Carl Rogers’ Propositions [IV]

[IV] The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain and enhanced the experiencing organism.

carl-rogersThis particular proposition feels, to me, as a required follow up to the preceding one: that there seems to be a force that drives all organisms forward towards a satisfactory goal. Rogers postulates that this driving force is inherent in all living things and has one fundamental purpose: to progress towards all that we can be, as much as our environment allows us. But this driving force acts as a whole, an entity that encompasses all the parts that we have that makes us who we are.

“Rather than many needs and motives, it seems entirely possible that all organic and psychological needs may be described as partial aspects of this one fundamental need.”

Rogers [1951],p.487-488

So, if behaviour is motivated by needs then it’s fair to say that it is essential that all of them get pulled in one direction. Forward. It just wouldn’t make sense if some needs go a different way to others. For example, if you need to avoid pain, you move away from the area that threatens it. For this, the body prepares to make sure the muscles are primed, the blood flow is good, the senses are alert to any possible danger that may prevent you from getting to safety. This wouldn’t work if one of these important needs was not co-operating with the others. For maximum chance of survival, everything needs to be working towards the same goal.

People are like freight trains. The engine at the head pulls all the trucks carrying different but essential supplies to a given destination. It is the engine that determines where the trucks end up. They have no choice and can make no decision as to where they are going. The freight train operates on a particular railway track and does what it does in continual fashion, and always in one direction.




640px-BNSF_5216_West_Kingman_Canyon_AZ by russavia

Photo credit: russavia

Rogers doesn’t say that all of us will succeed in life, only that we have the potential to do better in the continuum of life. It is up to us how we deal with events that happen.

If I lose my job I can do two things: I can go and find the next one or give up altogether. But even if I choose to give up, my tendency to progress to fulfillment would still be active, although limited. It entirely depends on my needs and goals in life.

The actualizing tendency would still try to push me in a direction that would give me the opportunity to enhance myself. But who is to say that my decision to give up is not a negative development? I may have been deeply unhappy at my job and losing it has actually freed me from a situation that was making my life a misery.

Alternatively, if I became depressed and suicidal over losing my job, finding a way to not end my life would also be looked upon as the actualizing tendency doing its job. It’s almost as if this force is embedded into our DNA to help us survive.

Have you ever wondered why you are here, in this present moment, doing what your’re doing thinking what you’re thinking? What has led you to this moment in life? That may well have been the work of the actual tendency, acting unconsciously as well as consciously, putting you in a position dictated by your environment. When the environment has such an influence on your fortunes in life it’s easy to assume that everything is predetermined, which I don’t really believe in, at least in the context of divinity. I can see how easy some people can construe this force as evidence of the existence of God.

I see it this way. If an environment is not working for you then there needs to be a change. You have the power to alter your situation, making you in control of your own destiny. Unfortunately a lot of people are not aware they have this option. Fear can play a part in making decisions in life.

As well as linking the above to God, this basic actualizing tendency can also be associated with evolutionary theory. Rogers mentions this.

“The directional trend we are endeavoring to describe is evident in the life of the individual organism from conception to maturity, at whatever level of organic complexity. It is also evident in the process of evolution, the direction being defined by a comparison of life low on the evolutionary scale with types of organisms which have developed later, or are regarded as farther along in the process of evolution.”

Rogers [1951] p.488-489

As Ian Malcolm famously said in Jurassic Park [1993], “Life finds a way.”

Rogers noticed that this forward drive towards maturity and independence was evident in therapy. In fact he regarded it as the only ‘tool’ a therapist can really rely on.

“I find that the urge for a greater degree of independence, the desire for a self-determined integration, the tendency to strive, even through much pain, toward a socialized maturity, is as strong as – no, is stronger than – the desire for comfortable dependence, the need to rely upon external authority for assurance…”

Rogers [1951] p.490

He found that people were prepared to move forward, under the guidance of the therapist, towards a better understanding of themselves, even if it meant facing pain and struggle.



Client-Centered Therapy [1951]


About Gwyn H Hughes

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