Concept of Humanity

Rogers's concept of humanity was clearly stated in his famous debates with B. F. Skinner during the mid-1950s and early 1960s. Perhaps the most famous debates in the history of American psychology, these discussions consisted of three face-to-face confrontations between Rogers and Skinner regarding the issue of freedom and control (Rogers & Skinner, 1956). Skinner (see Chapter 15) argued that people are always controlled, whether they realize it or not. Because we are controlled mostly by haphazard contingencies that have no grand design or plan, we often have the illusion that we are free (Skinner, 1971).

Rogers, however, contended that people have some degree of free choice and some capacity to be self-directed. Admitting that some portion of human behavior is controlled, predictable, and lawful, Rogers argued that the important values and choices are within the scope of personal control.

Throughout his Long career, Rogers remained cognizant of the human capacity for great evil, yet his concept of humanity is realistically optimistic. He believed that people are essentially forward moving and that, under proper conditions, they

336 Part III Humanistic/Existential Theories will grow toward self-actualization. People are basically trustworthy, socialized, and constructive. They ordinarily know what is best for themselves and will strive for completion provided they are prized and understood by another healthy individual. However, Rogers (1958) was also aware that people can be quite brutal, nasty, and neurotic:

I do not have a Pollyanna view of human nature. I am quite aware that out of defensiveness and inner fear individuals can and do behave in ways which are horribly destructive, immature, regressive, anti-social, hurtful. "Vet, one of the most refreshing and invigorating parts of my experience is to work with such individuals and to discover the strongly positive directional tendencies which exist in them, as in all of us, at the deepest levels, (p. 21)

This tendency toward growth and self-actualization has a biological basis. Just as plants and animals have an innate tendency toward growth and fulfillment, so too do human beings. All organisms actualize themselves, but only humans can become self-actualizing. Humans are different from plants and animals primarily because they have self-awareness. To the extent that we have awareness, we are able to make free choices and to play an active role in forming our personalities.

Rogers's theory is also high on teleology, maintaining that people strive with purpose toward goals that they freely set for themselves. Again, under proper therapeutic conditions, people consciously desire to become more fully functioning, more open to their experiences, and more accepting of self and others.

Rogers placed more emphasis on individual differences and uniqueness than on similarities. If plants have individual potential for growth, people have even greater uniqueness and individuality. Within a nurturant environment, people can grow in their own fashion toward the process of being more fully functioning.

Although Rogers did not deny the importance of unconscious processes, his primary emphasis was on the ability of people to consciously choose their own course of action. Fully functioning people are ordinarily aware of what they are doing and have some understanding of their reasons for doing it.

On the dimension of biological versus social influences, Rogers favored the latter. Psychological growth is not automatic. In order to move toward actualization, one must experience empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard from another person who is genuine or congruent. Rogers firmly held that, although much of our behavior is determined by heredity and environment, we have within us the capacity to choose and to become self-directed. Under nurturant conditions, this choice "always seems to be in the direction of greater socialization, improved relationships with others" (Rogers, 1982a, p. 8).

Rogers (1982a) did not claim that, if left alone, people would be righteous, virtuous, or honorable. However, in an atmosphere without threat, people are free to become what they potentially can be. No evaluation in terms of morality applies to the nature of humanity. People simply have the potential for growth, the need for growth, and the desire for growth. By nature, they will strive for completion even under unfavorable conditions, but under poor conditions they do not realize their full potential for psychological health. However, under the most nurturant and favorable conditions, people will become more self-aware, trustworthy, congruent, and self-directed, qualities that will move them toward becoming persons of tomorrow.

Chapter 11 Rogers: Person-Centered Theory 337

Key Terms and Concepts

• The formative tendency states that all matter, both organic and inorganic, tends to evolve from shnple to more complex forms.

• Humans and other animals possess an actualization tendency: that is, the predisposition to move toward completion or fulfillment.

• Self-actualization develops after people evolve a self-system and refers to the tendency to move toward becoming a fully functional person.

• An individual becomes a person by making contact with a caregiver whose positive regard for that individual fosters positive self-regard.

• Barriers to psychological growth exist when a person experiences conditions of worth, incongruence, defensiveness, and disorganization.

• Conditions of worth and external evaluation lead to vulnerability, anxiety, and threat and prevent people from experiencing unconditional positive regard.

• Incongruence develops when the organismic self and the perceived self do not match.

• When the organismic self and perceived self are hicongruent, people will become defensive and use distortion and denial as attempts to reduce incongruence.

• People become disorganized whenever distortion and denial are insufficient to block out incongruence.

• Vulnerable people are unaware of their incongruence and are likely to become anxious, threatened, and defensive.

• When vulnerable people come in contact with a therapist who is congruent and who has unconditional positive regard and empathy, the process of personality change begins.

• This process of therapeutic personality change ranges from extreme defensiveness, or an unwillingness to talk about self, to a final stage in which clients become their own therapists and are able to continue psychological growth outside the therapeutic setting.

• The basic outcomes of client-centered counseling are congruent clients who are open to experiences and who have no need to be defensive.

• Theoretically, successful clients will become persons of tomorrow, or fully functioning persons.

Feist-Feist: Theories of Personality, Sixth Edition

III. Humanistic/Existential Theories

12. May: Existential Psychology

Concept Qsx

May: Existential Psychology

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