How The Walking Dead Taught Me Unconditional Love

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By Marla Keller

Unless you have been off serving in a very isolated part of the world for the past four years, you’ve (at the very least) heard of the comic and the AMC original series The Walking Dead. I’ll have to admit, I’m a huge fan of the show. I think a big reason why it is so successful is because of the character development. And, while we can’t relate to a nationwide zombie apocalypse, we all can very much empathize with the humanity expressed by the characters and how real they are willing to get. Last night’s latest episode was extremely touching to me. Now, if you wish to keep reading the only SPOILER ALERT there is is the fact that I mention two of the original characters that have survived. Other than that, I kept the big secrets to myself (as I mentioned before, I’m a huge fan, and totally respect the suspense of waiting to find out what happens for yourself). 

5 Important Life-Lessons from Last Sundays Night’s The Walking Dead

1. Emotional Growth Hurts–Transformation from Fear to Humble Power (empowerment) is painful and messy and difficult, and it is always worth it. It feels as though you are losing yourself, but in reality you are discovering who you really are. Carol, who had been in a very abusive marriage when everything turned to hell, has experienced a transformation from helpless and fearful to empowered. She states, “Who I was with him, she got burned away, and I was happy about that. Not happy, but… at the prison, I got to be who I always thought I should be, thought I should’ve been. And then she got burned away.” Daryl responds, “We’re not ashes yet.” I resonate with this. I’ve been through a devastating, life-changing fire of sorts, and I am not ashes. I survived, and so can you.

2.  Compassion and grace can grow out of emotional destruction–Carol feels like a monster because of the terrible things she has done, but she’s not, “and all the fire in the world can’t burn away her humanity and leave her numb — that was obvious in the subtle, gut-wrenching way she flinched when she saw that the walker” had a child with her (read the recap of this episode HERE). Either you choose emotional growth that leads to compassion (for yourself and others) or you become numb. Which path have you chosen? How alive do you feel right now?

3.   Judgment of self and others only leads to emptiness and shame – Even though Daryl knows that Carol has had to make horrible decisions for survival, he also does not judge her nor does he reject her because of those things. He believes the truth that she has a beautiful and loving heart. I have been very critical of myself and others, and it has only caused me more pain. My control issues were out of control (pun intended), but Jami still valued me, loved me, and stood by me as I struggled to shift from a very shameful place caring desperately about what others thought of me into this place of liberation. Does your mind automatically go to judgment? “I’m thinner than her,” or “Once I complete this goal, I will be enough.” A critical spirit creates a life of despair and loneliness. The free spirit creates a life of joy and passion.

4.    Forgiveness of ourselves is the best gift we can receive – Both Daryl and Carol struggle with demons from their past. They have not lived a perfect life. They have not always made good decisions. But neither have I. Clearly, Daryl has forgiven Carol for the things she has done that she believes are unforgivable. To find freedom, Carol will need to see herself through the eyes of grace, Daryl’s eyes, and forgive herself. This may come across as flippant, but forgiveness of others was mostly not difficult for me. But forgiving myself felt like losing my identity. If I could hold on to that unforgiveness, then I would keep myself safe from repeating those shameful things. But it actually was having the opposite affect on me. I was becoming hardened and numb and was abandoning myself over and over again. Then I chose to forgive myself. And. I. Am. Liberated! Are you quick to forgive yourself? Give yourself the gift of freedom today.

5.     Relationships and community matter (“No man is an island.” ~Donne) From the moment we met Daryl in Season One of The Walking Dead, he was a lone ranger. But as each season has progressed, he has increasingly valued the community he has chosen to be a part of. Community matters. Relationships matter. We need each other. We need to struggle through the hard stuff together, demolishing the shame, fear and control. I need my chosen community. I need to struggle through the hard stuff with them. I need to stand alongside, and allow them to stand alongside me. What kind of community are you a part of? Is it accepting, graceful and open? If you aren’t apart of a loving community, it’s time to look for one. “Lacking social connections is a comparable risk factor for early death as smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and is worse for us than well-known risk factors such as obesity and physical inactivity” (more on this HERE).

What I am learning through this show is perspective on what it means to unconditionally accept, and therefore love, others. The very essence of community surviving is accepting each other for all the ugliness and standing together. Of course, it is usually not a matter of life or death for us in the real world, but I do believe our emotional well-being and trust in the communities we choose relies on it. And our emotional health as a community matters for the future of our world. 

What do you think about this? Have you learned the same thing from a different show or experience, or had the same feelings about The Walking Dead? 



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Marla is the co-founder of Passion Provokers. With her degree in family counseling, she and her husband Jami have built their life around healing others. From personal trials to professional success, they have changed what it means to have and to be a Life Coach and have assisted people from all over the world move from a place of defeat to dynamic success using a short-term model.