Chapter 5 – Unconditional Positive Regard

Unconditional positive regard means accepting another person for who they are. Positive regard is not withdrawn if the person makes a mistake or if they show up in an irritating way. It’s not about approving or disapproving of another’s behaviours. It’s about respecting one another as human beings, with free will and operating under the assumption that we are all doing the best we can with the tools we have.

As a result of showing up in relationships with people who mirror unconditional positive regard, we begin to believe it enough to receive it. When we receive it, we come to know that we are inherently worthy; separate from our behaviors and achievements. We also feel safe to be honest, and to set boundaries that honour our needs and desires. We are assertive, but kind. This prevents accumulation of suppressed frustration or resentment. In this space of honesty, we are free to experiment and be vulnerable, without fear of judgement or rejection.

For most of us, we need to practice giving unconditional positive regard before we are ready to receive it. Once we can receive it from others, we learn to provide it to our own selves.

Pause to Reflect

Take a moment to notice who in your life provides unconditional positive regard? This might be a person or animal.

Be deliberate about spending time with beings who know and accept your authentic self. They remind you of your inherent worth, without condition.

What is required for us to believe we are unconditionally positively regarded?

  • a belief that we are accepted as we are, quirks and wounds intact.
  • a belief that we and others are inherently worthy BEings, separate from our DOing.
  • a belief that we can and are encouraged to be honest with our wants and needs, enabling us to set self-compassionate boundaries.What does unconditional positive regard look like when we believe it?
  • We ‘let our hair down, without worrying about missteps
  • We are free from the fear we will be rejected if we make a mistake
  • We celebrate differences in ourselves and others
  • We respect personal differences; we can agree to disagree, viewing conflict as a healthy part of an authentic relationship
  • We focus on progress and process, not perfection. The path, and the way we travel it, become more important than the end destination
  • Vulnerability is celebrated as a necessary requirement for inner and outer connection
  • We securely attach to ourselves and to others

Factors that promote a belief in unconditional positive regard:

A felt connection to a higher power (or higher self) that we believe unconditionally positively regards us

Belief that we are doing our best with the resources we have at any given moment, and so is everyone else

Room to learn and grow when we make mistakes. Taking the opportunity to practice self-compassion when we inevitably do misstep.

Stepping back when we notice we are activated, then investigating the belief causing the stress response. While the belief may have been true in the past, is it still true now?

Saying yes when we want to say yes, and saying no when when we want to say no

Keeping emotional projections (see page 15) in perspective. Recognizing emotional projectionsprovides the space necessary to look inside when we feel emotional pain, rather than blaming others. It prevents us from taking other’s behaviour so personally.

“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don’t find myself saying, “Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.” I don’t try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.” ― Carl R. Rogers

When living in communities of conditional positive regard, as opposed to unconditional positive regard, conflicts will no doubt arise between your heartfelt desires (signal) and the felt obligations to others (noise). In order to live in flow, we must trust that those witnessing us can hold us in unconditional positive regard. Flow refers to a lack of self-consciousness, enabling us to live from inspiration (love) instead of obligation (fear). When we lack trust that the world can hold us with unconditional positive regard, a fear-driven way of being will hamper our ability to remain in flow. We are left with two (often subconscious) choices:

  1. Surrendering to the expectations of others leads us to ignore the prompts of our spirit-body. We say “yes” to others when we’d like to say “no”. As a result, we attain social ease. However, there is a cost. We become incongruent in that moment, fueling shame and eroding self-trust. In this case, the noise from the outer world transitions into noise in the inner world (resentment). This leaves us feeling more secure in the outer world and less secure with ourselves. When the BEing is habitually quieted, deferring instead to the noise and our subconscious, DOing kicks in, requiring primal mechanisms to take the driver’s seat. Enter the stress response. Even though we tended to the external noise, we’ve transgressed in the realm of the spirit-body and the inner noise is now louder.
  2. Surrendering to the prompts in the inner world manifests as honesty and expressing our authentic or real selves (including desires and values) with others. As a result, we can say “yes” to the spirit-body, despite the noise. We become congruent in that moment, empowered by self-compassion and self-trust. However, this scenario can lead to social dis-ease, and depending on our support systems, can make us feel less secure with others. Feeling too vulnerable in the world can push us beyond our window of tolerance for stress, resulting in the stress response.

Even though we tended to the signal, because we’ve transgressed the conditional world in which we live, the noise of the outer world is now louder.

There is an alternative! We can creatively [and congruently] swing between the two options by cultivating meaning and empowered choice, enabling us to BE amidst the prescribed DOing. To navigate this challenge of staying tethered to signal while acknowledging the pressure within the noise, we must access outer resources, expanding beyond our individual limitations. From this connected place, we gain the courage to follow our calling (signal) in that moment, despite the noise. We cannot do it alone in this noisy and demanding world.

What does conditional regard look like? What does it feel like?

What would it feel like to believe you were unconditionally positively regarded?