Carl Rogers and Self-Actualization: Living “The Good Life” (2023)

“lt has been my experience that persons have a basically positive direction. Life, at its best, is a flowing, changing process in which nothing is fixed. In my clients and in myself I find that when life is richest and most rewarding it is a flowing process. 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.”

Carl Rogers, “On Becoming a Person”

Life is a constantly shifting web of interactions and stimuli. As humans, it can be complicated figuring out how to put forward the best versions of ourselves.

Carl Rogers, one of the founding fathers of human-centered therapy and humanistic psychology, believed the only way to achieve positive forward momentum was through the pursuit of self-actualization—the process of realizing and expressing one’s inherent capabilities and creativity.

Although many of Rogers' ideas and terms were conceptualized to be used by practicing psychologists, they can also play a substantial role in helping us to find a positive, fulfilling place for ourselves in the world.

The OG Mr. Rogers

According to the American Psychologists Association, Rogers is the 6th most important psychologist of the 20th century.

Rogers’ initial work led him to study ‘problem children’ in Rochester, New York—where he wrote his first book, The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child. At the time, child therapy was not considered part of mainstream psychology, yet Rogers’ book was considered so influential that it landed him a job as a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Ohio. Over the years, Rogers subsequently moved from university to university, writing books, working in therapy centers, and teaching.

Throughout his career, Rogers released various seminal texts including Client-centered Therapy in 1951, which served to establish the groundwork and procedures for his psychology practice. His subsequent books moved into more theoretical examinations of his perspectives on human relationships and existence, which culminated in his book, A Way of Being in 1980. He was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1987, also the year of his death.

Despite his successes, the road that Rogers took to become one of the most important thinkers of the 20th century was long and rocky.

Originally pursuing a career as a theologist, Rogers switched disciplines (becoming an atheist) after taking psychology courses at Columbia University. Before Rogers hit the scene in the early 20th century, psychology was an almost purely academic discipline and largely prescriptive—a master-pupil-relationship of sorts.

Before Rogers, most psychotherapists believed in biological determination; we are born the way that we are, determined by a combination of our genetics and our early relationships. This meant that the main concern in psychotherapy was to ‘fix’ problematic individuals.

Rogers moved away from this type of ‘directive’ therapy, opting instead to encourage the patient to look inward to solve their issues. In the 1940s, Rogers coined his new approach “non-directive therapy,” which he later renamed “client-centered therapy.”

The idea behind client-centered therapy is that a patient can’t be ‘fixed,’ they can only be guided towards taking actions of self-improvement to better their own lives and realign their personal perspectives. He believed all humans are fundamentally good—any illness or deviance are simply the products of a person temporarily straying away from the path towards fulfillment.

Many of the established thinkers of the time criticized Rogers for his forward-thinking. They accused Rogers of using ‘psychobabble’ to emphasize his ideas; introducing terms that were too flighty and unscientific for the stuffy old men that dominated the field.

They also criticized Rogers’ assertions about the purity and goodness of the human self. Leonard Geller, one of Rogers’ biggest critics, articulates his concerns:

“...the fundamental characteristics of Rogers’s touchstone of authenticity and self-actualization are mysterious and inexplicable, something to be accepted on faith rather than on rational grounds...Far from being the standard of guidance and direction, the self is precisely that in need and in search of standards by which to live. Far from finding direction from within, we can only find it from without.”

The criticisms that were levied in Rogers’ early professional career may have driven him away from a career solely based on psychology. Instead, Rogers chose to pursue a career teaching in the Department of Sociology at the University of Rochester, where he further developed a more personal and humanistic perspective in his work.

Although Rogers faced heavy criticism and scrutiny throughout his career (and still does), he never lost sight of his primary goal: understanding and helping people in need.

The man in the mirror

"The organism has one basic tendency and striving - to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism”

Carl Rogers, 1951

As a humanist, Carl Rogers believed that all humans are connected by one major commonality—a motivation to achieve the highest level of being, or in other words, to “self-actualize.” To do so, Rogers claims we must strive to achieve a happy balance between our “ideal self” and our true self.

Me vs. me

Our ideal self is that perfect representation of who we are, the one we all have floating around in our brains somewhere: that rich, successful, beautiful, ageless, talented, accomplished person that, if everything went our way, we would one day ultimately become. It is the version of ourselves that we often fixate on projecting to the world.

But here’s the thing—our ideal self isn’t real. It’s a fantasy, and the more fixated we are on that fantastical version of ourselves, the more miserable we end up being.

Our real self, on the other hand, is the person that we actually become through the influence of factors like our journey towards self-actualization, our upbringing, and our social and cultural environment.

Think of it in terms of social media—you probably aren’t going to post those accidental selfies, the ones where one of your eyes is half-closed or your multiple chins exposed. You’re probably more likely to curate and post the photos where you look attractive, fun, engaged. In doing so, you are attempting to bridge the gap between your real and ideal selves.

That space that exists between your ‘true’ self and your ‘ideal’ self leads to what Rogers calls incongruence.

Incongruence occurs when our ‘real’ self is out of sync from our ‘ideal’ self, and ultimately leads to afflictions like depression and anxiety.

On the other hand, congruency can be defined as an acceptance of the self, of who we are; both positive and negative, and is an important step towards self-actualization.

Published near the end of his career, Rogers posits in his book A Way of Being that we should strive for a congruent self-image if we want to achieve an accurate perception of ourselves:

“In place of the term 'realness', I have sometimes used the word 'congruence.'By this, I mean that when my experiencing of this moment is present in my awareness and when what is present in my awareness is present in my communication, then each of these three levels matches or is congruent. At such moments I am integrated or whole, I am completely in one piece.”

One method to facilitate congruence is to recognize the value of experience. In order to be happy, we need to extract the most amount of satisfaction and pleasure that we can from our day-to-day lives, rather than constantly thinking about what’s next. For Rogers, the idiom “stop and smell the roses” is far from cliché.

Another method for achieving a healthy level of congruence lies in the pursuit of rewarding and loving interactions with other people. By building and embracing our relationships, we can help to foster an environment that encourages our introspection and personal growth.

To help illustrate his idea of a nurturing interpersonal relationship Rogers coined the term unconditional positive regard.

Love is all you need

“People are just as wonderful as sunsets if you let them be. When I look at a sunset, I don't find myself saying, ‘Soften the orange a bit on the right hand corner.’ I don't try to control a sunset. I watch with awe as it unfolds.”

-Carl Rogers, A Way of Being

Unconditional positive regard is an open-minded empathy and appreciation for others, regardless of their perspective or station in life. It can also be more simply described as “unconditional love.”

Rogers asserted that to facilitate self-actualization, it helps to live in an encouraging and giving environment, with people who accept us for who we are. He believed it is in our best interests to provide that environment for the people around us as well.

If we feel a constant pressure to work for others’ love and empathy, our self-worth becomes conditional and the more we believe we need to act a certain way or follow a certain path to be accepted, the more we inhibit unearthing our true selves.

For example, if your parents raised you and put you through school, while constantly harping on the fact that they wanted you to become a lawyer or doctor, and you ended up being, oh, I dunno, a freelance writer, chances are you’ve experienced a bout or two of self-doubt throughout your life.

Subsequently, by accepting others for who they are without judgment, we can help both ourselves and others to work towards becoming our ‘real’ selves.

Two bricks in a pyramid

Rogers wasn’t the only psychologist interested in exploring the idea of self-actualization. His contemporary, American psychologist Abraham Maslow—best known for his pyramid hierarchy of needs—also placed our highest level of ‘being’ in self-actualization, the process in which we achieve our full potential.

Although both men believed in the inherent potential of fulfillment, Maslow’s theory was more introspective and individual, believing self-actualization is the sole driving motivator in the sub-conscious of the human being.

Whereas Maslow had a fairly rigid interpretation of the steps leading up to self-actualization, Rogers was more fluid, emphasizing the ever-changing ‘flow’ of human existence.

By embracing the natural ebb and flow of life and confidently riding the current, Rogers believes we can live what he calls the “good life.”

Living the “good life”

“In my relationships with people I have found that it does not help, in the long run, to act as though I were something that I am not.”

- Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

It’s tough, but it’s in our best psychological interests to be straight up with our emotions and feelings, even if they aren’t always nice and fuzzy. In essence, we should strive to be who we are—or, as Rogers articulates, we should aim to ‘live the good life.’

Being who we are sounds simple, but it’s actually exceedingly difficult and takes a lot of hard personal and emotional development.

So how can we know if we are indeed living the good life? Remember, just posting a bunch of pictures of you and your family chilling at a resort in Barbados doesn’t necessarily count as ‘living the good life.’ Plenty of people sip frozen margaritas while hating themselves and everything around them.

Fortunately, Rogers provides a checklist of principles that can be observed to lead a happier, more satisfying and higher functioning lifestyle:

  1. A person is open to experiencing new things—to being pushed outside of the comfort zone of their daily routine.

  2. A person lives in the moment, existentially, rather than attempting to “distort the moment to fit personality or self-concept.”

  3. Self-trust: the person believes in their own decision-making abilities and judgment, rather than always deferring to others.

  4. The person believes in the power of their own free will to make choices, and therefore, feels a personal responsibility for their own behaviors.

  5. The person is creative and uses their own perspective and voice to navigate social and cultural situations without feeling anxious about how others will perceive them.

  6. The person will always, in the end, act in a way that is constructive.They are reliable because they are constantly moving in a positive direction towards self-actualization.

  7. They are emotionally resonant—they experience things more intensely than most because they are more in tune with themselves and their surroundings.

Although these are the hallmarks of a fully-functioning person, they are not prescriptive.

We can’t just wake up one morning and be like, “Hey, I’m going to decide to be existential today.”

Achieving a healthy self-image means creating a world for ourselves where we can trust our friends, family, and peers, and where we can believe in ourselves as valuable and positive human beings.

Go for a direction, not a destination

“It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets—neither Freud nor research—neither the revelations of God nor man—can take precede over my own direct experience.”

-Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person

Rogers’ theories place a great deal of faith in the potential of the human individual and in the value of trusting one’s own judgments and perspectives. Despite any criticisms, perhaps it is the languor and simplicity of his theories which make them so timeless—do good unto others, and do good unto yourself; principles to apply within just about any context imaginable.


Carl Rogers and Self-Actualization: Living “The Good Life”? ›

Theory of Self-Actualization

He believed that human nature is to improve or better yourself, to desire to become the person you are capable of being. He called this process self-actualization. Rogers taught that the closer an individual comes to self-actualization, the more fulfilled and happier that person becomes.

What did Carl Rogers say about self-actualization? ›

Theory of Self-Actualization

He believed that human nature is to improve or better yourself, to desire to become the person you are capable of being. He called this process self-actualization. Rogers taught that the closer an individual comes to self-actualization, the more fulfilled and happier that person becomes.

What is good life according to Carl Rogers? ›

The good life is a process, not a state of being… It is a direction, not a destination. The direction…is that which is selected by the total organism, when there is psychological freedom to move in any direction" (Rogers, 1961, pp 186-187).

What did Carl Rogers say about the self-concept? ›

Carl Rogers and the Self-Concept Theory of Personality

Rogers believed that our personality is driven by our desire for self-actualization. This is the condition that emerges when we reach our full potential and our self-concept, self-worth, and ideal self all overlap (Journal Psyche, n.d.).

What is self-actualization and actualization tendency according to Rogers theory? ›

Definition: Self-actualization is the fulfillment of one's potential. In Maslow's hierarchy of needs, it is the highest level of psychological development. Rogers believed that the actualizing tendency was an innate capacity to make choices that helped individuals achieve this self-fulfillment.

What is the main idea of self-actualization? ›

For Maslow, self-actualization describes the desire that leads to the realization of one's full potential: A self-actualizer is a person who has reached the apex of human existence. In other words, that person has become everything they're capable of becoming.

What is an example of self-actualization? ›

Examples of Self-Actualization. (Maslow, 1943). Extrapolating from this quote, we can see self-actualization in examples like: An artist who has never made a profit on his art, but he still paints because it is fulfilling and makes him happy.

What is the main point of good life? ›

… a good life does include acceptance, inclusion, and having friends and places where we can feel comfortable and relaxed. It also includes having the opportunity to gain the wisdom and power for making change if things are not working well.

What according to Carl Rogers the self should feels good about himself? ›

According to Rogers, we want to feel, experience and behave in ways which are consistent with our self-image and which reflect what we would like to be like, our ideal-self. The closer our self-image and ideal-self are to each other, the more consistent or congruent we are and the higher our sense of self-worth.

What does it mean to live a truly good life? ›

So when we say someone is living well or that they have lived a good life, we may simply mean that they are a good person, someone who is courageous, honest, trustworthy, kind, selfless, generous, helpful, loyal, principled, and so on. They possess and practice many of the most important virtues.

What are the 6 core conditions of Carl Rogers? ›

In more detail, Rogers believed that the six conditions included two people in psychological contact, the client being incongruent, vulnerable, or anxious, the therapist being congruent, having unconditional positive regard for the client, experiencing an empathetic understanding of the client's internal frame of ...

What is the learning theory of Carl Rogers? ›

Roger's theory of learning can be seen as an ID theory as it prescribes a learning environment that focuses on the following qualities in instruction; personal involvement, self-initiated projects, evaluated by learner, and pervasive effect of instruction on the learner.

What is self-actualization and or conditions of worth in explaining human behavior? ›

Self-actualization (also referred to as self-realization or self-cultivation) can be described as the complete realization of one's potential as manifest in peak experiences which involve the full development of one's abilities and appreciation for life (Maslow, 1962).

What theory believes in self-actualization? ›

Psychologist Abraham Maslow's theory of self-actualization contends that individuals are motivated to fulfill their potential in life. Self-actualization is typically discussed in conjunction with Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which posits that self-actualization sits at the top of a hierarchy above four "lower" needs.

What is self-actualization and what theory believes in it? ›

“Self-actualization” represents a concept derived from humanistic psychological theory and, specifically, from the theory created by Abraham Maslow. Self-actualization, according to Maslow, represents the growth of an individual toward fulfillment of the highest needs—those for meaning in life, in particular.

What are the three elements that facilitate self-actualization according to Carl Rogers? ›

Rogers believed that by using the core conditions of empathy, congruence and unconditional positive regard, the client would feel safe enough to access their own potential. The client would be able to move towards self-actualisation, as Maslow called it, to be able to find the answers in themselves.

What are the four needs of self-actualization? ›

Self-actualization needs – realizing personal potential, self-fulfillment, seeking personal growth, and peak experiences.

Why is self-actualization so important in this theory? ›

According to Maslow, self-actualization is the highest level of human need. It's the point at which a person fully realizes their potential and lives following their innermost desires. Achieving self-actualization can bring many benefits, including happiness, peace of mind, and satisfaction.

What is self-actualization needs in simple words? ›

Self-actualization needs are also referred to as our 'being' needs; these include personal and creative self-growth, which are achieved through the fulfilment of our full potential.

What are the three views to the good life? ›

The good life as such tends to share three general characteristics: An increasing openness to experience; an increasing tendency to live in the moment; and an increasing trust in one's self “as a means of arriving at the most satisfying behavior in each existential situation.”

What are the 3 aspects of good life? ›

The theory suggests that happiness can be described as three distinct elements chosen for their own sakes: positive emotion, engagement, and meaning. These three elements are believed to be more measurable and definitive than happiness.

What are the 4 qualities of good life? ›

It makes more sense to distinguish four qualities: 1) livability of the environment, 2) life-ability of the person, 3) utility of life for the environment, and 4) appreciation of life by the person. These qualities cannot be added, hence sum-scores make little sense.

What is an individual's positive self regard according to Rogers? ›

Unconditional Positive Regard and Self-Worth

Rogers believed that people have a need for both self-worth and positive regard for other people. 2 How people think about themselves and how they value themselves plays a major role in well-being.

What did Carl Rogers mean by the term fully functioning person? ›

According to Carl Rogers, a fully functioning person is one who is in touch with his or her deepest and innermost feelings and desires. These individuals understand their own emotions and places deep trust in their own instincts and urges.

What does Rogers say about a person whose real self and ideal self are close? ›

According to Rogers, a person whose real self and ideal self are close has a better chance of reaching self-actualization.

What are the key concepts of Carl Rogers? ›

Roger believed that a person's behaviour is a factor motivated by self-actualisation tendencies to work and achieve the highest level of their potential and achievement. During this process, a person forms a structure of self or self-concept. A positive self-concept is associated with feeling good and safe.

What are the three principles of Carl Rogers theory? ›

According to Rogers (1977), three characteristics, or attributes, of thetherapist form the core part of the therapeutic relationship - congruence,unconditional positive regard (UPR) and accurate empathic understanding.

What are the key elements of Carl Rogers person-centred approach? ›

These three key concepts in person-centred counselling are:
  • Empathic understanding: the counsellor trying to understand the client's point of view.
  • Congruence: the counsellor being a genuine person.
  • Unconditional positive regard: the counsellor being non-judgemental.
May 20, 2021

What was the conclusion of Carl Rogers theory? ›

Rogers conclude that as long as people live their lives according to someone else's values instead of their own true feeling, experience will be edited and certain experiences that would have been in accord with the organismic valuing process will be denied.

What is the difference between Maslow and Rogers theories? ›

The difference between the theories of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow are as follows: According to Maslow, self-actualization is credited to the individual itself. However, Roger emphasizes the need of the environment along with empathy, acceptance of others, and genuineness for growth.

What are three behaviors that could lead to self-actualization? ›

In his book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Maslow described eight behaviors he argued would lead to self-actualization.
  • Be present. ...
  • Be aware of your choices. ...
  • Get to know yourself. ...
  • Most of the time, be honest. ...
  • Don't worry about conformity. ...
  • Self-actualize continuously. ...
  • Recognize peak experiences.
Aug 20, 2019

What is one of the characteristics of self-actualization? ›

1) Self-actualized people embrace the unknown and the ambiguous. 2) They accept themselves, together with all their flaws. 3) They prioritize and enjoy the journey, not just the destination. 4) While they are inherently unconventional, they do not seek to shock or disturb.

What is self-actualization needs meaning and examples? ›

Self-actualization refers to the need for personal growth and development throughout one's life. It is the highest level of Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which was developed by psychologist Abraham Maslow.

When people reach self-actualization theory? ›

Growth needs do not stem from a lack of something but rather from a desire to grow as a person. Once these growth needs have been reasonably satisfied, one may be able to reach the highest level, called self-actualization. Growth needs are achieved more through intellectual and creative behaviors.

What is the theory of self-actualization psychology today? ›

“Self-actualization” represents a concept derived from humanistic psychological theory and, specifically, from the theory created by Abraham Maslow. Self-actualization, according to Maslow, represents the growth of an individual toward fulfillment of the highest needs—those for meaning in life, in particular.

What according to Carl Rogers is the main determinant of whether we will become self-actualization or not *? ›

The main determinant of whether we will become self-actualized is childhood experience. Rogers believed that every person could achieve their goals, wishes, and desires in life.

How do Rogers and Maslow's concepts of self-actualization compare? ›

According to Maslow, self-actualization is credited to the individual itself. However, Roger emphasizes the need of the environment along with empathy, acceptance of others, and genuineness for growth. Maslow focused on studying the features of those who are self-actualized.

What is self-actualization according to Rogers theory quizlet? ›

Describe Self-actualization in Rogers theory. Self-actualization is part of the actualized tendency, but only refers to the actualization of self as perceived in awareness. -Desire of perceived self to reach fulfillment. - Discrepancy between actualization tendency and self-actualization tendency causes conflict.

How does self-actualization relate to Maslow's hierarchy of needs? ›

Maslow's quote refers to self-actualization, which is the highest level or stage in his model of human motivation: the 'Hierarchy of Needs'. According to the hierarchy of needs, self-actualization represents the highest-order motivations, which drive us to realize our true potential and achieve our 'ideal self'.

How is Carl Rogers connected to Maslow's hierarchy of needs? ›

Abraham Maslow influenced the work of Carl Rogers, in particular in the seven stages of process (which track people's development, including clients in counselling). Both men believed that human beings need certain conditions to be in place before they can reach their full potential and lead a fulfilled life.

What does Rogers believe about differences between the self and the ideal self? ›

The ideal self is the person you would like to be, and the real self is what you really are. In the real world, a person's ideal self is not consistent with what happens in life with a person. Incongruence is the difference between the ideal self and actual experiences.

What 4 factors influence self-actualization? ›

Four factors affecting students' self-actualization at university spaces, it consists of four factors: Understanding one's own nature, finding concealed and potential talents; Individual evolution; Understanding facts and truths: Understanding the facts and truths, learning science and virtue, seeking rightness, ...

What are the major assumption of Carl Rogers theory? ›

He believed that people are trustworthy, resourceful, capable of self-understanding and self-direction, able to make constructive changes and able to live effective and productive lives.

What are the 4 stages of self-actualization? ›

He organized these needs into a pyramid:
  • The lowest stage contains the most basic needs, such as food, water, and shelter.
  • The second stage represents safety needs.
  • The third includes belonging or relationship needs.
  • The fourth stage involves respect or esteem needs, both from the self and others.
Feb 27, 2020

What are the 3 major requirements of a helping relationship according to Carl Rogers? ›

According to Rogers (1977), three characteristics, or attributes, of thetherapist form the core part of the therapeutic relationship - congruence,unconditional positive regard (UPR) and accurate empathic understanding.


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