I’ve been thinking about Rogers phenomenological viewpoint and the idea of actual versus ideal self, and of course have some thoughts.

I have an appreciation for the phenomenological viewpoint because it imbues the individual with free will and states that human beings are all inherently good and striving towards their actual selves, or full potential. The hairy beastie that comes into the equation is the environment, but as humans we are still in control of our reactions to that environment. In stating this I start to think of neurobiology and correlating neurotransmitters and electrical firing to behavior and personality, suggesting that we are less ghost and more machine, but for the sake of the phenomenological viewpoint I will stick to the beautiful idea of free will.

Carl Rogers came up with this phenomenological viewpoint, and in it he also discusses a subconscious guide called the “organismic valuing process,” or a tendency to draw us towards experience that allow us to grow, and away from experiences and people that inhibit growth. This sounds like gut feeling to me, and I think that in a society that idealizes certain qualities and experiences that may be true to some and not others, there is a higher risk of forcing oneself into experiences that go against gut feeling, and consequently inhibit growth. The voice of what is socially acceptable and prized seems to be stronger than the intuitive, inner voice that guides the individual towards self realization.

I agree with Rogers that our perceptions of our selves are most important in leading to self actualizing and happiness, but I wonder about whether it is my perception of myself that is most important, or how I perceive others to perceive me. I say this because there are aspects of myself for which the ideal self and actual self are correlated, but I might think that other people look down on this characteristic, despite me valuing it. I think that Rogers theory probably takes this sort of social influence into account in the idea that the ideal self is influenced by society, but I question whether the Q-sort can correctly account for stubbornness on the individual’s part in having a trait that they perceive as valuable and matching up with their ideal self, but feeling judged in the eyes of society. I think there should be three measures taken for assessment: a measure of ideal self, a measure of actual self, and a measure of what the individual thinks that people perceive them to be. I might guess that people who differ widely between how they actually are and how they think they are perceived might be more psychologically troubled because they are either working hard to maintain a false image or are unable to relate their true selves to others, or feel that their true self is not appreciated by others. For example, I see myself as highly ethical, and value that characteristic, but I know that many behaviors that I don’t engage in as a result of this quality are not judged highly by my peer group. It might not even be that they judge it poorly, but that their behavior reflects a large difference between our expressions of that characteristic, which makes me question it. Even if many might value this characteristic, what matters is my observation of my peers’ behavior, my judgment of their level of this characteristic, and then the conclusion that the large difference means that I must be judged poorly by them. In a sense, this is jumping to concussions, but I feel very strongly that the idea that we look at ourselves through the eyes of other people should be further explored. A society that verbally promotes individuality but leads to and an unspoken lemming dynamic can certainly play tricks on the individual’s psychological health.

It might be beneficial to ask how humans developed this dynamic from a phenomenological viewpoint. All organisms have a need to be appreciated, loved, and valued, first from others, and then from themselves. If an individual perceives having a quality about himself or herself as a bad thing, that he or she might only be valued in absence of a certain quality or in the presence of one that is lacked, then this might lead to a conditioned sense of positive regard. Put in simpler terms, I am told that being valued by society is dependent on having factors x and y and not z, and consequently I am alienated from my true self and/or learn to not trust my feelings. Either way, these conditions of worth make one move away from his or her true self, and in the presence of expectation and internal (possibly unconscious feelings of lacking or defiance), anxiety is born. This anxiety seems to be what differentiates a fully functioning person that is in touch with his or her true self from a maladjusted person. The maladjusted person is either driven to conformity despite straying from their actual selves, which I would argue is the type of person that makes up the majority of society, or caught between a rock and a hard place, unable to meet the conditions of worth, anxious and seeking positive regard, but still trusting gut feelings and unable or unwilling to conform. It is only those individuals whose qualities match up with the expectations of society who never perceive conditions of worth and are allowed to pursue their ideal selves with full support. For everyone else, finding coping strategies to deal with this anxiety while maintaining outward composure is the challenge of being human.