Everyone has a certain personality style that includes core traits. When these constitutionally endowed qualities combine with the roles we adapt in our family system, it contorts the lens through which we see ourselves and we get a distorted view of who we are. This misshapen self-perception impacts how we relate to ourselves, to others, and to the world. We learn to view ourselves in a way that mirrors how others seem to view and treat us. Unconditional positive regard refers to the elemental acceptance and emotional support of a person regardless of what he or she may say or do. It describes the simple but potent actions, in words, attitudes, and deeds, of accepting someone for who he or she truly is— with all of his or her mistakes and imperfections. Carl Rogers, the founder of Client-Centered Therapy—a humanistic approach that undergirds many contemporary forms of counseling and psychotherapy—considered unconditional positive regard requisite to healthy psychological development and made the therapeutic application of it a cornerstone of his model of helping people. For most of us, the acceptance and positive regard granted us by others has been conditional. In other words, they are commonly attached to various conditions of “worth.” Growing up we were shown acceptance and positive regard when we demonstrated that we were somehow “worthy,” rather than unconditionally because we deserved it simply by virtue of our humanity. Many of us have had the experience of getting positive attention, acceptance, affection, and love if, and sometimes only if, we behaved to the satisfaction of others. Because we have natural human needs for acceptance and positive regard, the conditions under which they are given exert a persuasive influence. We tend to mold ourselves into shapes determined by family and social expectations—expectations that may or may not align with our best interests. Over time, this results in conditional positive self-regard/ self-esteem, where we may like or even accept ourselves only if we meet the standards others have applied to us. And since these standards are generally disconnected from our individual needs and differences, often we find ourselves unable to meet them or unwilling to accommodate them, and in turn, unable to maintain a coherent sense of self-worth. Having to hide a part of oneself in order to be accepted and considered good enough on a consistent basis is a form of emotional rejection and abandonment. D. W. Winnicott was a British pediatrician turned psychoanalyst who wrote extensively about this process and how it can affect the way people relate to themselves and others. According to Winnicott, the need to effectively dance to the tunes of others, especially primary caregivers early in life—in denying our own genuine individual needs—obstructs the development of a healthy and congruent “true self,” and results in the formation of a “false self.” The false self can be compliant, reacting to environmental demands by accepting them willingly and uncritically, or rebellious, opposing, and aggressively rejecting those demands. In either of these configurations, a false self creates an inauthentic set of relationships, even though they have every appearance of being real. Because this is a wholly unconscious process, the false self comes to be mistaken for the true self by others, and even by oneself. Although this false self persona serves a useful defensive purpose, it becomes an enduring mask, obscuring our real nature and creating considerable internal conflict (often underneath the surface of conscious awareness). It can also greatly increase one’s vulnerability to the significant psychosocial problems. Did someone say addiction? This blog post is an excerpt from Some Assembly Required – A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain by By Dan Mager, MSW; Published by Central Recovery Press (CRP).