Rogers' theory of the self is considered to be humanistic and phenomenological. His theory is based directly on the "phenomenal field" personality theory of Combs and Snygg (1949). Rogers' elaboration of his own theory is extensive. He wrote 16 books and many more journal articles describing it. However, Prochaska and Norcross(2003) states Rogers "consistently stood for an empirical evaluation of psychotherapy. He and his followers have demonstrated a humanistic approach to conducting therapy and a scientific approach to evaluating therapy need not be incompatible."
His theory (as of 1951) was based on 19 propositions:
Additionally, Rogers is known for practicing "unconditional positive regard," which is defined as accepting a person "without negative judgment of .... [a person's] basic worth."
Development of the personality
With regard to development, he described principles rather than stages. The main issue is the development of a self concept and the progress from an undifferentiated self to being fully differentiated.
In the development of the self concept, he saw conditional and unconditional positive regard as key. Those raised in an environment of unconditional positive regard have the opportunity to fully actualize themselves. Those raised in an environment of conditional positive regard feel worthy only if they match conditions (what Rogers describes as conditions of worth) that have been laid down for them by others.
The fully functioning person
Optimal development, as referred to in proposition 14, results in a certain process rather than static state. He describes this as the good life, where the organism continually aims to fulfil its full potential. He listed the characteristics of a fully functioning person (Rogers 1961):
Rogers identified the "real self" as the aspect of one's being that is founded in the actualizing tendency, follows organismic valuing, needs and receives positive regard and self-regard. It is the "you" that, if all goes well, you will become. On the other hand, to the extent that our society is out of sync 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 cannot meet. This gap between the real self and the ideal self, the "I am" and the "I should" is called incongruity.
Rogers described the concepts of congruence and incongruence as important ideas in his theory. In proposition #6, he refers to the actualizing tendency. At the same time, he recognized the need for positive regard. In a fully congruent person realizing their potential is not at the expense of experiencing positive regard. They are able to lead lives that are authentic and genuine. Incongruent individuals, in their pursuit of positive regard, lead lives that include falseness and do not realise their potential. Conditions put on them by those around them make it necessary for them to forego their genuine, authentic lives to meet with the approval of others. They live lives that are not true to themselves, to who they are on the inside.
Rogers suggested that the incongruent individual, who is always on the defensive and cannot be open to all experiences, is not functioning ideally and may even be malfunctioning. They work hard at maintaining/protecting their self concept. Because their lives are not authentic this is a difficult task and they are under constant threat. They deploy defense mechanisms to achieve this. He describes two mechanisms: distortion and denial. Distortion occurs when the individual perceives a threat to their self concept. They distort the perception until it fits their self concept.
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