Have you ever felt like someone’s affection or praise depended on you acting a certain way? That’s conditional positive regard in action. We’ve all experienced it at some point, whether from a parent, teacher, boss or friend. Their approval and support seems to depend on you meeting their expectations or standards. If you don’t, their attitude can quickly change from warm to distant and disapproving.
Conditional positive regard is when someone makes their positive attention, affection or approval depend on you behaving in the way they want. Their regard for you is conditional on you meeting their conditions. It’s a form of control and manipulation, even if done with good intentions. The underlying message is that you’re only worthy of love and acceptance if you act a certain way.
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Conditional Positive Regard Example
Conditional positive regard is when a person’s affection or approval depends on someone else acting in a certain way. In other words, you only get praised, valued, or loved if you meet certain conditions. For example, a parent may show conditional positive regard to their child by praising them only when they get good grades or do chores, but ignoring or criticizing them otherwise. This can have negative effects on the child’s self-esteem and motivation, too.
Examples in Parenting
Many parents use conditional positive regard with their kids without realizing it. For example:
- Telling a child they only get dessert if they eat all their vegetables.
- Saying they will only read a bedtime story if the child picks up their toys. Promising a play date only if the child does their homework first.
While these strategies may work in the short term, they can be damaging to a child’s self- esteem in the long run. The child may feel like they are only worthy of love and affection if they act a certain way.
Examples in Relationships
Conditional positive regard also happens a lot in romantic relationships and friendships:
- A partner who gives you the silent treatment until you apologize for something.
- A friend who stops inviting you to do things unless you always do what they want.
- Constantly having to prove your loyalty or commitment to maintain someone’s approval and affection.
These types of interactions are toxic and unhealthy. No one should have to constantly prove their worth to be accepted or loved in a relationship.
The healthiest relationships are based on unconditional positive regard – where you support, value and care for someone no matter what. Loving relationships mean accepting people as they are, flaws and all.
1. Real-World Examples of Conditional Positive Regard
Conditional positive regard is when someone shows you affection, praise or approval only under certain conditions. Real-world examples are unfortunately common and can be found in many areas of life.
In romantic relationships, one partner may lavish the other with affection and gifts only when they behave in a certain way. For example, a husband who buys his wife flowers only when she cooks his favorite meal or agrees with his opinions. This conditions her to act in ways that please him to gain his positive regard.
Parents often unknowingly show conditional positive regard for their children. For instance, praising a child only for high grades or scolding them for poor performance conditions the child to believe they are valued only for achievement or outcomes. Giving approval solely based on a child’s interests or activities the parents value can be similarly damaging.
Managers frequently demonstrate conditional positive regard through performance reviews, bonuses, and promotions given only when employees achieve specific measurable outcomes. While incentives have their place, an overemphasis on conditions for approval and praise can lead to a lack of intrinsic motivation and reduced creativity.
People with low self-esteem frequently rely on the conditional positive regard of others to feel good about themselves. They may change their appearance, opinions, or behavior in order to gain approval and praise from people they believe determine their self-worth. This is an unhealthy cycle that further erodes self-esteem over time.
The key to avoiding these negative effects is showing unconditional positive regard – affection and approval without stipulations or strings attached. Expressing interest in someone simply because of who they are can go a long way in building healthy, nurturing relationships.
2. Conditional Positive Regard in Parent-Child Relationships
Conditional positive regard is when a parent’s affection and approval depends on the child behaving in a certain way. This means the child has to meet certain conditions to receive the parent’s love and acceptance. Some examples of how this can play out in parent-child relationships:
As a kid, your parents may have only praised you when you got good grades in school or won an award. Their affection seemed to depend on your performance and achievements. If you struggled or didn’t live up to their expectations, you felt like you disappointed them and weren’t worthy of their love.
Or perhaps your parents only showed you affection when you obeyed their rules. If you misbehaved or rebelled in any way, they withdrew their affection and warmth as punishment. Their love seemed to depend on your compliance and obedience.
Some parents also use gifts, rewards and material things as a way to show their children love and approval. But then the child learns that they have to achieve or earn those rewards in order to feel loved. The parent’s affection becomes conditional on the child’s behavior and performance.
The problem with conditional positive regard is that it can be psychologically damaging to children. It teaches them that they have to earn love and approval. They are only worthy of affection under certain conditions. This can lead to feelings of never being good enough as well as difficulties forming healthy relationships later in life.
Unconditional positive regard, on the other hand, is when parents show their children love and acceptance regardless of their behavior or achievements. The love is not contingent on conditions. This helps children develop a strong sense of self-worth and the ability to form secure attachments. They learn that they are worthy of love simply for who they are, not what they do.
In summary, the type of regard you received as a child from your parents or caregivers can have a profound impact on your psychological development and relationships. Conditional positive regard may lead to difficulties, while unconditional positive regard helps children thrive and build healthy self-esteem.
3. Conditional Positive Regard in the Workplace
In the workplace, conditional positive regard often shows up in the form of rewards, incentives, and promotions being offered only when certain conditions are met. For example:
Bonuses Tied to Performance
It’s common for companies to offer bonuses and commissions based on metrics like sales numbers, productivity levels, or other KPIs. While performance-based incentives aren’t inherently bad, they can promote conditional positive regard if the only time an employee receives praise, rewards or encouragement from leadership is when those metrics are met or exceeded.
Promotion Only When Overachieving
Similarly, if the only path to career growth in an organization is to consistently overachieve on expectations and performance targets, it creates an environment where an employee’s value and self-worth becomes tied to what they can produce. Their inherent worth as a human being and member of the team is overlooked.
Micromanagement and Lack of Trust
Micromanaging employees and subjecting them to excessive scrutiny and oversight signals a lack of trust in their abilities and judgment. It also suggests that their competence and value are contingent on meeting the manager’s strict standards and conditions. Some level of accountability and performance monitoring is reasonable, but taken to an extreme, it becomes conditional positive regard.
Flexibility and Work-Life Balance Discouraged
Workplaces that frown upon flexible schedules, remote work options, and work-life balance send the message that an employee is only valued when they are present and working. Their needs outside of work, like family responsibilities or health issues, are secondary. This attitude cultivates an environment of conditional positive regard where self-worth depends on meeting inflexible conditions set by the company.
The ideal work culture is one where employees feel appreciated, trusted, and supported unconditionally. One where their innate worth isn’t tied to their productivity, sales numbers of hours worked Building this type of positive work environment leads to greater job satisfaction, wellbeing, creativity, and ultimately, performance. Achieving the right balance of accountability and unconditional positive regard is key.
4. Conditional Positive Regard in Schools
Conditional positive regard is when acceptance and praise are given only when certain conditions are met. This method of control and manipulation is unfortunately common in schools. Teachers may use conditional positive regard to elicit desired behaviors from students by giving them attention, praise, rewards, or privileges only when they act in a certain way.
Examples in the Classroom
For example, a teacher may lavish praise, rewards and privileges on students who get good grades but ignore or punish those who struggle or act out. This teaches children that they are valued only for their performance or behavior, not for who they are. Their self-worth becomes contingent on meeting the teacher’s conditions.
Some well-intentioned teachers may use conditional positive regard in an attempt to motivate students or encourage hard work and high achievement. However, this approach often backfires and leads to anxiety, low self-esteem, and other psychological issues in students.
Impact on Students
Students who receive conditional positive regard may become approval-seeking, lose motivation, and avoid taking risks. They learn to value themselves based only on external validation and meeting unrealistic expectations. Those who struggle in school or don’t meet a teacher’s conditions may see themselves as unworthy or “less than”. This can significantly impact their development and mental health.
Unconditional positive regard, where students feel valued for who they are rather than what they achieve or how well they behave, is a much healthier approach. Students need to feel safe, accepted and supported in order to learn, grow, and reach their full potential.
What Schools Can Do
Schools should work to foster an environment of unconditional positive regard. Teachers can show students they care by listening without judgment, accepting them as they are, and creating a supportive classroom community. Counselors and mental health professionals can help address the impacts of conditional positive regard and build students’ self-worth from the inside out.
Policies and training for teachers on interactional strategies that promote inclusion, growth mindset, and intrinsic motivation in students will help shift the culture to one of unconditional positive regard. When students feel unconditionally accepted and supported, they gain the freedom and safety to learn and thrive.
5. Conditional Positive Regard in Romantic Relationships
Conditional positive regard is when affection, love, and approval are given only when certain conditions are met. This can be seen in romantic relationships when one partner requires the other to behave in a certain way to receive affection or attention.
- A girlfriend who only acts sweetly towards her boyfriend when he buys her gifts or takes her out for expensive dinners. The affection and kindness are conditional on material things.
- A husband who only gives his wife compliments or says “I love you” when she completes household chores or tasks he assigns her. His expressions of love and approval depend on her obedience and performance of traditional gender roles.
- A partner who threatens to withhold physical or emotional intimacy if the other person doesn’t do as they ask or meet their expectations. This type of manipulation and control is extremely unhealthy.
The issue with conditional positive regard is that it creates an unstable foundation for the relationship. The receiving partner will constantly feel like they have to work for love and affection, never knowing if they’ve done enough to earn it. They may become anxious, insecure, and, in some cases, even depressed. Conditional love also often coincides with criticism, contempt, and control, which erode self-esteem over time.
Some signs you may be in a relationship where love and approval are conditional include:
- Feeling like you constantly have to prove your worth or earn your partner’s affection
- Self-esteem and confidence have decreased since being in the relationship
- Partner uses emotional manipulation or threats to get their way
- Affection and kindness seem to depend on your behavior and whether you’ve pleased or obeyed your partner recently
- You feel obligated to meet unrealistic expectations to avoid anger, judgment or punishment
- Your own interests, needs and desires come secondary to your partner’s demands and what they want from you
If any of this sounds familiar, the healthiest option is to speak to your partner, set clear boundaries, or in serious cases consider ending the relationship. You deserve to be in a healthy relationship where you are loved and accepted for who you are.
So there you have it, a few examples of how conditional positive regard plays out in everyday life. Whether it’s from your parents, teachers, bosses or friends, be on the lookout for those subtle hints that your worthiness depends on meeting certain conditions or expectations. Of course, some degree of positive feedback based on our actions is normal and helps guide behavior.
But when the regard and affection we receive are strictly conditional, it can be damaging. The good news is that now that you know what to look for, you can start to push back against those conditional relationships and surround yourself with people who appreciate you for who you are. You deserve nothing less.
- Exploring Conditional Positive Regard: What Is It And How Can It Affect Mental Health? by BetterHelp Editorial Team
- Encyclopedia of Personality and Individual Differences : Living reference work entry: Conditional Positive Regard by Orin C. Davis & Thuy-vy T. Nguye
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