Think of a person you know or have met who impresses you. Try to identify someone who you think might be a self-actualizer. Review Maslow's list of the 15 characteristics he associated with self-actualized individuals (Table 11.3), and identify the characteristics that the person you've chosen appears to possess. Try to provide concrete examples from the person's life to illustrate the 15 characteristics.
Whereas Maslow focused on the characteristics of self-actualizing individuals, psychologist Carl Rogers (1902-1987) focused on the ways to foster and attain self-actualization. During the four decades of his productive career , Rogers developed a theory of personality and a method of psychotherapy (client-centered therapy). Like Maslow, Rogers believed that people were basically good and that human nature was fundamentally benevolent and positive. He felt that the natural human state was to be fully functioning, but under certain conditions people become stalled in their movement toward self-actualization. His theory explains how people lose their direction. Moreover, he proposed techniques for helping people get back on track toward achieving their potential. His general approach to self-actualization—the person-centered approach—has been expanded and applied to groups, to education, to corporate organizations, and even to government (see Rogers, 2002, for his posthumously published autobiography).
At the core of Rogers's approach is the concept of the fully functioning person, the person who is on his or her way toward self-actualization. The fully functioning person may not actually be self-actualized yet, but he or she is not blocked or sidetracked in moving toward this goal. Several characteristics describe the fully functioning person. Such persons are open to new experiences, and they enjoy diversity and novelty in their daily lives. Fully functioning individuals are also centered in the present. They do not dwell on the past or their regrets. Neither do they live in the future. Fully functioning individuals also trust themselves, their feelings, and their own judgments. When faced with a decision, they don' t automatically look around to others for guidance (e.g., "What would make my parents happy?"). Instead, they trust themselves to do the right thing. Fully functioning individuals are often unconventional, setting their own obligations and accounting to themselves.
How does someone become fully functioning? This is where Rogers' s theory of the development of the self comes into play . An entire chapter of this book is devoted to an exploration of the self (Chapter 14). Much of the work covered in Chapter 14 can be traced back to Carl Rogers, who strongly believed that there was one primary motive in life—the motive to self-actualize, to develop the self that was meant to be.
Journey into Selfhood: Positive Regard and Conditions of Worth
According to Rogers, all children are born wanting to be loved and accepted by their parents and others. He called this in-born need the desire for positive regard.
Parents frequently make their positive regard contingent on conditions, such as the conditions expressed in the statements, "Show me you are a good child and earn all As on your report card" and "I will really like it if you earn the star role in your school play." In another example, parents push children into sports, and the children might stay in the sports, not because they like sports, but to earn the love and positive regard of the parents. Of course, it is good for parents to have expectations for their children, but not to make their love contingent on the child' s meeting those expectations.
The requirements set forth by parents or significant others for earning their pos itive regard are called conditions of worth. Children may become preoccupied with living up to these conditions of worth, rather than discovering what makes them happy. They behave in specific ways to earn the love, respect, and positive regard o parents and other significant people in their lives. Positive regard, when it must b earned by meeting certain conditions, is called conditional positive r egard.
Children who experience many conditions of worth may lose touch with their own desires and wants. They begin living their lives in an effort to please others. They become what others want them to become, and their self-understanding contains only qualities that others condone. They are moving away from the ideals of a fully functioning person. What matters most is pleasing others. "What will they think?"—not "What do I really want in this situation?"—is a question such people ask themselves repeatedly.
As they reach adulthood, they remain preoccupied with what others think of them. They work primarily for approval from others, not out of their own sense of self-direction. They are dependent on others for positive regard and are constantly looking for the conditions of worth, which must be satisfied. They hide their weaknesses, distort their shortcomings, and perhaps even deny their faults. They act in ways that make everybody , except themselves, happy . They have been working to please others for so long that they have for gotten what they want out of life. They have lost self-direction and are no longer moving toward self-actualization.
How can one avoid this outcome? Rogers believed that positive regard from parents and significant others should have no strings attached. It should be give freely and liberally without conditions or contingencies. Rogers called this unconditional positive regard—when the parents and significant others accept th child without conditions, communicating that they love and value the child because the child just is. Parents need to show unconditional acceptance of the child, even when providing discipline or guidance. For example, if a child has done something wrong, the parent can still provide correction in combination with unconditional positive regard: "Y ou have done something bad. You are not bad, and I still love you; it's just that the thing you have done is bad and I don' t want you to do that anymore."
With enough unconditional positive regard, children learn to accept experiences rather than deny them. They don' t have to engage in ef forts to distort themselves for others or alter their behaviors or experiences to fit a mold or model of what other want. Such persons are free to accept themselves, even their own weaknesses and shortcomings, because they have experienced unconditional positive self-r egard. They are able to give themselves unconditional positive regard and accept themselves for who they are. They trust themselves, follow their own interests, and rely on their feelings to guide themselves to do the right thing. In short, they begin to take on the characteristics of a fully functioning person and begin to actualize the selves that they were meant to be.
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