Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Unconditional Positive Regard

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.


shugyosha said...

I call BS on the professor, but kudos on your friend.

Unconditional approval is something you get without sweat. I don't think people really value this --although they might still search for it--.


Viro said...

"Truth" is something that you point out to others.

"Uninformed opinion" is what other people try to foist upon you.

They may call it the truth. Heck, they may even back it up with things called "facts" and "logic," but you know they're wrong.

You know they're wrong.

Irene said...

Unconditional positive approval I can get from my dog. From people, I do expect a bit more.

Master Plan said...

One of my Psychology Professors espoused that all humans are looking for “unconditional positive regard”

Hmm, meaning what tho? "Looking for" meaning actively seeking to the exclusion of other things? "Looking for" meaning sensitive to appearances of? "Looking for" meaning enjoy it when it happens?

Besides, perhaps, our parents who is going to give this to anybody really?

I would tend to reverse it, if a person is treating you in this way, what does it say about them?

If a person is so willing to love another person that they will truly tolerate and even encourage ANYthing from another person...aren't they likely to be a gross, spineless, enabling creepo?

I think this sounds like a nice thing to say to a bunch of college kids, one of those "needlepoint sayings" you've mentioned before, but...does it really mean anything?

I think functionally we might like it if somebody we care about cares about us enough to forgive us our trespasses, at least to the extent that we'd do the same for them. But that's a rather different thing.

I think the initial statement is a statement without meaning when taken as is.

Like saying, everybody wants the most sexual pleasure they can experience. Sure...kinda...sorta, in a way, with qualifiers, to some extent, for the most part.

It's also tricky of course because "we" usually choose (if indeed one considers it a choice) to love a person as they are, but then...what if they change? Are they still them? So then are "we" still obligated to love them in the same way?

Seems like a good phrase or initial position to put in to a persons head. They can then either agree it is true, to whatever extent, and then apply it as a filter. Or they can consider and reject it in the same way. In either case you've provoked them in to some level of critical thinking or awareness and analysis. Which seems like sort of thing a professor might indulge in, no?

Kevin said...

Oft-times my response to this concept, upr, introduced by Carl Rogers, has been 'shut the FUCK up with such bs'. So, I'm in substantial agreement with this post.

That said Love causes me to stop. We are victims and instruments of love. Our relationships tend to be experienced as blest by it's presence and haunted by it's absence. Love has a shadow, it seems. Nothing mushy about it. Actually, seems brutal a fair amount of the time.

There is something curious and funny about the way guys enter into agreements to maim or kill each other if one or the other ever crossed certain lines. My son and I have lots of 'promise to kill me if I ever's....". So, I don't think we are upc people.

It's curious that a horse-hater is fascinated by Chiron---half horse-half man. Jung and Laing talked about wounded healers. The lunatic psychologist who coined the term 'wounded inner child'....in need of unconditional positive regard...had it wrong. Tentatively, I throw out 'wounded inner horse' as an aspect of our shadows.
I'm finally getting it----you've a horse in your shadow. Nothing wrong with that.

Dina said...

"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."

Okay. Holy shit. Holy SHIT. You're not gonna believe this, but I was contemplating something very similar just yesterday. Probably not to the depth that you did, but it was centered around what drives people to do and say the things they do. I believe a majority of people act and react in the ways they think are "right," even if it seems wrong to others. Take a person who is blunt and harsh. Something formed inside them many years ago that led them to the conclusion that the best way to deal with people is to be blunt and harsh. They are subsequently blinded to the fact that some people will be wounded by that. That's just one example of many based on personalities I've been watching lately. Most of the people I think about respond in what they feel is true to themselves but fail to consider where it really comes from.

Wow - great blog post.

Irene said...

"... 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)."

Although this premise may be the foundation for modern Christianity. So it's possible that your professor was right, for the vast majority of people.

David said...

Does somebody need a hug?

Seriously, I feel like either you've misunderstood the concept or maybe I understand it on a different level than the originator intended it. The bottom line is that everyone needs to feel that at the core their existence has meaning and is justified, without having to do anything about it (i.e. without having to satisfy conditions); and many, many people do not. It sounds like you already feel that way about yourself, so you don't understand the need for it, but don't make that brush stroke too broad.

Maybe in practice it does become a feel-good session. I once watched a video of Carl Rogers giving his unconditional positive regard. I think it works for some people who need it and can easily devolve into deceit or exploitation on the part of those who seek to take advantage. But the principle and the application are two different things.

The examples you brought up, about friends you value who tell you that you are full of shit -- what is that but a demonstration of their deep positive regard for you, that they would respect you enough to tell you the truth? It's like, you love your child even if they piss you off and do evil things and hurt people. Doesn't make them good people and doesn't justify anything they do. But holding that paradox open and not trying to resolve it too simply is I think where that principle enters in.

Anonymous said...

UPR is about seperating the person from their actions. It is a way of life in essence. it stems from the Humanistic school of thought which believed in the innate goodness of mankind.Carl Rogers felt that an unconditional acceptance for a client was empowering for them and felt it was nesscessary for change and personal self development to occur. To have someone (some people never even got this from their parents)to accept you for who you truly are and not because of what you have done or not done is a major factor in therapy with a client.