Unconditional Positive Regard


Unconditional positive regard (UPR) is considered to be one of our most formative human needs. It allows us to see ourselves through a compassionate perspective, where feelings of warmth, empathy and respect validate our emotions and experiences (Cooper, 2013). 

UPR uses a foundational attitude of active, positive acceptance and a goal of preserving the dignity and self-respect of all parties involved. Within this environment, value judgments are suspended and the self worth of the person in focus is emphasized. This person is encouraged to identify parts of their life where they can employ proactive acts of self-determination to improve their condition and meet their goals (Potter, 2020). 

With UPR as a tool, the person in focus has their personal experiences prioritized and explored safely so they can access and engage deeper levels of honesty and self-reflection (Weiner, 2010).

The goal is not necessarily to promote or encourage every thought or action that arises in this environment. Instead, the goal is to create space for whatever does come up during the healing process, so it can be considered in the open without suppression, shame or guilt (Weiner, 2010).

Regardless of whatever thoughts or feelings arise, that content is met with empathy, validation, acceptance and respect. This gives the person the opportunity to develop compassion and understanding for themselves which can improve their assessment of their skills and the possible outcomes available to them (Weiner, 2010). 

When this tool is turned inward and we use it on ourselves, we can better engage our personal truths, without the limiting impact of expectations from self or others (Weiner, 2010). This can facilitate acceptance of ourselves based on the understanding that, while we have experienced failures or made mistakes, we are still whole and complete human beings capable of growth and change.

This perspective gives us the freedom to be who we are without living in fear of what others think of us (Myers, 2020) and we can begin to undo the harm of internal habits of self-devaluation (Cooper, 2013).

How to Use Unconditional Positive Regard

UPR is a perspective that we can employ internally when considering the thoughts and feelings that arise during our healing process. We can use this tool to validate our own experiences, create feelings of empathy toward ourselves when approaching hard truths, and accept and respect ourselves regardless of our circumstances in life. 

When using this perspective, it is necessary to meet the negative or 'bad' thoughts and feelings with the same level of understanding and compassion that we would meet the positive or 'good' thoughts and feelings. We allow ourselves to accept that there may be inconsistencies in how we have approached challenges in the past, and acknowledge that we are a unique individual with our own needs and desires. Here we give ourselves permission to have perspectives, thoughts and emotions that are ours and no one else's (Wilkins, 2000).  

We try to avoid passing value judgments on ourselves for past experiences or behavior. We remind ourselves of the value of our own humanity, and the fact that we did not know then, what we know now. We invest energy in shifting our focus from defining things as 'good' vs 'bad', right vs wrong, black vs white. Instead, we consider the multitude of factors that impacted the circumstances around meaningful events, and remind ourselves that we are one person acting within conditions that are outside of our control or influence (Wilkins, 2000).

Even if it feels unfamiliar, we make time to find language that reaffirms our humanity and builds up our self esteem and self-respect. When using UPR, we make a point to only use positive, productive and self-enhancing words and phrases when reflecting on our healing process. This technique can facilitate self-love and personal warmth that will allow us to build understanding, trust and respect for who we are as a person (Wilkins, 2000). Consider applying therapeutic communication to this practice by clicking here.

Examples of language we can use to convey a sense of UPR are detailed below (Potter, 2020):

  • Acceptance - this tool allows us to engage and understand concerns without exception and regardless of the content, our values or the need to agree or disagree. Consider phrasing that includes 'I accept...', 'I am willing...', 'I hear...'.
  • Acknowledgment - here we validate that something exists and caused an impact. Consider phrasing that includes 'It was hard when...', 'I took this action as a result of...', 'I'm glad for...'. 
  • Affirmation - this strategy asks that we acknowledge the things we did right, and the positive aspects of ourselves. Consider phrasing that includes 'I did well when...', 'It took a lot for me to...', 'Though I struggled, I was able to...'.
  • Recognition - here we make an effort to identify the actions, behaviors, qualities and traits about ourselves that exist, again without judgment. Consider phrasing that includes 'The way I handled this event shows that I am empathetic and reasonable...', I recognize that although things turned out poorly, I made an effort to...'.
  • Validation - this act serves to offer us a way to confirm the information being processed. Consider phrasing that includes 'It is okay to say that things could have gone better.', 'I did the best I could with the information available to me at the time.', 'Although I was not successful in my attempt, it was brave to make an attempt at all.'.

If we are feeling stuck, it may be helpful to look back on times in our life where we have loved and respected someone deeply. This may be an older or younger family member, a romantic partner, a friend or a pet. We can think about all the positive feelings we had/have, and actions we have taken, toward that person. Think about the warmth, compassion and empathy we extended them, even when they made mistakes.

If we don't have such a person, we may consider others who appear to share that with another, even if it is a couple on television. Reflect on the words and actions they use with each other. Next, take those words, actions and emotions and turn them inward. Here we make an effort to consider ourselves just as worthy of respect and understanding as others are, and treat ourselves accordingly.

We may consider bringing a UPR perspective with us when we visit a mental health professional, and encourage them to work with us within this healing space. This may aid in making the time more productive and safe for us as we engage difficult topics.

This change in perspective can also be expressed using verbal or written affirmations. For help creating affirmations, click here.

Forgiveness allows us to put an end date on challenging events that can help create a sense of closure, and distance with time. Consider visiting the forgiveness page for access to this strategy.

RoadBlocks to Unconditional Positive Regard

There may be events in the past that we look back on with feelings of shame, guilt or fear. Times where we may have made mistakes that feel unforgivable or done things that we see as uncomfortable reflections of parts of ourselves we don’t enjoy.

With the tool that is UPR, we can explore what it feels like to suspend those negative emotions, even briefly, to create a healing environment for ourselves (Potter, 2020). This allows us to accept our truth without reservation, and be free of the feelings that may limit us as we search for paths forward toward our goals.

If stuck within these negative feelings, consider visiting the cognitive behavioral therapy page for help letting go of damaging patterns of thinking. If those negative feelings generate thoughts of shame or guilt, consider that specific challenge page for more detailed help.