Conditional positive regard occurs when someone only provides support, love, or ‘positive regard’ if you meet certain conditions.
Conditional positive regard can be seen in many aspects of our lives, from relationships with family and friends to the workplace and broader society.
For example, at home, a parent may fail to express support and love for their child when their child makes a mistake or misbehaves. The child learns that their parent only expresses love if certain conditions are met.
Similarly, in the workplace, employees may be awarded bonuses when they exceed expectations on a project but given no support when they are struggling at their job.
Definition of Conditional Positive Regard
Conditional positive regard is the practice of valuing an individual only when they adhere to certain behaviors or beliefs, thus making the provision of approval or affection contingent on meeting these specific expectations.
Conditional positive regard is a psychological concept originally proposed by the humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers in the context of his client-centered therapy (Carducci, 2009).
It refers to the practice of providing affection, approval, or acceptance to others contingent upon them meeting specific conditions, criteria, or expectations.
This type of regard is contingent upon an individual’s behavior or performance aligning with the expectations of others, such as parents, teachers, friends, or romantic partners (Feltham, 1997).
Cochran and Cochran (2020) explain the consequences:
“…for such persons, the result often seems to be a sense of self-worth that is based on continually compiling accomplishments, manifested in behaviors that we consider maladjusted, such as taking hurtful advantage of others or becoming so discouraged that self-development is greatly thwarted” (p. 179).
In other words, conditional positive regard can potentially hinder personal growth, self-esteem, and emotional well-being, as individuals may feel pressure to constantly meet the expectations of others to receive love and acceptance.
It may lead to a loss of self-identity and authenticity as they seek approval from others rather than cultivating a strong sense of self.
Simply, conditional positive regard is when someone (such as a parent, teacher, or partner) gives you positive attention and support only if you meet the expectations that they have set for you.
Conditional Positive Regard Examples
- Parental approval: A parent only praising their child when they achieve good grades or win competitions while neglecting to show love and support to their child when they’re feeling low or making mistakes.
- Friendships: A friend who only offers support and encouragement when you follow their advice or conform to their values and beliefs but withdraws their friendship when you express a different opinion or make your own choices.
- Romantic relationships: A partner who only shows love and affection when their significant other looks a certain way, behaves in a particular manner or meets their personal expectations.
- Workplace: An employer or supervisor who only acknowledges an employee’s contributions or shows appreciation when the employee exceeds performance expectations but fails to provide support or encouragement during challenging times.
- Social groups: Members of a social group only accepting and including someone if they dress, speak, or act according to the group’s norms and expectations while excluding or ostracizing them if they deviate from those expectations.
- Sports teams: A coach who only praises athletes when they win games or achieve personal records but criticizes or ignores them when they fail to perform at their best.
- Academic environments: A teacher who only appreciates students who excel in their class but disregards or disapproves of students who struggle or don’t perform at the desired level.
- Religious communities: Congregation members who only welcome and support individuals who strictly adhere to the community’s beliefs and practices while shunning those who question or challenge those teachings.
- Parent-child relationships: A parent who only provides emotional support and praise when their child pursues a career or lifestyle that aligns with their desires but disapproves or withdraws affection if the child pursues a different path.
- Social media: Friends or followers who only like, comment, or engage with someone’s posts when they share certain types of content or express opinions that align with their own views while ignoring or even criticizing posts that don’t meet those criteria.
Conditional Positive Regard vs. Unconditional Positive Regard
The key difference between conditional and unconditional positive regard lies in whether or not this positive regard is dependent upon specific conditions or expectations (Cooper, 2013).
Here is a table comparison:
|Feature||Conditional Positive Regard (CPR)||Unconditional Positive Regard (UPR)|
|Definition||Positive response to another when certain conditions are met (Carducci, 2009)||Positive response regardless of performance or behavior (Cooper, 2013)|
|Example||A parent hugging their child and expressing pride after the child gets good grades||A parent celebrating their child’s efforts and hard work despite bad grades|
|Dependency on Conditions/Expectations||Dependent on specific conditions or expectations||Independent of conditions or expectations|
|Purpose||Focuses on rewarding outcomes||Appreciates effort and intention, regardless of the outcome|
|Consequences||Can lead to relationships that are shallow and insecure. It can lead to personal insecurity and inability to building trusting relationships in adulthood.||Often results in stronger relationships, as feelings are heard and accepted even when things don’t work out as planned. Can also lead to stronger self-esteem and resiliency.|
|Example of Application in Non-parental Context||Seen in ‘fake’ friendships where a person will only be there for you in good times but not bad||Seen in friendships where support and kindness are given freely without any expectations attached|
Psychology Behind Conditional Positive Regard
The psychology behind conditional positive regard is rooted in various interconnected factors, including the human need for approval and acceptance, social conditioning, and learned behaviors.
Humans are inherently social creatures, and we seek connections with others to fulfill our psychological needs (Davis & Nguyen, 2020).
One of these needs is the desire for approval and acceptance from significant others, such as parents, friends, romantic partners, or colleagues.
It drives individuals to adapt their behaviors to meet others’ expectations to receive positive feedback, love, and support (Roth et al., 2009).
CPR often stems from social conditioning, where individuals learn to value certain behaviors or achievements above others due to societal norms and expectations.
Society may place greater importance on academic success, specific careers, physical attractiveness, or material wealth, leading individuals to internalize these values and seek validation through their achievements.
CPR can also stem from a desire to maintain conformity within social groups or cultural settings (Davis & Nguyen, 2020).
When individuals are expected to adhere to specific norms or values, they may impose these expectations on others to maintain group cohesion and avoid the discomfort that may arise from dealing with differing opinions or lifestyles.
Negative Consequences of Conditional Positive Regard
Conditional positive regard can provoke many negative consequences, including insecurity and self-doubt, loss of self-identity, strained relationships, and hindrance to personal growth and emotional well-being.
Here are some examples of how conditional positive regard can have a negative impact:
1. Insecurity and Self-Doubt
Insecurity and self-doubt can be a huge negative consequence of conditional positive regard as it often leads to individuals feeling as though their worth is only valid when they meet certain requirements or expectations set forth by others.
It can manifest in things like seeking approval for every decision made, second-guessing oneself regardless of evidence, and constantly worrying about the opinions of those around us (Israeli-Halevi et al., 2015).
2. Loss of Self-Identity
Another detrimental consequence of CPR is a loss of authenticity & self-identity. If someone constantly has to meet specific standards to receive acceptance from those around them, then it’s likely they are sacrificing parts of who they are to do so.
It could lead to feelings of alienation and a lack of confidence in one’s abilities, which can be damaging on both an individual level and a societal level if left unchecked (Kanat-Maymon et al., 2015).
3. Strained Relationships
Strained relationships may also arise due to conditional positive regard, especially when expectations are not met (Kanat-Maymon et al., 2015).
CPR could lead to frustrations & arguments between individuals or within groups due to differing outlooks on what constitutes success or failure within certain situations.
Ultimately it could negatively affect communication & collaboration with others, which would ultimately hinder progress towards any shared goals or objectives that need achieving.
4. Hindrance to Personal Growth & Emotional Well-being
Lastly, conditional positive regard can also hinder personal growth & emotional well-being as it creates an environment where failure is never an option.
Such a situation may make people less open-minded about new ideas or opportunities (Israeli-Halevi et al., 2015).
They fear not meeting up to expectations placed upon them – leading them into a cycle of low self-esteem & anxiety which can further exacerbate their situation rather than help it.
Conditional positive regard is a prevalent psychological concept highlighting the human need for approval and acceptance in various aspects of our lives, from personal relationships to the workplace and society.
This type of regard emphasizes the provision of approval or affection based on specific conditions, criteria, or expectations, which can have numerous negative consequences for individuals and relationships.
It is crucial to recognize the potential drawbacks of CPR, such as insecurity and self-doubt, loss of self-identity, strained relationships, and hindrance to personal growth and emotional well-being.
By understanding these consequences, individuals can work towards fostering healthier relationships by embracing unconditional positive regard (UPR), which promotes emotional well-being, personal growth, and stronger connections.
Carducci, B. J. (2009). The psychology of personality: Viewpoints, research, and applications (2nd ed.). London: John Wiley & Sons.
Cochran, J. L., & Cochran, N. H. (2020). The heart of counseling. New York: Routledge.
Cooper, M. (2013). The handbook of person-centred psychotherapy and counselling (2nd ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
Davis, O. C., & Nguyen, T. T. (2020). Conditional positive regard. Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences, 810–813. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-24612-3_1458
Feltham, C. (1997). Which psychotherapy? Los Angeles: SAGE.
Israeli-Halevi, M., Assor, A., & Roth, G. (2015). Using maternal conditional positive regard to promote anxiety suppression in adolescents: A benign strategy? Parenting, 15(3), 187–206. https://doi.org/10.1080/15295192.2015.1053324
Kanat-Maymon, Y., Roth, G., Assor, A., & Raizer, A. (2015). Controlled by love: The harmful relational consequences of perceived conditional positive regard. Journal of Personality, 84(4), 446–460. https://doi.org/10.1111/jopy.12171
Roth, G., Assor, A., Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The emotional and academic consequences of parental conditional regard: Comparing conditional positive regard, conditional negative regard, and autonomy support as parenting practices. Developmental Psychology, 45(4), 1119–1142. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015272