Conditions Of Worth
Everyone needs a little love and good will. We crave it when we’re older, but we’re absolutely obsessed with it when we’re young. For an adult the loss of love or the esteem of friends can be painful, for a child it can be catastrophic. But love and good will does not grow on trees, it comes from people. And each person has different reasons why they love or why they give positive attention. In childhood we quickly learn what these conditions of worth are, and carry that understanding with us into adulthood.
As kids, we all wanted the positive, loving attention of our parents or caregivers. Even for the most loving of parents, a child who is well behaved and pleasant will receive more positive attention then a child who is wild, destructive and mean. From an early age, we may learn that a condition for the positive love of a parent is to not bite the parent. Biting will likely result in a shout of pain and a sharp rebuke. In such a case, the child has learned that in order to get positive regard, not biting is one of the conditions that must be met. Its an important dynamic that leads to a society in which most people don’t bite others when they’re mad. However, its such a powerful tool for the parent, it is often overused.
Conditions of worth are not in and of themselves a bad thing. Its when they are overused that they begin to be a problem. A child will seek to satisfy the condition of worth imposed by their parents. And without realizing, parents may create more complex conditions for their attention then may want to. As children grow they learn a new set of rules for attention. Perhaps the best way to get some praise from Dad is to get straight A’s, or start for the football team. Maybe Mom doesn’t realize she gives much more love and attention when her children fail and are sad then when they are successful and happy. Friends spend more time with you when you listen to the right music and act the right ways. By the teenage years most of us have a complex system of rules to abide by if we’d like some love, praise and general positive regard from the people in our lives.
Slowly this system of conditions of worth works its way into a person’s overall way of seeing the world. They adopt these conditions as their own values, blocking out the true organismic values that comprise who they really are. As their real self is blocked out by this adopted system of values, incongruence results. The rules for love and positive regard lead them to live a different life, a life incongruent with who they really are, a life that does not satisfy all their other needs and tragically, often doesn’t even truly satisfy their need for positive regard.
Your general list of modern psychological ills results. People are unhappy, anxious and depressed. But often they only try to revise and change the conditions they are using for positive regard. They may change their veneer, but not the root of the problem. They only shift the contents of their complex system of worth rather then trimming it back and exposing their real, true values.
It’s this latter state that person centered therapy seeks to create. The counselor simply tried to remove any conditions of worth from their relationship with the client. They offer only unconditional regard. This creates an environment in which a small crack is placed in the person’s overarching system of conditional worth. In such an environment the person can begin to acknowledge and understand what it is they truly want and need. These values are always trying to be heard, but are blocked out by our complex set of constructs we use to try to gain conditional positive regard. Person centered therapy simply creates a place where this system is pushed back, and one’s true values can emerge. A person is then free to consider who he is and what he wants, without the threat of a loss of positive regard. No matter what is said, he can expect unconditional regard.