Do not confuse love with power. However powerful you think you are, you can’t “make” someone love you. Your power, however boundless it could be, will never extend to the deepest corridors of your target’s emotional labyrinth.
If you’re still in doubt, spare a tear for the most formidable of dictators.
When we watch Leni Riefenstahl’s timeless footage of Hitler’s pageants and the adoring crowds of German or Austrian females and males, we are often misled into believing that, yes, power, by being attractive, magically infuses “love” in the hearts of the subjects. We are dazzled by the scenes of adulating mobs – in Berlin, Moscow, Beijing, and Pyongyang. But just like the doomed Roman emperor Nero in Henryk Sienkiewicz’s Nobel Prize-winning “Quo Vadis”, the dictators eventually recede into the solitude of their palaces. There, away from the noisy “love” of the crowds, they are as insecure and lonely as the most solitary of their lowly subjects. And often more so.
And if ultimate political power can’t force other humans to “love” you, how can you, with your limited resources, manipulate others to reciprocate your feelings?
We are unduly attracted to this idea of manipulation. Ultimately, this is how commercial marketing ensures future sales, how astutely glib politicians win elections, and how street-smart characters subvert the plot in our favorite movies. Except, it does not work in love. And certainly, it does not work in the long term. Alas, if love is not “long term”, then maybe it does not quite deserve this coveted term.
Psychologists dug into Greek mythology and Christian traditions to peel away various layers of Love, the ultimate catch-all term. Erotic lovers followed Dante’s reaction to spotting Beatrice – “incipit vita nuova” (my life begins anew). They are reliant on the sudden sensation of hope and the notion of a captured ideal.
Storage is a term for a loving affection that evolves slowly, with a gradual, often mutual commitment. It may have originated in stable, rural environments, where generations after generations grew up together, bonding “naturally” over longer periods.
Ludic lovers are rovers who never settle on one thing, capable of “loving” many, pluralistic or promiscuous, eventually unsettled.
Manic lovers are obsessively preoccupied with the beloved, jealous, and possessive. Such addictive behavior often correlates strongly with a less-than-happy childhood and unstable emotional life in general.
Pragmatic lovers look for compatibility as if they were holding a shopping list of attributes. The search is for a storgic relationship that does not happen naturally through growing up or maturing in a common environment.
To these types, Christianity proposed the term Agape – selfless, giving, caring love devoid of intense self-interest that the other categories rely on. Agape was used by early Christians to express Love of God for his children. This type of love was further deepened by Thomas Aquinas as “to will the good of another”. Similarly, the concept of Karuna in Mahayana Buddhism serves as a basis for comparing the views of the “self”; and its altruistic concern for the “Other”.
To a varying extent, all the above “types” of love focus on the Other, the object of love. What distinguishes them is the color of the arrow leading from the loving subject to the object, with various hues of the rainbow.
But there is never any guarantee that an erotic lover’s object would not turn out to be manic. That the pragmatic lover discovers that his partner is ludic. That a manic lover crashes on the shore of Agape and finds the partner’s selflessness deeply disturbing and unsatisfying. There are so many (and many more) ways in which things may not pan out the way the lover imagines.
So why not de-emphasize the nature of the object (and the object’s reciprocity), and instead stress the quality of love qua love?
It is here that we encounter the notion of Unconditional Love.
Unconditional Love is not really an emotion. It is a spiritual practice to expand our capacity to love. It can only exist in the present time, and not as an ideal projected into the elusive “future”.
Unconditional Love is in me. Instead of demanding that someone or something be “different”, I accept what I am experiencing in the present time. The conditionality of my standards (“I will like you if you be X, I will love you if you do Y”) falls off.
This is not some kind of resignation. It’s spiritual wisdom that ensures emotional maturity. Through this acceptance, I stop delegating the responsibility for my emotions to others.
Think about it. Even when parents claim to ‘unconditionally’ love their children, you still hear the snippets like: “Sweetheart, if you do X, mummy would be very happy”. And many of us grow up in an environment of emotional blackmail, learning that one person’s emotion is dependent on another person’s attitude, actions, and behavior.
How can we abandon this mindset? Through the spiritual practice of no longer seeing the Other as a flawed entity failing to live up to our standards. Rather, we learn to perceive the Other at two levels.
First, the Other is God’s creation. This is that person’s essence. It is Being.
Secondly, however, that person, like everyone else, is also a product of her/his environment. It is how we experience them on a day-to-day basis.
We have to elevate our perception from the latter to the former. This can only be done if we are present in this moment, in the state of Being freed from the hurt of the past. The present, and the present only, offers the possibility of healing and of regaining perfection.
What is the alternative? If I fight at the level of experienced hurt, the Other will fight back from the same level. As a result, we will not be able to transcend the expectation gap generated by our different environments.
On the other hand, the glimpse of essence from the level of Being bestows on us a healing opportunity.
This is how forgiveness works. If I find something lacking, it is because I withhold my love (“he is not worthy of my love”). But this type of ‘emotional punishment’ redirects us back to the object of love at the level of experience. This is the repository of all judgments. In other words, when people act in a way that I find undesirable, I may be tempted to judge them and withdraw my love.
But this reaction betrays a misunderstanding of the human nature. When people feel judged, criticized, or despised, they will dig their heels deeper. By withholding love and hoping that the other person suffers, I deny myself the feeling of love and am the first one to suffer.
This is a power game and each power game derives from the ultimate (dictatorial) insecurity of being revealed as weak. It’s the fear of: “He won, and I lost, I’m a doormat”. As every deserted lover knows, nothing hurts more than such lost “competition”.
If we approach this from the level of our essence, the essence of giving, then the competitive element evaporates.
Counterintuitively, you could use any conflict precisely as the moment to expand your Trust and your capacity to love. You no longer approach the relationship by instrumentalizing the other person and asking: “How can this person meet my needs?” but rather from the perspective of “What can I give?”.
This reflects the simplicity of trust building. At the level of Doing, basic relational trust is positively correlated with credibility, reliability, and some elusive gut feeling, but it is negatively correlated with the focus on the self. By de-emphasizing the self-obsession with the ego, you increase the level of trust.
When you do this, real intimacy arises from being open and willing to receive the partner on all four Aspects of Being – physical, emotional, cognitive, and spiritual. This is important. One needs to open the channel not only by sharing thoughts in verbal form, but also at the levels of emotion, the body, and spirituality. You meet the other person exactly as they are, without an urge to change anything immediately.
Unconditional Love is enabled by a shift from thinking that we are separate entities to the recognition that, when the pre-existing FORM meets POSSIBILITY of the present moment, we are interconnected. This is an effort of spiritual intelligence to unlearn our separate existences. You hold the space for the other person to be different, offering safety and a chance to rise.
If you can hold a higher POSSIBILITY for that person’s FORM to be updated in this particular moment of the NOW, it is more likely that they will step up to a better version of themselves.
So let’s repeat the most important lesson here. You can never “cause” someone to love you. If you please someone, it is because it is pleasant for you, not as a ploy to “attract” someone’s love. You are not manipulating someone. You are not possessive or servile and nor do you attempt to control the Other.
By practicing Unconditional Love, you are empowered because your emotional state is independent of what someone does or does not do. You offer Love therefore you feel more loving. Unconditional Love is thus centered not on the misperceived “compatibility” of two human beings across an endless variety of Love types, but on the nature of your spiritual practice.
If you perceive the other person with your mind, your emotion, your body, your spirit – true intimacy becomes possible. You are simply there, receiving and reflecting the other person, instead of trying to manipulate them. It is the single most critical relational skill but also the most neglected, as most of us just want to be loved and heard “the way we are”.
How does this work in practice when conflicts arise? I have observed from my coaching clients that most of them get triggered and emotionally regress to their younger selves. Of course, it is impossible to find a mature solution when two kids are fighting. Still, all unfavorable opinions, reproaches, and judgments are optional, and it takes at least two to fight. So, if one of the partners refuses to enter the context of a dispute, there is no conflict. There is always a choice of how we respond.
When Clients open to Unconditional Love, they might sometimes feel fearful or vulnerable. A coach may help them become comfortable with this feeling. Sometimes it is necessary for the Client to return to the body through a grounding exercise or breathing.
At New York Life Coaching Institute, we teach future coaches how to handle complex relational situations by applying such methods. Countless clients have seen their lives transformed by learning to shift the focus in their relationships.
Unconditional Love does not make us “blind”. Rather, we see more clearly. And unlike Christian Agape, it does not rely on selflessness. It is more accurate to describe it as bowing to one’s self-interest. Because by practicing Unconditional Love, we are at peace with ourselves.
Just like they say every week in Church, ’Peace be with you’. Peace is always available, when unconditional love is in place.
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