Carl Rogers summarized what he had learned about his own process of becoming a person in an essay entitled “This is Me,” found in On Becoming a Person. This discussion helps illuminate the beliefs he gained from experience about effective change and acceptance of one’s self.
He concluded that paper with a brief statement on his view of what life at its richest can become: “a flowing, changing process.” This essay, among many others he wrote, has resonated so deeply with me that I wanted to devote this post to a few key passages providing a glimpse of his ideas.
As he said of what he had come to understand and believe, these learnings were not fixed but changing.
…I believe they became a part of my actions and inner convictions long before I realized them consciously. They are certainly scattered learnings, and incomplete. … I continually learn and relearn them.
In my relationships with persons … it does not help … to act as though I were something that I am not.
It does not help to act calm and pleasant when actually I am angry and critical. … It does not help to act as though I were a loving person if actually, at the moment, I am hostile. It does not help for me to act as though I were full of assurance, if actually I am frightened and unsure.
…[P]ut in another way … I have not found it to be helpful or effective in my relationships with other people to try to maintain a facade; to act in one way on the surface when I am experiencing something quite different underneath. … [M]ost of the mistakes I make in personal relationships, most of the times in which I fail to be of help to other individuals, can be accounted for in terms of the fact that I have, for some defensive reason, behaved in one way at the surface level, while in reality my feelings run in a contrary direction.
I find I am more effective when I can listen acceptantly to myself, and can be myself.
… I have learned to become more adequate in listening to myself; so that I know…what I am feeling at any given moment – to be able to realize I am angry, or that I do feel rejecting toward this person; or that I feel very full of warmth and affection for this individual; … or that I am anxious and fearful in my relationship to this person. … One way of putting this is that I feel I have become more adequate in letting myself be what I am. I believe that I have learned this from my clients as well as within my own experience – that we cannot change, we cannot move away from what we are, until we thoroughly accept what we are. Then change seems to come about almost unnoticed.
I have found it of enormous value when I can permit myself to understand another person.
Our first reaction to most of the statements which we hear from other people is an immediate evaluation, or judgment, rather than an understanding of it. … Very rarely do we permit ourselves to understand precisely what the meaning of the statement is to him. I believe this is because understanding is risky.
If I let myself really understand another person, I might be changed by that understanding. And we all fear change. So as I say, it is not an easy thing to permit oneself to understand an individual, to enter thoroughly and completely and empathically into his frame of reference. It is also a rare thing.
What is most personal is most general.
… I have almost invariably found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal, and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others.
Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed.
To experience this is both fascinating and a little frightening. I find I am at my best when I can let the flow of my experience carry me in a direction which appears to be forward, toward goals of which I am but dimly aware.
In thus floating with the complex stream of my experiencing, and in trying to understand its ever-changing complexity, it should be evident that there are no fixed points. When I am thus able to be in process, it is clear that there can be no closed system of beliefs, no unchanging set of principles which I hold. Life is guided by a changing understanding of and interpretation of my experience. It is always in process of becoming.
… I trust it is clear now why there is no philosophy or belief or set of principles which I could encourage or persuade others to have or hold. I can only try to live by my interpretation of the current meaning of my experience, and try to give others the permission … to develop their own inward freedom and thus their own meaningful interpretation of their own experience.
These few clips give a hint of Rogers’ trust in experience, rather than theory, as a guide to both the therapeutic relationship and the characteristics of well-being. In other papers, most of them written in the 1950s, he elaborated on his view of the good life. In the next post in this series, I’ll try to summarize his view of wellness and compare it to those of other writers whose work has helped me make progress in getting my life back from depression.