Since the study of personality began, personality theories have offered a wide variety of explanations for behavior and what constitutes the person. This essay offers a closer look at the humanistic personality theory of Carl Rogers. Rogers' theory of personality evolved out of his work as a clinical psychologist and developed as an offshoot of his theory of client-centered (later called person-centered) therapy (Rogers, 1959). He was first and foremost a therapist, with an abiding respect for the dignity of persons and an interest in persons as subjects rather than objects.
To examine this theory more closely, a summary of the key features follows, with subsequent exploration of
The human organism's "phenomenal field" includes all experiences available at a given moment, both conscious and unconscious (
A distinctly psychological form of the actualizing tendency related to this "self" is the "self-actualizing tendency". It involves the actualization of that portion of experience symbolized in the self (
Organismic Valuing and Conditions of Worth
When significant others in the person's world (usually parents) provide positive regard that is conditional, rather than unconditional, the person introjects the desired values, making them his/her own, and acquires "conditions of worth" (
Fully Functioning Person and the Self
Theoretically, an individual may develop optimally and avoid the previously described outcomes if they experience only "unconditional positive regard" and no conditions of worth develop. The needs for positive regard from others and positive self-regard would match organismic evaluation and there would be congruence between self and experience, with full psychological adjustment as a result (
the organized, consistent, conceptual gestalt composed of perceptions of the characteristics of the "I" or "me" and the perceptions of the relationships of the "I" or "me" to others and to various aspects of life, together with the values attached to these perceptions. (Rogers, 1959, p.200)
This gestalt is a fluid and changing process, available to awareness. By using the term "gestalt",
The actualizing tendency is fundamental to this theory.
While the idea of an actualizing tendency makes sense,
The inherent potentialities of the actualizing tendency can suffer distorted expression when maladjustment occurs, resulting in behavior destructive to oneself and others. The actualization and self-actualization tendencies can be at cross purposes with each other when alienation from the true self occurs, so there is organismic movement in one direction and conscious struggle in another. Rogers (1977) revised his previous thinking concerning this incongruence, stating that while he earlier saw the rift between self and experience as natural, while unfortunate, he now believes society, (particularly Western culture), culturally conditions, rewards and reinforces behaviors that are "perversions of the unitary actualizing tendency (p.248)." We do not come into the world estranged from ourselves, socialization is behind this alienation.
There is some empirical support for the hypothesis that congruence between self and experience leads to better personality adjustment and less defensiveness (Chodorkoff, 1954; cited in Rogers, 1959). Some research has also tended to support the idea of changes in self-concept occurring as a result of therapy (Butler & Haigh, 1954; cited in Rogers, 1954). However, Maddi (1996) raises and interesting point regarding such studies. While it has been found that self-descriptions move toward ideals after counseling and one would assume the closer a person is to full functioning the smaller the discrepancy would be, statements of ideals may be operational representations of conditions of worth, which are socially imposed. Conditions of worth are to be dissolved rather than moved toward for full functioning in this theory!
The "maladjusted person" is the polar opposite of the fully functioning individual (who was introduced early in this essay). The maladjusted individual is defensive, maintains rather than enhances his/her life, lives according to a preconceived plan, feels manipulated rather than free, and is common and conforming rather than creative (Maddi, 1996). The fully functioning person, in contrast, is completely defense-free, open to experience, creative and able to live "the good life". Empirical support for the fully functioning person is somewhat mixed. The openness to experience characteristic has been supported (Coan, 1972; cited in Maddi, 1996). However, some studies have found that openness to experience and organismic trusting did not intercorrelate, contrary to expectations (Pearson, 1969, 1974; cited in Maddi, 1996). Ryckmann (1993) notes that some studies have found non-defensive people are more accepting of others and Maddi (1996) cites numerous studies that indicate self-accepting people also appear to be more accepting of others.
It is somewhat puzzling given his humanistic emphasis on individuality, that
Carl Rogers was most interested in improving the human condition and applying his ideas. His person-centered therapy may well be his most influential contribution to psychology.