Carl Rogers, the psychologist known for his concept of “unconditional positive regard,” had a simple way of explaining one of the most powerful desires of humans: the need to feel accepted. The miracle of feeling accepted allows one to move toward self actualization, or being the best person one is capable of being. Rogers wrote: “The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.”
Learning to accept oneself requires letting down our defenses and denial and believing that we are enough, that we are lovable just as we are, with all of our positives and negatives. It is in this climate that we become capable of growing toward our most ideal self.
Learning to accept ourselves is more easily accomplished when those most important people around us regard us with loving eyes, full of empathy, even when our best is not “ideal.” This experience of feeling accepted begins with the kind of parenting that does not withdraw love when our behaviors are contrary to what is expected of us. Even the painful imposition of consequences for unacceptable behavior can be done without the withdrawal of unconditional positive regard and with the belief that when people know better, they will do better. It is never too late for a person who has not been given this gift early in life to learn how to re-parent the self.
Some may think of love as being blind. It seems more likely that love is being fully sighted and able to see through the flaws in a person to the good and the potential for good that is there. That kind of vision, acceptance, and true respect takes practice and determination, when it seems easier to just write off the other with a label.
Rogers once stated that, “The ability to imagine what others are feeling, and being able to give them unconditional positive regard are the cornerstones of spirituality.” Learning how to accept and give this strong kind of love may also be the cornerstone for peace– within ourselves, our families, our relationships, our country, and in our troubled world.