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What is the difference between real self and ideal self.  How does one achieve a state of congruency?  

Carl Rogers was a humanistic psychologist who emphasized personal responsibilities and innate tendencies towards personal growth. He originated a popular approach to psychotherapy known initially as non-directive or client centered therapy and later as person-centered therapy.  Rogers believed that we are rational beings ruled by a conscious perception of ourselves and our experiential world. Rogers did not ascribe much importance to unconscious forces. Rogers insisted that current feelings and emotions have a huge impact on personality. Rogers proposed the innate tendency to actualize, to maximize our potentials and abilities, from the biological aspect to our psychological aspects of our being. The ultimate goal of a person is to actualize the self, to become what Rogers called a fully functioning person. Rogers’ optimistic and humanistic approach to theory received enthusiastic acceptance in psychology.

According to Rogers, if a gap develops between our self-concept (our beliefs and knowledge about ourselves) and reality or our perceptions of it. Rogers suggested that distortions in the self-concept are common, because most people grow up in an atmosphere of conditional positive regard. That is, they learn that others, such as their parents will approve of them only when they behave in certain ways and express certain feelings. As a result, people are forced to deny or acknowledge the various impulses and feelings, and their self-concepts become badly distorted. The larger the gaps between their self-concept and their environment the greater an individual’s maladjustment and personal unhappiness.

The distorted self-concepts can be repaired so that healthy development can continue by placing individuals in an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard.  Unconditional positive regard is the approval granted regardless of a person’s behavior. It is an important feature in client centered therapy (and in other forms of therapy as well). It is a setting in which the client will be accepted by the therapist no matter what they or do. When the client is unconditionally accepted by the therapist, it provides an environment to the client to share personal information without the fear of being judged. This information and personal beliefs can have a positive impact on the therapeutic relationship or any healing that the client is seeking out from the therapy. The unconditional positive regard from the therapist might act as a substitute for the client’s parents or other adults who failed to manifest this attitude towards them in their childhood.  Carl Rogers believed that children who do not encounter unconditional positive regard from their parents at a young age are more expected to have low self-worth and are less likely to enhance their full potentials for personal growth and development. 

“The organism has one basic tendency and striving to actualize maintain and enhance the experiencing organism.”

(Rogers, 1951)

Rogers believed that people are motivated by an innate tendency to actualize, maintain and enhance the self. This drive towards self-actualization encompasses all physiological and psychological needs. The progress towards full human development is neither automatic nor effortless, it takes a lot of effort and involves struggle and pain. For example, when children take their first steps, they may fall and hurt themselves. However, they persevere despite the pain because the tendency to grow and actualize is stronger than the urge to regress because the growth process is difficult.  This tendency to self-actualize or the process which requires patience and perseverance is disruptive or becomes destructive when the understanding of the self-concept is poor or when the external factors impacts the valuing process. Self-actualization occurs when a person’s “ideal self” (i.e. who they would like to be) is congruent with their “real self” (who you are actually are).

As humans we have the tendency to evaluate experiences not in terms of how they contribute to the overall process of self-actualization but in terms of whether they bring positive regard-acceptance, love and approval from others. This leads to a state of incongruence between the self-concept and the experiences with the external world.  Experiences that are inconsistent or incompatible with the self-concept become threatening and are manifested as anxiety. For example, if our self-concept believes in Altruism, once we meet someone to whom we don’t want to offer help, we are likely to develop anxiety. Now in order to maintain our self-concept we must deny the feelings of not willing to help. We try to defend ourselves against the anxiety that leads to the distortion of our experiences in the external world. This leads to rigidity of some of our perceptions and minimizes the exposure of substantial experiences.

Our level of psychological adjustment and emotional health results in a state of congruency or compatibility between our self-concept and our experiences. Psychologically healthy people are able to perceive themselves, other people and situations or events as they really are rather than distorting the perception or evaluating the external situation on the basis of one’s own belief system. Psychologically healthy people are open to new experiences because nothing threaten their self-concept. This strong sense of self concept which have been shaped by the unconditional positive regard received from their loved ones in their childhood have contributed in accepting their selves in all conditions and situations. They can develop and actualize all facets of life including all the positive and negative ones as an experience of learning and proceed towards the goal of becoming a “fully functioning person”.

To Rogers, the fully functioning person is the desired result of psychological development and social evolution (Rogers,1961). He described several characteristics of fully functioning (self-actualizing) persons-

  • Fully functioning persons are aware of all experiences- No experience is distorted or denied; all of it filters through to the self. They are open to both negative and positive feelings. They are more emotional in the sense that they accept a wider range of emotions (both positive and negative) and feel them more intensely.
  • Fully functioning persons live fully and richly in every moment- All experiences are potentially fresh and new. Rather than thinking about the past or anticipating about the future these people tend to live in the present and make the most out of the present.
  • Fully functioning persons trust in their own organism- By this phrase Rogers meant that fully functioning persons trust their own reactions rather than being guided by the opinion of others, by social code or by intellectual judgements. These people are intuitive and trust their reactions which might incomprehensible by people sometimes. Thus, how to behave in a particular situation or what decision to take results from a consideration of all experiential data.
  • Fully functioning persons feel free to make choices without constraints or inhibitions- These people do not feel compelled either by themselves or by others, to behave in only one way. They have a strong sense of power because they their future depends solely on their own actions and not present circumstances, past events or other people.
  • Fully functioning persons are creative and live constructively and adaptively as environmental conditions change- The external environment does not define their self-concept. They are flexible and seek new experiences and challenges. Their focus is working on their own selves because they are aware of the fact that rather than trying to change the environment and other people, we must work on ourselves and prepare for new challenges.
  • Fully functioning persons may face difficulties- The condition involves introspecting, reflecting, growing, striving and using all of one’s potential, a way of life that brings complexity and challenges. Their personality may be described as enriching, exciting and meaningful.

Thus, a perfect balance between the real self and the ideal self is important for a peaceful life which enhances the growth for self-actualization. Trying to work on ourselves and striving to become a fully functioning person will help us to understand life in a better way by utilizing all our innate and unique potentials and creating maximum value on an individual level in all the areas of life.

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