Friday, March 18, 2011

Self-concept - Carl Rogers


• Humanistic - phenomenological school of thought.
• 3 Central assumptions of his personality theory:
          → Individual has constructive potential
          → Nature of the individual is basically goal-director
          → Individual is capable of changing.
• Self Concept - People’s subjective experience of themselves
                    - Very NB, & influences the personality
• Individual = Central figure in the actualization of own potential
            environment - plays facilitating or inhibiting role.
• Actualisation → Happens in atmosphere of complete acceptance/ without external
Influence of Rogers’ life experiences:
          → His father exposed him to scientific principles at an early age
→ Very narrow-minded, conservative home
          - Isolation & lack of close relationships
→ Very resisting towards any enforced prescriptions on the individual


• Fundamental view = Humanistic-phenomenological
• Humanistic → Emphasise studying the individual as a whole
                    → People play an active role in actualizing own potential
                    → People can be trusted to follow a positive course to realize their potential.
                    → Person is architect of own life
                    → Healthy people are aware of their own positive and negative attributes
                    → Constructive will triumph over destructive
                    Freedom and constructiveness of human nature.
                    → Behavior is determined by choice.
• Environment → Rogers claims this only has facilitating or inhibiting role
BUT there are elements of determinism in the role he ascribes to, esp, social environment.
• Phenomenological → Emphasis on importance of subjective experience.
                              → Behavior is impacted by self-concept.
                              →Ideal environment = allows individuals to see themselves exactly as
                                                                they are, & lets them realize all their potential.
                              → In reality = lack of unconditional acceptance
                                        - Environment lays down conditions for acceptance
                                        - This influences self-concept
                                        - Individual now acts in accordance with the conditions set
                                        by significant others, rather than in accordance with own potential.
• Individuals have freedom to change → can become free
                                      prerequisite → unconditional acceptance
                                                             (in therapy or in everyday life)
• Person occupies the central position
•phenomenal field = total experiential world
• Self concept = the part of the phenomenal field that is bound up with the experience of self.
• NB : self concept = self = self-structure = the person’s perception of himself.

1. All individuals exist in a continually changing world of experience
    of which they are the centre.
2. The organism reacts to the field as experienced & perceived
    The perceptual field is “reality” for the individual.
3. The organism reacts as an organized whole to this phenomenal field.
4. A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self.
5. The structure of self → Formed as a result of interaction w/the environment
                                        esp evaluational interaction with others
                                   → An organized, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of
                                        of characteristics and relationships of the “I”/”Me”
                                        Together w/the values attached to these concepts

6. The organism has one basic tendency and striving →
          to actualize, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.
7. The best vantage point for understanding behavior is from the internal frame of reference
    of the individual.
8. Behavior = goal-directed attempt by organism to satisfy its needs as experienced
                    in the field as perceived.
9. Emotion → Accompanies and facilitates such goal-directed behavior.
                 → The kind of emotion is related to the perceived significance of the behavior
                     for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.
10. Values → Can be attached to experiences or part of the self-structure
                 → Are sometimes experienced directly
                     or sometimes taken over from others, but perceived as if they were
                    experienced directly (distorted).
11. As experiences occur they are either:
          → Symbolised - perceived and organized into some relationship w/the self
          → Ignored      - Because there is no perceived relationship to the self.     
          → Denied symbolization/given distorted symbolization - because the experience is
                                                                                inconsistent with the structure of self.
12. The organism mostly adopts ways which are consistent with the concept of self.
13. Sometimes behavior is brought about by organic needs/experiences
      that have not been symbolized
      Such behavior may be inconsistent with the structure of self
      But in such instances the behavior is not “owned” by the individual.
14. Psychological adjustment →  When the concept of self I such that
                                                  all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism
                                                  are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level
                                                  into a consistent relationship w/the concept of self.
15. Psychological maladjustment → When the organism denies awareness
                                                  of significant sensory and visceral experiences
                                                  which then are not symbolized and organized
into the gestalt of the self-structure                 
Leading to a basic or potential psychological tension.
16. Any experience which is inconsistent w/the organization or structure of self may be
      perceived as a threat
      The more of these perceptions there are, the more ridgidly yhe self-structure is organized
      to maintain itself.
17. Under certain conditions → Mainly in an absence of any threat to the self-structure
          inconsistent experiences may be perceived and examined
          and the structure of self revised to assimilate such experiences.
18. When all sensory or visceral experiences are perceived and accepted
      into one consistent and integrated system
      the individual is more understanding of others,
      and accepting of others as separate individuals
19. As individuals perceive and accept into their self-structure more of their experiences
      they replace their present value system
      (based on introjections which have been distortedly symbolized)
      with a continuing valuing process.

1st 5 relate to structure of the personality
6 - 13 concern dynamics of the personality
9, 10, 12, 13, 14, 15 - Influence of self concept on behavior
17 & 18 are relevant to the therapeutic process

Rogers identifies 3 structural elements:
1. The Organism
• The total individual → with all physical & psychological functions.
• Central figure constantly interacting with a changing world

2. The Phenomenal Field
• The totality of a person’s perceptions and experiences, including:
          ○ Perceptions of objects/events outside the person, & the attached meanings
          ○ Inner experiences and meanings that relate to the person him/her self.

3. The Self Concept
• The differentiated part of the phenomenal field which concerns the person himself.
Def: ”the organized consistent conceptual gestalt composed of the characteristics of “I/Me”
          and the perceptions of relationship of the “I/Me” to others & various aspects of life
          + the values attached to these perceptions
          It is a gestalt which is available to awareness, though not necessarily in awareness.
          It is a fluid and changing gestalt, a process
          But at any given moment it s a specific entity.”
• The perception individuals have of themselves and the value they attach to themselves.
The person’s conscious experience of himself → Only conscious experiences are included
• Relatively stable, yet flexible and changeable.
• Change in one part of the self concept will change the whole.
• Ideal self → The self concept the person would most like to have.
• In psychologically healthy people, the ideal self :
→is realistic, attainable and in harmony with the self concept
          → provides guidelines for growth &development
• In a psychologically unhealthy person, the ideal self:
          → does not correspond to self concept
          → represents the extreme form of ideals set by others
          → Not in tune with actual potential of the person
THUS: Successful therapy will allow ideal self and self concept to draw closer together.

• Actualising tendency = basic motive that underlies all behavior.
• 2 other basic needs → Need for positive regard
                                → Need for positive self-regard
• Congruent functioning = Individual’s self concept corresponds to their potential
• Incongruent functioning = Individual’s self-concept does not correspond to their potential
• Self concept - Plays a role in experience & perception, & influences behavior.

1. The Actualising Tendency
• Purpose of all life = To become “that self which one truly is” (Kierkegaard)
• Inherent tendency of organisms to → Maintain themselves
                                                      → expand/grow to become all they can be.
• Therapists rely on this in leading their clients to discover their own potential.
• Corresponds to Maslow’s Self-actualising tendency
          BUT Rogers:
                    Actualising = The general, basic motive
            Self - Actualising = Specifically the actualizing of the self
(actualising the sense of self-concept)
THUS - the self-actualising tendency is a subsidiary part of the more general
          actualizing tendency

2. The Need for Positive Regard
• Need for positive regard from others → Basic need for approval, love, respect & admiration
                                                         → Can cause an individual to adopt the values of
                                                             another as his own.
• Need for positive self-regard → Closely associated with ▲
• Rogers does not specify if these are inherent or acquired needs.
• Most common view → Acquired.
• Can hinder the actualising process

3. Congruence & Incongruence
•Congruence → The ideal in which the person is open to and aware of all their experiences
                         and can incorporate these into the self concept
                    → See themselves as they really are & self concept corresponds w/actual
                    → Self-actualisation & actualization is in harmony.
• Environment rarely allows full actualisation.
• Incongruence → Experiences contrary to the self-concept forms part of the phenomenal
                         → Individuals deny or distort incongruent experiences
NB► A positive self concept is not necessarily a congruent one, and a negative self concept is not necessarily an incongruent one.

4. The Role of the Self Concept in Experience
• There are 3 ways to deal with an experience
  A person’s specific needs & self concept determine which is used.
• Ignored → Because they are irrelevant for the moment
                The experience is
allowed into consciousness when needs/self concept changes & it becomes
• Symbolised → Allowed into consciousness
                    → When an experience corresponds with someone’s needs or self-concept.
• Denied/Distorted → Experiences that are contrary to the self concept.

• “Subception” → Form of perception on the unconscious level
                      → An experience is traced/selected unconsciously and defended against
                      → No conclusive evidence for the process in research

p377 (see this page for examples)

5. The Role of the Self Concept in Determining Behaviour
• Most of what a person does corresponds with the self concept
• Problems arise when there are needs that do not correspond with the self concept
• When a need is very strong → It sometimes evokes behavior that satisfies it directly, even
                                                 though the behavior is in conflict with the self-concept.
                              → The individual is not willing to “own” the behavior.
                                   (makes excuses for why it wasn’t “really” the way he is)
• Ideal Functioning → Self Concept is congruent with needs & feelings
                              → Then behavior reveals & corresponds with the self concept,
    and also reflects needs and feelings.

• General principles of development rather than specific stages.
• Main issue in personality development is the development of the self concept
• Organismic Evaluation Process → Organism’s functioning is solely directed towards fulfilling
                                                      own needs.
                                                  → Advantageous = positive/disadvantageous = negative
• Self Concept → Develops gradually, as result of interaction with esp the social environment
                           & as consequence of the evaluation of others.
                      → The meanings attached to experiences are incorporated.
• Significant Others → People close to the individual who help satisfy his need for positive
                              → Their actions & opinions influence the self concept.
Unconditional Positive Regard:
          - Acceptance by significant others
          - Acceptance of needs, not measured against needs of others, and not forcing needs
            of others onto the individual
          - Don’t have to fulfill specific requirements to gain the esteem of significant others
able to acknowledge all their needs & express all their feelings.
               self-concept  & potential has congruence & includes all experiences
          - Unconditional acceptance therefore leads to complete actualisation of potential and
            allows individuals to realize all their innate abilities.
•NB → There is a difference between accepting the person and accepting the behavior.
Conditional Positive Regard
          - Non-acceptance by others, causing the individual to feel they are only worthy when
            they have fulfilled certain conditions laid down by significant others.
          - Conditions of worth → Gets distorted and incorporated into self concept
                                          → Values based on the values of others
          - Individual’s subjective experience of non-acceptance is what matters
          - Causes incongruence & impairs ability to actualize potential

• Fully Functioning person → wider the spectrum of experiences available
                                        → these experiences are more integrated in the self-concept
                                        → thus they know themselves better,
    are better able to use their talents,
    choose constructive action and realize their full potential.
• ‘The good life’ → Not a static nirvana of satisfaction and fulfillment
                        → A process in which there is a constant striving to fulfill one’s potential
                        → A direction, not a destination
• Characteristics of the Fully Functioning person:
1. A Growing openness to experience
          ○ Moves away from defensiveness & is open to experience
          ○ No need for subception, defense or distortion
          ○ Can experience everything consciously as part of themselves & the world.
2. An Increasingly Existential Lifestyle
          ○Tendency to live each moment fully.
          ○ Approach experience without preconception
          The experience itself forms and reforms the structure from moment to moment.
          ○ Self concept emanates from experience
          → Experience is not distorted to fit the self concept.
          ○ Excitement/daring/adaptability/tolerance/spontaneity/lack of rigidity
             assumes an underlying foundation of trust
3. Increasing Organismic Trust
          ○ They trust themselves when choosing behavior appropriate to a specific situation
          ○ Does not depend on judgement of others or social norms
          ○ Openness to experience leads to a sense of what is right that becomes a reliable
             guide to satisfactory behavior.
4. Freedom Of Choice
          ○ Can make whatever choices they want in terms of the experiential field
          ○ Feel responsible for own choices & determine own behavior
          ○ Aware of their own strong & weak points, and are free to excersise any choice based
             on their own evaluation.
5. Creativity
          ○Can adapt constructively to society without being a conformist
          ○ Can adjust to changing circumstances in a creative way.
6. Basic Reliability and constructiveness
          ○ Can be trusted to act positively and constructively
          ○ Someone who accepts all their needs can maintain a balance among them.
          no danger of their aggressive needs getting out of hand
          (all that’s needed is control, and a fully functioning person has that)
          ○ Stongly objects to the belief that people are essentially irrational.
7. A Rich, Full Life
          ○ Experience all of life intensely
          ○ “Stretching and growing and becoming more & more of one’s potentialities”

• Incongruence → Large part of experience is denied
                        → Threat to the self concept = anxiety
                        → Trigger for defensive behavior

1. Defence Mechanisms
• Freud → Sees defense mechanisms as essential to healthy functioning
• Rogers → Defense mechanisms would not be needed at all by the fully functioning person
              → Defense mechanisms are used to protect the self concept.
• Distortion → Incongruent experience is distorted to fit the self-concept.
• Denial → Experiences which are incongruent w/the self concept are ignored & excluded
                 from consciousness.
            → When deep-seated needs are denied there are serious consequences for the

2. Malfunctioning
• Generalisation of Defense → A person on the defensive tend to become more so
                    → Defensive behavior reduces the person’s consciousness of the threat, but
                         not the treat itself.
                    → To maintain the defense mechanism, more distortion of perceptions occur
                    → The false structure becomes bigger and bigger and must be maintained.
• Rogers opposed to attaching “labels” so doesn’t call people “neurotic”/”psychotic”
• People do fall on a hypothetical continuum according to amount of defensive behavior
•Hjelle and Ziegler → Distinguishes degrees of malfunctioning:
          ○ “neurotic” → Degree of incongruence becomes such that high levels of anxiety
                             → The self concept can be maintained through the neurotic behavior, but
                                 the persons functioning is precarious, and they are psychologically
○ Psychotic → A defenceless situation
                              → Incongruence so severe the defences no longer function
                              incongruence becomes conscious, causing the incorporation of
                                    contradictory experiences into the self concept.
                                Bizarre irrational behavior often linked to earlier denied parts of the


1. Psychotherapy
• Purpose → Provide clients with the opportunity to know themselves fully, and to realize their
• Person-centered therapy
• Emphasis is not just on a method/technique,  but on the relationship in the therapeutic situation
• Therapist provides unconditional acceptance

2. The Therapeutic Process
• Client → Central
            → Must take responsibility for own change
• Therapist → Facilitator
                 → Creates climate of unconditional positive regard, warmth & empathy
                 → Provides environment in which client is safe to change
                 → Creates a “growth facilitating climate”
• Transfer of power to the client → “empowerment”
• Therapeutic climate must include
1 Sincerity/congruence of the therapist
2 Unconditional acceptance (&respect)
3. Empathy
• Therapist must observe from the client’s frame of reference
• There is also an element of the spiritual dimension.

3. Education
• Traditional education philosophy → ‘jug and mug’ theory
• Rogers → Learning experience should be meaningful to the individual
              → Self discovery plays NB role in learning process, and such learners take
                    ownership of the knowledge.

• Meaningful learning will take place in these conditions:
          ○ Open, accepting atmosphere - problems of value an meaning to individuals can be
          ○ Teachers should be sensitive and sympathetic
          ○ Teachers should approach students with warmth & acceptance and empathy.
          ○ Teachers should place themselves and their knowledge at the student’s disposal,
             and provide a wide range of resources & material that the students can use if they so
• Hypothesis → Students who encounter meaningful problems will want to grow through them
                        master them and create new possibilities.
                    → teachers will create an atmosphere in which students can fulfill their natural
                        tendency to actualize their potential.
• When tried this approach seem to not really need discipline and punishment.

4. Measurement and Research
• His research material → The individual’s world of subjective experience
• Made his therapy sessions available on tape
• Used content analysis and questionnaires to scientifically test his theories and methods.
          ○ q-technique
          ○ questionnaires to evaluate therapist & therapeutic process
          ○ to evaluate therapeutic relationship & clients’ satisfaction etc
• Attempts to heal the rift between humanities & “pure” sciences.

5. The Interpretation & Handling of Aggression
• Evil → Not inherent in human nature
          → Cultural influences are responsible for destructive behavior
          → Destructive influence of education system & injustice of distribution of wealth
• Healing takes place in an atmosphere of acceptance
• Rogers’ methods work well one-on-one and in small groups
• Larger social groupings are more problematic.

• Rogers’ theory has had great influence in many areas.
• His principles are applied worldwide
• His opening up of the process of therapy to research has lead to many insights
• NB contribution → Emphasis on the person and subjective experience as focal point
                              (Psychoanalysts focus on unconscious,
Behaviorists focus on influence of external environment)
• Problems with Rogers’ assumption of freedom:
          ○ Environment does influence
          ○ Nobody gets unconditional positive regard
          ○ Freedom is also limited by inherent potential
• Some concepts are difficult to define operationally
          → Theory focuses on congruence between self concept and organismic potential
          → researchers focus on discrepancy between self concept and ideal self concept
• Unconditional acceptance may be impractical in real life → Conditions of worth could be
  essential for societal living
• Distinction between rejecting behavior and rejecting the person is also very problematic to
  apply in practice.
• Theory does offer valuable principles to education

• Theory focused peoples’ attention on human worth and potential
• Made process of therapy accessible to research, thereby creating greater scope for insight,
  change and growth
• Prerequisites identified by Rogers for creating a growth-promoting context continue to serve as basis for most therapeutic environments.


  1. why according to Rogers self actualisation is not always attained.I mean Rogers not Maslow

  2. Why according toCarl Rogers self actualizing is not always attained? I mean Rogers not Maslow.

  3. According to Rogers, because the individual is not willing to “own” her/his behaviour. She/he makes excuses for why it wasn’t “really” the way she/he is.

  4. Hi there Libi,
    My name is Tamlyn and I am currently doing PYC2601 and PYC2602 Assignments 02, and came across you blog which is very helpful and well laid out, however I am still struggling, would you mind helping me?
    Would be much appreciated, my email is

    Kind regards,

  5. Hi
    I am also doin pyc 2601 and 2602, I am totally lost I came across this blog , how can I save these notes to use them with mine....these ones are more comprehensive , can u perhaps mail them to me? these make so much sense...please help, thanx.....