We have mental filters that we process our lives through.  They are beliefs about how the world should be, and through those beliefs we create judgments.  This person is covered with tattoos, thus (insert belief).  This person is divorced, thus (insert belief).  This person is overweight, thus (insert belief).  This person is always smiling, thus (insert belief).  It’s human nature, to an extent, but through these beliefs, we can begin to reshape our openness.  In both counseling and massage therapy, we are trained to look upon others with unconditional positive regard. 

“People get out of the habit of empathy and experiencing feelings just from becoming enamored with our ability to reason” (Cochran & Cochran, 2015, p. 60).  This quote really strikes me as it details just how subconsciously we play life through our belief filters; seemingly unaware of how those ‘should’s’ are impacting, not only our lives, but those around us, and our empathy begins to deteriorate.  When we rationalize our opinions, making them true to ourselves, we are destroying our ability to see each other as human, as flawed, as valuable, and as equals.  Now, you may be saying, wait a minute!  You want me to believe that everyone is equal; I mean some people have done terrible things.  Yes, I agree with you.  Some people have allowed their pain to build to such a level that they have caused others suffering.  Stay with me for a moment… what if we allowed ourselves to consider that others act out from a place of suffering, or internal pain, or lack of emotional development?  Have you ever hurt someone and then realized an hour later that you could have handled the situation better?  More aligned to who you want to be, and less aligned to who you currently are?  What I mean is, your current abilities to cope with your emotions by either choice or reaction?  Your ability to process or understand your anger or frustration?  Perhaps how a mountain was made out of what could have been a molehill?  What if you were being judged in those moments?  Would you feel that was unfair?  Like the person judging you doesn’t really know you because they don’t know what led you to those reactions?  What if that’s true for those you judge?

Unconditional positive regard does not mean agreement, it means acceptance.  Acceptance that there is likely more to the person than the event or reaction you are judging.  It means, a willingness to hold space for a person to be who they are, and you simply allow them that space.  “All sentient being should be looked on as equal.  On that basis, you can gradually develop genuine compassion for all of them” (Dalai Lama).  You may be thinking, I give people a chance.  I let them show me who they are before I decide how I feel about them.  But, this is considered conditional positive regard.  You see, if they meet your conditions, then you are willing to offer them your positive regard.  We also can have unconditional positive disregard, when we aren’t judging, but we are also lacking any sense of empathy.  We are disregarding someone so much so that we convince ourselves we are accepting of them.  We’ve all witnessed this many times as people walk past the homeless. 

As counselors, we are taught that through unconditional positive regard, we hold a space for others to recognize themselves.  That person who is being unkind to you, if we can hold unconditional positive regard for them, there is a greater likelihood that they will come to see themselves more clearly, and possibly re-evaluate their choices and actions.  This is far more likely to happen than if we yell back at them.  Now, this does not mean you should tolerate someone hurting you.  Absolutely not.  It simply means instead of casting them in the role of the evil-doer, perhaps try holding an understanding that they are more than those actions; there is a person in there likely in need of help.  It’s not your job to get help for them, mind you.  Simply holding the space to look on them with a sense of empathy and refraining from condemning them with judgments. 

If you think for one moment that I am suggesting this is easy, I’m certainly not.  What I’m suggesting is that our lives become much more rich, much more connected to the greater good, each time we can catch ourselves in judgment of others.  When we are able to quiet that inner voice that seemingly knows how others should be and we consider that there is likely more to know, we take a step toward unconditional positive regard. 


Cochran, J. L., & Cochran, N. H. (2015).  The heart of counseling: Counseling skills through therapeutic relationships. New York, NY: Routledge.

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