Neil Strauss On Becoming A Person

Neil StraussNeil

Last week, our CRP entry was on Social Intelligence, a book that explored  ways to develop your social brain to better communicate with the outside world and “not trap yourself in a dungeon of Bieber fever”. This week, Henrik summarizes Carl R. Rogers’ On Becoming a Person, which dives into how you can improve your inner world and answer big questions like: Who is the real you? and How can you present the real you to the world?

Okay, those aren’t big questions: they’re huge questions. So lie down on the sofa, take a deep breath, and enjoy Henrik’s summary.





On Becoming a Person by Carl R. Rogers is a classic text on humanistic and existential psychotherapy. The book is based on works by Rogers during the 1950’s and 60’s, yet the material is still highly relevant today. The book contains some interesting ideas and perspectives on personal growth and development.

A key point is Rogers’ view on what it means to become that self who one truly is, and thus a fully functioning person. Rogers discusses the process of getting in touch with one’s emotions so that one might live life based on a real self instead of a false, ideal self. The incongruence between these two selves is a major cause of personal distress according to Rogers.

The book explains what it means to move away from facades and toward self-direction. It discusses the trust of self and how to face life’s complexities. The good life is a process. Not a state of being. Rogers emphasizes flexibility and an openness to experience, instead of a rigid, defensive approach to life. His teachings are all based on an optimistic and positive view of people and the world.

The following is a summary of some core themes in the book that I believe are of most interest to the Inner Circle members.

To be your true self

According to Rogers, being your true or real self means being your organism – without self-deception or distortion. To be your true self involves a strong awareness of your total life experience where basic sensory and visceral experiences are strengthened and refined. The opposite, a false or ideal self, is what most people base their lives on. “What do others think I should do in this situation?” “What would my parents or my culture want me to do?” “What do I think ought to be done?” These are all examples of thinking based on a false, ideal self. To be your true self, you need to ask instead: “How do I experience this?” “What does it mean to me?”

Being your true self, you are aware of what you are actually experiencing, and not simply what you can permit yourself to experience after a thorough screening through a conceptual filter. You can listen sensitively to yourself. You can be what you are – your experience. This is what Rogers would label a fully functioning human organism.

Many people are in distress because of an incongruence between their false and their real self. Life is based on the false self, which contradicts their real life experience. People are most often unaware that this incongruence is causing their distress, maladjustment etc. Rogers based this assumption on what he learned from thousands of therapy sessions with people from all walks of life. As people get to know themselves better and learn to accept their experience, the incongruence diminishes and suffering is relieved. Accepting all of your emotions as part of the life experience is crucial in being your true self.

Rogers had an optimistic and positive view of people. He stated that when people’s capacity of awareness is functioning freely and fully, people would not be evil or out of control, but organisms able to achieve a balanced, realistic, self-enhancing, prosocial behavior. According to Rogers, when people deny awareness to various aspects of their experience, then we all too often have reason to fear them and their behavior.

Rogers points out that no one person fully achieves his description of a true self. It is a life- long goal to strive toward. Each individual is a separate, distinct and unique person. The following generalizations of a true self can still be drawn:

  1. Away from facades: Instead of hiding behind a façade, as if it were yourself, you must come closer to being yourself – whatever emotions that might involve.
  2. Away from oughts: Upbringing and the relationship with parents is most often the cause of an unhealthy, compelling image of what you “ought to be”. Abandon such false, self-concepts.
  3. Away from meeting expectations: Our culture puts many expectations on us to subordinate our individuality to fit into the group needs – we are socialized into society. Be aware how this might conflict with your real self.
  4. Away from pleasing others: Many people form themselves by trying to please others.
  5. Toward self-direction: Be autonomous. Choose your own goals. Become responsible for yourself.
  6. Toward being process: Be a process, a changing fluidity. Do not be disturbed that you are not the same from day to day, or don’t always hold the same feelings toward a person or experience. End statements and conclusions are of less importance.
  7. Toward being complexity: Be the complexity of your own feelings. Be all of yourself in each moment – all the richness and complexity with nothing hidden from yourself, and nothing feared in yourself. This is difficult indeed, and in its absolute sense an impossible goal.
  8. Toward openness to experience: Live in an open, friendly, close relationship to your own experience of external reality. Experiencing is a friendly resource, not a frightening enemy. This implies a superior awareness of your own impulses, desires, opinions, and subjective reactions in general.
  9. Toward acceptance of others: Value and appreciate others’ experience for what it is without arguing or demanding that it be otherwise.
  10. Toward trust of self: Trust and value the process within you. Creative people like Hemingway or Einstein, were told that “good writers or scientists do not do it that way.” Still, they persisted and moved toward being themselves.

Getting in touch with your emotions

Becoming aware of your own emotions or feelings is a crucial prerequisite to be your true self. People sense their feelings to varying degrees. Many live their lives with this awareness mostly hidden or repressed. In Rogers’ therapy, revealing the inner life of the client was a central goal. He described seven stages in a process leading to a full awareness of one’s emotional life. Very few clients ever reached the seventh stage.

Rogers explained the process as one where a person changes from fixity to flowingness. It is a move away from a state in which feelings are unrecognized, unowned and unexpressed. It is a move toward a flow in which ever-changing feelings are experienced in the moment, knowingly and acceptingly, and may be accurately expressed.

Here are the seven stages:

  1. There is an unwillingness to communicate self. Communication is only about externals. Feelings and personal meanings are neither recognized nor owned. Close and communicative relationships are construed as dangerous. There is no desire to change.
  2. Expression begins to flow in regard to non-self topics. Problems are perceived as external to self. There is no sense of personal responsibility in problems. Feelings are described as unowned, or as past objects. Feelings may be exhibited, but are not recognized as such or owned. Experience is bound by the structure of the past. Differentiation of personal meanings and feelings is very limited and global. There is little recognition of contradictions.
  3. There is a freer flow of expression about the self as an object, and self –related experience as objects. There is also expression about the self as a reflected object, existing primarily in others. There is much expression about feelings and personal meanings not now present. There is little acceptance of feelings. They are seen as something shameful, bad, abnormal, etc. Experiencing is still described as in the past or as somewhat remote from the self.
  4. Descriptions of feelings are more intense, sometimes as objects in the present. Occasionally feelings are expressed as in the present, but the client distrusts and fears this happening. There is slightly more acceptance of feelings, and they are not as bound by structures of the past. There is also an increased differentiation of feelings, constructs and personal meanings. There is a realization of concern about contradictions and incongruences between experience and self. There are vacillating feelings of responsibility in problems.
  5. Feelings are expressed freely as in the present. Feelings are very close to being fully experienced. They “bubble up” or “seep through” in spite of the fear and distrust which the client feels at experiencing them with fullness and immediacy. There is an increasing ownership of self-feelings, and a desire to be these – the real me. Experience is loosened, no longer remote, and frequently occurs with little postponement. Differentiation of feelings and meanings are much more exact. There is an increased quality of acceptance of self-responsibility.
  6. Feelings can flow to their full result and are directly experienced with immediacy and richness. Feelings are accepted, and not denied, feared or struggled against. There is a quality of living subjectively in the experience, not feelings about it. A physiological loosening accompanies this – tears, sighs, muscular relaxation etc. The incongruence between experience and awareness disappears. In this stage there are no longer “problems”, external or internal. The client is living, subjectively, a phase of his problem. It is not an object.
  7. Feelings are experienced with immediacy and richness of detail in all life situations. The changing of feelings are accepted, owned and trusted. Situations are experienced and interpreted in their newness, not as the past or structure-bound. The self is something confidently felt in process. Internal communication is clear with feelings and symbols well matched. Personal constructs are tentatively reformulated, to be validated against further experience, but even then to be held loosely. There is the experiencing of effective choice of new ways of living.

Rogers’ lessons

In his therapeutic work, Rogers came to several important lessons that he summarized in his book. A few of them are these:

  1. In my relationship with persons, I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.
  2. I find I am more effective when I can listen acceptingly to myself, and can be myself.
  3. My total organismic sensing of a situation is more trustworthy than my intellect.
  4. Experience is, for me, the highest authority.
  5. People have a basically positive direction.
  6. Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed.

Concluding comments

The above describes a deep inward journey of self-discovery. Though originating in a therapeutic setting, I believe these ideas can be a source of self-help and development for people outside the therapy room as well. Today, many self-help books and popular psychology is based on cognitive-behavioral theory, where a simple change in thinking patterns is the remedy for personal distress. In my opinion such techniques have limited value if we are unaware of our true self. For lasting and thorough personal change to occur, we must first and foremost learn to know ourselves. Then we have a better foundation to grow and change as people.

A detailed outline of Rogers’ therapeutic methods is beyond this report, but a summarizing quote from his book gives a glimpse of the essence:

If I can create a relationship characterized on my part:
by a genuineness and transparency, in which I am my real feelings;
by a warm acceptance of and prizing of the other person as a separate individual;
by a sensitive ability to see his world and himself as he sees them;

Then the other individual in the relationship:
will experience and understand aspects of himself which he previously has repressed;
will find himself becoming better integrated;
will become more like the person he would like to be;
will be more self-directing and self-confident;
will become more of a person, more unique and more self-expressive;
will be more understanding and acceptant of others;
will be able to cope with the problems of life more adequately and more comfortably.

Rogers believed this statement was true of all his relationships, professional and private.

On Becoming a Person by Carl R. Rogers