible human being, it just might mean that they aren’t good for you. And your relationship with you still has to come first because you are the one that has to live with you. Always, there’s no getting out of that relationship. There’s no divorce that can happen there. Okay. So we have to take care of that love first. And when we’re able to do that, it makes other relationships in our lives become a little bit more clear, doesn’t make them easy. But it makes it a little bit more clear.

But I want to encourage you that when you love someone, tell them, truly tell them. And honestly, I mean, I know I already kind of mentioned this, but I know that this can be a huge issue for many of us, especially in terms of timing, you know, when it comes to a new relationship or whatever. But you know, it’s funny. As a quick story here, my mom always joked that I trained my papa, my grandfather, to say I love you. And even though she knew how much he loved her when she was a kid, because it was her dad, he would show it to her in all kinds of different ways through his actions. But it wasn’t something that was openly discussed. Like it wasn’t like, you know, they weren’t throwing I love you’s around at home. That’s just that’s a very generational thing. But when I came along, I told him so often, even when I was a little kid, that I loved him that by the time I was in my late teens, he would tell everyone dear to him how much he loved them with nearly every interaction. And it was so cute to see. But that was it’s always interesting for me to hear that dichotomy because I only ever knew him as my papa who would say I love you. And apparently, I seem to have played a role in teaching him to say I love you, to that you know, in a very genuine way to the people that he loved and adored and cared about the most.

And I just really want you to give your love to the people that deserve it, don’t hold it in so much. Because usually, when we’re holding it into that degree, and we’re gripping onto it that tightly, it’s out of fear. It’s out of fear. And I’m not saying that that fear isn’t unfounded, you know, everyone has trauma, everyone has been hurt, everyone has experienced pain and suffering, largely, many, many times, because of love in one way or another in a variety of different forms. It has come down to love. So that can feel incredibly terrifying to open yourself up, to giving it then. And what’s interesting is that most people might think that I would be more likely to keep my love held tightly, if we’re talking romantic love, and not be as likely to give it to others after what I’ve been through in a previous relationship. So you can reference Episode 117, all about the nine years of infidelity that my partner that I found out about my partner at the time was participating in. And if you want more information, go check out that episode. But I’ve had discussions with people where they assume that and to be honest, I think in a lot of ways I kind of assumed that I would be more likely to never want to give my love to anybody ever again, after that kind of hurt and betrayal. But what’s interesting is that it’s actually made me love more openly and deeply. Because I’ve seen how deeply I can love someone who wasn’t deserving of my love in ways I hadn’t even realized I was capable of. And I don’t regret that for a moment, not for a single second. And if you can love someone who doesn’t deserve that depth of love from you so deeply. Imagine what that love will be like with the right people or person. And I mean that platonically as well as romantically, this is about deepening connections with the people you care about most whether it’s close friends, family members, or a partner.

Be more of what you want to see and experience in the world. If you want to see more love in the world, you have to give more love to the world. Not to the world, but you know, the people that you want to give it to, that you feel so strongly about, again, not just romantically, but platonically, as well be able to give that love and see how it changes, not only the people who are on the receiving end, but see how it changes you.

There is a quote by Michael A Singer, and it says, “closing your heart does not really protect you from anything, it just cuts you off from your source of energy. If you make lists of how the world must be for you to open, you’ve limited your openness to those conditions, better to be open no matter what”. This is what I mean by unconditional love. Because a lot of times, we sort of create these stories in our heads, where we will decide when you know, certain standards or requirements will be met, for us to be able to give love. Sometimes even we’ll set that in order to receive love sometimes too, depending on you know which end of the spectrum you’re on. But it means that when we create those very rigid, rigid stories, and I talk about this all the time, in this podcast, there is so much gray area in life, you guys like there is so little in this world that has very black and white thinking about it. That, you know, a very rigid way of thinking can be applied. Life is lived in the gray area. True, you know, like like when we’re really talking, there’s so many different situations and nuances about life. And there is no one right or wrong way of doing anything. And a really great example of that is when it comes to love because everyone has a different opinion everyone has, you know, different experiences and different relationships and all of those things. But a lot of us will still try to protect ourselves as much as possible. And yes, we need to give our trust to the people who deserve it. People who have earned our trust, our vulnerability, absolutely. So those are things that still need to be developed and kept in mind. But when we get to that point where we feel that we can trust someone, and I’m not saying that somebody isn’t going to still break your heart, somebody may still betray your trust, that’s just a part of life. The sooner you accept that the sooner you will, you know, prevent yourself from holding everything back. Because if we can accept that we’re going to be hurt again, it will allow us to go out there and live and be able to trust ourselves enough to know that even if somebody else does betray us, we can figure it out. We can handle it.

Again, won’t be easy, won’t be pleasant, necessarily. It won’t be a fun experience. But trusting yourself enough to know that you can handle it is what allows you to be free enough to be able to give your love to the people that you know deserve it, or that you have that you feel deserve it. And part of having hard conversations, and deepening connections with people means keeping your heart open. It might mean that your ego takes a hit sometimes, but the alternative of staying closed and playing it safe means you’re not going to be able to experience the full spectrum of joy and connection. If you try to limit yourself from experiencing pain, you will also limit your joy and capacity to love.

It’s back to this idea of balance that I talked about back in Episode 247 about how grief and love, how grief and love coexist. You can’t have one without the other. And that’s why I related these two episodes together as a sort of like a part A, part B kind of because they are so closely intertwined. I also did an episode, I believe it was Episode 241. I’ll reference it in the show notes all about having hard conversations. That is a skill that I cannot recommend enough. And it’s one that we are always going to be continuing to develop. Like, you know that this whole idea of having hard conversations is a lifelong process. You can learn all kinds of strategies, and I teach a lot of them in that episode. But it’s always going to be a practice there’s always going to be more to learn for all of us, myself at the very top of that list, by the way.

But ultimately pain is inevitable. Joy and love are not inevitable necessarily, because they require you to open yourself up enough to truly feel, and in some ways, you are the one that determines how deeply you can feel. But most of us walk around in a state of avoidance or trying to shut down certain parts of ourselves. And that prevents us from feeling and experiencing certain emotions because it’s uncomfortable. We don’t know how to self soothe, or how to manage the emotions and it scares the shit out of us, particularly when it comes to love. Because when we open ourselves up to love, we open ourselves up to the very likely possibility of pain and hurt at the same time. That’s where this grief and love coexist idea comes in. And we get so panicked about the thought of the potential for rejection and what that would mean for us. Or, you know, what, what a relationship ending badly would look like that we block ourselves from the full experience. Or we prevent ourselves from ever even admitting how much we care for someone, even to ourselves. And how sad is that? when you really think about that, how heartbreaking that we love someone, and we never even tell them, that we are given an opportunity to let someone know to have them be able to walk around knowing that they are loved. But we held it back to protect our egos. And again, there are nuances to this because yes, I still strongly recommend giving your love to the people that you feel deserve it. Like people still need to. It’s not necessarily about reciprocating the I love you phrase, but it’s about giving our love, hopefully, to people who treat us well. But then if they don’t, then that brings us back to my other point about, we can love someone from afar. And that can be incredibly heartbreaking. That can be incredibly painful. But you still have to love yourself first, you have to unconditionally love yourself first before you can give that love to other people.

There was another quote about opening with love from Stefanos Santos, I will write, I don’t think I pronounced his name, right, I’ll reference it in the show notes. I really like following his Instagram account as well. And he says “we think love comes from outside of us a compliment from a friend, a beautiful moment in nature or a partner expressing love, what we are really feeling as our hearts cracking open and becoming receptive to the possibility of love. We must be free of our past traumas and feel safe enough to open to the potential that awaits” There are a couple of things about that, that I don’t agree with about how we have to, you know, it almost implies like, we have to be past all of our trauma and like fully healed before we ever give love to anyone else. I don’t agree with that. I think that a lot of our pain and trauma, we have to do a huge amount of work on ourselves. But that a lot of that can also be healed within the context of a new relationship as well within the context of the relationship. So that’s something to consider. But that whole idea about how love has to come from within, as opposed to looking for it externally in order to experience it. That’s the part that I want you to really take away from that quote.

So I hope this has given you something to think about. This is a little bit out of the norm of topics that I usually do. So I was actually a little bit nervous with this episode, as well as the one about grief and love. But because I’m putting such an emphasis on human connection going forward, a huge part of our connection with other human beings is through romantic love. And like I said, you know, unconditional love also applies platonically as well. But I do think that it’s really important to address some of this because this is where we feel connection most deeply, often. This is where we learn the most about not only other human beings but about ourselves is in the context of these types of relationships. And I think it’s really important to pay attention to this. And to see where you might be holding yourself back. Or where you can feel yourself opening up sometimes, to your own surprise as much as anyone else as I’ve experienced. Because when you allow yourself to feel deeply, you experienced this really wide spectrum. And yes, it can be argued that then the highs are highs and the lows are really fucking low. And that’s not fun. But then you wouldn’t recognize and you would never be able to experience those really high moments if you didn’t have the lows. So it’s up to you if you decide if that’s worth it or not. I would argue that it is but it also takes a great deal of strength in order to do that.

So I hope that’s given you something to think about. Yeah, as I said, This one is a little bit different for me. So please, I would love some feedback on this, please, I’m always open to feedback. But especially on this one, let me know how this resonated for you let me know how this sat for you. Please, please, please send me a DM over @emilygoughcoach. Share this episode with somebody who needs to hear it, share it on social media, I would love for you to tag me so that I can thank you for listening. I just really appreciate your time. As always, I have a huge amount of gratitude for you showing up, and thank you so much for listening.

Thanks, thank you so much for listening to the podcast today. It means the absolute world to me and I’m so grateful for any references in the episode and all show notes Be sure to jump over to and if this episode touched your heart, it would mean so much. If you would take a quick second to hit subscribe, write a review and share on social media with someone who really needs to hear today’s message. It makes such a difference to keep this podcast going so I can continue to bring you amazing content and absolutely incredible guests. Be sure to tag me over on Instagram @emilygoughcoach at that I can thank you in real time for listening and connect with you. We’re back every Tuesday and Thursday with new episodes and I’m looking forward to growing with you!


Room to Grow™ Mastermind

Episode #241, How to Have Hard Conversations & Improve Communication

Episode #175, The Uncomfortable Exploration of the Grey Area: Nothing is Black and White

Episode #117, The 9 Year Affair: Lessons in Infidelity

IG post: @stefanossifandos

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