Unconditional Regard


“You don’t pass or fail at being a person, dear.”

Of all the lines in Neil Gaiman’s Ocean at the End of the Lane, and there are many excellent lines, that is my favorite one. In my Intro to Counseling class, we’ve been talking about how one of the fundamental requirements of good counseling according to one of the people whose name I’ve forgotten is “unconditional regard.” This idea that no matter who they are, people have inherent value and worth. You don’t pass or fail at being a person. People do good things, people do bad things. People move back, people make progress. But no matter what, your client is a human being and they deserve respect for exactly that. They have worth. You can’t be a good counselor if you don’t believe that. People can tell when you don’t believe that.

I have a harder time with that with myself, of course. I want my worth judged based on things. I want to be able to say, here are all the things I have done or not done, what I am or am not. You can balance them out, you can take a look. You decide whether or not I have passed. I must be smart enough and interesting enough to make up for all of the less awesome traits. But maybe that’s not how it works. I mean, on a logical level I know that can’t be how it works. I’m still working on the internalization process though and that can take a while. Sometimes stories help. I guess this is my recommendation for Ocean at the End of the Lane, which had me crying a fair amount. And another brief attempt to reconcile what I know with what I believe. My existence isn’t pass/fail. It really is okay.


6 thoughts on “Unconditional Regard

  1. oh man, this totally makes me wish I had liked that book more 😛


    • lol Nah. I could totally see even while reading it how it was way more my sort of story and I could see that I would not have assumed you would love it. 😛 I still didn’t love it as much as I’ve loved like American Gods or The Graveyard Book (weirdly I think those two are my favorites) but I did like it as a close third, I guess.

      • Yeah, I thought it had ~moments of great beauty~ but in the end it didn’t really hang together for me. I had to find out what happened after he read the first chapter at the reading, though, dammit

      • My other absolute favorite line that actually made me stop reading for a minute was the line about how “Of course monsters are afraid. That’s what makes them monsters.” I thought that was exceptional. It had some really intense moments for me but I actually agree that the story overall was perhaps not the strongest suit.It didn’t hold together for me in the way some of his others have.

  2. I’ve been working as a professional counselor for about 25 years now and what you learned in your class about unconditional positive regard is true. Being able to listen to someone and reflect what you hear back to them without judgment is the most important aspect of counseling.

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