The entire theory is built on a single “force of life” he calls the actualizing tendency. It can be defined as the built-in motivation present in every life-form to develop its potentials to the fullest extent possible. We’re not just talking about survival: Rogers believes that all creatures strive to make the very best of their existence. If they fail to do so, it is not for a lack of desire.
Keep in mind that, unlike Maslow’s use of the term, Rogers applies it to all living creatures.
Among the many things that we instinctively value is positive regard, Rogers umbrella term for things like love, affection, attention, nurturance, and so on. It is clear that babies need love and attention. In fact, it may well be that they die without it. They certainly fail to thrive -- i.e. become all they can be.
Another thing -- perhaps peculiarly human -- that we value is positive self-regard, that is, self-esteem, self-worth, a positive self-image. We achieve this positive self-regard by experiencing the positive regard others show us over our years of growing up. Without this self-regard, we feel small and helpless, and again we fail to become all that we can be!
Our society also leads us astray with conditions of worth. As we grow up, our parents, teachers, peers, the media, and others, only give us what we need when we show we are “worthy,” rather than just because we need it. We get a drink when we finish our class, we get something sweet when we finish our vegetables, and most importantly, we get love and affection if and only if we “behave!”
Getting positive regard on “on condition” Rogers calls conditional positive regard. Because we do indeed need positive regard, these conditions are very powerful, and we bend ourselves into a shape determined, not by our organismic valuing or our actualizing tendency, but by a society that may or may not truly have our best interests at heart. A “good little boy or girl” may not be a healthy or happy boy or girl!
Over time, this “conditioning” leads us to have conditional positive self-regard as well. We begin to like ourselves only if we meet up with the standards others have applied to us, rather than if we are truly actualizing our potentials. And since these standards were created without keeping each individual in mind, more often than not we find ourselves unable to meet them, and therefore unable to maintain any sense of self-esteem.
On the other hand, to the extent that our society is out of synch with the actualizing tendency, and we are forced to live with conditions of worth that are out of step with organismic valuing, and receive only conditional positive regard and self-regard, we develop instead an ideal self. By ideal, Rogers is suggesting something not real, something that is always out of our reach, the standard we can’t meet.
This gap between the real self and the ideal self, the “I am” and the “I should” is called incongruity. The greater the gap, the more incongruity. The more incongruity, the more suffering. In fact, incongruity is essentially what Rogers means by neurosis: Being out of synch with your own self. If this all sounds familiar to you, it is precisely the same point made by Karen Horney!
Perceptual distortion is a matter of reinterpreting the situation so that it appears less threatening. It is very similar to Freud's rationalization. A student that is threatened by tests and grades may, for example, blame the professor for poor teaching, trick questions, bad attitude, or whatever. The fact that sometimes professors are poor teachers, write trick questions, and have bad attitudes only makes the distortion work better: If it could be true, then maybe it really was true! It can also be much more obviously perceptual, such as when the person misreads his grade as better than it is.
Rogers also has a partial explanation for psychosis: Psychosis occurs when a person's defense are overwhelmed, and their sense of self becomes "shattered" into little disconnected pieces. His behavior likewise has little consistency to it. We see him as having "psychotic breaks" -- episodes of bizarre behavior. His words may make little sense. His emotions may be inappropriate. He may lose the ability to differentiate self and non-self, and become disoriented and passive.
The fully-functioning person
the healthy person is "fully-functioning," and involves the following qualities:
1. Openness to experience. This is the opposite of defensiveness. accurate perception of one's experiences in the world, including one's feelings. being able to accept reality, again including one's feelings.
2. Existential living. This is living in the here-and-now.
3. Organismic trusting. We should allow ourselves to be guided by the organismic valuing process. We should trust ourselves, do what feels right, what comes natural. Rogers meant trust your real self, and you can only know what your real self has to say if you are open to experience and living existentially.
4. Experiential freedom. Rogers felt that it was irrelevant whether or not people really had free will. the fully-functioning person acknowledges that feeling of freedom, and takes responsibility for his choices.
5. Creativity. If you feel free and responsible, you will act accordingly, and participate in the world. Creativity as Rogers uses it is very close to Erikson's generativity.
Therapy: There is only one technique that Rogerians are known for: reflection. Reflection is the mirroring of emotional communication: If the client says "I feel like shit!" the therapist may reflect this back to the client by saying something like "So, life's getting you down, hey?" By doing this, the therapist is communicating to the client that he is indeed listening and cares enough to understand.
Rogers felt that a therapist, in order to be effective, must have three very special qualities:1. Congruence -- genuineness, honesty with the client.
2. Empathy -- the ability to feel what the client feels.
3. Respect -- acceptance, unconditional positive regard towards the client.