One of my Psychology Professors espoused that all humans are looking for “unconditional positive regard”. They seek someone who will look at them (regard) and like them (positive) no matter what they have done or are doing (unconditional). I never really had much use for the concept.
I’ve never wanted unconditional love. Whatever love I had I needed to be worthy of. I did not want a gift of 'unearned grace', a dispensation from heaven. I wanted someone to love me for what I am, not despite what I am. Someone who loved a me that they saw clearly.
Same with friendship. I like to spend time with impressive people. Strong, intelligent, accomplished people. I also want them to feel that they are spending, not wasting, their time with me. It’s a great incentive to stay interesting. To work to become what I admire.
It’s one of the reasons that I so value the deeply honest friends, the ones that will tell me when I am full of shit or heading down the wrong path or playing with matches in the powder shed. If someone I admire sees me that clearly and chooses to stick around, it’s a very good sign.
Unconditional? I trust the people who I love never to cross these lines, but there are behaviors that deserve high-velocity trans-cortical lead therapy regardless of history or blood ties. My love is deep, but there is a condition never to turn evil. Or even really, really stupid. I have limits.
When a Psych Prof says ‘everybody’ and I know damn well it doesn’t apply to me, that really doesn’t mean much. By this time, so much of my emotional wiring is home-built after-market that it’s not funny. So I’ll consider it a ‘most people’ thing and tread lightly.
But, lately, a couple of things have come up in different places…
Absurd, silly things. The kind of things that I am confident if they were just pointed out one could only laugh… but maybe not. Both of the things I am thinking about were triggered as defense mechanisms. Reflexive responses to something I said, nothing more, but so impossibly absurd that I am afraid that pointing them out would trigger a deeper defense mechanism.
One of my assumptions (this might be a little complex) is that if someone pulls out a ridiculous explanation, something their adult mind couldn’t possibly support, in order to defend a position, both the position and the explanation were implanted very early and very deep. If you push it, especially if there is no real room to run, you are directly attacking identity. The backlash can be harsh. (No, not danger: just anger and hurt and all that emotional sludge that makes me tired.)
For the people intent on finding “unconditional positive regard” it’s probably a no-brainer. Avoid hurting feelings, pretend not to even notice contradictory beliefs. Smile and move on. Also for the very few people who genuinely have their identity centered around understanding themselves- pointing out contradictions and absurdities to those few is a rare gift. Not always pleasant, but they are usually grateful when the wounds heal.
But for many people, maybe most, the things that trigger a reflexive defense are some of the deepest things about who they are. Stuff they will refuse to see and deny, sometimes to the point of death or beyond. A wise friend once said that the things you can’t see are the ones that control you the most.
It’s just a data point, something to let go, I think. I like these people the way they are. There is no obligation to fix something that no one else may consider broken.
I guess that’s my version of positive regard.