Carl Rogers’ Propositions [I]

carl-rogersI’ve been refreshing myself with Rogers’ 19 famous propositions which form the corner stone of his theory of personality and behavior. Familiarity of these goes a long way to understanding the world we live in and the individuals who populate it.

[I] Every individual exists in a continually changing world of experience of which he is the                                                              center.

When anyone puts some thought into what this proposition describes it literally opens up their world. Or at least their perceived world. When it is realized that every second of the day we are being bombarded by our environment by sensory information in many different compositions it comes as quite a shock. You would think the mind would quickly become overloaded and soon break down under the constant traffic. But the mind has a clever way of dealing with it all.

As a computer hard drive accumulates files it will eventually fill up and fail to function. The mind, however, with all its complex parts connected by the most sophisticated architecture, handles all this without too much trouble. Not all this information is in awareness, which is just as well.

It doesn’t really have a delete button either. Of the things we are aware of and we don’t need, because it is unimportant or dangerous to our mental health, gets filed into the unconscious. It all gets stored behind a mentally constructed wall of high security, kept away from troubling the conscious mind. We assume they are gone forever, faded in time until no memory trace is left. But they are still there and if ever some got out then the conscious mind will have to deal with them. And that could be the start of troubling thoughts that escalate to such an extent as to disrupt normal living.

Most of the things that flow towards us are not in our awareness. There is a multitude of information just waiting to be experienced but only a small amount is actually perceived. The rest are still out there waiting for you to become aware of them and permit them into your consciousness. Think of yourself as a conduit who attracts all the stimulus around you that emanates from the environment. You can’t avoid all this traffic. There is no way you can dodge to get out of the way, unless you can find a way of blocking all your senses. The mind can unconsciously assess what’s important and what’s not. Those that need attending to will enter consciousness and some stuff just glides innocently into our unconscious without our even knowing about it. When was the last time a chair made an impression on you?

“It should be recognized that in this private world of experience of the individual, only a portion of that experience, and probably a very small portion, is consciously experienced. Many of our sensory and visceral sensations are not symbolized.”

Rogers [1951] p. 483

I just took a swig of my drink just now. I had placed the glass on my bookshelf only a few minutes before, and very quickly, it was replaced by another attentive matter – to continue writing this post. I only became aware of it again when I felt the sensation of thirst.

Our whole day, indeed every day, is practically an accumulation of different needs, stacked up after one another. It’s what creates our existence, or at least fills up a large part of it.

We only become aware of certain things whenever a need arises. It’s a no-brainer I know. A thought enters the conscious mind and then slips back to the background when the need ceases. Since that sip of my drink I have successfully relegated it back to my unconscious because in the last few minutes my immediate need has switched to finishing this post.
In a little while no doubt I will feel another thirst sensation and I will repeat my previous action. My awareness will switch from foreground to background constantly, assessing the priorities of needs, as I progress through time, as I continue to exist.

The phenomenal field is vast, perhaps infinitely so. It is populated with all we see, hear, touch, feel and smell. It’s a conveyor belt of objects and sensations all vying for our attention, ready to be interpreted. Therefore, we are in constant interaction with our phenomenal landscape. This field affects and changes our cognitive interpretations, dictating our actions and behavior.

 

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So, there is a steady and continuous flow of experiences potentially available to all of us. Each one is unique, personal, and only open to an individual. No-one else can encounter the same experiences, despite being exposed to a similar one in appearance or sensed. Even that sip of drink I had earlier is a unique experience to me.

“An important truth in regard to this private world of the individual is that it can only be known, in any genuine or complete sense, to the individual himself.”

Rogers [1951] p. 483

A good exercise to test awareness to experiences is to concentrate on what is around you. Encounter the sights and sounds, the smells and the tactile touch, and sense how much is really going on. Which noises had you not been aware of before? What objects have you noticed that you were not previously aware of? You will realize that there are a lot more going on than you thought; a lot more information that you are now aware of.

You are literally the center of the universe because you are, in effect, in possession of a universe of your own. You create your own reality because all reality is subjective. And everyone you meet is in the same situation. Think about that. Everyone else is subjected to the same bombardment as yourself, interpreting the same phenomena in their own, unique way. But interpreting the data differently. And possibly putting into action a different behavior. How many times have you met up with a friend and during lunch, got into a debate about a subject, which revealed two different views?

Rogers’ first proposition lays down a pretty simple statement which also succeeds to be a powerful one. Never again will you look at an object or sense a sensation or attitude in the same way. It is impossible for two people to interpret their phenomenal field in exactly the same way. That is mind-blowing and a gateway to opening up debate and theory into the philosophy of reality itself. As objects in space can collide, it is the same with human interaction; a meeting of different worlds with unique rules and interpretations, customs and traditions, and equal potential for self-actualization and self-destruction.

References

Carl R Rogers, Client-Centered Therapy (1951)[2003]

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About Gwyn H Hughes

I am a person-centred counselor with also a passion for family history, of which I write about at http://hergestgenealogy.wordpress.com. I also write articles for The News Hub.
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