Unconditional positive regard is letting a person know that they are accepted and valued no matter what. Even if they are flawed human beings and make mistakes, we still respect and care about them.
An example of unconditional positive regard is the love a parent shows for their child regardless of how much the child has misbehaved.
This concept was a key component of a form of psychological therapy developed by Carl Rogers as part of his humanistic perspective on the human condition.
Why Unconditional Positive Regard?
Rogers believed that in order for people to discover the reasons behind their personal struggles and then take steps to grow, the therapist should show them unconditional positive regard.
“This means to value the person, irrespective of the differential values which one might place on his specific behaviors.” (Rogers, 1959, p. 208).
His perspective on therapy was in stark contrast to the prevailing opinion at the time. It became a foundational idea in the humanist theory.
Unconditional Positive Regard Examples
- Letting a child know you know they’re a good person even when they misbehave.
- Letting your wife know you will be by her side and love her even when you’re arguing.
- Letting your husband know your love for him isn’t connected to how much money he makes.
- Regarding your employees as competent and capable even if they occasionally fail at a task.
- Assuring your child can be anything they want if they work hard enough for it because they’re a competent person.
- A therapy who empathizes with their patient and sees the good in them, even when they fail.
- Being loyal to your friend who is going through a breakup that was their fault, because you believe your friend can bounce back.
- A pet who you leave home alone all day long, but he is still over the moon to see you when you get home from work.
- A sports fan who stays loyal to the team even though they haven’t won a title in 35 years.
- A social worker who helps someone get back on their feet after they seemingly threw their life away.
Common Relationships with Unconditional Positive Regard
1. In the Classroom
Teachers should show unconditional positive regard for their students. Students are still children, even at the high school level. They are still developing psychologically, emotionally, and socially.
Therefore, teachers should approach each and every student with the understanding that they are still trying to figure life out. They are not perfect. They will make mistakes.
So, it is important for teacher to learn how to separate the student from their behavior; to see them in their wholeness; and when calling them out, do so with love in their voice.
It’s the teacher’s job to help students find their way to the right path, in addition to teaching them math, science, literature, the arts, PE, and everything else under the sun.
2. In Marriage
It is said that we often hurt the people we love the most. But a good married couple will show unconditional positive regard for their partner, even when we hurt each other, because we love them and believe in their best side.
For some reason, the people that we have chosen to marry and spend the rest of our lives with, can be on the receiving end of our strongest ill feelings.
However, true love is to show true acceptance. This concept is illustrated in traditional wedding vows: “To love and honor, in sickness and health, through good times and bad.”
We could add another verse to that sentiment to reflect our fullest unconditional positive regard, such as: “In joy and annoyance, in happiness and anger, even when you leave the seat up, dirty socks on the floor, and dishes in the sink.”
3. In Leadership
One type of leadership style that matches the unconditional positive regard mindset is called the servant leader, who spends their time trying to get the best out of their team by serving their needs.
This is the type of leader that sees their job as serving the needs of the organization and the team they are leading. It often involves personal sacrifice for the betterment of others.
In some ways, this is a kind of unconditional positive regard for one’s employees, even those that are not performing well. The servant leader will not condemn that employee, but instead will actually focus on that individual and try to find out what it is they need to change and become better at their job.
This is a form of acceptance and understanding that is central to the concept of unconditional positive regard.
4. In Parental Love
As any parent will attest, their kids aren’t perfect. Sometimes they can be downright naughty, disappointing, lazy, difficult, stubborn, and a bunch of other adjectives that are best left unmentioned. However, as any parent will also tell you, their love for their child is never-ending.
Parenting is one of life’s biggest and most rewarding challenges. It’s a full-time job, 24 hours a day, every day of the year, for at least 18 years (in most Western cultures).
Nevertheless, parents know that they will love their child, no matter what. Even when that child is testing their patience, a parent still has unconditional love. It might not be so easy to see all the time, but it is there and it is as strong as life itself.
In the words of Rogers: “A parent “prizes” his child, though he may not value equally all of his behaviors” (Rogers, 1959, p. 208).
5. In Therapy
In client-centered therapy, Rogers was acutely aware that some clients can engage in behaviors that may be counter to the values of the therapist. However, unconditional positive regard for the client is central to the client-centered therapeutic approach he developed in the 1940s and 50s.
The therapist and client go on a journey of insight and discovery. The two act together, as equal partners, that will eventually allow the client to grow to their fullest potential. Only by unshackling the psychological forces that restrain them, and relying on their personal strengths, can the client become the best version of themselves.
This discover and growth can’t happen if the client feels the therapist is a disapproving person. This doesn’t mean the therapist always agrees with the client’s actions or opinions, but they try to create an atmosphere that allows the client to engage in full disclosure without fear of being judged.
6. In Life Coaching
A life coach is employed by someone to give them support and guidance. The life coach isn’t going to tell them “they can’t do it”, or else the coach is going to be no help at all!
Modern times can be rough. Pressures from work, dissatisfaction with one’s career, financial struggles and failed relationships can take a serious toll on a person’s sense of self-worth.
It’s no wonder that many people seek the assistance of a Life Coach.
A life coach is someone that will help a person make significant changes in their lives. They can serve as a sounding board for ideas, give advice about how to handle various personal matters, or keep someone on track in their attempt to reach a career goal. They don’t pass judgement on their client’s actions, but try to be more of a professional advisor.
Although the dynamics of the relationship between a client and a life coach are not nearly as in-depth and personal as the client/therapist relationship, the life coach offers a certain degree of judgment-free service.
In this sense, they adopt a perspective consistent with unconditional positive regard.
7. In Sports
Being a loyal fan is not always easy, especially when one’s favorite team is having a bad year, after last year’s bad year, and the year before that. However, no on wants to be a “fair-weather friend” either.
Showing loyalty to a team means demonstrating unconditional positive regard, even when they miss the playoffs…again. This means going to games even though you know your team will lose.
It means cheering your team on, even though they are behind 100 points with two-minutes to go. It means trying to give the players a high-five as they’re returning to the locker room even though they played their worst game of the season.
Being a devoted fan includes a little dose of unconditional positive regard, especially during bad seasons.
8. In Social Work
Being a social worker means working with people who are down on their luck and often with poor mental health. A social worker’s job is to find the best in the client and help them achieve their best in their lives.
Social workers have very emotionally taxing jobs. They often see people at the lowest moments in their lives. They may be struggling with unemployment, homelessness, depression, domestic issues, or dependency.
Clients may come from backgrounds vastly different than the social worker’s own personal story. Their cultures and values may be incongruent and incompatible. But the social worker is trained to put aside these differences and focus on the human being in front of them, without judgement or disapproval.
Conveying this sentiment is the first step the client needs to find trust and faith in humanity, and hope that their lives can get better. Showing unconditional positive regard for a person in the worst moments of their lives is a level of compassion that Rogers would be proud of.
9. In Friendship
Having a good friend is a precious luxury. They are hard to find and even harder to keep over the long haul. True friendship is an exercise in unconditional positive regard that might outlast a marriage.
Friendships contain many important elements of acceptance. For example, agreeing to disagree instead of letting stubbornness prevail. Understanding that sometimes feelings will be trampled. Being able to handle feedback that is meant to be constructive, but still hurts nonetheless. And not letting jealousy over love and money get in the way of valuing each other.
When two people can learn to accept each other as individuals with faults and shortcomings, but still love and support one another, it’s a beautiful thing.
10. In Our Dogs
Anyone with a dog knows that they are one of the best illustrations of unconditional positive regard among all living creatures. A dog will love you no matter what.
Even if they don’t understand why you are so upset that they just chewed your new Reeboks to smithereens, a dog will still try to lick your face.
After a hard day’s work with a grumpy boss and treacherous colleagues, who will be waiting for you at home behind the front door? Who will be wagging their tail back and forth so enthusiastically that it makes their whole torso convulse?
Although Rogers never mentioned if he had a dog or not, sometimes the greatest ideas come from nature.
See Also: Conditional Positive Regard
Rogers developed the concept of unconditional positive regard as a central tenet in his client-centered therapy. The client can only feel free to explore the causes of their turmoil if they feel that the listener is not passing judgement. Therefore, the therapist should foster an atmosphere of trust, acceptance, and respect.
We can see many examples of unconditional positive regard outside the client/therapist relationship as well. For example, marriages are built on the concept of love and acceptance, during good times and bad. Enduring friendships last because two people have learned to support each other, despite problems that will surely occur over time.
Teachers, certain types of leaders, and social workers strive to show unconditional positive regard for the people they serve professionally. And parents show unconditional positive regard for their children forever.
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