PERSONALITY THEORY – CARL ROGERS AND VICTOR FRANKL
Why is it that man lives up to a certain point not knowing what the meaning of life is. Not knowing what path to follow, not knowing if the energy and courage to discover the truths of ones own existence in this world exist. Some persons will drive past a street child on Cape Town roads and look sideways in horror, quickly lock a car door with an “unapparent” elbow; warm, safe, and comfortable in the interior of a brand new sports model car. Others will look away and ignore the feelings of pity, or even perhaps swear or curse this annoyance. But why is it that some will open the window, offer a smile, and return home to sit quietly and try to find a means to correct this sadness. Be it cooking a meal to be delivered back to that robot, beginning the plans in opening a children’s haven, or picking up the phone to urge officials to help correct the situation. Some will lie that night in a warm bed and worry about whether they remembered to post the telephone bill, yet others will lie imagining that small child sad at that robot, no shoes and the rain and ice of a Cape Town winter near, with no place to go.
Man is a social being with a purpose. No two persons have the same purpose, and no two person’s journey to find that purpose is identical (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). That is the beauty of this world – each individual’s life purpose contributes to a fully functioning world. For as many persons as there are in this world, there are as many paths to reach this state of self awareness or life contentment. For this reason, there are those that’s body and soul long to perhaps fight in a war and destroy mankind, those that wish to save and protect strangers, and those that never take the leap of faith to find out where it is that he fits into this strange world that we live in. For it is one’s personality, ones inner core, that is the deciding factor of ones relative position in any given society. Discovering this life purpose, and finding that one aspect of mankind that makes ones heart sore through the clouds, is paramount for self contentment and ultimately ones own happiness. It affects all actions and man’s daily existence. Yet, that first step into this unknown world needs to be taken with nerve. It was once said by an unknown source that, “one can never hope to discover new oceans if one does not have the courage to lose sight of the shore” (Van Lennep, 2005, p.8).
According to Victor Frankl (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999), “man has to first lose himself in order to find himself”. Man is a spiritual being functioning principally on a conscious level, and has the spiritual capacity to transcend himself and reach for meaning (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). It is only through self-transcendence that man achieves greater clarity about himself. He learns to know himself precisely. Man must search for meaning in order to realize ones intended place in this world.
According to Carl Rogers (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999):
All people are born with an actualizing tendency, which causes them to seek those experiences that will maintain and enhance their lives. This drives people towards greater complexity, independence, creativity, and social responsibility. Experiences are evaluated using the organismic valuing process that indicates if experiences are in tune with the actualizing tendency. Those experiences which cause satisfaction are sought; those experiences that are unsatisfying are avoided. Healthy persons use there organismic valuing processes as guides in living there lives”.
Hence Victor Frankl (1999)and Carl Rogers (1999) emphasize the meaning in any life and the seeking of those experiences in life that will achieve and maintain life purpose and transcend ones “shell” of existence.
Personality can be defined as “the behavior pattern each person develops, both consciously and unconsciously, as a means of adapting to a certain environment and its cultural, ethnic, national, and provincial standards” (Anderson, 2002, p.1323). “The presenting mood, interests, self esteem and vaue system are important indicators of the personality” (Baumann, 1998, p.55).
SOCIOCULTURAL DETERMINANTS: Man’s personality can be viewed as a combination of the many roles that he plays. Culture, to a large extent, determines what one considers appropriate actions. If one deviates from that appropriate range, social pressures will confront you in some form. The socioeconomic level of ones family, family size, birth order, ethnic identification, religion, and the education of self and ones family are other examples of sociocultural truths that affect ones personality (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). After all, one simply does not have the same experiences in different homes. This affects ones personality to a limited extent since one will still strive to discover that same life purpose, yet perhaps in a slightly different context. For instance, say it was ones ability to sing that one discovered. In a Xhosa, upper-class, South African family one would perhaps grasp and master Hip Hop or Kwaito as a style of performance. Yet, an English, middle-class, Italian person would perhaps perform Opera. So, ones culture does not affect the direction of ones search for life purpose, but rather the context in which it is found. As Carl Rogers (1999) said, “the only reality that I can possibly know is the world as I perceive and experience it at the moment.” This subjective world we live in, not the physical world, determines behavior. When experiences are symbolized, they enter awareness and become part of the phenomenological field (their subjective world) (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999).
EXISTENTIAL – HUMANISTIC CONSIDERATIONS: Humans are free and are thus responsible in choosing the path towards ones own destiny, and to make choices as a human being. Subjective feelings and personal experiences are extremely important. People are concerned with the meaning of life. Humans have the capacity for improvement and people are urged to explore new possibilities for living in the attempt to find more effective choices. Each uniquely existing human is continually attempting to actualize himself in a threatening world, but the accompanying risk and the existential anxiety cause him to back off. Here, man is unwilling to actualize his potential in an independent manner, and so deprives himself of the most important aspect that motivates personality (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). As Victor Frankl (1999) said, existential frustration exists where the will to meaning is blocked. Here, the positive and negative aspects of human nature are emphasized. So, for instance, a person who finds himself in jail after stealing food in order to eat, may never have the opportunity to find his true calling in life. A feeling of worthlessness, negativity and sadness, all circumstances (human nature, and life aspects in general) that may block a human being’s self actualizing abilities and free will (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999).
COGNITIVE PROCESSES: Emphasis here is on how people view and think about reality. Information from the environment is perceived, retained, transformed, and acted on by a person. Self-regulation of ones actions, in order to achieve self-reward, plays a more significant role then outside rewards, to achieve life purpose (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). Carl Rogers (1999) discused the need for positive regard. Positive regard in terms of warmth, love, care, and respect result in the internalizing of conditions of worth. These become part of the self-structure, a type of conscience. A person can then not view himself positively if one does no live according to these values. The transcendence of self and the discovery of life purpose depend to a large extent on choices and actions in response to our environment. After all, if one grew up as an abandoned street child, one may not view oneself as worthy of happiness, and ones conscience can often allow illegal actions to be viewed as acceptable. This is sadly not conducive to discovering oneself.
WHAT IS THE RELATIVE IMPORTANCE OF THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE?: The present and future are more important than the past. Goal-directed behavior and the making of choices can alter life’s direction in a heartbeat. Perhaps our past always plays a part in our destiny, but the choice of its weighting depends on personal choice. Persons look to the future and to how today can help achieve tomorrow. Victor Frankl (1999) said that the finiteness of human existence must contribute to human life, and that potential that is realized is stored in the past and protected from transience. Yet, we nead to focus on the future, in order to make progress. Victor Frankl (1999) said that today makes tomorrow, yet yesterday will never be lost. Finding oneself in perhaps a refugee camp, no belongings and no place or means to go, will one day be the past. This doesn’t mean that that person can’t go on to become a famous heart surgeon. For as the saying goes, “the future is in your hands”.
WHAT MOTIVATES HUMAN BEHAVIOUR?: According to Carl Rogers (1999), self actualization, or the impulse to realize ones own potential, motivates human behavior. A search for meaning and the reduction of uncertainty are needed to deal with the world. Internalized conditions of worth affect life choices, yet the future and present choices can have a larger effect than the past on destiny. For as Victor Frankl (1999) said, through suffering, one is called to fulfill the deepest meanings in life. Hopelessness is only suffering without meaning. The finiteness of human life must contribute to human life. The clock begins to tick upon creation so that man can try to stand out to the rest of the world in a positive regard and in-line with our destiny.
IS HUMAN BEHAVIOUR FREELY CHOSEN OR IS IT DETERMINED? : If all the influences acting on a person at any given time were known (example: social, biological, genes, traits, patterns of reward, and personal factors, or a combination thereof), it would not be possible to predict that person’s behavior with any accuracy (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). Thus people have free will. Man is the masters of his own destiny. Man makes choices on a daily basis that will affect his future choices in some way. Yet, every person is born with a predetermined destiny. But, it is personal choices to transcend oneself in order to reach life meaning, that play the largest role on human behavior and reaching this predetermined destiny. Although society and other truths have an affect on the manner in which a person does things, the directions of that path to self-fulfillment remains in one direction. As Carl Rogers (1999) said, happiness comes from taking part in self-actualization and subjective freedom.
UNIQUENESS VERSUS COMMONALITY: Each person is unique because no clusters of genes or of environmental experiences are the same for any two persons. Yet human beings also have a lot in common; we share similar brains and sensory apparatus, and a culture amongst ourselves (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). Yet, ultimately we are all different in so many ways. Carl Rogers (1999) emphasizes that man is unique. His Person-centered Theory aims to make man aware of his own uniqueness, and to emphasize the actual person and his personal growth rather than the roles one plays in this world. Man works together for the realizations of this world, yet ones individual uniqueness and ultimate happiness is paramount to the ability to bequeath to this world and for it to bequeath to himself. As Victor Frankl (1999) stated, the meaning man assigns to work, love, suffering and death, are individual and play a large role in personality.
HOW ARE THE BODY AND MIND RELATED? : Mind, thoughts and consciousness can influence persons physically (brains, body, behavior) (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). Interactionism maintains that the mind influences the body and that the body influences the mind. According to Victor Frankl (1999), man consists of a body, mind, and psyche which are closely intertwined. In all his ways of being, man acts as a whole. Without each other, the different facets can not exist effectively. Yet, these dimensions can exist on a conscious, preconscious, or unconscious level. Man however, can never fully fathom our own spirituality, and thus, his spirit is unconscious. Yet, other aspects can reach our consciousness. This conscious truth forms the core of ones being, the reason to live and the direction chosen in which to travel towards self fulfillment, or away from it.
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF HUMAN NATURE?: Humans have the ability to choose courses of action and to assign meaning to the events in lifes. Man is born good, and if man engages in undesirable behavior, it is due to cultural, or societal conditions (quoted in Hergenhahn and Olson, 1999). Yet emphasis of the meaning in any life and the seeking of those experiences in life that will achieve and maintain life purpose and transcend ones “shell” of existence, is of paramount importance. Man has the capacity to make choices, and our ultimate satisfaction relies completely on making appropriate and correct decisions for ourselves.
In closing, man is a social being with a purpose. No two persons have the same purpose, and no two person’s journey to find that purpose is identical. Yet, man has the spiritual capacity to transcend himself and to reach for meaning. Man must search for meaning in order to realize this unique and intended place in the world.
Anderson, D.M. (2002). Mosby’s Medical, Nursing, and Allied Health Dictionary. United Kingdom: Mosby Inc.
Baumann, S.E. (1998). Psychiatry and Primary Health Care. Cape Town: Juta & Co.
Hergenhahn, B.R., & Olson, M.H. (1999). An Introduction to Theories of Personality. United States of America: Prentice Hall
Van Lennep, C. (2005). A Powerful Wave. Cape Town: Art Publishers.