The Organismic Self
In considering behaviour, personality and development, Rogers highlighted a true or organismic self – the total sum of a person’s experiences and predispositions on all levels. A person is suggested to react not “atomistically”, but as an “organised whole”; and to the world as it is perceived – the phenomenal field, the perceptual map which is never quite the territory it represents – rather than to reality itself. This private world of the individual is “reality” and can only be truly known by the person himself/herself.
Only a small percentage of the phenomenal field is symbolised (e.g., converted into language) and, therefore, present in awareness at a given time; though most aspects are available to consciousness at any time, especially those relating to the satisfaction of a need. The organismic self is also proposed to be dynamic and fluid in assimilating life experiences, reminiscent of the well-known saying by the ancient Greek philosopher Heraclitus that it is impossible to step into the same flowing river twice: although there is a true self, it is constantly adapting and changing.
The only motivating force governing the organismic self is indicated to be the actualising tendency, an innate drive not only to satisfy basic needs, but also to grow and to fulfil potential. Rogers defined the actualising tendency as “the inherent tendency of the organism to develop all its capacities in ways which serve to maintain or enhance the organism” (1959, p.196). The actualising tendency is the reference point for the organismic valuing process, enabling the individual to discriminate between harmful and enhancing experiences, the former being avoided, the latter sought. Emotions and behaviour are influenced accordingly.
Also embedded in the actualising tendency is the value system of a fully functioning person, towards which, under optimal circumstances, self-actualisation unfolds. There may be a wide range of individual differences regarding the outcome of these variables, but common themes are proposed to include: an openness to all experiences, regardless of quality, without feeling threatened;
an ability to be fully present, to live each moment of existence in the here and now;
an internal locus of evaluation, a trusting of “organismic” experiences as the most valid source of information, even in the face of adverse judgements of others;
a pervasive sense of freedom and self-responsibility in thought, feeling and behaviour;
a creativity in both adapting to changing conditions and initiating new ideas and actions.
It is emphasised that self-actualisation represents a direction, a continuous and life-long venture, rather than an end point. This struggle is perhaps encapsulated most poignantly in attempting to convey the core conditions to others.