"Experience is, for me, the highest authority. The touchstone of validity is my own experience. No other person's ideas, and none of my own ideas, are as authoritative as my experience. It is to experience that I must return again and again, to discover a closer approximation to truth as it is in the process of becoming in me. Neither the Bible nor the prophets - neither Freud nor research - neither the revelations of God nor man - can take precedence over my own direct experience.... My experience is not authoritative because it is infallible. It is the basis of authority because it can always be checked in new primary ways. In this way its frequent error or fallibility is always open to correction." -- Carl Rogers, On Becoming a Person, pages 23-24
Rogers (1959) maintains that the human "organism" has an underlying "actualizing tendency", which aims to develop all capacities in ways that maintain or enhance the organism and move it toward autonomy. This tendency is directional, constructive and present in all living things. The actualizing tendency can be suppressed but can never be destroyed without the destruction of the organism (Rogers, 1977). The concept of the actualizing tendency is the only motive force in the theory. It encompasses all motivations; tension, need, or drive reductions; and creative as well as pleasure-seeking tendencies (Rogers, 1959). Only the organism as a whole has this tendency, parts of it (such as the self) do not. Maddi (1996) describes it as a "biological pressure to fulfill the genetic blueprint" (p106.) Each person thus has a fundamental mandate to fulfill their potential.
A distinctly psychological form of the actualizing tendency related to this "self" is the "self-actualizing tendency". It involves the actualization of that portion of experience symbolized in the self (Rogers, 1959). It can be seen as a push to experience oneself in a way that is consistent with one's conscious view of what one is (Maddi, 1996). Connected to the development of the self-concept and self-actualization are secondary needs (assumed to likely be learned in childhood): the "need for positive regard from others" and "the need for positive self-regard", an internalized version of the previous. These lead to the favoring of behavior that is consistent with the person's self-concept (Maddi, 1996).
Organismic Valuing and Conditions of Worth
When significant others in the person's world (usually parents) provide positive regard that is conditional, rather than unconditional, the person introjects the desired values, making them his/her own, and acquires "conditions of worth" (Rogers, 1959). The self-concept then becomes based on these standards of value rather than on organismic evaluation. These conditions of worth disturb the "organismic valuing process", which is a fluid, ongoing process whereby experiences are accurately symbolized and valued according to optimal enhancement of the organism and self (Rogers, 1959). The need for positive self-regard leads to a selective perception of experience in terms of the conditions of worth that now exist. Those experiences in accordance with these conditions are perceived and symbolized accurately in awareness, while those that are not are distorted or denied into awareness. This leads to an "incongruence" between the self as perceived and the actual experience of the organism, resulting in possible confusion, tension, and maladaptive behavior (Rogers, 1959). Such estrangement is the common human condition. Experiences can be perceived as threatening without conscious awareness via "subception", a form of discrimination without awareness that can result in anxiety.
Fully Functioning Person and the Self
Theoretically, an individual may develop optimally and avoid the previously described outcomes if they experience only "unconditional positive regard" and no conditions of worth develop. The needs for positive regard from others and positive self-regard would match organismic evaluation and there would be congruence between self and experience, with full psychological adjustment as a result (Rogers, 1959). This ideal human condition is embodied in the "fully functioning person" who is open to experience able to live existentially, is trusting in his/her own organism, expresses feelings freely, acts independently, is creative and lives a richer life; "the good life" (Rogers, 1961). It should be noted that; "The good life is a process not a state of being. It is a direction, not a destination (Rogers, 1961, p.186)". For the vast majority of persons who do not have an optimal childhood there is hope for change and development toward psychological maturity via therapy, in which the aim is to dissolve the conditions of worth, achieve a self congruent with experience and restore the organismic valuing process (Rogers, 1959).
Rogers (1977) describes therapy as a process of freeing a person and removing obstacles so that normal growth and development can proceed and the client can become independent and self-directed. During the course of therapy the client moves from rigidity of self-perception to fluidity.