SELF THEORY HARRY ALBERT VAN BELLE

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1 SELF THEORY HARRY ALBERT VAN BELLE Carl Rogers developed his self theory well after he had formulated his person-centered therapy. His view of personality grew out of his view of therapy, and the former can be understood only in the context of the latter. In order to account for the personal changes that he observed clients going through in therapy, Rogers formulated his structural view of personality Subsequently he formulated a statement on how personality evolves, which constitutes his theory of personality development. Finally, in answer to the question What sort of person would emerge as the end product of a growth experience of the person- centered type? he formulated his normative, or ideal, view of personality Structural Perspective Rogers s earliest (structural) theory of personality (Rogers, 1951) coincides with the time when his overall thinking was still structure bound rather than process-oriented. He presented it in the form of 19 propositions. The first seven propositions deal with the human organism and how it functions in its environment. According to Rogers, it functions as an organized whole, and as such it reacts to an experienced or perceived environment. It has only one motivating tendency: to actualize and enhance itself by fulfilling its experienced needs in a perceived world. This actualizing activity Rogers calls behavior. The next five propositions deal with the development and function of the self. In accordance with the actualizing tendency the self differentiates out of the organism s total perceptual field. It becomes elaborated through the organism s interaction with its social environment, and it carries within itself values that are derived from both the organism and the social environment. The latter values are frequently perceived distortedly as coming from the organism rather than from the environment. Once the self has become established, it becomes that entity in relation to which all the experiences of a person become symbolized and perceived. The organism also tends to adopt only those ways of behaving that are consistent with this self-structure. The next four propositions (13 16) deal with psychological maladjustment. Maladjustment occurs when certain organic experiences generate behaviors that are inconsistent with the self-structure. These may be significant experiences and thus need not be related to the self. But because of their inconsistency with the self they are not taken up into the self-structure. The result of this is psychological tension. Experiences that are inconsistent with the self come to be perceived as a threat to the self, and in defense agains this the self-concept tends to become more rigid, thereby shutting out an increasing number of significant experiences. The final three propositions (17 19) describe how this trend can be reversed. Under certain conditions, when there is no external threat to the self-structure, these inconsistent experiences may be allowed into

2 awareness to be assimilated into a revised self- structure. When this occurs, a person becomes more integrated within himself or herself and thus also more accepting of others. Finally, he or she will replace the present value system with a more fluid organismic valuing process as a guide for life. Developmental Perspective In his theory of the development of personality and the dynamics of behavior Rogers describes how the human infant develops into a full-fledged personality and how disintegrations and re-integrations can occur during this development. The characteristics of the human infant are essentially those of the human organism. For infants, experience is reality. They react to their experience in an organized, total fashion and in accordance with their tendency to actualize themselves. They value their experiences in terms of whether those experiences enhance their organism. They behave with adience toward those that do and with avoidance toward those that do not. As infants mature, certain experiences related to themselves differentiate out of their total experiential world and become perceptually organized into a self-concept. Together with this newly developed awareness of self, growing infants also develop a need to be regarded positively by significant others in their surroundings. This is a potent force in their lives. Because of it growing children are no longer exclusively oriented toward their own organismic valuing process but become at least partially oriented to the values of others. These positive-regard satisfactions and frustrations can also come to be experienced by children apart from the positive-regard transactions they may have with others around them. When this happens the children have, as it were, become their own significant social other. They have come to regard themselves positively or negatively, independent of what others say about them. This Rogers calls self-regard. Whenever significant others selectively value some aspects of the child as more worthy of positive regard than others, the child tends to become similarly selective in his or herself-regard. The child then begins to avoid or seek out certain self-experiences solely in terms of whether they are worthy of self-regard. Whenever that occurs, the child is said to have acquired conditions of worth. If, however, the growing child were to experience only Unconditional positive regard from others, then no conditions of worth would develop in him or her; self-regard would thus also be unconditional and the need for positive regard and self-regard would never be at variance with his or her organismic evaluation. For Rogers this would represent a fully functioning, psychologically welladjusted individual. However, this is not what happens in child development. More often than not development produces individuals who have conditions of worth. Because of their need for self-regard such individuals tend to perceive their experiences selectively, symbolizing those experiences that are consistent with their current self-concept and barring from awareness those experiences that are not. Incongruence thus arises between

3 their selves and their experience. This tends to produce discrepancies in their behavior as well. Behaviors that enhance their self-concept will be at odds with behaviors that, while enhancing their total organism, are inconsistent with their self-concept. If individuals have accumulated such a large degree of incongruence between self and experience that they can hardly keep it from coming to awareness, they become anxious. When their incongruence has increased to such proportions that they can no longer defend their self against it, the self disintegrates and the organism becomes disorganized, In such a state the organism may at one time behave in ways that are consistent with the self and at other times in ways that are not. This confused regnancy in the individual s organism is the end result of the process of defense that started when individuals obtained their first conditions of worth. The process can be reversed by decreasing individuals conditions of worth and by increasing their unconditional self-regard. The conditional positive regard of others gave individuals their conditions of worth and caused them to be conditional in their self-regard. By the same reasoning others can remove these by making their positive regard toward an individual unconditional. This effectively eliminates the threat against which individuals defend their self-concept. With the threat removed, the process of defense can begin to reverse itself. Individuals can symbolize more and more of their experiences into their awareness. They can revise and broaden their self-concept to include these new experiences and as a result can become more and more integrated. Thus they experience increased psychological adjustment and, like the infant, once again use their own organismic valuing process to regulate their behavior. The final result of this therapeutic process is that the individual becomes more and more of a fully functioning person. Normative Perspective The fully functioning person is the ultimate in actualization of the human organism. As a matter of fact, such a person does not exist. There are only persons moving in the direction of fully functioning without ever reaching it. Thus the description of a fully functioning person is pure form, It is an ideal or normative description of personality functioning (Rogers, 1969k Rogers s normative description coincides with the period in his development when his thinking had become fully dynamic and process-oriented. It asks the question What is an optimal person? Such a person is fully open to his or her experience. Every stimulus originating in the organism; or the environment is freely relayed through the nervous system without distortion. There are no barriers to fully experiencing whatever is organismically present. Second, such a person lives in an existential fashion. Each moment is new to him or her. No one can predict what the person will do the next moment, since what he or she will do grows out of that moment. In such existential living the self and personality emerge from experience, rather than experience being twisted to fit a preconceived self-structure. This means that one becomes a participant in and an observer of the ongoing process of organismic experience rather than being in control over it.

4 Such living in the moment means an absence of rigidity of tight organization, of the imposition of structure on experience. It means instead a maximum of adaptability, a discovery of structure in experience, a flowing, changing organization of self and personality, of which the most stable characteristics are openness to experience and the flexible resolution of one s existing needs in the existing environment. Finally, such a person finds his or her organism a trustworthy means of arriving at the most satisfying behavior in each existential situation. He or she does what feels right in this immediate moment and generally finds this to be a competent and trustworthy guide for behavior. Rogers compares the organism of such a person to a giant computer. Because such a person is open to experience, he or she has access to all the available data in the situation. Out of all these his or her organism comes up with the most economical avenue of need satisfaction in this existential situation. That is, it comes up with a way of behaving that feels right. It is not infallible, however. Even the organism of a fully functioning person makes mistakes because at times some of the data will be missing. But this is not serious, since being open to experience the fully functioning person can quickly spot that error and quickly correct it. The computations of such a person will always be in a process of being corrected, because they will be continually checked against resulting behavior. The fully functioning person who emerges from a theoretically optimal experience of personal growth is able to live fully in and with each and all of his or her feelings and reactions. This person makes use of his or her organic equipment to sense as accurately as possible the existential situation within and without. He or she uses all of these data in awareness but recognizes that the total organism may be and often is wiser than his or her awareness. This person allows the total organism in all its complexity to select from the multitude of possibilities that behavior that in this moment of time will be most generally and genuinely satisfying. He or she trusts the organism in its functioning not because it is infallible but because he or she can be fully open to the consequences of each action and can correct those that prove to be less than satisfying. Such persons can experience all of their feelings and are afraid of none. They are their own sifters of evidence but are open to evidence from all sources. They are completely engaged in the process of being and becoming themselves and thus discover that they are soundly and realistically social. They live completely in this moment but learn that this is the soundest living for all time. They are fully functioning organisms, and because of the awareness of self that flows freely in and through their experiences they are fully functioning persons. In Rogers s view of personality organismic processes take preeminence over selfprocesses. In this respect also he oriented himself more to John Dewey s pragmatism than to existentialism or phenomenology. Thus his theory of personality is not a self theory

5 but an organismic theory. Growth rather than self-consistency is the basic intent of his view of personality. Rogers believes in the inherent goodness, or positive directedness, of the individual person. He localizes the origin of evil or negative directedness, in the environment that is, in the way significant others relate to the individual person. But he fails to explain how it is possible that inherently good persons become evil to each other when they relate to each other. By identifying the problem of evil with a defect in one part of created human reality Rogers fails to recognize that evil is a matter of the human heart. He does not acknowledge that like redemption evil, is total; that evil, like our deliverance from evil, affects the whole of created human reality. Second, because of his attitude he is driven to overvalue personality (our individual separateness) and to devalue communality (our membership in larger social wholes). This means that Rogers s view of personality cannot account for the positive effect of socialization on the growth and development of personality. References Rogers, C. R. (1951). Client-centered therapy. Boston: Houghton Muffin. Rogers, C. R. (1969). Freedom to learn. Columbus, OH: Merrill.

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