Unconditional Positive Regard

You may know about unconditional love, but have you heard of unconditional positive regard?

When you wake up in the morning, do you ever think… “I really want to make some people mad today! I’m going to piss them off, hurt their feelings, and really make them feel awful.”  I doubt it. I honestly doubt I know anyone that wakes up and thinks that. Sure, I’m not going to argue that there are people like that who exist, but in the circle of people that I interact with, I haven’t seen them.

So why is it that we all come across situations where we do piss people off? We do hurt people’s feelings, even when it’s not our intention. Often it feels like it’s out of our control.  

man and woman on the street angry
Image by Manuel Alvarez from Pixabay

Why is that?

Well, I would argue that it is out of our control. We can only control our own actions. We do not control how others interpret those actions. When people are interpreting our actions, we want them to assume the best of us, we want them to see that we had good intentions no matter what the outcome may have been.  We want them to offer us unconditional positive regard. 

What does unconditional positive regard mean?

So, unconditional positive regard means doing the same for them, assuming they have good intentions no matter what the result.  It just takes a moment to separate your reaction, from what actually happened. If its a situation where you need to know the other person’s intention, the best way to find out is to directly ask.  But in many situations, just knowing that the offender’s intentions were good, is enough to lower our emotional response and be able to deal with the situation rationally.

Here’s an example.  If someone tells me that I look tired, their intention is probably to sympathize.

tired woman leaning on a railing looking at a view
Image by engin akyurt from Pixabay

However, my mind can assign meaning to that statement,  based on my own perceptions. For example, if I happen to have neglected my appearance that day, my mind can immediately go to: “Oh so I look like crap? I didn’t hide the bags under my eyes well today?” While I am generally timid and wouldn’t say those things out loud, I would allow them to boil under the surface.  This type of reaction gets my heart rate up and puts me on the defensive. Physically, I suffer due to my reaction to words that were probably well intended.

But, when I apply unconditional positive regard, none of that negativity comes up. In fact, I can react appropriately when I’m not questioning the motives behind a comment.  If I simply give people the benefit of the doubt and assume they have good intentions, it also benefits me. I avoid the cortisol spikes in my body that increase inflammation, and therefore fatigue.  And I can continue enjoying my conversation by not mentally flipping out and trying to bottle up an irrational reaction.

Why is unconditional positive regard useful? 

two women on different park benches talking
Image by klimkin from Pixabay

This aspect of social interactions is just one thing that I have noticed has improved in my life since I adopted this idea.  I have also noticed that people are opening up to me more. I have had some friends for quite some time now that I only ever knew on the surface level.  But recently, they seem more at ease with me; as if I am somehow more transparent and they can see that I am not judging them. They have trusted me by opening up to me and telling me things they don’t feel comfortable sharing usually.  This has created some incredible conversations, and I hope strong connections between us. I believe this unconditional positive regard has shown in my behavior and my reactions to what people say, even when I don’t realize it.

This makes sense when I look at why Carl Rogers even coined this term.  He believed that it was important that people realize that they are valued as individuals and can be accepted without judgment. His work was based on the client/therapist relationship, but there is no reason not to apply it to other relationships as well.  

Unconditional positive regard and children

Rogers found that small children need unconditional positive regard even more than adults. Young people need to know and feel that they are loved regardless of their behavior.  If they are only given love conditionally, it causes problems later on in life. Many of us grew up in households where love was only given out for good behavior or accomplishments.  In some cases, this means we no longer even know how to give love unconditionally to ourselves. Self-love is so important and often overlooked in our fast-paced society.  Offering others unconditional positive regard can help them in their journey to self-love and help you with yours. 

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

Stop Judging People by Their Actions

Another principle this leads to, is to not judge people by their actions.  When I make a mistake, I don’t want that to be what people remember about me, or how they define me.  I want them to think of who I am as a person, not what I do. Think about how many times you have been defined by one single action that you took. Maybe it got you a nickname in elementary school, or even in the office.  Think about the times you judge others by their behavior. What would change if you stopped? 

How can you show others unconditional positive regard? 

Image by Dariusz Sankowski from Pixabay

We all know the golden rule, treat others as you want to be treated.  But what if we applied that to our thoughts. Think about others the way you want them to think about you.  In the end, our thoughts influence our behaviors. Even something as simple as smiling at someone when you pass them could be influenced by how you are thinking about them.

When you are having conversations you can also help lead others to unconditional positive regard. When someone generalizes about another person, you can point out where they are assigning a characteristic onto a person based on one behavior. For example, “Bob’s not lazy, he blew off a deadline one time. But that was just a behavior, overall he’s still the same hardworking Bob.”

So what does this have to do with me?

This is an issue all humans face. We all have limited time and energy reserves, why bother spending them on useless arguments or unnecessary emotional outbursts.  Living well is all about making life as joyful and enjoyable as possible. If we can do this one small thing, it will make space in our lives for more joy and reduce the negativity around us.  

If you want to read more about ways to improve your quality of life and be more mindful, check out some of my previous posts:

Mindfulness Increases Energy

Mindfulness Activities to Try Today 






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