One of the students I work with gave me a compliment the other day. He said that he liked me because I am “never grumpy and never get mad”. I had to laugh as I informed him that I do in fact have grumpy days and that I do sometimes feel angry. He seemed a bit perplexed as he imagined what I might look like in a foul mood.
I could see the little wheels turning in his mind while he pondered the realization that I too have human emotions and flaws. After a brief moment he looked at me very seriously and said, “I still like you”.
The sentiment that this little boy demonstrated is what we call unconditional positive regard. Simply defined, unconditional positive regard is acceptance of a person-good parts and bad. This is a universal type of caring that does not have an expected outcome; it is caring just for the sake of caring.
The idea behind unconditional positive regard is to focus on a person’s positives and encourage strengths while still accepting that there are flaws and weaknesses. Basically you try to care about the person as a human being separately from the beliefs that they may hold or the behaviour that they may be demonstrating. Separating the person from the behaviour is helpful because if you disapprove of or even abhor the actions of an individual you can still care about the ultimate well being of that person.
Alanis Morrissette wrote a song about unconditional acceptance for her 2004 album, “So Called Chaos” , and the chorus sums up the emotion nicely:
You see everything, you see every part
You see all my light and you love my dark
You dig everything of which I’m ashamed
There’s not anything to which you can’t relate
And you’re still here
Accepting that we are flawed is not an excuse to avoid improvement, or an absolution of wrong doing, but there really is no better feeling than to know that a person knows all your flaws and still accepts you anyway. It is this unconditional love and belief in our goodness that ultimately gives us the strength and motivation to become a better person.