Is it Unconditional Positive Regard?
Not a post about what we need, or are entitled to, this time but more about what we can offer.
I’ve been reflecting recently on what some friends of mine might need most when they are struggling to manage difficult feelings towards their own child.
Sometimes these children, because of their disability, hurl endless physical and emotional abuse at their parents and siblings. They can relentlessly damage their home, toys and everyone’s belongings. Children who spit, fabricate and, in their distress, say awful things to exhausted family members.
This can be daily and relentless. These families live in a zone of violence and destruction. Shutting themselves and other children into one room for safety frequently because the distress of one of their children is out of control. Again and again.
It is my experience that capable, loving and devoted parents not only have to mange these circumstances daily, but, after a while have to live with the most difficult emotions that arise within them. They may feel they no long love their child. They may hate their child. They may fantasise about harming their child. Such is the trauma these parents are experiencing daily.
These families generally “don’t qualify for support” until the child breaks – see “When it all Goes Dark”.
Given that practical support, Psychological Therapy and Speech and Language Therapy is often unavailable to them – what can friends and professionals do that will make a difference? Mostly, what can I do? Is my way of ‘helping’ my friends in these circumstances actually helpful – and what about it is the most effective?
Out of the blue, the phrase “unconditional positive regard” came into my mind.
I have no idea when I first heard this phrase, probably when I was training to be a cancer nurse and attending a module on counselling. I doubt it meant very much to me at the time. In-fact until recently I don’t think I could really deeply relate to it at all.
Anyway this phrase was eating away at me so I revisited it – care of google.
Firstly, I learnt that Unconditional Positive Regard does exist. Honestly, with my brain being so fried at the moment I wouldn’t be surprised if I had imagined it! Unconditional Positive Regard has its origins in the work of psychologist Carl Rogers apparently.
It isn’t about being nice to people in a superficial, or even a caring way. It is about a deep acceptance of the other person, having an underlying belief that the person innately wants to take actions and make decision that are ‘constructive’ and an understanding that they should be enabled to make decisions and choices about themselves, for themselves.
So I think it is about NO judgements or assumptions – NONE. About understanding that if they are using strong negative language to describe their feelings towards their child there is an underlying cause for this. About accepting that this is how it is for that friend right now. Finally, that advice / telling them what to do may not be the best way forward – supporting them to find their own way forward is better.
Unconditional Positive Regard is used in psychological therapies, so is it relevant to friends, colleagues and professionals working outside of the field of psychological therapy?
To me, in my role of ‘friend’, Unconditional Positive Regard is to know, in every bone in my body that these parents, my friends, don’t want those feelings and thoughts. To continue to listen without judging in any way. To to accept their views absolutely but without enabling or supporting those views. I hope that by allowing this to happen they can sometimes be open to hearing some balance in my responses/reflections and that their “innate drive to behave in a social constructive way” can leak out and return to their relationship with their child.
I hope that by offering genuine, relentless, Unconditional Positive Regard (and coffee, cake, chocolate, tissues, hugs and wine) that those people we know and care about can find some space in their heads to mange a bit longer and recover a little more.
If you want to know more about Unconditional Positive Regard from someone who actually knows about it then you can visit this site:
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Finally, if you are interested in thinking more about real genuine listening here is a diagram that may get you thinking…