Love and acceptance: A counsellor’s reflections – Part 2

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

Introduction

DrJim12.jpgOne 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

LinkedIn-Logo.jpegI 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.

A_Wounded_Psychother_Cover_for_Kindle.jpgAnd 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.”

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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”)?

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Critical-thinking-2.jpgWhen 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

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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.

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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?

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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!

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Next week, I will continue with a second post by Robin Rambally.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

https://abc-counselling.org

jim.byrne@abc-counselling.com

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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Counsellor’s diary: Distinguishing Realistic Love from Unrealistic forms of Acceptance…

Blog Post No.88 

Posted 2nd July 2016: (Originally posted on Thursday 22nd May 2014)

Copyright © Dr Jim Byrne

Counsellor’s diary: Distinguishing Realistic Love from Unrealistic forms of Acceptance…

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Introduction

LinkedIn-Logo.jpegCounsellors and therapists must have some ideas regarding how to relate to their clients.  For example, do they respond from realistic forms of love; or from unrealistic forms of unconditional acceptance?

I have recently posted a link to blog post No.87 (below) on LinkedIn.  This produced a dozen critical responses, to which I must respond.  However, it is complicated, and time-consuming, so I am going to have to respond in at least two phases; or possibly three.  Here is the first one:

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Temporary Response to contributors on the subject of Acceptance and Love:

Dr-Jims-office.jpgI awoke this morning thinking about the LinkedIn response to my post about ‘Conditional Love’ versus ‘Unconditional Acceptance’.

I want to do a good job of thinking about and responding to those individuals who took the time to post their view. This will take time to develop, and given my other commitments, I will probably have to develop it in stages.

In particular, I want to look at those statements which:

  1. Distinguish between ‘a person’, on the one hand, and ‘their behaviour’, on the other; and:
  2. Which talk about the ‘unconditional love’ of a mother for her children.

Albert_Ellis-7.jpgAnd there will be other points that also require a response.

In my full response, when I have had time to develop it, I will use, among other things, the following illustrations of my position:

  1. I originally (unthinkingly) subscribed to the approach of distinguishing between a person and their behaviour.
  2. I was introduced to this idea through studying the books and audio programs of Dr Albert Ellis, the creator of Rational Emotive Behaviour Therapy.
  3. My rejection of this position came out of the split in the Albert Ellis Institute in the period 2004-2007.
  4. When Albert Ellis – who developed the concept of Unconditional Self Acceptance and Unconditional Other Acceptance (meaning unconditional acceptance of other individuals) – was banned from practicing REBT at his own Institute, and subsequently removed from the board of his own Institute, he was unable to sustain his unconditional acceptance of his adversaries.  He famously said, about the titular leader of his opponents (Dr Michael Broder): “I want him dead, dead, dead!”  This is not the stuff of Unconditional Acceptance!  This is Conditional Acceptance!
  5. I was connected to Ellis’s inner circle at that time, and involved in his defence.  As a result, I got the insight that, right in the heart of his inner circle, the label used to describe his opponents was “The Bast***s”.  The inner circle amounted to a handful of individuals who, collectively, had about 100 years’ experience of advocating and teaching Unconditional Acceptance of Others! J (According to the theory of Unconditional Acceptance in REBT, that inner circle should have described Ellis’s opponents as “The group of individuals who often seem to act in Bast***ly Ways!” J
  6. Of course Ellis tried to keep up his official ideology of Unconditional Acceptance – by saying, about his adversaries: “They should be unfair, because that is their chief talent!”  But at the same time he wanted the Chief “Bast***” Dead!  And he wanted serious action taken against them all.
  7. Ellis asked me to make an ethics complaint to the American Psychological Association (APA) regarding what he saw of unethical behaviour by one of his colleagues (Doctor-X).  Doctor-X had written one of the reports which justified removing Ellis from office.  I read a copy of that report, identified a number of problems with the logic and the professional standard of the report, and, before sending it to APA, I ran it by Doctor-X – which is an APA requirement.  Now remember: Doctor-X has 40 years’ experience of using REBT; and 30+ years of teaching it.  And so he has thousands of hour’s experience of teaching Unconditional Acceptance of Self and Others.  So what would you expect him to do when he saw my ethics complaint?  He should have said: “Jim, your behaviour is very bad (for the following reasons), but you’re okay as a person”.  That’s what the theory says, and that is what he should have done.  But what did he actually do?  He denounced me as “a sick sadistic bast***”.
  8. It seems to me, on the basis of the above descriptions, that it is reasonable for me to conclude that people who declare that they hold to the view that we should all Unconditionally Accept each other are mouthing platitudes! And that the only way we can tell if they ‘really mean it’ is to put them to the test.  If Albert Ellis, the creator of this idea, cannot walk his own talk; and if one of his chief acolytes cannot walk his talk – then what is the value of these declarations?  Very little, actually!  At deep emotional levels, neither Ellis nor Doctor-X were capable, in practice of delivering Complete, Unconditional Acceptance!
  9. Throughout the conflict at the Albert Ellis Institute, in the period 2004-2007, both sides accused the other of immoral behaviour.  But neither side could support their claims, because both sides had their hands tied in a significant regard.  They had all agreed (WE had all agreed!) never to use these words: SHOULD; OUGHT; MUST, HAVE TO, GOT TO, NEED TO!  And it proved impossible to mount a moral argument without the use of these words.  (Behind the scenes, Ellis mounted a couple of court cases, which necessarily involved saying: “they have unfairly dismissed me, which they should not have done!” – but nobody noticed that! J)  We (on both sides) could refer to actions by our opponents which we DID NOT LIKE, and which we thought would ‘sound unsavoury’ to our readers.  But that is not a powerful moral argument.  I eventually realized that we have to be able to distinguish between MORAL SHOULDS, PREFERENTIAL SHOULDS, and ABSOLUTE SHOULDS, at the very least.  And we have to hold on to our moral should.

I have written extensively about these issues in the following papers:

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

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

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

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  1. It seems to me that most people who communicate via group discussions on LinkedIn and elsewhere in the world of Social Media are very busy. People seem to post sound-bites, and respond to sound-bites.  But I am not a sound-bite manager.  I believe it is important to think clearly on paper, in elaborated arguments and/or descriptions, and it is important that, in dealing with your conclusions, I take your arguments into account (where ‘you’ means anybody who interacts with me on the internet).  If all I do is to present you with my conclusions, in response to reading your conclusions, then no significant communication will take place; and there will be no substantial progress made in the development of ideas.  We must look at each other’s detailed arguments, otherwise we are not able to understand where the conclusions came from.
  2. I have printed off all the comments which were made in response to my posting about Conditional Love versus Unconditional Acceptance (at LinkedIn), and I will make the time to critically analyse them, and I will respond in due course.  I regret that there has to be this inevitable delay.

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More later.

Best wishes,

Jim

Dr Jim Byrne

ABC Coaching and Counselling Services

Email Dr Jim Byrne

Telephone:

01422 843 629 (from inside the UK)

44 1422 843 629 (from outside the UK)

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