To Be That Self Which One Truly Is: Carl Rogers


“To Be That Self Which One Truly Is” is published in Carl Rogers‘s book “On Becoming a Person.”

In this essay he provides guidance for opening oneself up to the process-nature of one’s self while relating it to the question: “What are my goals in life?” That is, how are we to realize these goals? How are we to find and live out purposeful lives?

The Facade

Rogers wishes to move the client away from the facades of being. That is, to peel off the false faces that may haunt one and to accept oneself as one is. To allow oneself to feel one’s feelings instead of pushing them away. However, I don’t think Rogers is asking us to obsessively dwell on our feelings and to live off of them, but simply to let them emerge and be a part of who we are. In Rogers work, I am reminded of the “Constructive Living” approach as written about by David K. Reynolds in which he, too, calls for a more natural approach to dealing with one’s feelings and getting on with doing what needs doing. However, this releasing of the feelings, this acceptance of the feelings may not be comfortable, it may not “feel good.” You may find that you are weak, that you are scared or that you are over-dependent. But, this is part of the process that you are and letting yourself come to be this changing process is a step toward being the self that you truly are.

Away from Oughts

Also, Rogers wishes the client to move away from the “ought” view of oneself. That is, to truly come to see oneself as one is may mean cutting off the expectations that others have of you, the false faces that the others erect for you. In this way, the woman who wants to be a doctor, but has pressure from her family to stay at home all day should come to see the influence of this family-based expectation and move toward being a doctor instead of being the pushed-around self that the family may wish her to be. I think we have all felt the feeling that a certain life situation or a certain job were not right for us or that a new opportunity presented to us should not be taken. Again, moving away from the oughts that others create for us is a step in becoming who one truly is.

In this way, the idea of “self-direction” comes out and is very important for Rogers. That is, the client needs to confront the influences from others, the fake expectations, the oughts and the should, moving away from them and moving toward how one wishes to be and not how others wish one to be. In short, one becomes responsible for the self that one is creating, the process that one is always becoming. Responsibility is not always easy and in fact, moving away from the groups that exercise control over one’s life may be tremendously difficult and dangerous. However, it is only through this acceptance of process-self that the client may undertake a more responsible, free and healthy existence and, in doing so, move toward a more autonomous and honest life.

Complexity and Trust

Moreover, the client should be well aware of the complex nature of his or her self and instead of relishing in the walls of hidden desires, open oneself to the complexity that one is, the labyrinthine self that one never knew one was. In addition, one may come to see the other person as a complex process of becoming as well instead of a fixed static object. That is, a trust in the process-nature of oneself may also open up a newfound view of the other, the other, too, is a process.

In trusting oneself, a new kind of life may emerge, a life not bound by the strict gaze of others. For example, the great filmmaker Stanley Kubrick developed his own way of making films. He moved out from the strict eye of the others and created fresh and honest worlds, worlds rich in character and atmosphere. Also, the renaissance man Vincent Gallo (despite your opinion of him) has branched out in film, composition, performance, modeling, real estate and painting. The reception of his last film “The Brown Bunny” did not stop him from creating new kinds of art, new modes of being.

Listening…Ever Listening

It is important that we listen to ourselves, listen to the true voices that emerge. In the Lacanian world, the voice of the big Other mocks and prods. One needs to truly hear this voice of the big Other, to see the haunting visions for what they are and listen to that other voice, one’s true once-occurent voice. Despite social fragmentation, there are ways in which we can develop ourselves, free ourselves from the threatening parts of ourself that wish to enchain us. One should train one’s ears to listen closely to the movement of the self, to how the self manifests itself and the myriad of tricks that it plays. This may not be easy and this may not be “fun,” but, in the end, it may be absolutely necessary if one wishes to be that self which one truly is.

Photo by nugunslinger (CC)