How to Have Unconditional Positive Regard Post Treatment

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While acknowledging and accepting responsibility for your past wrongdoings is an important part of recovery, it should not be followed by shame. You cannot move forward in your recovery without having unconditional positive regard for yourself. This means accepting yourself, flaws and all. It means expressing empathy for yourself and practicing self-love. You can practice self-love through cognitive exercises and mindfulness.

Unconditional Positive Regard

The difference between conditional and unconditional love is that unconditional love will persist even if the person disapproves of your actions, while conditional love will not. Condition and unconditional positive regard are similar. 

Conditional positive regard is expressed when a person provides support because they agree with your behaviors or experience. On the other hand, unconditional positive regard is when a person provides support regardless of whether or not they agree with the person's actions or experience. Expressions of unconditional positive regard focus on understanding a person's feelings and emotions rather than focusing on the repercussions of their actions.

Unconditional positive regard is often practiced by therapists to build a trusting relationship with their clients. A therapist who has unconditional positive regard for you will:

  • Respect your free will even when they don't understand or agree with your decisions
  • Operate under the assumption that you are doing the best you can
  • View you as a person competent in working towards self-actualization
  • See you as inherently human and lovable
  • Believe that you are more than your actions

A therapist may express unconditional positive regard by creating a non-judgemental, safe space for you to express your feelings. Shaming a person for inappropriate or damaging behavior is the opposite of unconditional positive regard. Instead, a therapist practicing unconditional positive regard would focus on the thoughts and feelings that led you to exhibit the negative behavior.

Person-Centered Counseling

Carl Rogers developed an approach to psychotherapy that uses unconditional positive regard as a tool for building trusting relationships with clients called person-centered counseling. His theory involved expressing empathy to inspire self-determination in his clients. 

Rogers believed that clients would gain the will to change when they are embraced in a genuine and warm therapeutic relationship. Person-centered counseling functions on the idea that clients are more than their symptoms. It requires the therapist to be attentive, non-judgmental, and compassionate towards their clients.

Unconditional Positive Regard Producing Unconditional Love

Your past actions do not make up all of who you are. As a human, you make mistakes. Some mistakes may be bigger than others, but this doesn't mean you are incapable of striving to be a better version of yourself. Expressing unconditional positive regard towards yourself will help you heal. When you extend empathy to yourself, you can understand why you've engaged in harmful behaviors while still acknowledging that the behavior was wrong.

By doing this, you are engaging in self-love and improving your self-esteem. High self-esteem is highly correlated with good mental health, better social relations, and experienced higher job satisfaction. Low self-esteem is associated with substance abuse, anxiety, and other emotional problems. 

Improving Self-Esteem

Increasing your self-esteem is about feeling valued, worthy, and competent. The best way to improve your self-esteem is by practicing mindfulness and cognitive exercises. Mindfulness requires you to be aware of your thoughts by processing them slowly without judgment. This allows you to identify negative self-talk and extend empathy to yourself to negate it. Mindfulness is often practiced through yoga or guided meditation.

Cognitive exercises require you to be mindful of your thoughts, understand their impact on your mental health, and take steps to change them. You can improve your cognitions through positive self-speech. Use unconditional positive regard to regulate your thoughts, regulate your emotions, and manage your substance use symptoms. 

Remind yourself that even though you've made mistakes, you are still lovable. You are still capable of working towards self-actualization. Tell yourself that you are competent, valued, and worthy. You might not be able to convince yourself of these thoughts immediately, so start small and work your way up. 

Dealing With Judgemental and Insensitive Environments

It can be challenging to maintain unconditional positive self-regard when you are in a toxic environment. Some people can be insensitive toward your feelings, and other people can be outright mean. Having high self-esteem will decrease the hurt from other people's comments. However, when you're repeatedly surrounded by judgment, it is bound to have negative effects on your self-esteem. The best-case scenario is that you can leave the toxic environment. This may not always be possible.

For instance, you might find that your living situation or workplace has a toxic environment. Under these circumstances, the negative comments may become impossible to leave behind. In most cases, clear communication could solve the problem. Expressing that the person's words or actions hurt your feelings will cause many people to realize the unintentional negative impact of their behavior.

Practicing self-unconditional positive regard will help you build your self-esteem and find self-love and acceptance along your recovery journey. Pathways Recovery Center believes that unconditional positive regard is important for emotional growth during your recovery. Our mental health professionals are dedicated to creating safe, non-judgemental spaces so that you will feel comfortable sharing your thoughts and feelings with us. We can give you the tools you need to have a successful recovery by taking it one day at a time. If you or someone you know is struggling with substance abuse, please call Pathways Recovery Center at (888) 771-0966 to learn how we can meet you where you are in recovery.

Clinically reviewed by 

Moses Nasser
Dr. Moses Nasser, a double board-certified physician in Family Medicine and Addiction Medicine, with expertise in holistic healing, addiction medicine, and psychiatric care, holds an X-waiver to prescribe buprenorphine and has extensive experience in mindfulness-based customer service and medication-assisted treatment.

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