THEORY OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT
THEORY OF PERSONALITY DEVELOPMENT According to Rogers (1942, 1951, 1967), infants evaluate each experience in terms of how it makes them feel; Rogers called this the organismic valuing process (OVP). Rogers believed that because behavior is governed by the OVP, infants can perceive experiences as they actually occur without distorting them. With the OVP, no experiences are more or less worthy; they just are. In other words, every event is interesting and open for investigation without prejudice. Infants thus evaluate experiences as to whether they enhance or maintain the organism. For example, if an experience (e.g., being hugged) enhances the organism, the infant feels good and is satisfied and might smile or laugh. However, if experiences do not enhance the organism (e.g., being cold or having a dirty diaper), the infant does not feel good, is not satisfied, and so might cry. Infants evaluate events by how they actually feel, not by how someone else tells them they should feel. The OVP, then, is an internal guide that everyone has at birth, and it leads the person toward self-actualization (see Figure 6.1). People freely seek those experiences that enhance them when they trust this internal guide. Rogers believed that because infants have positive strivings toward self-actualization and a natural curiosity about life, they can trust these inner feelings.
FIG U R E 6 . 1
The self-actualizing tendency. Psychologist Carl Rogers’s hypothesized path between the organismic valuing process (OVP) and the “fully functioning person.” All people, Rogers believed, have a “self- actualizing tendency,” a drive to encounter actual experience according to one’s own self-concept. When there is such congruence, self-concepts are valued in terms of basic, genuine feelings and self- regard; experiences are evaluated according to the OVP—that is, according to the basic needs and desires of the organism.
In addition to having the OVP, children also have a need for unconditional positive regard. In other words, they need acceptance, respect, warmth, and love without conditions of worth (COWs); that is, they need to be loved just because they are themselves and not because they meet certain standards or fulfill certain requirements. When children feel prized, accepted, and understood by significant others (usually parents), they begin to experience self-love and self-acceptance and develop a healthy sense of self with little or no conflict. A prized child is able to attend to his or her OVP and make good choices on the basis of inner experiencing.
Unfortunately, because parents themselves are not perfect, they place COWs on their children, demanding that children fulfill certain requirements to be loved. For example, parents may give messages such as “I will not love you unless you are a ‘good girl,’ ” “I will not love you unless you keep your room clean,” or “You must be intelligent to receive my love.” Because parents communicate (through words or actions) that children are lovable and acceptable only when they behave in accordance with imposed standards, children come to believe that they must be and act in certain ways to earn their parents’ love.
Given the need for love, the COWs, rather than the OVP, come to guide a child’s organization of her or his experiences (see Figure 6.2). In other words, children sacrifice their OVP to receive love from their parents (e.g., children give up being spontaneous and playful to sit “properly” and be “good” to please their parents). When a child introjects (i.e., internalizes) his or her parents’ COWs, these conditions become a part of the child’s self-concept.
FIG U R E 6 . 2
Conditions of worth and incongruence. The self-actualizing tendency can be derailed when the self- concept is altered by conditions of worth (COWs), which supplant a person’s basic, positive self- regard with others’ conditional evaluations of worth. The incongruence between actual experience and self-concept, according to Rogers, typically results in inauthentic expressions of feelings, low self- regard, defensiveness, anxiety, and depression.
The more COWs there are, the more distorted the person becomes from his or her own experiencing. For example, a mother may communicate to a young girl that it is not acceptable for her to hate her brother. The girl may feel that to be loved, she must be a good girl, and so she may disown the hate as not being part of herself. Hence, rather than learning that she may feel hate but cannot hurt her brother, she learns that her feelings are not acceptable. Another example is parents who punish or ridicule a boy for crying when he is hurt or needs help with a difficult task. The boy might repress his feelings of pain and dependency and become extremely independent to maintain his parents’ approval. These two examples illustrate how externally imposed values can substitute for the OVP. When feelings of hate or dependency get aroused, these children cannot identify or repress these feelings and thus are not in touch with their inner experiencing.
Children feel positive self-regard only when their experiences are consistent with feedback they receive from others (e.g., if a girl feels talented in playing the violin and others tell her that she is talented). Feelings of self-worth become dependent on the COWs that are learned in interaction with significant others. A child with too many COWs will not be open to experience, accepting of feelings, capable of living in the present, free to make choices, trusting, capable of feeling both aggression and affection, and capable of creativity. He or she will have a conflicted sense of self.
Obviously, children must become socialized to live in their families and society. Children cannot act on all their innate desires or get all of their needs met immediately because the world is not a perfect place and also because other
people have needs that sometimes conflict with theirs. Parents, for example, cannot always immediately meet the infant’s needs because they have other demands on their time. In addition, parents cannot allow a child to hurt a sibling or another child. The manner, however, in which parents socialize their children is crucial. For example, a parent can empathize with a young girl but still place limits on her (e.g., “I know you are angry at your brother, but you cannot hurt him”). The girl may feel frustrated but does not learn to deny her feelings. Instead, she learns to experience her feelings but channel them in a more socially acceptable direction. In contrast, when parents humiliate a child (e.g., “Real men don’t cry,” “Shut up, or I’ll give you something to cry about”) or deny that the child has feelings (e.g., “You don’t hate your teacher,” “You don’t feel hurt”), the child becomes confused about her or his feelings. The child may feel sad or feel hatred, but the parents say he or she does not have these feelings. What should the child trust, the inner experience or what parents tell him or her to feel? If the child does not pay attention to his or her parents, she or he risks losing parental approval and love. If she or he does not pay attention to inner feelings and instead tries to please others, the child loses her or his sense of self. One can easily see how children come not to trust their inner experiences. Children must survive, so they often choose parents’ attention and “love” over inner experiencing.
When COWs are pervasive and the OVP is disabled, the sense of self is weakened to the point at which a person is unable to experience or recognize feelings as belonging to the self. For example, a woman might not even be aware of feeling angry and hurt when being verbally and physically abused by her husband because she thinks she deserves the abuse. When people cannot allow themselves to have their feelings, they often feel a sense of emptiness, phoniness, or lack of genuineness. This lack of genuineness about one’s feelings reflects a split or incongruence between the real and ideal self and is the source of anxiety, depression, and defensiveness in relationships.