Person as a Fluid Process (Spending Time with Carl R. Rogers Part 2)

Carl Rogers, advocate for Person-centered psychotherapyImage via WikipediaYesterday, I had the pleasure of reading Carl R. Rogers‘s essay “What it Means to Become a Person” from his book “On Becoming a Person.” In this essay, Rogers discusses the idea of “false faces” and “pure culture” while opening up what he calls the “fluid process” experience of personhood. As with my “Sensitive Empathy” post, I will try to briefly elucidate Rogers and, in doing so, hopefully move towards a clear yet brief explication of this work.

False Faces and Pure Culture

It seems that we can understand the idea of “false faces” by imagining ourselves at a job interview. Surely, at a job interview the game of revealing/concealing is heavily enacted. That is, if one really wants the job, one must try to play the interview game and win. The face contorts into a forced smile, perhaps the arms sit calmly on the lap and so on. It is as if some foreign presence has overtaken the body and there is a kind of disconnection that occurs in the person. For Rogers, this is the person exercising a “false face.” I don’t think the job interview example is the only time that we play with these false faces, in fact, I would almost say that for most of us interacting at the workplace or around those we don’t know, the false face is used a great deal. Moreover, in some cases it is necessary to employ the false face to some extent and to play the game one must, at points, struggle to control one’s face. However, I think that what Rogers wants to move toward is a peeling off of the false face that emerges in times when it doesn’t have to. That is to say, in times when one should allow oneself to expose one’s true face. This examination of one’s use of social masks may reveal the experience of the overuse of the mask, which is hindering a person from truly becoming his or herself. If one can work to overcome the barriers of false faces, one has the chance to truly shine, to reach that part of one’s self that may be veiled or covered-up. This recognition of and getting in touch with one’s use of “false faces” may be seen as the first step in becoming a person. When one comes to understand this and break out of this shell, the experience of, what Rogers calls “pure culture” may come to fruition. “Pure Culture” can be defined as letting oneself truly feel and be who one is without the overuse of a false face. It should be noted however that this experience may not necessarily be a pleasant one. That is to say, one may find what Rogers refers to as “The stranger behind the mask.” Perhaps, for some of Rogers clients, the breaking down of the mask was terrifying in that it exposed a part of self, which because of its concealed nature, exposed the hidden side of the self, the shadow which has not yet blossomed.

True Feeling

Also, Rogers talks about the idea of “letting yourself feel what you are feeling.” What this means is not trying to convince yourself that you feel a certain way, when in reality you feel a different way. Perhaps there are parts of one’s personality that one does not want to admit to, that are shameful or harmful. I believe Rogers would say that one should not create a gap in the experiencing of these feelings but accept them as being a part of the person that one is becoming. He doesn’t talk about acting on the feelings, but simply accepting them as a part of one’s self, as a part of one’s becoming. From this, perhaps one will learn to place more trust in oneself, to see one’s self in a more balanced way, in an honest way. If a person can achieve this kind of self-honesty, this kind of self-nudity, then perhaps the fluidity of the self will be recognized. That is to say, the presence of one’s self not as a fixed object, but as a nexus of possibilities and happenings. It seems that in this it is Rogers aim to allow the client to recognize the becoming-nature of what it means to be a person. The masks that were employed for so long need not exist, that one in fact was the creator of the mask…

Person as Fluid Process

What Rogers is moving towards is what he recognizes as “the person as a fluid process” or “a stream of becoming.” Of course, it is difficult for us to keep an awareness of our fluidity in mind at all times in our daily life and I think that Rogers would agree on this, but, it is achievable upon reflection, in times of meditative thinking, wondering and questioning or perhaps on a morning stroll. The recognition that one is a fluid process of becoming may open one’s self to a side of existence that one has denied oneself by the use of “false faces.” One may come to experience the “pure culture” of life, the streaming process of doing, feeling and becoming. One need not be “stuck” with oneself, but may come to accept the changing nature of personhood, accept the fact that the doing of the task is the doing of the task: once completed, there is no more task…it, too, was a process.

Sensitive Living

In this way of allowing oneself to feel what one is feeling, one may experience what Rogers calls “sensitive living.” Perhaps this could be understood as the recognition of oneself as an ever-changing process of experiences, situations and possibilities. Or, the experience of one’s person as “a changing constellation of potentialities.” This way of looking at the person allows the person to freely feel and experience life and the myriad of fluctuating situations that occur or that one may enact. This trust and acceptance, for Rogers, is a vital step in the client and, moreover, in the person as such.

These are observations that Rogers came to realize while in close communication with suffering clients, family, friends and so on and are applicable to those of us who suffer, to those of us who wish to make a change, to realize a new way of living and to strive in our process of becoming. Thank you for reading this and I hope you have found this useful. If you are familiar with Rogers work and wish to further this reading or add your own interpretation of Rogers work, please, by all means do so.

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