It has been more than sixty years since the release of one of the most important scholarly works concerning the theory of personality. Rogers’s “A theory of therapy, personality and interpersonal relationships, as developed in the client-centered framework” offers a metaphorical basis for the person-oriented approach and the client-centered movement in psychotherapy and counseling. At the theory’s core is the suggestion that human beings are born with an innate tendency toward ongoing development, growth, and optimal personal functioning (Bland and DeRobertis, 2020). Thus, such an assumption, consequently, represents the leading principle for the therapeutic practice that focuses on the unique needs and peculiarities of each client. The importance of understanding the person-centered theory of personality lies in the possibility of developing a dynamic and process-focused approach toward therapeutic growth and psychological well-being.
Exploring Person-Centered Theory
The person-centered theory developed by Rogers has been widely studied within the research field of humanistic psychology, even though the latter is a broad area and not all components of it match the assumptions of person-centered theory. The first assumption of Rogers’s theory is that the organism of a human being, similar to how all living things operate, is born with an inherent motivational drive, which is referred to as the actualizing tendency (Miller, 2012). Such a trend is defined as the inherent propensity of developing all its capabilities in manners that are used for maintaining and improving the capabilities of the organism (Tolan and Wilkins, 2012).
It is also associated with the proclivity toward autonomy and away from heteronomy, or guidance offered by environmental factors (Ryan, Deci and Vansteenkiste, 2015). Thus, one of the first theoretical points associated with the theory is the actualizing tendency that enables the organism’s development. When favorable socioenvironmental conditions are in place, the theory suggests that the self-concept of an individual can actualize itself as aligned to their organismic value process (OVP) (Maurer and Daukantaitė, 2020). The latter is concerned with evaluating experiences in a way that goes hand-in-hand with the intrinsic needs of a person (Bargh and Morsella, 2008). From the very moment humans are born, they are seen as possessing two systems, such as the inherent motivational and the regulatory.
Within the person-centered theory, Rogers (1959) developed the term ‘fully functioning person’ to denote a perfect standard of independent psychological functioning that takes place when self-actualization is congruent organically. The concept of fully functioning individuals necessarily presupposes that such people have initially been able to tend to their most personal and basic needs, as suggested by Maslow (Alborz, 2017). Thus, as indicated by Miller (2012), the theory covers the attitudes and directions lean toward their internally-developed value directions. These directions are associated with showing an individual’s movement in the direction of increasingly socialized goals, where the sensitivity aimed at others and their acceptance is positively correlated to individuals’ increased openness to new experiences.
In an unfavorable social environment, however, the self-concept actualization cannot reach the alignment from organismic experiencing, which leads to the state of incongruence (Parker, 2009). Such a condition is characterized by the overall tendency of actualizing the organism to work at cross-purposes with the subsystem of that motive. Incongruence is characterized by the internal confusion and tension within a person, and in other respects by the tendency to self-actualize, thus enabling discordant or incomprehensible behaviors that occur in the environment that does not offer enough positive reinforcement to facilitate the building of self-concept of an individual can actualize itself as aligned to their organismic value process.
Rogers’ (1959) theory was aimed to show that people want to feel, experience, and behave in accordance with their self-image that would reflect who they want to become, the ideal-self. Thus, the smaller the gap between self-image and ideal self, the more in synch a person is with the sense of self-worth (Braun and Asta, 2012). The self-concept, within the humanistic approach applied in the theory, is distinguished into different components that characterize the unique peculiarities of individuals (Ismail and Tekke, 2015). First, self-worth otherwise referred to as self-esteem, represents how an individual thinks of themselves.
According to Rogers (1959), the feelings of self-worth emerge and progress in early childhood result from the interactions of a child with their parents. Second, self-image, or real self, is how individuals see themselves and are fundamental to reaching good psychological well-being; it includes the impact that body image can have on inner personality. Thus, at a basic level, people can perceive themselves as either good or bad, smart or uneducated, which shows that self-image affects how a person thinks, feels, and behaves (Carlson and Oltmanns, 2015). Third, the ideal self is a concept referring to the person that an individual would like to be. It includes considerations regarding one’s ambitions and life goals, and it is considered generally dynamic, which means that it never stops changing. Therefore, the ideal self that an individual developed during childhood cannot be the same as in the teenage years or twenties.
Within the theory, the concept of self-actualization is not necessarily concerned with the process of reaching optimal psychological functioning, and Rogers (1959) clearly states that the normal state of affairs for an individual is commonly characterized by the ongoing conflict between the actualizing tendency and self-actualization. Furthermore, the theorist proposes that the trend of actualization is usually limited and compromised by a negative social environment that the conditions of worth characterize.
The concept is used to denote the values that are embedded into a personal set of values from their interactions and that grow from the developing needs of infants to receive positive regard from the significant others from their social environments (Proctor, 2017). Specifically, when infants receive conditional positive regard from their immediate settings, they learn to rank the experiences as to whether they can satisfy the externally imposed characteristics (Taylor-Jones, 2017). Throughout their development, the conditions of worth of children are introjected, thus playing the part of internalized social others and replacing organismic valuing as the main principle that governs the attitude and behavior of individuals.
Following the logic of conditions of worth development, the person-centered theory is shown to take the perspective that, instead of generally asserting that individuals always exhibit positive and constructive behaviors, “recognizes that the general reaction to unfavorable socioenvironmental conditions is for the actualization of the self to become incongruent with the individual’s organismic experiencing” (Patterson and Joseph, 2007, p. 121). Such a response results in the development of individual self in a way that does not align with the intrinsic motivation toward favorable and constructive functioning. The incongruence has been considered a fundamental factor in activating the self-defensive processes of both change and denial of organismic experiences as well as possible sources of psychopathologic vulnerability.
When exploring the factors that could lead to potential psychological disturbance in individuals, it is essential to consider the range of disruptions that arise as a result of internalizing the conditions of worth as the trends enabling the external evaluation of experiences (Lerner et al., 2018). Thus, the locus of evaluation concept comes into play in this case, denoting the source of evidence as to the values of individuals that can be either internal or external (Martz, 1999). At the point when a person gets separated from their organismic needs, a loss of trust occurs when it comes to the internal judgments, with the tendency to increase the deterrence to others’ external judgments.
The Nineteen Propositions
Within the discipline of client-centered therapy, which Rogers (1959) created to facilitative socioenvironmental environments, nineteen propositions set out the theory of the self. The therapeutic relationships developed based on the propositions can help clients evaluate their experiences organically instead of according to their conditions of worth. The first proposition of the theory is that a person makes sense of themselves, others, and the environment around them as in accordance with the continuously changing experiences (Leary and Tangney, 2012). The second proposition is that an individual’s sense of reality is unique and is being created from two occurrences, including the experiences, and how a person processes the said experiences.
The third proposition is concerned with the suggestion that an organism has organized reactions to the phenomenal field being explored, thus, the whole way of either being or doing arises from an individual’s sense of reality. The fourth proposition of the theory is that a part of the complete field of perception becomes differentiated as the self, which suggests the portion of an individual’s reality is their sense of self. The fifth is that the sense of self develops from one’s perceptions and experiences, especially when it comes to comparing oneself to others and from the judgments and opinions of others, as perceived by the individual. The sense of self, associated with such questions as “Who or what am I? Who am I within a relationship?,” is generally fluid but includes consistent perceptions, to which a person can attach value (Berkman, Livingston and Kahn, 2017).
The sixth proposition of the theory is that a person has an innate impulse to care for themselves, heal, grow, and develop as an individual. This is concerned with aiming to keep oneself safe and realize the inner potential to become what a person is capable of becoming. The seventh is that the best standpoint for the adequate understanding of behavior is only through the lens of understanding how one sees themselves, others, and the surrounding environment.
The theory’s eighth proposition is that a person behaves a certain way to meet their needs, as they experience and perceive them, as well as they experience and approach the concept of reality overall. The ninth is that a person is emotionally present in their behavior, with the feelings being crucial components of how individuals attempt to get their perceived needs met. Thus, what a person feels will determine the importance of a particular action and behavior.
The tenth proposition embedded into Rogers’ (1959) theory is that the values that a person attaches to his or her experiences, as well as how they value themselves, are a combination of different factors that include direct experiences and other values that have been taken and absorbed from other people. The proposition suggests that a person may not be fully aware of one’s values that used to be derived from other people because they assimilated and become parts of one’s value system.
The eleventh proposition is that there are different ways in which an individual could make sense of their experiences and derive meanings from them. For instance, it is possible to integrate them into their self-concept or ignore them because they do not align with the own perception of the world. Also, there is a tendency to treat the experiences as if they have no meaning or reshape them to fit into their conceptual narrative.
Since the propositions are concerned with how individuals approach their behaviors and their relationships with the self-concept, the twelfth proposition states that people would behave in a way that is consistent with how they see themselves. For instance, if an individual believes that he or she has no value as a person, they will behave as if that’s true. In some cases, behaviors can result from the organic needs and experiences that have not been subjected to symbolization, as Rogers (1959) suggested in the thirteenth proposition of the theory. The behaviors can be in misalignment with the structure of self; however, in such cases, the behavior is not in the ownership of the person exhibiting it. The fourteenth proposition states that when a person is connected to their authentic being, they may be opening to the actual embodied experiences in their totality and immediacy, as well as integrating them into the manner a person perceives themselves and the world around them.
According to the fifteenth proposition of the theory, when a person is not connected to his or her authentic being, they tend to deny being aware of any significant embodied experience, which results in the individual being unable to make sense of it and integrate into the self-perception and how a person perceives the world. Because of that, an individual can experience significant tension or feel uneasy. The sixteenth proposition flows out of the previous one and states that a person can find a particular experience as threatening to them if it does not align with how they see themselves and the world.
The larger the number of the perceived threatening experiences, the stricter the sense of self becomes, and the closer a person clings to his or her point of view (Rogers, 1959). However, as suggested in the seventeenth proposition, in cases when a person finds it possible to look at experiences they have denied because of the feeling that may be too threatening. This results in individuals making sense of themselves and the world in a unique and fuller way to facilitate healing and acceptance.
According to the eighteenth proposition of the theory, when a person is well-integrated in the system consisting of the sensory and visceral experiences, then they are more accepting of others and accepting of them as separate individuals with individual self-concepts and value systems. This quality is essential since it allows people to be tolerant of others and approach people as valuable contributors to the socioenvironmental system. The final proposition is that when a person can reshape their view of themselves and their world to include the denied experiences, they can adjust their values, letting go of the values influenced by other people and developing those that would facilitate an ongoing organismic valuing process.
The importance of understanding Roger’s person-centered theory is concerned with the possibility to establish a cohesive framework not only for therapy but also for the development of a personalized approach toward experiences and behaviors. To summarize, Rogers suggests that from the point a human organism is born, it has an inherent desire of actualization, to which they will respond with the help of organismic valuing. Certain socioenvironmental conditions, whether positive or negative, will result in orgasmically congruent self-actualization process that will lead to the development of enhanced well-being of a person in a psychological sense. Furthermore, the ongoing processes of change that occur within a person’s self-concept are expected to lead to specific specifiable outcomes that facilitated improved psychological functioning.
Conditional regard experiences that have been acquired from other people, as suggested in the theory, are likely to cause some displacement in an individual’s OVP and the conditions’ of worth interplay, leading to potential adverse implications for psychological well-being. The final crucial point to understand about the person-centered theory is that more fully-functioning individuals will, in general, share similar, universal, and specifically internally-created value directions.
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