Updated: Feb 21, 2021
“The curious paradox is that when I accept myself just as I am, then I can change.” - Carl Rogers
Carl Rogers (January 8, 1902 – February 4, 1987) was one of the founders of the humanistic approach to counselling and psychology. Like many psychotherapists, counsellors and psychologists, Rogers placed a great amount of emphasis on our early experiences, especially on our early relationships with others. Our early relationships contribute to our development of self (a sense of who we really are as a person) as we initially develop our understanding of the world through our interactions with others and how others respond to us. This is how we begin to attach value judgements to parts of our identity. Our early relationships may contribute to emotional or psychological disturbance with the “conditions of worth” they may impose on us, for example if we have to fulfil certain criteria to receive love, affection or praise (e.g. good grades, good behaviour etc.). While some relationships can be damaging, other relationships can be positively growth promoting” (Merry, 2002: 23-27).
Conflict within ourselves occurs when there is a conflict between our internal frame of reference and our external frame of reference. Listening to our internal frame of reference means we act on our own thoughts and feelings, as opposed to someone else’s. Listening to an external frame of reference means we act on someone else’s thoughts and feelings, for instance society’s expectations, our parents’ or partner’s frame of reference. Over time, external frames of reference can become introjected, which means we internalise the thoughts and feelings of others. Without realising, we begin to see these external frames of reference as our own. Introjected values are evident when we say things like “should”, “ought” or “must”. By recognising these values are not true to ourselves and who we are, and that they originate from others, we can begin to change our thoughts and feelings about ourselves. Like an onion, we must gradually peel back the distorted values and misperceptions that have grown throughout our lives, until we can reach the true core of our being and accept ourselves as we are: accepting our strengths and weaknesses as equally important parts of what make us who we are. Through this process, we can work towards becoming what Rogers (1961) termed a “fully functioning individual”, able to fulfil our full potential and become our authentic selves.
The Fully-Functioning Individual
The qualities of the fully-functioning individual are (Rogers 1961):
Growing openness to experience - negative experiences are not ignored but are processed by the individual
Living each moment fully - focusing on the present and not the past or future
Trusting in their own sense of right and wrong - not relying on existing social norms or existing codes
Creativity and freedom - more able to adapt to their own circumstances without feeling a need to conform to the expectations of others
This leads to a rich life full of deep feeling and experience
"The good life is a process, not a state of being. It is a direction not a destination." (Rogers 1967, p. 187)
The 19 Propositions
Carl Rogers (1951) also pioneered what he termed the ‘19 propositions’, which at its essence is a theory of human personality and behaviour. Rogers’ ‘19 propositions’ form a phenomenological approach to human development. His theory is based on the belief that an individual’s experience - how that individual feels, sees or hears the world - makes up their own view of the world. In short, everyone’s experience is unique and valid, and unique to their own frame of reference. Our reality is our story, meaning that no-one can take it away from us. The 19 propositions provide an eloquent account of the self, and how a person can develop towards being a ‘fully-functioning’ human being. The 19 Propositions (Rogers 1951) are written in 1950s philosophical language, so can be difficult for one to initially grapple with. I found it helpful to essentially translate the propositions into everyday language. The 19 Propositions (Rogers 1951) can be understood as follows:
I make sense of myself, others and my world based on the way in which I experience the world. The way I experience the world is constantly changing.
My reality is formed out of what I experience and how I process my experience. My sense of 'what is my reality' is unique to me.
My entire way of being is informed by how I experience and view the world.
My sense of who I am forms part of my reality.
My sense of who I am is informed by experiences and interactions I have with the world, especially when these interactions involve value judgements, which I internalise.
I have an innate desire to take care of myself, to heal, to grow and to achieve my full potential.
To truly understand my behaviour, you must first understand how I perceive myself, others and the world.
I behave as I do to fulfil my needs, based on what I believe my needs to be (and these needs in turn are based on my reality).
Emotions go alongside my behaviour and usually help me to fulfil my needs. My emotions and how strongly I feel them is directly related to how significant that particular need is for me.
The values I attach to my experiences, and in some cases how I value myself, are based on my values as well as the values of others which I have internalised. In some cases, I may not be aware that some of my values have been derived from others.
There are three different ways in which I can make sense of my experiences: (i.) make personal sense of my experiences and integrate them into how I see myself, the world and others; (ii.) ignore them because they do not fit with how I see myself, the world or others; (iii.) reframe these experiences to fit with how I view myself, the world or others.
I behave in ways that are consistent with how I view myself (for example if I believe I am worthless, I will act as if I am. If I believe I am a valuable human being, I will act as if I place worth myself).
Sometimes I may behave in ways which are not consistent with how I view myself. It is likely that I will ‘disown’ such behaviour.
When I am at one with my true, authentic self, I am open to experiences (positive and negative) and am able to incorporate these experiences into the way in which I view myself.
Conversely, when I am not at one with my true, authentic self, I will deny awareness of certain experiences, so will be unable to make sense of these experiences or incorporate them into the way in which I view and make sense of myself, the world and others. This causes tension within me.
If an experience threatens the way I view myself, the more I will cling to how I view myself.
If I am provided with a safe environment, free from judgement, I become able to explore experiences which I previously found too threatening. I can begin to accept these previously denied experiences which allows me to make sense of myself, the world and others in a fuller and more meaningful way. Through this, I can begin to heal.
When I become able to accept all of my experiences, I become more understanding and accepting of others as individuals.
When I am able to reshape my experiences and integrate experiences I previously denied, I am able to reshape my values, discarding introjected values and replacing them with my own true values.
The ‘19 Propositions’ are all about how we experience ourselves as we really are, in relation to others and the world as we perceive it. The 19 Propositions demonstrate how, and under what circumstances, people can change and grow into their authentic selves. It provides an optimistic perspective on human development and ultimately our desire as humans to fulfil our potential and be the best that we can be.
Merry, Tony. (2002) Learning and Being in Person-centred Counselling. 2nd edition Ross-on-Wye: PCCS Books.
Rogers, Carl. (1951). Client-Centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable.
Rogers, Carl. (1957). The necessary and sufficient conditions of therapeutic personality change. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 21: 95-103.
Rogers, Carl. (1959). A Theory of Therapy, Personality and Interpersonal Relationships as Developed in the Client-centered Framework. In (ed.) S. Koch, Psychology: A Study of a Science. Vol. 3: Formulations of the Person and the Social Context.
Rogers, Carl. (1961). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist's View of Psychotherapy. London: Constable.
Rogers, Carl. (1969). Freedom to Learn: A View of What Education Might Become. (1st ed.) Columbus, Ohio: Charles Merill.
Rogers, Carl. and Stevens, B. (1967). Person to Person: The Problem of Being Human. Lafayette, CA: Real People Press.