Blog Post No.88
Posted on Tuesday 5th July 2016 – (Previously posted on Monday 9th June 2014)
Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne
The Counselling Blog – Part 2: You (morally) should not accept yourself unconditionally; but you (morally) must love yourself!
by Jim Byrne, Doctor of Counselling
One of the main subjects upon which I write is the theory and practice of counselling and psychotherapy. I try to explore models of mind, and approaches to counselling which are likely to be most helpful for clients.
Another of the subjects I have written extensively upon is split:
(a) What is wrong with certain aspects of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy; and:
(b) The essential elements of Cognitive Emotive Narrative Therapy, which is my transcendence of Rational Therapy, by integrating REBT/CBT, Narrative theory, Attachment theory, Transactional Analysis, Moral philosophy, and various other philosophical and psychological components.
Arguments about acceptance and love
In Blog No.87, on 17th May 2014, I made the following statement:
In the past, I have written a good deal on the subject of the importance of morality in counselling and therapy. See:
Byrne, J. (2011-2013) CENT Paper No.25: The Innate Good and Bad Aspects of all Human Beings (the Good and Bad Wolf states). Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT Publications. Available online: E-CENT articles and papers
I was shocked to read one post on LinkedIn, some weeks ago, in which a counsellor argued that, although he was obliged to act ethically within counselling sessions, he was free to act immorally outside of counselling sessions.
The reason I find this shocking is that we social animals depend upon widespread agreement about the standards of civilization, or moral behaviour, to which we will adhere with each other. The Golden Rule, which has been around since ancient China at the very least, states that I must not treat you in ways that would be objectionable to me if you reciprocated. Or, I must not harm you, because it would not be good to be harmed by you, and I logically must not be inconsistent in demanding that you not harm me, but at the same time be willing to harm you (or your interests).
I have written detailed critiques of the views of Dr Carl Rogers and Dr Albert Ellis, on the subject of morality. See:
Byrne, J. (2010) Fairness, Justice and Morality Issues in REBT and CENT. CENT Paper No.2(b). Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online:E-CENT articles and papers.
And one of the ways in which Albert Ellis’s amorality took shape in the philosophy of counselling and psychotherapy was in his development – following Carl Rogers’ model – of Unconditional Self-Acceptance, and Unconditional Acceptance of Others (People). If we advocate unconditional acceptance of others, and we mean it literally, we cannot object no matter how badly they mistreat us. This ideology could threaten not just our comfort, dignity and wellbeing, but our very survival – and hence it cannot be accommodated within a real, living community: (as opposed to surviving inside the scattered brains of Rogers and Ellis!). And again, I have written extensive critiques of Rogers and Ellis on the topic of Acceptance and Regard:
Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. CENT Paper No.2(c). Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: E-CENT articles and papers.”
In Blog Post No.67, I tried to illustrate how I love my clients, warmly and caringly, but that I do not “accept them UNCONDITIONALLY”. I have my conditions. I accept them so long as they are committed to being Good People – Moral People. I do not engage in the madness of Albert Ellis who famously said: “Even if you go out and kill a few people – how could that make YOU bad?”. Well I have shown how that would make you, or me, or anybody else bad, in my paper on going beyond REBT:
Byrne, J. (2009) Beyond REBT: The case for moving on. CENT Paper No.1(b). Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: E-CENT articles and papers
In that paper I used a thought-experiment involving an occasionally murderous bank manager, and whether or not we would tolerate him killing one customer out of every ten! Would we ‘unconditionally’ accept him? Would we consider he was a ‘bad person’ if he killed ‘only’ 10% of his customers (and thus met Albert Ellis’s criterion of not “always and only being bad”)?
When I posted a link to Blog Post No.87, on a LinkedIn Discussion Group, I got some feedback, which I want to acknowledge and deal with in this blog post:
Robin Rambally wrote:
“One cannot love without accepting oneself and if you do not accept yourself then it will be said ‘you have identity issues’. If I do not accept myself how can I encourage someone to be pleased with oneself? It will be morally wrong not to accept/ love oneself and try to help others to be accepting”.
This post serves as an illustration of a common problem – where the reader misses the point, because they dump some of my ‘qualifying’ words or phrases. In this case, Robin dumps the word ‘unconditional’ from the phrase ‘unconditional acceptance’.
I have mounted a detailed critique of the concept of ‘unconditional acceptance’ of self and others; and Robin replies by ignoring the fact that I am talking about ‘unconditional’ acceptance.
I accept myself one-conditionally – and the one condition is that I work at being a moral person; or growing my Good Wolf side – my moral side.
I also accept you (other people) one-conditionally – and the one condition upon which I accept you is that you show by your words and deeds that you are committed to being moral beings; to growing your Good Wolf side, and shrinking your Bad Wolf side.
This is all discussed in detail in:
Byrne, J. (2010) Self-acceptance and other-acceptance in relation to competence and morality. CENT Paper No.2(c). Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online: E-CENT articles and papers
Ana Baptista de Oliveira then made this comment:
“Well, this goes to the concept of person and ours acts. Are we only our acts… we tend to explain ourselves in a much more dispositional way. ‘I did this, wrongly, because of (something happened)’. I believe we truly love ourselves when we act in such a way we can, indeed, accept ourselves :)”
Again, Ana does not deal with the *qualifier*, UNCONDITIONAL.
To accept somebody UNCONDITIONALLY, means you accept them with no reservations whatsoever – whether they have come to rob you, kill you, rape your relatives, take your home; whatever! That is what *Unconditional* means – and Ana and Robin just sidestep this ugly reality!
The second point about Ana’s post is this: She presents the Ellis’ creation: The distinction between a person and their acts or behaviours:
“…Are we only our acts” (she asks)… “…we tend to explain ourselves in a much more dispositional way. ‘I did this, wrongly, because of (something happened)’.”
We don’t have to be “only our acts” for our acts to define us. Somewhere in the writings of Lao Tzu you will find the idea that our thoughts become our acts; our acts become our habits; and our habits become our character. In this way our acts and our character are connected. We cannot say – “I’m OK, even though I have maliciously killed a few people whose money I needed!”
But Albert Ellis has spread this madness – that we can accept ourselves unconditionally, no matter how immorally we behave; and he got it from Carl Rogers, explicitly or implicitly, as I show in one of my papers where Barry Stevens, a Rogers clone, rails against all forms of external law enforcement or moral rule making, because she madly believes we have an innate moral compass which needs no shaping by our external environment. Madness of the first water, which fails to understand how “an individual” comes into existence. See my paper on the social shaping of the ego:
Byrne, J. (2009) The ‘Individual’ and its Social Relationships – The CENT Perspective. CENT Paper No.9. Hebden Bridge: The Institute for CENT. Available online:E-CENT articles and papers.
Next, Fey Case-Leng, a trainee psychotherapist, takes me to task:
“If you truly unconditionally accept yourself as a person, then why would you have a need or desire to act in ways which could harm other people or their interests? What would your motivation be? As far as I can tell, people harm others out of their fear of being vulnerable. If you unconditionally accept yourself, then you will accept your vulnerability and the fear that comes with it. I guess, at this point, we could look at whether it is necessarily immoral to harm another person. For instance, what if you were so vulnerable that your life was at risk? That, however, would be a complicated discussion with many grey areas and would involve exploring the definition of harm.
“Of course, even if you unconditionally accept yourself (including your vulnerabilities), you may still harm someone by mistake. In such a case, I don’t think shame would be appropriate; only guilt. Personally, I don’t think that feeling guilt and having unconditional self-acceptance are mutually exclusive.”
There are essentially three points here, but I will only deal with the first one, as the second and third are academic points or pedantic nit picking:
Point 1: “If you truly unconditionally accept yourself as a person, then why would you have a need or desire to act in ways which could harm other people or their interests? What would your motivation be? As far as I can tell, people harm others out of their fear of being vulnerable. If you unconditionally accept yourself, then you will accept your vulnerability and the fear that comes with it.”
The first bit of this statement seems to me to be a piece of rhetoric:
“If you truly unconditionally accept yourself as a person, then
why would you have a need or desire to act in ways which could harm other people or their interests?
What would your motivation be?”
The problem with rhetoric is that it leaves the receiver in a kind of no-man’s-land, where they do not know how to respond. Should they try to answer the question(s)? Or should they try to show that it is really a statement (or statements)?
So this is how I am going to respond:
Dear Frey, Please clarify what you are saying here.
Are you saying that it is impossible for an evil person to unconditionally accept themselves, knowing themselves to be the perpetrator of evil acts?
(This is not a piece of rhetoric on my part. I sincerely believe that it is perfectly possible for an evil person – a person who has grown their Bad Wolf to evil proportions – to fully and completely accept themselves unconditionally!)
Are you saying that you cannot think of a single motive which might cause a person, in the habit of unconditionally accepting themselves, to commit an evil act?
(Again, this is not a piece of rhetoric on my part, as I sincerely believe that a person’s accepting of themselves unconditionally cannot guarantee that they will not be motivated to act in an evil way – and a motive here could be personal gain, or revenge, for examples).
Please clarify your argument: What are your premises, and what conclusions do you think flow logically from your premises?
PS: I love my clients, which – using M. Scot Peck’s definition – means: I extend myself in their service.
PPS: I have also been influenced by Dr John Bowlby to be sensitive and caring and responsive towards my clients.
PPPS: It would be “legs on a snake” to insist that I should go further and do all of that UNCONDITIONALLY! REGARDLESS OF HOW WELL OR HOW BADLY THEY BEHAVE TOWARDS ME, THEMSELVES AND/OR THE WORLD!
Next week, I will continue with a second post by Robin Rambally.
That’s all for now.
Dr Jim Byrne
01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)
44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)