The following is a view into Dr. Carl Rogers’ examination of the components involved in creating relationships that foster growth and self-actualization in another. Rogers’ words are denoted by italicized text, and are taken from his book On Becoming a Person.
Rogers’ research and discussion on growth relationships is valuable for both educational and parenting paradigms alike. It demonstrates that intentions grounded in support of self-discovery and the development of mature, compassionate world-views can result in valuable personal expansion. It shows approaches that teachers, facilitators, parents, and mentors can use to create supportive environments that foster active participation in one’s own unfolding. Rogers recognizes that supporting the personal development of others thrives when the following idea is integrated: humans need relationships that honor autonomy and value genuine interaction.
From this platform individuals can cultivate authentic expression and meet their need for understanding, which is essential for feeling freedom to navigate the complexities of internal and external relationships. It is within these relationships with the self and with others in which growth and learning flourishes.
Rogers expresses the following…
“If I can provide a certain type of relationship, the other person will discover within himself the capacity to use that relationship for growth and change, and personal development will occur” (33).
He continues at length…
“I have found that the more that I can be genuine in the relationship, the more helpful it will be. This means that I need to be aware of my own feelings, in so far as possible, rather than presenting an outward façade of one attitude, while actually holding another attitude at a deeper or unconscious level. Being genuine also involves the willingness to be and to express, in my own words and my behavior, the various feelings and attitudes which exist in me. It is only in this way that the relationship can have reality, and reality seems deeply important as a first condition. It is only by providing the genuine reality which is in me, that the other person can successfully seek for the reality in him. I have found this to be true even when the attitudes I feel are not attitudes with which I am pleased, or attitudes which seem conducive to a good relationship. It seems extremely important to be real.
As a second condition, I find that the more acceptance and liking I feel toward this individual, the more I will be creating a relationship which he can use. By acceptance I mean a warm regard for him as a person of unconditional self-worth – of value no matter what his condition, his behavior, or his feelings. It means a respect and liking for him as a separate person, a willingness for him to possess his own feelings in his own way. It means an acceptance of and regard for his attitudes of the moment, no matter how negative or positive, no matter how much they may contradict other attitudes he has held in the past. This acceptance of each fluctuating aspect of this other person makes it for him a relationship of warmth and safety, and the safety of being liked and prized as a person seems a highly important element in a helping relationship.
I also find that the relationship is significant to the extent that I feel a continuing desire to understand – a sensitive empathy with each of the client’s feelings and communications as they seem to him at that moment. Acceptance does not mean much until it involves understanding. It is only as I understand the feelings and thoughts which seem so horrible to you, or so weak, or so sentimental, or so bizarre – it is only as I see them as you see them, and accept them and you, that you feel really free to explore all the hidden nooks and frightening crannies of your inner and often buried experience. This freedom is an important condition of the relationship. There is implied here a freedom to explore oneself at both conscious and unconscious levels, as rapidly as one can dare to embark on this dangerous quest. There is also a complete freedom from any type of moral or diagnostic evaluation, since all such evaluations are, I believe, always threatening.
Thus the relationship which I have found helpful is characterized by a sort of transparency on my part, in which my real feelings are evident; by an acceptance of this other person as a separate person with value in his own right; and by a deep empathic understanding which enables me to see his private world through his eyes. When these conditions are achieved, I become a companion to my client, accompanying him in the frightening search for himself, which he now feels free to undertake.
I am by no means always able to achieve this kind of relationship with another, and sometimes, even when I feel I have achieved it in myself, he may be too frightened to perceive what is being offered to him. But I would say when I hold in myself the kind of attitudes I have described, and when the other person can to some degree experience these attitudes, then I believe that change and constructive personal development will invariably occur – and I included the word ‘invariably’ only after long and careful consideration” (33-35).
As humans we strive to be our best selves. Our manifestations may not match up with this underlying intention due to emotional regulation, pathology, habituation, etc. – yet our needs for competence, effectiveness, and purpose, our needs for acceptance, belonging, and harmony, remain present in the foundation of our being regardless of how serving our actions are or are perceived.
Therefore, in exploring and navigating our inefficiencies and the depths of our ‘shadow selves’, it is valuable for us to know the safety of support that can be found within a relationship built on compassion, autonomy, and authenticity.
Rogers continues at length further…
“Gradually my experience has forced me to conclude that the individual has within himself the capacity and the tendency, latent if not evident, to move forward toward maturity. In a suitable psychological climate this tendency is released, and becomes actual rather than potential. It is evident in the capacity of the individual to understand those aspects of his life and of himself which are causing him pain and dissatisfaction, and understanding which probes beneath his conscious knowledge of himself into those experiences which he has hidden from himself because of their threatening nature. It shows itself in the tendency to reorganize his personality and his relationship to life in ways which are regarded as more mature. Whether one calls it growth tendency, a drive toward self-actualization, or a forward-moving directional tendency, it is the mainspring of life…. It is the urge which is evident in all organic and human life – to expand, extend, become autonomous, develop, mature – the tendency to express and activate all the capacities of the organism, to the extent that such activation enhances the organism or the self. This tendency may become deeply buried under layer after layer of encrusted psychological defenses; it may be hidden behind elaborate facades which deny its existence; but it is my belief that it exists in every individual, and awaits only the proper conditions to be released and expressed” (35).
What does this ‘mainspring of life’ result in when we are provided the platform described above? How does the expression and activation of our capacities and contributions result in life-serving experience?
Rogers goes on to describe the outcomes as follows…
“It is my hypothesis that in such a relationship the individual will reorganize himself at both the conscious and deeper levels of his personality in such a manner as to cope with life more constructively, more intelligently, and in a more socialized as well as more satisfying way.
Here I can depart from speculation and bring in the steadily increasing body of solid research knowledge which is accumulating. We know now that individuals who live in such a relationship even for a relatively limited number of hours show profound and significant changes in personality, attitudes, and behavior, changes that do not occur in matched control groups. In such a relationship the individual becomes more integrated, more effective… He changes his perception of himself, becoming more realistic in his views of self. He becomes more like the person he wishes to be. He values himself more highly. He is more self-confident and self-directing. He has a better understanding of himself, becomes more open to his experience, denies or represses less of his experiences. He becomes more accepting in his attitudes toward others, seeing others as more similar to himself.
In his behavior he shows similar changes. He is less frustrated by stress, and recovers from stress more quickly. He becomes more mature in his everyday behavior as this is observed by friends. He is less defensive, more adaptive, more able to meet situations creatively” (36).
It is in reflection that we are better able to see the details of a system (a system being any sort of organized structure). As we better understand the system of our being, we cultivate increased understandings and skills that lead to self-direction. We become more confident in our own experiences, more able to honor how we feel, what we need, and what action we can take to experience the world in the way that we envision.
“There seems every reason to suppose that the therapeutic relationship is only one instance of interpersonal relations, and that the same lawfulness governs all such relationships. Thus it seems reasonable to hypothesize that if the parent creates with his child a psychological climate such as we have described, then the child will become more self-directing, socialized, and mature. To the extent that the teacher creates such a relationship with his class, the student will become a self-initiated learner, more original, more self-disciplined, less anxious and other directed. If the administrator, or military or industrial leader, creates such a climate within his organization, then his staff will become more self-responsible, more creative, better able to adapt to new problems, more basically cooperative” (37).
As Rogers notes, relationships for growth support self-discovery, and these relationships can be cultivated in many domains. We can create support systems that allow individuals to explore the complexities of their lifescape, and to engage in increasingly more life-serving experiences. From home, to school, to the professional world, we can engage relationship practices that foster autonomy, lead to shared understanding, and support personal expansion.
Thank you Dr. Rogers.
Rogers, C. (1961). On becoming a person: A therapist’s view of psychotherapy. New York, New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.