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Long story short, I am a psychology student interesting in counselling. I've been reading all the major psychotherapy theories and Carl Roger's person centered approach intrigues me. I am one of those guys who understand terms and knows how to use them in general, but struggle immensely when asked to give a fundamental, understandable definition. This is not for a school assignment but for my own understanding. I kind of understand the concepts I am about to list below but perhaps it's the language barrier (I'm mainland Chinese) or the nature of Rogers writing and the nature of his thoughts, it's hard for me to materialize a concise, fundamental definition.

The two terms that I struggle to define:

  1. "Inconsistent" experiences. Experiences which are"inconsistent" to the concept of self
  2. Self-structure. Self-construction. How a person organizes and maintain itself (of experiences)

My attempt to define it:

  1. Inconsistent experiences are those that is unexpected and challenges how you view yourself or how you view reality. For eg, in childhood, the world seems all about having fun, things seem peaceful. But the experience of working (having new responsibilities, realizing life is hard) and having a dispute with a co-worker (the world is not always peaceful), directly challenge that.
  2. Self-structure is how a person organizes all their experiences, knowledge, values and beliefs. Ie what is the typical protocol when dealing with new information, new experiences, etc and how do they compact that in their short/long term cognition. How do they accept, challenge or deny new info?

If you have a good understanding of Carl Roger's or if you have something to add, interject, or correct, please feel free to comment. Thanks

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Short answer

Your attempt to define self-structure is almost there.

Self-structure is how a person organizes all their experiences, knowledge, values and beliefs. Ie what is the typical protocol when dealing with new information, new experiences, etc and how do they compact that in their short/long term cognition. How do they accept, challenge or deny new info?

You have one half of its definition in a sense, because self-structure is not just about how a person organises all their experiences etc.

Rogers' concept of self-structure is also about the actual structure of the self. What are the core values and beliefs within the person's experiential world? Are they congruent with the real world or are they incongruent? I will go into that in a moment.

Your attempt to define inconsistent experiences is almost there

Inconsistent experiences are those that is unexpected and challenges how you view yourself or how you view reality. For eg, in childhood, the world seems all about having fun, things seem peaceful. But the experience of working (having new responsibilities, realizing life is hard) and having a dispute with a co-worker (the world is not always peaceful), directly challenge that.

Inconsistent experiences can be unexpected, but they can be expected sometimes.

Take for example, you could have a belief that a certain other person is a good person and would not harm anyone, although you keep getting little hints that this belief may be wrong.

The first few times could be unexpected, but after a while you may pick up a pattern to when you notice these little hints. You can expect these little hints to come up during those moments and therefore they will not be totally unexpected.

Inconsistent experiences can challenge you or not. It is all down to how you choose to deal with the inconsistency. If you choose to take notice of the inconsistencies and examine them, they can challenge your structure of self, and in certain situations, they can alter your structure of self slightly, or even drastically. In my example your belief regarding that person could change, but it may not change your structure of self. It could do both in the sense that you could take it that you are not a good judge of character and therefore judge everyone else with suspicion. If you choose to ignore the inconsistent experience(s), they will not challenge the structure of self at all.

Longer answer with further clarification

Self-structure and inconsistency with experiences are covered in Carl Rogers' 19 propositions (Rogers, 1951). These propositions form the basis of Rogers' concept of the self.

They state that everyone exists in a continually changing world of experience, and they are at the centre of their experiential world.

The structure of the self is formed as a result of interaction with the environment, and particularly as a result of evaluating all interaction with others — an organised, fluid but consistent conceptual pattern of perceptions of characteristics and relationships of the "I" or the "me", together with values attached to these concepts.

This is because:

  • The person reacts to the field as it is experienced and perceived. This the person's perceived "reality".

  • The person reacts as an organized whole to this experiential world.

  • A portion of the experiential world gradually becomes differentiated as the self.

The structure of the self involves the concepts of who they are — where they believe are in society, who they are as a person, their core values and beliefs.

Notice that this involves the perceived reality, because what is perceived can be, to varying extents, very different to actual reality (See Johari Window for a cognitive psychology example of what I am referring to here)

Now the self has been formed, the person has one basic tendency and striving — to actualise, maintain and enhance themselves (See Maslow's concept on this).

Your behaviour can be seen to help or hinder self-actualisation, and the best vantage point for understanding your own behaviour is from your own internal frame of reference.

Behaviour, according to Rogers' theory of the self, is basically the goal-directed attempt of the person to satisfy their needs as experienced, in their experiential world.

Again, this is experiential world as opposed to the real world which potentially can be different.

Emotion accompanies, and in general facilitates, such goal directed behaviour. It is the kind of emotion related to the perceived significance of their behaviour for the maintenance and enhancement of their self.

The values attached to experiences, and the values that are a part of the self-structure, in some instances, are values experienced directly by the person, and in some instances are values introjected or taken over from others. The values can be perceived in a distorted fashion, as if they had been experienced directly.

As experiences occur in life, they are either:

  • symbolised, perceived and organised into some relation to the self,
  • denied symbolisation and ignored because there is no perceived relationship to the self structure,
  • or given distorted symbolisation, because there is a perceived relationship to the self structure but experience is inconsistent in some way with the structure of the self.

Most thoughts and beliefs that are adopted by the person are those that are consistent with the experiential world; and, most of the ways of behaving that are adopted by the person are those that are consistent with the concept of self.

What exact properties makes an experience "inconsistent" (to the self-structure)?

Your new attempt to define inconsistent experience is correct

An experience is said to be inconsistent when the experience appears to demonstrate to the individual some values or qualities (of people, reality, themselves) that differs to what they have stored in their self-structure.

A shorter definition can be that an experience will be inconsistent when the experience does not agree with your self-structure.

Remember that your self-structure is built from your experiential world which can be different to the real world.

Your self-structure is built from past experiences, knowledge, values and/or beliefs.

If you are experiencing something which is different to your self-structure, the experience is inconsistent with your self-structure.

Your requests for further clarification

What are some good examples of inconsistent experiences (given a person's self concept)?

One example from my work with the abused

A lot of men believe that they will never be attacked and raped, and if anyone was to try, they would be able to fight them off and prevent it.

Many of those who have been raped believe that because they could not fight them off, they must have "somehow" or "for some reason" allowed it to happen and therefore it is their fault.

What are some examples of a person's self-structure in terms of how?

Your example is part of the story.

An individual categorizes information from conversations and media in categories such as information on friends, on world events, on politics...

The self-structure is formed not just from conversations they have had and from the news and other media, but also from personal experiences.

Let's again use my example of these men who are now blaming themselves for being raped.

This is where the choice I mentioned in the short answer comes in. You can choose to ignore the inconsistencies and carry on believing your self-structure is correct, or you can stop and examine the inconsistencies and adjust your self-structure to suit.

These men examined the experience, interpreted the events and adjusted their self-structure accordingly.

Their previous self-structure contained the belief that they could prevent it, but they now believe that the inconsistent experience shows they couldn't.

Their attacker(s) managed to rape them even though the person "should have been able to prevent it and fight them off".

They chose to look at this experience and see it that they must have let them do it.

Their adjusted self-structure now contains the belief that if anyone was to try again, they will not be able to prevent it and, in fact, they may allow it to happen again.

Their self-structure has been severely compromised and maladjusted, to the point that they are now living with feelings of guilt and shame which is not theirs to bear.

Do experiences also demonstrate inconsistency with how a person organizes themselves? If "inconsistency" refers to that aspect as well, what is a good example?

This is a very good question which therapy gives the answer.

In very simplified terms, the previous inconsistent experience within their experiential world and resulting adjustment would need to be examined in therapy in order for the real world interpretation (they did not willing allow it to happen and it is not their fault) to be taken as fact.

The reason for believing it is their fault will be examined by re-examining the events in a safe environment, and challenging how this belief was formed.

It is by challenging this altered belief that the maladjusted self-structure can be altered to be more accurate and helpful.

For a more in depth take on the theory of the self, Rogers (1951) is a recommended read.

References

Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory. London: Constable. ISBN 978-1-84119-840-8.

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  • $\begingroup$ Thanks for the answer Chris. I like your corrections on my understanding of the terms, esp the how and what of a person's self-structure. I am still a bit iffy on what it means by the "inconsistency" of an experience. More specifically, what exact properties makes an experience "inconsistent" (to the self-structure)? What are some good examples of inconsistent experiences (given a person's self concept)? [I have read Roger's 19 propositions. In fact, it is of reading the 19 propositions from Rogers' 1951 that prompted me wanting to clarify the meanings behind the terms.] Thanks again $\endgroup$ – Felicity Jan 13 at 0:14
  • $\begingroup$ Upon your additions, let me attempt again to define "inconsistent" experiences. An experience is said to be inconsistent when the experience appears to demonstrate to the individual some values or qualities (of people, reality, themselves) that differs to what they have stored in their self-structure. Another part of this definition that I am uncertain about is: does experiences also demonstrate inconsistency with how a person organizes themselves? If "inconsistency" refers to that aspect as well, what is a good example? $\endgroup$ – Felicity Jan 13 at 1:01
  • $\begingroup$ And here's something I'm pondering. What are some examples of a person's self-structure in terms of how? Are these valid examples? An individual categorizes information from conversations and media in categories such as information on friends, on world events, on politics, to do list. In a conversation with friends about world events for example, the individual access his mental folder on that broad topic and finds specific subjects along with his interpretation and values for each. $\endgroup$ – Felicity Jan 13 at 4:13
  • $\begingroup$ @Felicity - Please see my edit for the answers to your requests for further clarification $\endgroup$ – Chris Rogers Jan 13 at 10:22

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