How Carl Rogers’​ Book On Becoming A Person Is Changing My Life

Carl Rogers is an absolute legend.

I don’t know if there’s something I can say that would give him too much props.

He’s the father of client-centered therapy, the winner of the Gloria Films (hands down), the one who knew the relationship with the client is the only predictive factor for therapeutic success decades before this was scientifically proven.

More impressively, he has written a book that we should regard as the Bible of Therapy.

That book is called On Becoming A Person, and I’m currently experiencing the intense pleasure of rereading it.

All good books are workbooks to me.

I dog-ear, underline, highlight, write in it, rip, tear, hell, sometimes I’ll even engage in conversation with the author right there in the book.

This is one of those books I haven’t just consumed; I have consummated it.

My goal here

If all this post achieves is for you to consider picking up this book and getting inspired, my mission is accomplished.

I figured since I’m not capable of writing anything close to its brilliance, I may as well write something that points to it.

7 Steps To Becoming A Person

Okay, there are not literally seven steps in the book and they aren’t really steps to be followed in a certain order. What follows are seven of the (in my opinion) most powerful habits that Rogers discusses that you can cultivate in order to become more of who you are.

1. Regard your own experience as the highest authority

When an activity feels like it’s worth doing, it is worth doing. Your “total organismic sensing”, or what we’ve come to call intuition, is way more likely to be right than your intellect.

This is the danger of overthinking something; it’s likely to get you stuck. If you catch yourself in this mode, it may be a good idea to turn back into your body and try to feel and listen to what your whole experience is telling you.

Don’t let your mind overrule your organismic sensing. Trust your experience.

I have found that when I have trusted some inner non-intellectual sensing, I have discovered wisdom in the move.

When you have listened to this sensing, you can try to find order in your experience. Are there patterns to discover? Are you always feeling happy when you’re abroad? Are you always feeling anxious around a certain person? How do you feel about your current occupation? No cognitive dissonance, no “Yea, but the pay is good”

However much clients are looking to their therapists for answers, good therapists know that clients carry the answers (deep) inside of themselves. There are often so many layers of cognition and narratives in the way.

Feel. Experience. Listen.

2. Adopt an internal locus of evaluation

As the therapy progresses, Rogers argues, the individual will more and more come to feel that he sets his own standards to live by, that he determines his own values, and that he has the ability to choose his own direction in life.

It seems like a central, and at the time contemporary existentialist notion that has been attacked by the determinists.

This concept as he explains it is, however, not so much about being in charge of your own life (or having free will) as it is about not letting the expectations and opinions of others rule it.

The question becomes:

Am I living in a way which is deeply satisfying to me, and which truly expresses me?

3. See yourself as a process of becoming

Often, clients come into therapy with a problem they want to fix. If they can just fix their marital problems, so their reasoning goes, all will be well and they’ll live happily ever after.

The problem with this line of reasoning is not so much its delusionary nature as it is the problems that fixed-end-state thinking brings along in general.

You’re a process, not a product.

You’re a work in progress, not a forever-finished piece of art.

This realization not only allows you to cut yourself some slack, it also fosters empathy in that it allows you to regard others as in the process of becoming as well.

Their faults and flaws are not fixed. They can grow and become better. You don’t have to help them, but the least you can do is not regard them as a static end-product.

We are all, at all times, in the process of becoming, hands resting on the steering wheel and all.

4. Accept things before rushing to fix them

What struck me upon reading chapter 1 is how much Rogers is stressing the importance of different kinds of acceptance.

Emotional acceptance, acceptance of others, and acceptance as a tool to eliminate the incessant need to fix things. ACT avant la lettre.

He says:

The more I am open to the realities in me and in the other person, the less do I find myself wishing to rush in to “fix things”.

Especially in the role of a therapist, it is important to let go of the need to fix your client and create a space in which the client can increasingly be herself, until SHE walks out of your office, as she is.

To help the person sitting across from you discover and become more of herself, is that not the greatest gift you can give? Is that not the ultimate outcome of therapy?

Rogers would say so.

5. Allow life to flow and unfold as it will

Acceptance lies again at the foundation of this rule, or habit.

In my clients and in myself, I find that when life is richest and most rewarding it is a flowing process.

For the past couple of weeks now, being here in Curacao, I’ve tried to let go of control as much as possible. I’m not meticulously planning my days, I don’t have a set list of to-do’s, no calls, no appointments. This does not mean that I haven’t been productive. As a matter of fact, I feel like I’ve been more productive than ever.

My experience of day-to-day life has been amazing. I’m letting it flow and “letting my experience carry me in a direction which appears to be forward”.

On to step number six.

6. Allow space for ambiguity and ambivalence

This step may not be the most exciting one, but I think that, especially in today’s society, it’s one worth stressing.

The step is to, again in line with the acceptance principle, allow oneself to experience ambiguity, ambivalence, uncertainty, and to allow reality to be more nuanced than black-and-white.

There isn’t always one binary answer. Worse yet, there isn’t always an answer.

I think we can find the answers we need in the attempt to make something of our lives. To show that, yes, life is suffering and, no, none of it is fair, but that you will not shrink from that realization.

Supporting this mindset is a space for you to co-habit with uncertainty, with ambiguity, to regard them as roommates. Wanted or unwanted, it doesn’t matter, they’ll keep littering your kitchen, so you may as well learn to live with them, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll learn to form a constructive relationship with them.

7. Fear to be someone other than yourself

This step is much in line with step two about the internal locus of evaluation.

I choose to use the strong word “fear” here because I think does most justice to the gravity of this concept.

Despair, according to Rogers, doesn’t lie in not choosing to be oneself; it lies in choosing to be another than himself.

It is the direct opponent of authenticity. It’s self-betrayal.

The choice to be oneself is the deepest responsibility of man.

Last year, I was stuck in a mode of indecision in my personal life (tough break up decision). What happened is that I started looking at other people and asking others for advice. I found a lot of advice I got from others was self-serving in a way. Through their advice, they were trying to get me to act in a way that would affirm the life choices that they’ve made. It took me a while to figure out that clearly, I didn’t trust my own experience enough yet (step no. 1) and that I, somehow, was fearful of being myself.

“I don’t know what I want next in life”, I thought, “maybe I have too much freedom”.

Well, if last year has taught me anything, it’s this:

To know what one wants in life, one first has to know who one is.

And that is the exact reason why this book resonates so much with me right now.

Final Thoughts

I really hope some of this is resonating with you too.

If so, pick up a copy and do yourself the huge favor of reading it.

Here is the Amazon link. (Don’t worry, I’m not an affiliate.)

If you liked this piece that I wrote here in one sitting (don’t feel sorry for me, I have a great view), please leave a comment. Besides providing me with a tiny dopamine-shot, the article will reach more people that way.

In love and light, do not go unseen, ignite the world with every flame of your being,

Seph

About the author

Seph Fontane Pennock is a serial entrepreneur in the mental health space and one of the co-founders of Quenza. His mission is to solve the most important problems that practitioners are facing in the changing landscape of therapy and coaching now that the world is turning more and more digital.

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