“Counterfeit love” was something I had blurted out to describe my previous romantic relationships—once I realized that I’m an off-the-charts empath.
I used “counterfeit” because I thought of money. Counterfeit bills have all the superficial elements of real money, but they’re dead currency, and that’s exactly how I would describe my previous relationships—on the outside, they had all the elements that looked like love, but their dynamics and function qualified them as dead-end “healing agreements” of all sorts.
Along with the life-changing realization of being an empath, I started to see, understand, and process events differently.
I googled “counterfeit love,” as I do with most concepts I’d like to learn more of, and discovered that this is something that John Bradshaw addresses in his book,
“true love heals and affects spiritual growth. If we do not grow because of someone else’s love, it’s generally because it is a counterfeit form of love.”
Counterfeit love…I wish I had known about this earlier, if nothing else, to save on the tuition I paid to life in years of youth, misdirection, and heartache.
As my new favourite saying goes, information leads to recognition. I’m writing about it now, with the hopes that it might help those who are struggling to identify the foreshadows, assaults, or aftershocks of counterfeit love. Because counterfeit love, like a con man, tends to be extremely charming.
So for anyone who has experienced or is in a troubling relationship, may this be of benefit.
There’s a Chinese idiom that says, “real gold isn’t afraid of the test of fire.” Similarly, real love isn’t afraid of the tests that would burn counterfeit love up in flames.
Just like how banks teach us how to identify counterfeit bills, here are some ways in which we can identify counterfeit love:
1. The only reason why we’re staying in the relationship is because we are determined to “make the relationship work.”
Staying in a relationship because we are emotionally invested, instead of because the love feeds us, is like holding on to a losing stock that is plummeting in value, because, well, we’ve already invested and lost so much. It’s a poor financial decision, and it’s a poor romantic decision. It’s not our responsibility to nurse the relationship back to life single-handedly. A loving relationship is not a single-sided healing agreement.
2. Counterfeit love is about power, control, manipulation, and greed.
Counterfeit love is like a con man—they will let us win the first few insignificant rounds, and once we give over our trust, the games of power and control start to overtake the dynamics of the relationship. Over time, it will corrupt us, erase our own value system, and destroy us as a person. Yet, we are convinced to stay in the relationship because of manipulated guilt. Do you feel powerless?
3. We are called “self-absorbed” when we share our feelings.
Feeling negative emotions are okay, and to be expected in any relationship—but to be dismissed of our feelings is not. To be belittled or diminished is not. A healthy relationship is an alchemy between the feelings of two bodies—of equal value. In a previous counterfeit relationship, as I was sharing some very real problems I was experiencing, he called me “self-absorbed,” and said he had to leave because he had “real problems” to deal with.
When you express your concerns, are they acknowledged with genuine care? Or are they rudely dismissed?
4. We are in a debate on who our “true self” is.
Instead of honouring who we genuinely are, we are molded, shaped, and manipulated into becoming a useful vessel to cater to our partner’s needs and desires. Through lies and dark manipulation, consciously and subconsciously, we are conditioned to question who we truly are, or what’s best for us.
I cannot stress this enough: only we know who we are, at our very core, and that is not up for debate by anyone, especially not from someone who is feeding off of our fragments and doubts. Real love strengthens us. Counterfeit love breaks us down.
5. We are punished for when we are not pleasing or complying.
We all have shortcomings and we all make mistakes. Consequently, we all need space for grace and compassion in our lives. True love provides that because true love is kind and forgiving. Genuine relationships will give us love and care more than what we deserve.
On the contrary, counterfeit love is easily angered, and our lessons come via perpetual pain and lashes we don’t deserve. We are all taught how to behave. Counterfeit love teaches us by making us smaller, more fragmented, and more insignificant.
6. Counterfeit love is selfish.
In counterfeit love, we are needed more than we need. Essentially, we become a caretaker, or whatever our partner needs or expects us to be. Instead of being valued for who we are, we end up being the only party sacrificing to feed our partner’s various needs and demands.
Whereas true love is a dance of give and take, counterfeit love is us feeding the vampire that constantly wants more. As a result, counterfeit love makes us feel depleted and empty, and the cycle doesn’t end.
I remember telling a close friend of mine that I had to stay in (yet another counterfeit) relationship because “he needs me,” and the response I received was, “He needs you, but you don’t need him in your life!” Truer words have not been spoken. Is the reason why you’re still in the relationship because you are needed? I repeat, love is not a single-sided healing agreement.
7. We become more whole without this relationship.
When we engage in counterfeit love, we become the blood source for emotional vampires. We can fare much better without the self-sacrificing, as we will be more whole as we are. Staying in counterfeit relationships—out of obligation—is extremely detrimental to our own welfare, and is not something we can afford, because counterfeit love is destructive in all the areas where healing is needed.
8. There is no future with counterfeit love.
Just like how you can’t buy a house with counterfeit bills, you can’t afford a future with counterfeit love. Within counterfeit love, there are no permanent plans. My favourite line is that we must “trust the process,” but that’s simply another way of being strung along, when there is no sense of tangible commitment or concrete plans for the future.
Love isn’t all we need, especially not counterfeit love. No, we need none of that sh*t. We are worth more; our future is worth more, but that’s not something we could ever materialize through counterfeit love.
Counterfeit love is toxic in nature.
It’s charming on the outside, and rotten on the inside. Experiencing counterfeit love is perplexing as it is exhausting and damaging, because over time, we are conditioned to suppress our needs and intuition, and replacing those feelings are ones of self-negligence, futile suffering, and emotional enslavement.
Only by identifying counterfeit love can we then break out from the destructive patterns of being engaged in relationships with emotional vampires, and that is the precondition of being able to love authentically, and opening ourselves to true, fulfilling relationships.
In sharing candidly the details and failures of my past relationships, I was asked how I’d missed so many “red flags.” To which I answered, “I didn’t know I had to look out for red flags—or any flags—in the first place.”
And that’s the simple, stupid truth. I overlooked the signs of danger because I didn’t know there were any. I loved—stupidly and blindly, so you wouldn’t have to.
Getting out of counterfeit relationships usually takes longer than we ultimately budget for, especially if we are empaths who are afraid of hurting others. But the only way to get our lives back is to cut off counterfeit love.
In binary terms, true love grows us, and counterfeit love drains us. Our heads will conjure up a million and more reasons to stay in a counterfeit relationship, because the best counterfeit love looks like real love, and our heads are not able to tell us what our guts do.
If we are indeed in a counterfeit relationship, our partners will hold onto us for as long as they can because we feed their egos, and by damaging us further, the chances of us leaving decreases. True love is empowering. True love is also freeing. From the beginning of time, freedom has always been fought for, and not simply granted. I don’t know why that is, but the fight persists.
“Find the strength inside yourself to value your own worth more than staying with someone who only keeps you down.” ~ Anonymous