What is Authentic Love and How Can Understanding It Make Us More Confident?
I’ve worked with several clients on confidence (or lack thereof). After many years of learning what the real meaning of confidence is, I recognise myself as an expert in this specific aspect.
Confidence is not as simple as it seems. There are many complexities and a spectrum of meanings within the definition of confidence. It involves attitudes, beliefs and behaviours that often aren’t innate gifts and need to be nurtured, practiced and/or acquired.
What is the real foundation of confidence? And why is real confidence in our lives, relationships and work (the three are interwoven, not exclusive of each other) so challenging to achieve? My 20 years of training, self-development and determined search for confidence, have taught me that the foundation of being a confident man or woman is a solid sense of self. As I say in my first book, Stella’s Mum Gets Her Groove Back (chapter 11, page 225), a sense of self can be achieved when we learn what authentic love means and when we apply that unconditional love to ourselves first and foremost. Spiritual teachings articulate finding a sense of self as, “learning to love others as we love ourselves”.
Not long ago I watched a YouTube video about a simple yet strikingly powerful story. It inspired me to write this blog and outline the differences between authentic and inauthentic love. This understanding can offer us a stepping stone to understanding and starting to embody true confidence in our lives.
The Conditional Love Analogy
"Boy, why are you eating that fish?"
"Because I love the fish," said the boy.
"Oh, you love the fish. That's why you pulled it out of the water, boiled and killed it. Do not tell me you love fish, you love yourself and, since you like its taste, you pulled it out of the water, killer and boiled it."
Much of what we think of as love is revealed for what it truly is through this love-for-the-fish analogy.
When a woman and a man fall in love, what does it mean? It often means that they see in each other someone who can satisfy their physical and emotional needs. We call this love but when you carve away a bit, in many cases its two people thinking about their own needs. Too much of what we call love is really the love-for-the-fish analogy. Truth is that if love isn't about what we receive, it's about what we give. So in either sense, our needs (whether to give or receive) are being met.
Rabbi Dessier said, "People make a serious mistake thinking that you give to those who you love". In truth, we love those to whom we give. For if I give you something, I'm investing my time, myself, my time in you. And since I love myself, now that a part of me is in you, I undoubtedly love you.
Conditional Love in Society
I recently discussed this kind of love, the 'fish love', with some friends. We discussed and laughed about the topic, which jokes aside, is a serious topic. Do we live in a society where 'fish love' is the predominant kind of love that we cultivate and nurture?
At our core, each of us is aware that love is the essence of a happy, fulfilled and human life. Love is the foundation of true confidence, which is why we could even say it is a true measure of success in life. This message invariably appears and is often reiterated in many sacred and spiritual teachings and traditions around the world.
For some time I have wondered why there is so much disagreement and negativity in human relationships. My profession as a life and confidence coach, facilitator and trauma counsellor has led me to discover a fundamental misunderstanding about love.
Defining Authentic and Inauthentic Love
In an article entitled, "The Destructive Legacy of Conditional Love" by Greg Baer, MD, he expresses authentic or unconditional love in terms of, "I care/love how you feel". Alternatively, conditional love is demonstrated as, "I love you for how you make me feel". I would add that loving in an authentic way means being able to say, "I love you for all that you are, both your light and your shadow” or “Don’t change, for I love you just as you are”. Whilst loving conditionally means consciously or subconsciously saying, "I love you for what you give me", "I only love your light because it makes me feel good" or even "I only love your shadow because it makes me feel bad/good". In fact, loving someone because they make us feel bad can be equally as selfish and gratifying as the positive counterpart if we are addicted to feeling bad. It still serves us and based on a condition.
'Fish love' is equal to conditional or inauthentic love. It's the kind of love that tries to buy the other, can manipulate and manifests from a selfish centre: "I love you because I need you in order to feel happy / fill my emptiness / perpetuate my negative cycle and avoid becoming and expressing who I really am born to be: confident and powerful". As long as you satisfy my needs, I love you. This is what I mean by 'fish love'. And sadly, we are living in a society where we're unassumingly giving and receiving 'fish love'. That's what we're taught from an early age so it is only apt that we carry on 'loving' ourselves and others in that way.
It is fundamental that as human beings we are able to distinguish between authentic / unconditional love and inauthentic / conditional 'fish love'. As long as we cannot understand and integrate this distinction, this fine line, our conscious or subconscious tendency will continue to content itself with the cycle of giving and receiving 'fish love'. The cycle that begins by eating the fish because of the instant gratification that it offers and yet never feeling satisfied because of the empty, unhappy and/or frustrated feelings it leaves behind once digested.
The Root, Cycle & Result of Inauthentic Love
Somehow, since infancy we have been taught that we can do without authentic or unconditional love. We have become accustomed to nourishing ourselves with 'fish love', growing to believe that it's in fact the only way to love and be loved. How many of us felt immense warmth and happiness seeing our mother smile and express affection and love as children? Not for any reason other than feeling loved and happy because we were behaving or deserving of that love. Unbeknown to us, we were receiving 'fish love' in those moments. Often, mum would smile or show more natural affection if we'd been good, if we hadn't done something to cause stress etc. For some of us, we'd see that when we were more quiet, when we were better at school, when we helped more or offered more emotional support and understanding. Somehow we felt more loved when we were what we understood our parents wanted us to be through their subconscious reactions to what we did, said or felt. As children our primary goal is to win love from our parents, and how we trigger that love goes on to shape how we believe we can 'win' love for the rest of our lives.
When we did something deemed as 'wrong' by our parent, often the picture changed... swiftly. Although on the whole, their reactions might have been unintentional, our parents would communicate to us through words, actions or inaction that somehow they loved us differently, accepted us less and that our behaviour were the cause of their unhappiness or bad temper.
Giving or denying our acceptance or approval based on what we like and makes us feel good or happy about other people's behaviour is the essence of conditional or 'fish love'. Do you know that most adults will go through life having only known this way of loving.
This does not only apply to the love between parents and children. We see this often between teachers and students. when we are rewarded for being bright, forward-thinking and co-operative and penalised when we are difficult, stubborn or lazy. We see it between friends, between life partners and between employees and employers. We're loved based on how we make them feel against the backdrop of their expectations and how they deem our behaviour and how it makes them feel should be. We love them in the same way.
The result is that all human beings, regardless of background, religion, sex and culture, are prone to receive love when we do or are what others want us to be. Naturally, when this system offers us the love we want over and over, we learn that to be loved we must follow the flock. We become and do what pleases others and in so doing surrender ourselves as fish to be eaten.
We ourselves are in constant search for fish we believe to love, but eat for our satisfaction. We ourselves let others to use us as fish to satisfy their needs. We repeat what we've been taught and practiced over the course of our lives.
Although the concept of 'fish love' is usually passed onto us unknowingly (the cycle repeats when adults and parents aren't educated or aware of what the true nature of love is), its effects are disastrous and consequential in our lives because it prevents us from discerning what an authentic connection between humans is and can be. And even more severely, we continue to repeat the 'fish love' cycle, forever questioning why we still feel empty, alone and dissatisfied. We are disillusioned, thinking the love that we give and receive is supposed to fill the void when really the only love that can fill us up come from within ourselves.
It's undeniable that we've been conditioned to love and be loved in an inauthentic manner since our early years. We have been taught 'fish love', a negative and destructive inheritance that we will continue passing down to future generations until we actively choose to break the cycle (through education, self-development and self-awareness). We live in auto-pilot, like sleeping perennials, programmed to give and receive 'fish love' without questioning it and passing down the custom to our children.
If we had a tumultuous childhood, most of us try to forget the whole thing and set it aside in the recesses of our consciousness as if it were a bad dream we could opt-out of. Many of us choose to believe that the love that was given (or not given) to us in childhood and adolescence does not and cannot go on to influence the rest of our lives... how wrong we are.
In my profession, I've listened to many stories, many 'fish love' stories. Mine first and foremost. I take full responsibility as I invited all of my clients to do for re-enacting the 'fish love' cycle I was taught. I published my book, Stella's Mum Gets Her Groove Back, 10 years ago where I said, my parents -like any parent- are yes, responsible for what they did, but are not to be blamed. They did their best and it was all that they knew for they themselves had received and inherited the same kind of love.
Living a life knowing only 'fish love' can deplete our stories of meaning and purpose. It can lead us to react by way of using guilt, toxic shame, fear, resentment, materialism or a neurotic need for approval and recognition. It can lead us to look for fulfilment in substance abuse or other kinds of addiction, even cycles of excessive ambition and need of recognition in adulthood. It can wreak havoc on our health and develop into illness or psychosomatic symptoms. And until we decide enough is enough, it will continue to manifest in various ways over the course of our lives.
Breaking the Inauthentic Love Cycle & Find True Confidence
Now that you've reached the end of this article, you know what 'fish love' is and what it is not. So you also have come to know what the first step to take is in order to build authentic confidence in life, relationships and work.
We look for or say we love the fish not because we really love the fish. To love is to give. Instead, we look for something that fills our emptiness and lack of fulfilment or happiness. Our lack of real self-esteem, the foundation of real confidence. We build toxic relationships, setting ourselves up for abandonment or betrayal and/or nurture co-dependency. If we were full and happy within ourselves, if we really loved ourselves, we would not then need to kill it and eat it. We'd co-exist with it. We would swim in the ocean with it, accepting it, respecting it, growing alongside it and having fun with it. We would not set ourselves up for 'fish love' but dedicate ourselves to giving and practising the true essence of love that is not in search of receiving or giving to receive.
When we love ourselves and able to fill ourselves us with love first, then we can truly love our those around us without expectation, condition or bias. It is when we can say we achieved 'confidence'. Truth is, we might believe that we love ourselves but if we're perpetuating the 'fish love' cycle, we probably don't. Therefore our confidence is not real. So with new discernment, I invite each of us to look at our consumption of 'fish love' honestly and decide that perhaps its time to learn and invite true unconditional love into lives, starting with unconditional love for ourselves.
header image by Ahmed Zayan
If what I've written has resonated with you and you think I could be the right support for you, feel free to get in touch and schedule a Free 30 Minute Consultation by clicking the button below.
► Elisabetta Franzoso is a multi continental Life and Wellness Coach practicing between Barcelona, London, Milan and Singapore where she has many loyal clients.
► Elisabetta empowers men and women to master their mind, body and personal relationships through renewing their confidence and building a sense of wellness. She does this through her unique Coaching In 4 Dimensions framework which takes into account the physical, emotional, intellectual and relational aspects of humanity.
► Elisabetta will inspire you to live the life you want to live, maximise your potential and achieve self mastery. Aside from coaching, Elisabetta is a passionate social activist and spokesperson against abuse.
► Elisabetta has been featured extensively across international and UK press including Thrive Global, Grazia Magazine, Breathe Magazine and Health & Wellbeing Magazine. Stay up to date with Elisabetta at instagram.com/elisabettafranzoso and www.elisabettafranzoso.com