Every relationship in my life lately has been an experiment of the idea of unconditional love and freedom. Byron Katie says egos can’t love; they always want something. Whereas the soul can love unconditionally and expect nothing in return. Wide open heart. Zero conditions.

But this week, I finally really got a critical piece of this puzzle. Here’s my epiphany. It’s totally possible to offer unconditional love plus absolute freedom with no conditions. But ACCESS is completely conditional. (LIGHTBULB!)

Brene Brown says the most compassionate people on the planet are the ones with the highest boundaries. Now I get it! For so long, I made the mistake of thinking that unconditional love and freedom meant forgiving people over and over again when they hurt you or betray you. Giving people permission to break your heart. And that’s part of it. You can’t walk around guarding your heart all the time. When the gates of your heart are closed, you may be less likely to get hurt. But you’ll also be incapable of giving and receiving love.

I’ve spent years learning how to love without conditions. It may be the hardest thing you’ll ever do. But perhaps, even harder, is loving unconditionally while setting appropriate boundaries.

What Is Unconditional Love?

I now realize that unconditional love means you live in a state of acceptance and appreciation and gratitude for this person you love. You expect nothing and are willing to live from the heart. It also means you have zero tolerance for your own victim story if you don’t like how someone behaves. You are the scriptwriter and director of your own movie. You own your part in everything, rather than blaming, shaming, and judging someone else.

Unconditional love means you resist grasping or clinging or projecting onto someone else. You don’t require that they abide by any rules in order to earn your love. The love is a gift, like grace. You give it freely—just because.

Conditional Access

But access to your inner circle is completely conditional. If someone can’t treat you with the love, nurturing and respect you deserve, you put them in your outer circle—or eliminate them from your circle altogether—with a wide open heart and not a lick of judgment.

If access to your heart, your email, your phone, and your physical being lives on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 being complete inner circle access, those who are 10’s require what Brene Brown calls “a full jar of marbles.” In other words, they need to have earned your trust. If the jar of marbles gets half full because of betrayals of trust, access needs to go down—not necessarily all the way to 1, but maybe to 5 or 6. Maybe they don’t get to call you every day or sleep in your bed or spend Christmas morning with you.

That way, if someone isn’t treating you with impeccable respect, you simply limit access without making up a story about it. No point becoming the exploding doormat. That’s not enlightened either. Your heart stays wide open. The boundaries close up though. Unconditional love, absolute freedom, conditional access.

Then it’s not someone else’s job to treat you right. It’s YOUR job to treat you right with appropriate boundaries that limit access based on whether or not someone is deserving of complete inner circle access.

Finally . . . I understand.

How Vigilant Are You About Protecting Your Access?

Are you good at treating yourself right with appropriate modulation of your inner circle access? Are you good about enforcing the boundaries you do set—with love?


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  1. Nicole Witt

    Thank you Lissa for this. You describe everything I have been discovering over the last 6 months 🙂

  2. kd12

    i’m learning this in a deep way with my sister. i spent years enabling her self-destructive behavior. but until i could own my own co-dependent behavior, i couldn’t disentangle myself from the negative downward spiral of it all.

    for the past year and a half, i have disallowed her access to my inner circle, which includes my young daughter. My daughter doesn’t understand, but i hope someday I can make sense of it for her. i have no idea when this will change, if ever.

    does it make me sad? only sometimes. mostly i’m happy i can see where my boundaries are now, and i am always encouraged that healing is possible for every one of us. I can’t make her heal, but i can pray for her (and i do) and i try to stay honest with myself rather than taking another trip on the guilt train.

    we are lovely works in progress, we are…

  3. ladyinla

    Wow. Right on time. And well said. Brene Brown’s comment about deepest compassion and highest boundaries was a lightbulb moment for me as well. And I’ve been raising the gate the last few years after a lifetime of doing what I thought was unconditional love and forgiveness — letting people trample over and over again. A couple of friends I quietly walked away from altogether. A sister who’s consistently toxic toward me, yet counts on me for emotional support, now only has access to me via occasional text and email [which unfortunately means less time with nieces and nephews with whom I’m very close]. And a mother who’s hung in there for some hard work we had to do, so there’s some access and some firm boundaries. Had to weather a little drama as I lowered the drawbridge, but thankfully just a little.

    Unconditional love, conditional access.

    I also have a handful of longtime friends who have never dropped the ball – wow. Someone who showed up because she knew I would never ask when I needed support through a mysterious health issue. She got me through it, just by being there. Wow. She’s family. A dear older friend who is my “other mother” who scolds me when I let too much time go between phone calls, and always saves her guest room for me when I’m in town. And lovely people I’ve become friends with at work who are warm and loud, salt of the earth, and miss me if I happen not to join in a group outing. More of that. And then there are some lovely people I’ve lost touch with, probably because I was still tied up in the boundary issue and didn’t make more room for them. There’s lots more room now. I’ve actually made a list of them, and have started reconnecting one step at a time. It feels oddly vulnerable sometimes, but totally satisfying. It’s a priority for me. Plane tickets will need to be budgeted.

    Thanks for this!

  4. T. L. Parks

    This post hits close to home. As I continue to heal and grow in love through my own awareness, I sometimes interrupt the victim dialogue that is going on in my head and I say to myself, “who are you talking to?”…It’s become more and more uncommon for the victim rant to get a chance to fully play out, and I think to myself “geez, this whole becoming the awareness that observes my ego rants, is ruining my whole performance”. Back to Lissa’s post, I think it is true indeed, that as we grow and relationships change and fluctuate, that it’s okay to be honest enough to know that just because someone loved you well at one point, doesn’t earn them a ‘get out of jail’ free card, or a presidential suite at my inner circle table forever. Like all of life, things change. This is something that I am still working on, being brave enough to know that my world won’t crumble if I find myself sitting by myself tonight.

  5. Gailen Anna DeJong Dougherty

    This is so weird, I have been pondering this: The boundries/ conditional love? Well, you hit the nail on the head. Trying to extricate from those who are harming you canbe hard. Because it is family.

    • Donny Coach

      With all due respect, Gailen, is it true there are people (family or others) who are trying to harm you?

  6. TEKman

    How to unconditionally love oneself? I continue to break self agreements and struggle with respecting the parts of me which do not serve my highest good. This seems to result in a cycle of tripping up all my other relationships when my best intentions fall short as at a core I am still broken.


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