Fully Human, Fully Alive


Psychologist Carl Rogers [1902-1987] spoke about fully functioning persons.  The concept is not entirely different from that of Abraham Maslow’s self-actualising persons.

Rogers tried to raise the human being above the determinism of an external destiny.  No doubt, the external factors such as our upbringing, attitudes of teachers and other significant elders in our life, and other social factors constantly impinge on our personality limiting its potential in a number of ways.  But Rogers was of the opinion that ultimately the forces that direct behaviour are within us.  We can take charge of ourselves and rise above our environment.

Right from childhood, every individual goes through various experiences in life.  These experiences go a long way in determining one’s self-concept.  The unconditional love that a child gets from its parents can help develop a strong self-concept in the child.  But such unconditional love is rather rare in mankind.  Most parents place a lot of conditions for their love.  They love their children for being well-behaved, for securing good grades at school, for winning prizes, and so on.  That is conditional love.  Unconditional love accepts the child for what he/she is, irrespective of whether he/she is a winner or rule-follower or whatever.  Unconditional love makes the child love himself for what he is.  Such a child grows up with a proper self-concept.

Conditional love, on the other hand, makes the child feel that he becomes worthy of love only when he lives up to certain expectations of the parents or others.  This makes the child exclude from its self-concept those experiences which he is taught to think are unworthy, though such experiences are really valid for his growth as an individual.  In Rogers’ words, the child “values an experience positively or negatively solely because of these conditions of worth which he has taken over from others, not because the experience enhances or fails to enhance his organism.”

This process leads to the development of a distorted self-concept.  The tragedy of a lot of people is the inability to perceive the distortion built into their personalities by their parents and others.  The distortion in the self-concept distorts the individual’s perceptions of external reality too. 

Rogers is of the view that how the individual behaves depends on his self-concept rather than on the external reality.  This is why the same reality evokes different feelings in different persons.  If a person’s self-concept is an objective one – that is, there is no distortion in it – then the person would be able to perceive the reality quite objectively.  Such a person will be fully human and fully alive.

In short, if you wish to be fully human and fully alive, get rid of the distortions that you have built into your personality with the gratuitous help of other people.   

How to do that?  First of all, you must learn to differentiate between a subjective image of yourself and an objective one.  To start with, know that what you think or experience is not reality, but a hypothesis about reality.  Every hypothesis is meant to be tested.  Test your hypothesis too against the reality.  Otherwise your hypothesis becomes your reality which may be a misconception about yourself or the world. 

For example, the concept of god as a relentless intruder into his personal life distorted Jean-Paul Sartre’s self-concept and made him feel quite helpless as a child.  When he broke himself free from that concept of god, he became a much freer person able to build up his self in a much more fulfilling way.

False concepts fed into us are responsible for much of the misery we experience in our own life as well as that we inflict on others.

When we liberate ourselves from those false concepts we can achieve what Rogers called congruence.  Congruence is a harmony between our inner self and the external reality.  Whatever the external reality, however intimidating, it will not bring threat or anxiety to the person who has achieved congruence. 

Once you achieve the congruence, you can become a person who is fully human and fully alive. 

Rogers lists three characteristics of a fully functioning person:

  1. Such a person has developed an increasing openness to experience.  He has no need to defend against any experience.  Therefore, he is able to acknowledge and express all feelings.
  2. Such a person exhibits increasingly existential living.  There is no rigidity and no preconceptions about what he should do or be.  Rather he “lives fully in each moment.”
  3. Such a person has an increasing trust in himself.  Such people make and rely on their own decisions.  They do not blindly follow the rules given by their societies, religions, organisations, etc.  They have developed a sense that “doing what ‘feels right’ proves to be a competent and trustworthy guide to behaviour which is truly satisfying.”

 “Life like a dome of many-coloured glass stains the white radiance of eternity,” sang the poet Shelley.  The stains are within ourselves, says Rogers, put there by many people.  It is up to us to wash them off if we want the white radiance of eternity to reveal itself to us.

About matheikal

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7 Responses to Fully Human, Fully Alive

  1. Shajan says:

    Hi Matheikal,

    Thanks for your psychology lessons.

    I think there is a difference between ‘self-concept’ and ‘self’. Self-concept is an image one has of oneself and it will be greatly decided by past experience. Does an improved self-image lead to self-actualizing individuals? I doubt. Self (as in self-actualizing) seems to refer to something deeper. You may find C.G Jung’s ‘individuation’ concept interesting. It is the process by which one becomes a whole, reaching a higher level of integration by reconciling the forces of conscious mind and the unconscious.


  2. matheikal says:

    Thanks, Shajan.
    I too faced the same problem while studying Rogers. Can we equate the self with self-concept? Interestingly, Rogers does something quite that. According to Rogers, the individual will become his real self only when the incongruences in his self-concept are rectified. It is these incongurences which render people incapable of seeing reality objectively.

    In plain words, the psychological problems prevent us from achieving our selfhood. This is not contradictory to Jung’s concept of self either. For jung, the self is the midpoint of personality around which all other systems [ego, personal unconscious, collective unconscious, archetypes, persona] are “constellated”. Before the self can emerge, the other components should become fully developed and individuated, said Jung. I think Rogers says the same thing in a slightly different way. But I must add that I am still a student of psychology, an earnest one though, and hence my undertanding can be limited.

  3. dawnanddew says:

    That’s a wonderful write up, sir. Unconditional love – Very often people fail to understand the enigmatic existence of it. I fully agree that a child should not be loved if only he or she meets some of the expectations of parents or teachers; but should be loved for whatever he or she is. Some people go on to condemn unconditional love as a tool to spoil the child. How shall I educate them! Whenever I faced problem with children most often I ended up realising that the problem had rooted out fully from me. How can I expect love from them unless I love them unconditionally? This question very often gets me favourable replies and I’m able to sustain injuries:)

    • matheikal says:

      Dawn, the problem is that unconditional love is such a difficult thing for people who haven’t reached the proper ‘selfhood’. A friend of mine says, “there’s no human love that is not conditional.” I don’t agree with it, though. There are parents who are capable of loving their children just for what they are. Rare as they are, such children grow up with a healthy sense of the self.

  4. Raghuram Ekambaram says:

    “But such unconditional love is rather rare in mankind. Most parents place a lot of conditions for their love.” – I wish you would post this line in bold and where more people would see it. Not just a simple “most parents”, but MOST, MOST, MOST of them do this.

    When I visit some friends and if they have small children say up to the age of 8, and if the parents try to cajole them into some “show-off”, of whatever kind (even if it be to show me a shool prize), I recoil. I tell the parents that I want the child to interact with me on his/her own volition, no strings attached. If (s)he on his/her own wants to show something or talk to me, I am all eyes and ears. The child is valuable to me not because of the school prize or the things (s)he can do, but because (s)he is a person. My appreciation (I am not going to use the word “love” here) of the human being IS unconditional.

    You use the word “Congruence”. The concept is the same but I have come across it as “Cognitive dissonance”, the other side of the coin. It is to realize, “I am not as good as I think”. Then, you try to become better or drop the thinking that you are GOD! This IS congruence, as I understand.

    Raghuram Ekambaram

    • matheikal says:

      Raghuram, the word ‘congruence’ as I have used in this post belongs to Carl Rogers. According to Rogers, congruence refers to the condition when the individual ceases to have conflicts with the external reality. This is quite different from ‘cognitive dissonance’. In cognitive dissonance you disagree at the level of ideas or understanding. But the level of the self, you ‘understand’ that you are disagreeing and also that the disagreement need not be a source of conflict at the inner level, the level of consciousness. That is, you accept your disagreement.

      • Raghuram Ekambaram says:


        If I am a “Green” but do not take any effort to behave “Green” it can only mean that my “non-Green” actions have been screened out of my mental image of myself. It is in this sense I made a connection between congruence and cognitive dissonance. Perhaps I have misunderstood “congruence”.

        Yet, I would take exception to what you said, “you accept your disagreement.” as regards cognitive dissonace. You only SUBDUE the dissonance, brush it under the carpet, refuse to acknowledge, build a fort around what you agree with. The disagreement is beyond the pale.

        Raghuram Ekambaram

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