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Unconditional Positive Regard...

Well, what is it?


It is a concept that was initially developed by Stanley Standal in 1954 but it was made popular by Carl Rogers in 1956.  


What is it?


UPR - describes an attitude of acceptance and support for another person regardless of their behavior or personal standards.


Do you have it?  For yourself?  For others?  


If you are anything like me, you have it and then you don’t.  But I am not sure it really can be something that comes and goes.  I think it is something we all need to maintain in order to function well.  And it is also something I feel is totally lacking, a great deal of the time in modern culture.


The basic idea behind UPR is that regardless of whether we agree with the person, like the way they are living their lives, how much we agree or don’t with this other person, we can, if we try, maintain an unconditional positive regard for them as another human being.  We can acknowledge that regardless of whether we like them, have things in common with them or love them, we can hold an attitude of this unconditional positive regard for them, just by virtue of them being human and accepting them (read that I didn’t say liking them) as a whole person.


The reason we might want to do this, is because when we can hold others and ourselves within this notion of UPR, we create a safer space to exist in this world.  And if I am not trying to change you or make you comport with my ideas about you, we are much more likely to have an honest relationship with each other.


Acceptance doesn’t mean agreement or even condonation.  It just means that I see you for who and what you are and I don’t try to change you.  You can just be angry, sullen, desperate, addicted, selfish, scared, hurt, hard to deal with and a myriad of others things, that don’t require me to do anything other than accept you as you are and attempt to hold a good opinion of us in our interaction.


As with pretty much anything and everything, we have to start with ourselves in my opinion.  How can I possibly hold someone else with unconditional positive regard if I can’t extend that same courtesy to myself?  It all begins and ends with me.  And just because I can do it for myself that doesn’t mean that I will be able to do it with everyone...all the time.  


UPR was really talking about a way for therapists to feel about their clients.  And I am taking the concept and extrapolating out to the much larger world.  If I can feel this UPR for myself, with some acceptance of all my broken parts, all the parts that are in working order and all the growth and change needed in my life, I think, at least for me, when I am in touch with this, it is so much easier for me to feel and extend that same vibe to you.


Lately it feels like the world is such an angry place.  People going after each other, mostly online, but I think our ability to hurl hateful words and putdowns without any real repercussions online has lowered our inhibitions in public as well.  I had just such an incident yesterday which I will write about once I have more clarity on the whole debacle.  Suffice it to say that something I did made a complete stranger become so enraged that she lost her ever loving mind.  It was messy and ugly and not a good interaction with humanity for either of us I am sure.  I will tell you that my already reluctant nature to engage with people was further damaged by her abusive and hurtful conduct.  She wasn’t trying to understand the situation, she had decided what the situation was and then she acted accordingly.  She didn’t want to understand or educate or even really listen, she just wanted an outlet to spew her venom.  And that she did.  


I am still upset about it.  All of it.  But I really have done my best to hold some UPR for her.  I have spent the last hours since the whole debacle, wondering what her life is like?  What has happened to her to make her so violently angry?  Why was she not curious at all about the situation?  Why was she so mean and hurtful?  What did she expect she was going to get when she began an abusive verbal attack on a complete stranger?  


Even though it would be so much easier to hate her and judge her, that would make me no better than her...and I am better than that.  I really do attempt to see why people feel the way they do, what lies beneath their outward behavior and I really do attempt to understand why my fellow human beings act the way they do and feel the way they do.  Perhaps I don’t often get to the level of UPR, but I try, every single time.  I try to give them some grace even when their behavior is grossly ungraceful and abusive.


And I believe I do this for others because I feel it for myself.  I am not perfect.  And I screw just as much stuff up as I get right, most days.  But I really do wake every single day with the idea that I will add something to this world and the other inhabitants I share the planet with, be they skinned or furry or feathered.  All creatures, great and small and often times awful.  I get up every single day of my life thinking about what I can add to the human experience (my own and others).  And because of that, I have a really nice life most of the time, even when I am met with hatred and vitriol that is spewed all over me.


It seems to me that I always have a choice.  I can choose to take it personally and react in kind.  Or I can create some space and allow myself to process what has happened - to me and them.  And it is in this space that I find the seeds for UPR.  And without that space, there is room only for reactive awfulness.


I spent the next four hours in my car thinking about this woman and the exchange and how quickly it devolved.  I thought about her behavior, mine and the others that were involved.  I took stock and inventory of myself and my composure or lack thereof.  I saw how the way she came at me made me shut down and become afraid.  And try as I might, I just could not find another avenue available to me to respond other than how I did.  The stimulus too great for me to have any other reaction other than the one I did.  I would like to get to a place within myself that allowed me to respond with love and patience and understanding but I am not sure there are enough years left for me on this planet that I will be able to deprogram all the stuff that is already there and supplant it with equanimity.  I will continue to work on this but I have no real hope to ever get “there”.


While I wasn’t able to give this woman UPR in the moment, I have been able to do so after the fact and I am going to call that a win.  I am going to allow for my afterthoughts of grace and space to be worthy enough to be called limited unconditional positive regard...I know I didn’t have it in the moment...but I have attempted to have it at all.


I bear no ill will towards the woman.  I think I get where she was coming from.  And I can see that her anger and rage, while directed at me, couldn’t possibly be about me at all.  There is no way I could engender that kind of response from someone who was in her right mind, balanced and serene.  She just wanted someone to hurl expletives at, and I was present.  It wasn’t about me, really.  Something I did triggered something in her that is ancient and unhealed.  I see that.  And because I see that I can harbor no ill will towards her.  I didn’t cause the wound that caused her to be so wounding, but I can see the result when someone has “stuff” but hasn’t dealt with it in a productive manner.  And I can relate because I have showed my ass many times (not like she did - but that is only because I fucking work at it hard every single day).  And I have no delusions that if I was hungry and tired and triggered that I might do the very same thing...even though I would really like to believe differently about myself.


And that is where my own UPR comes into play.  I have my own back, unconditionally.  And while I don’t always agree with what I think or feel or do, I know that at the core of me, there exists a desire and intention to do good in this life, to be a good person and to show up in this life causing the least amount of harm to those who cross my path.  I also know, because I am human, I fail all the time.  But that failure is not because of the apathy that lands in me sometimes or because I just hate people, it comes because it is of the nature of humans to be upset, dis-eased and triggered.  Me too.  Them too.  And there is nothing I can do to change that forever, completely.


The best I can offer on any given day, is that I can grant the idea that you are trying.  That you are doing your best and that that is going to fluctuate wildly.  How do I know that?  Because that is my own experience.  While I often fall short of my mark, it is always my intention to see your behavior as an outgrowth, or not, of the healing you have done.  And to understand that some people in this life have way more things to heal from then they have the bandwidth to actually heal.  And I also know this because this is my own experience as well.


I may not do it perfectly or even well on any given day, but I will tell you that every single day of my life I really do wake up with an unconditional positive regard for everyone, everywhere.  I want us all to be peaceful, loving and awake.  To serve each other, and be concerned over our shared welfare.  I do not ever want to cause the kind of hurt that woman caused yesterday...and I really never, ever want to be the one leveling all my unhealed parts and their ugliness at others...ever.


But I will, again, still.  Because that is the nature of being present and human.  The best I can hope for is that the days that I carry forward this attitude of UPR will outnumber the days that I cannot.




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