Good therapists, parents, teachers, healers and friends all share a secret: they understand the power of Unconditional Positive Regard. That’s why we like to be around them, why we feel safe and good when we’re with them.
Unconditional Positive Regard is a magic potion for the soul, and it is one of the faces of love.
The phrase itself comes from Carl Rogers, a renowned psychologist whose philosophy of therapeutic relationships has been very influential. Rogers helped articulate why it is that for clients, just to be witnessed in an unconditionally accepting, friendly way is healing in and of itself.
Responding to an era in which many psychologists were trained to hold a very distant and analytical stance towards clients, Rogers argued that therapists need to bring an aspect of warmth and human kindness to treatment, or no one will get any better.
Many of us who are drawn to professional roles of service arrive at the same conclusion, with or without coming into contact with Rogerian writings, just based on our experiences sitting in the room with people: platonic love is an important part of any healing relationship.
This makes so much sense once we have understood that the cause of all psychological pain is disconnection, or missing warmth.
When we have parts within us who are cut off through fragmentation and trauma from the inner sunshine of our own love, these parts take on semi-autonomous lives that erupt into the surface and cause problems. Healing comes from reclaiming all citizens of the psyche who have been split off and disowned, giving them love, belonging, and a seat at the table.
If I am able to convey my attitude of Unconditional Positive Regard to you, you will feel a warm space encompassing you, in which you are free to share even those things that you yourself are unsure about or feel ashamed of. You will sense in your gut that you cannot be lowered in my eyes here, that I will always esteem you, just because.
You know that I will see you in the kindest light, and that your shade is ok with me. This is possible because I do not mistake you for any passing quality of light or absence thereof, but understand you are the deeper, unchanging part underneath all that.
Skeptics of the “love is all you need” approach like to point out that we should focus on reality, call a spade a spade. That’s true too. We need to acknowledge what is here, and admit that it is ugly, if it truly is.
However, we don’t have to be unkind to ugliness itself by adding extra pain and alienation through judgment. Yes, it might be egotism, narcissism, or hatred here in the room with us. We might be causing long-lasting damage to others with our shadows.
But that’s life. Judging things and moralizing, saying “It shouldn’t be this way” doesn’t actually make unwanted sides of a human being go away (in fact, just the opposite). Only acceptance creates the kind of environment in which problematic behavior can convert itself into a positive expression of itself.
When someone sees the best in us, they see that our worst traits have an aspect of goodness in them. They see things we are addled with for the life-preserving attempts they are. They see our needs, the limited options we had, how we made do with the lack of love, and survived anyway.
Unconditional Positive Regard loves all of psyche’s creations in abundant measure. It knows all humans, including therapists, have great and terrible shadows. And that the deathless luminosity of anyone’s inner radiant sun can incinerate us all with its powers of love. Such is soul.
Rogers helped provide rationale and language for a truth within psychotherapy, which is that when we offer Unconditional Positive Regard as a background hum to all situations, troubles have a way of melting open, giving up their burdens to be seen, and softening away from stubborn stances of opposition. In my opinion, it is not only a tool for building trust in therapy, but an attitude for life.
The world we have around us now is the world we got by judging, shaming, rejecting, moralizing, criticizing, blaming and withholding love from ourselves and others. I’d like to see what the opposite world looks like, how about you?
It is my sincere belief that a new earth can be built, atom by atom, with Unconditional Positive Regard.