The Power of Unconditional Positive Regard
Just the other day a client was describing the value of what they receive from me and they used a phrase that struck me deeply and has stuck with me. They said, “You give me a place to say the things that hurt to have unsaid”. Yes! There are things that become free by being given a voice and a person present to hear them. It has absolutely nothing to do with right or wrong. Every thought and feeling has an integrity of its own. It has a right to exist and to be expressed gives it a new level of existence. It gives the thought or feeling permission to live out loud. To keep them bottled up inside is to keep them in a place where the only choice is to leave them to continue to make us feel badly. To our feelings a voice is to allow them to circulate and develop and grow into something with a greater positive perspective and grow in connection.
Every person and every aspect of that person has a path of their own. No one person has enough perspective to see a big enough of a picture to know what those paths are. It is an act of faith, and also and act of deep respect, to acknowledge this in ourselves and each other. We really do not know what is best in the long run for another. It’s not responsible to attempt to fix anyone. It’s hard enough to try to do this for ourselves! When a client tells me painful stressful thoughts that argue with how things are, I understand! Part of me wants to rush in and say, “Don’t do that!”, “Stop it!” I’ve done that SO many times with the people closest to me in my own life. “Stop thinking and feeling that way! It upsets me!” Now we’re both upset and drowning in it. The experience of drowning (over and over when I’m trying to help!) has taught me to hear those parts differently. It is important for me to remember that I am holding a safe space for a client to express what they need to get out without my input.
This same client said to me, “all my parts feel better about themselves in your presence”. Hallelujah! This means all those parts get along with one another better too. When a client is unhappy it is because they are at war with themselves. The parts inside of them that cause conflict are all competing for their point of view - to have their reality be more valid, more “right” than another part. There is no way to be at peace with this kind of inner conflict going on. We can identify the conflict is happening as soon as someone starts explaining, defending or justifying what they are thinking and feeling. The reality is that there would be no need to do any of that if there wasn’t another part of them singing a completely different tune and telling them (inside their own head!) that they are wrong about what they are feeling or saying. As a listener I can hear all these parts. I can respect them. I can hear the struggle and the hurt on both sides. I can hear the caring and striving to have the pain end and the grip on the idea that if they try harder, think more, ask other people for answers, etc. that they will find peace. They may find temporary relief and distraction but that is simply a band-aid that prolongs the pain longer. The only way to end the inner war is to bring understanding, acceptance and compassion to all of the thoughts and feelings. This is what we call unconditional positive regard. The respect of acknowledging that their existence is valid. Within this acceptance there can be wisdom and thoughtful dialogue. The parts within an individual can hear one another with respect.This same client (whom I obviously adore and has encouraged me to communicate their experience to help others) told me about a part of themselves that was self-destructive and that they had to keep “enslaved”. Completely understandable. This part had wreaked so much havoc. Something must be done. How could I argue with that? What good would it do? What it would do is perpetuate the inner conflict. Arguing creates arguing. Pushing causes pushing back. In my acceptance it was easy to see a bigger picture and make observations. “That means part of you has to be a slave master, doesn’t it?” That reflection was enough in that moment for this client see the double bind this solution had created and the likelihood of an inner rebellion brewing. Both parts living in fear of one another and resentment. A new awareness brings new possibilities.
Trying to fix clients makes them into a problem. Trying to heal them makes them wounded. When we are clear that every part has a good intention and a dignity that deserves respect we can become the garden in which they can relax and reflect, feel free to run around or simply sit and be. We become the place they can see and hear themselves by having another to express to. We can hold the position of unconditional acceptance and good will that creates safety and space for their inner dialogue to create peace rather than perpetuate conflict.
Madelon Guinazzo is co-founder of Cuddlist.com and is an expert in the field of Cuddle Therapy. She is an expert on Critical Communication Skills, Consent, and Boundaries.