Theory of the personality

This essay outlines and discusses Carl Rogers' Theory of Personality in relation to my personal experience.


In his attempt to develop a theory of the personality, Carl Rogers stated a series of 19 propositions which form the bases upon which his tentative theory is constructed.

In this essay, I will use the same propositions and attempt to develop my own understanding of them, utilising in the process, Carl RogersÂ? own explanations. Of course, some of what I have written below may not always reflect Carl RogersÂ? thinking as, in my attempt to explain his propositions, I will inevitably have to draw on my own experiences and learnings both as an individual and a therapist. I can only write about what I see from my point of view.

Proposition one:

Every individual exists in a continually changing world of which he is the centre

Is the individual the complete organism, including the emotions and thoughts, or is the individual something more subtle surrounded by the world of thoughts, emotions and body? I would assume that, in this instance, the individual is meant as the centre of awareness, surrounded by the world that constitutes the self or personality. Carl Rogers states that "this private worldÂ?. includes all that is experienced by the organism, whether or not those experiences are consciously perceive" (1) but I would also say that this private world not only is what the organism experience but is also the symbolic representation of that experience so that it can be understood by the Observer i.e. the individual or higher self, the centre of consciousness.

From that centre, the individual perceives his world. It is his point of view coloured by his past experiences and learnings. As an individual is conscious so he observes, he is conscious of. This implies a split between observer that which is observed. The world of the individual is that which is observed, which comprises not only the surrounding physical world (i.e. human society, nature, etc.) but also the world of his body, his emotions and his thoughts. The interaction of observer and observed creates changes in the structure of this perceived world and affect the worlds of emotions, thoughts, and in many instances, the body.

Proposition two:

The organism reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This perceptual field is, for the individual, reality.

A little girl grows up in an environment where she witnesses her father being physically violent towards her mother and, occasionally, also find herself at the receiving end of her fatherÂ?s blows. As a woman, she marries the man who, soon after her marriage becomes violent as well. For that woman, men have become the enemy; when they raise their hands, it is to inflict pain on her. Another little girl grows up in an environment where her father will spend time to encourage her and who shows his love in hugging that little girl. Then as a woman, she has a positive relationship with a man. For that woman, men have become a source of pleasure and, when they raise their hands, it is to show their affection. Both women have learned to have, through their own individual experiences, a totally different perception of men. For each of them, what they feel and think is the reality.

The continued experience of a set of circumstances will shape our perception of the world surrounding us. This perceptual field then becomes, for that person, the reality. The reality as perceived by mankind is as varied as there are individuals, for each and everyone of us has a different experience of life. We are like the explorers of old, trying to understand a world which is largely unknown to us and draw a map of it. But because none of us can see the whole picture, every individual map is incomplete and can only represent one aspect of the whole truth. But that map is nevertheless the reality for that person who canÂ?t see the other complimentary maps.

Proposition 3:

The organism reacts as an organised whole to this phenomenal field.

No part of the organism can be totally isolated from the rest. For example, I am seated with a man pointing a gun at me, my mind races, trying to find ways to get out of the situation, I experience a sense of fear and my heart races, my muscles are tensed and I am ready to run away. Or, I am having a pleasant conversation with somebody who makes me feel at ease, I take time to think about the conversation, I find a sense of pleasure and calmness, and my muscles are relaxed. In both examples, the organism reacts as a whole and we canÂ?t see the physical reactions as independent and divorced from the emotional or mental reactions.

Proposition 4:

The organism has one basic tendency and striving Â? to actualise, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.

Life wants to express itself in its many aspects and there are as many organisms and parts of organisms as there are ways for life to express itself.

My understanding of actualising is that it becomes real, accepted, if not by all, at least by one. Through being accepted, symbolised in the organism, aspects of life will be able to grow and develop. Any organism, or part of, will attempt consciously or unconsciously to develop its potential to its maximum. This is unavoidable as life puts pressure on the organism for growth and expansion.

Proposition 5:

Behaviour is basically the goal directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced, in the field as perceived.

Perhaps the most basic need that everybody has is the need for love. Much of the organismÂ?s behaviour will be directed towards the satisfaction of that need, but the chosen behaviour will be shaped by the perceptions of the individual. The perceived need of an individual may be to feel good and that individual would therefore adopted behaviour which would take him/her in search of those good feelings. The need behind a behaviour may be conscious or unconscious.

Proposition 6:

Emotion accompanies and in general facilitates such goal directed behaviour, the kind of emotion being related to the seeking versus the consummatory aspects of the behaviour, and the intensity of the emotion being related to the perceived significance of the behaviour for the maintenance and enhancement of the organism.

I feel that emotions and feelings not only result from the behaviour but also initiate it. So, for example, the search for a certain type of feelings will trigger a behaviour, whilst wanting to avoid another type of feelings will trigger a different behaviour. The type of emotion will direct and depend upon the type of behaviour adopted by the individual, whilst the intensity of the emotion will depend on how significant the behaviour is in order to fulfil the needs of the organism and maintain it.

Proposition 7:

The best vantage point for understanding behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual himself.

Because behaviour stems from the experience of emotions and of feelings and also contributes to these, the only way there can be a full understanding of an individualÂ?s behaviour is from the point of view of that individual only. The best way for others to attempt to understand the behaviour of that individual is to try to place themselves as close as possible to the internal frame of reference of that individual, i.e. to imagine that they are walking on the same path that individual has been walking upon.

There is always a purpose to behaviour, that purpose being a result of the perception of the field by that individual. Since that perception is unique and depends on the "position" of that individual, to understand the purpose of a behaviour means we must get as close as possible to the frame of reference of that individual.

Proposition 8:

A portion of the total perceptual field gradually becomes differentiated as the self.

At first, a baby "sees" his/her hands and feet as something that moves before him/her, i.e. as part of the environment. But then, after a while, the child realises the direct control that he/she can have on his/her body and perceives it in a different way to the rest of his/her environment. He/she identifies in a greater way with the body perhaps as others will say to the child when talking about her: "your hands", "your feelings", "your thoughts" etc. creating a sense of belonging and identification which I feel helps to child create a separation of the organism (body, emotions and thoughts) from the rest of the environment and incorporate the organism in his/her sense of self. It is also the part of the world which is changing the least in the sense that we carry it like a cloak whilst our surroundings change more.

Proposition 9:

As a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluational interaction with others, the structure of self is formed Â? and organised, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the "I" or "me", together with values attached to the concepts.

Proposition 10:

The values attached to experiences, and the values which are part of the self structure, in some instances are values experienced directly by the organism, and in some instances are values introjected or taken from others, but perceived in distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.

A natural tendency of any organism would seem to be to reject that which produces a perceived negative feeling or goal and to repeat or accept that which produces a positive feeling or goal. When it comes to experiencing and reacting to his/her environment, the child soon learns that through his/her actions, either physical or mental, he/she can create a positive or a negative feeling in return. So, for example, a child can learn not to show anger because his/her parents have told him/her that it is bad or even that the child is bad, creating a sense of identification between the feeling and expression of anger and the self of the child. The child would then come to identify with that anger and, through the acceptance of the introject, learn to deny a part of his/her experience. Therefore his/her structure of self would hide the parts which are deemed not acceptable or which are creating negative responses from others.

Whether an experience is going to be accepted as a part of the self structure or not depends on whether it is perceived by the individual as "good" or "bad" or whether they are perceived by others as "good" or "bad" and that it matters for that individual. If the opinion of that other person doesnÂ?t matter i.e. doesnÂ?t create an emotional response, then it is less likely to become introjected than if it comes from someone whose opinion matters i.e. creates a feeling of well-being or not as may be the case.

Proposition 11:

As experiences occur in the life of the individual, they are either (a) symbolised, perceived and organised into some relationship to the self, (b) ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self structure, (c) denied symbolisation all given a distorted symbolisation because the experience is inconsistent with the structure of the self.

There is a categorisation of experiences that happens in the life of an individual. The process of categorisation depends on whether the experiences are perceived as being useful to the satisfaction of a need or not and whether they are perceived as being acceptable and enhancing to the organism or not. An experience which has no perceived purpose or usefulness may be totally ignored, whilst an experience which is perceived as adding to the self in a consistent way with its existing structure may be accepted and incorporated into the structure of the self. Experiences which are perceived as inconsistent with the existing structure or even potentially damaging may be totally denied expression and may end up being repressed. Of course, the categorisation of experiences is not as clear-cut as it would seem from what I have written here as there seemed to be degrees of acceptance and rejection so that an experience may be partially, completely or not at all accepted into the self structure.

Proposition 12:

Most of the ways of behaving which are adopted by the organism are those which are consistent with the concept of self.

Proposition 13:

Behaviour may, in some instances, be brought about by organic experiences and needs which have not been symbolised. Such behaviour may be inconsistent with the structure of the self, but in such instances the behaviour is not "owned" by the individual.

I feel that these two propositions can be explained together as, for me, they represent the two sides of the same coin.

Whether conscious or unconscious our behaviour depends upon the structure of the self. At a conscious level, we may choose to react to our environment in ways which are consistent with our self-image and which are not threatening to the way we would like to think of ourselves. Whilst at an unconscious level the adopted behaviour may reflect a need for a tendency to actualise. In many instances, if an experience doesnÂ?t conform with our self structure, then that experience may be repressed and partially or completely hidden from our conscious awareness. But, that act of repressing doesnÂ?t make those tendencies disappear altogether and they will still have an impact on our lives. In some instances, an individual may find him/herself acting in ways which are not consistent with his/her self-image and may even want to disown his/her behaviour. Examples of disowned behaviour are people who have the belief that they are possessed and that demonic forces make them act in the way they do.

Proposition 14:

Psychological maladjustment exists when the organism denies to awareness significant sensory and visceral experiences, which consequently are not symbolised and organised into the gestalt of the self structure. When this situation exists, there is a basic of potential psychological tension.

Because the basis for repressed tendencies is the inability by the individual to accept that aspect of his/her inner world, when those same aspects attempt to resurface and manifest, there ensue a battle between the individual and the tendency that needs to actualise. Anxiety and other emotional difficulties very often are the result of those tendencies affecting the behaviour, but because of the original repression, the individual may not know the source of the behaviour and therefore may not understand why he/she would act in such a way.

Proposition 15:

Psychological adjustment exists when the concept of self is such that all the sensory and visceral experiences of the organism are, or may be, assimilated on a symbolic level into a consistent relationship with the concept of self.

The more a person is able to accept him/herself, the better that person is able to function. The act of repressing fragments the personality which then has different aspects with opposing goals. To accept all the experiences and acknowledged them as part of the self structure has for effect a reintegration of the personality into a more cohesive whole. Accepting these aspects doesnÂ?t mean that the individual is happy with his perceived structure but that there is an acknowledgement of what is. That same individual will then be in a better position to work with those aspects, not against them so as to improve his/herself. Instead of rejecting him/herself, the individual will create a better relationship with all the aspects of him/herself.

Proposition 16:

Any experience which is inconsistent with the organisation of the self structure may be perceived as a threat, and a more of these perceptions there are, the more rigidly to self structure is organised to maintain self.

This proposition links with what has been written before. Any attempt by a repressed aspect to actualise itself will most probably be perceived as a threat to the perceived self structure. This will bring about a defence mechanism which may involve denial and which has for effect to render the perceived self structure more rigid. It is like erecting walls and hiding behind them.

Proposition 17:

Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of any threat to self structure, experiences which are inconsistent with it may be perceived and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences.

When a new or previously repressed experience doesnÂ?t bring about a threat to the perceived self structure, then it can be brought into awareness, examined and assimilated into the existing self image which will change accordingly. This is a natural process of growth and change. This forms the basis of client centred therapy where the therapist accepts all aspects of the client, even those which may have been repressed and, through that, helps the client to accept all aspects of him/herself. This process of acceptance and assimilation can bring about a lot of confusion in the mind of the individual as the old structures are being questioned whilst new ones are not yet formed and in place.

Proposition 18:

When the individual perceives and accepts into one consistent and integrated system all his sensory and visceral experiences, then he is necessarily more understanding of others and is more understanding of others as separate individuals.

Most of us do not like to be reminded of that which we do not like about ourselves and to see faults in others can very often bring back to light corresponding difficulties within ourselves which we would like to forget and keep repressed. To be able to access all aspects of oneself fully implies a greater understanding of all the emotions and drives which manifest within us. That understanding can help us be more patient with others as it can give us an insight into what moves them and have a better perspective upon which we can relate with others.

Proposition 19:

As the individual perceives and accepts into his self structure more of his organic experiences, he finds that he is replacing his present value system Â? based so largely upon introjections which have been distortedly symbolised Â? with a continuing organismic valuing process.

Any individual which has been able to fully accept his/her organic experiences will have learned to value those experiences as components of growth and development of his/her self. He/she will thus be able to reject any past, present or future introjects and develop a greater sense of confidence.

Author: PB
Copyright © 2023 PB. All rights reserved

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