Poking Positive Psychology and Extending Carl Rogers
Over the years, I’ve picked up on a certain phenomenon. It hasn’t been researched (as far as I know) so feel free to peck away at the legitimacy and/or unscientific Nature of the phenomenon. When the weather is grey in Ohio, most people easily and comfortable blame the weather for their blah-like mood. As many blame the grey, they pine for the sun. Weather blaming and sun pining are normal, conventional, and socially acceptable ways to vent frustrations. Yet, the blaming of the weather isn’t the interesting phenomenon. Instead, I’ve picked up on what happens when the grey goes away for a few days.
February seems to be the time of the year when this phenomenon manifests most loudly. Just this past week, the sun has been shining. It’s been setting later and later each evening. Result? More interpersonal conflict and tension. I received various stories where the storyteller was either directly involved or indirectly around arguments, disagreements, frustrations, etc. The interpersonal conflict didn’t discriminate between home, work, or play. The tension was everywhere. The pining for the sun was replaced by angst-y energy. Fortunately, I escaped the “bug going around” this week because my youngest daughter, Lindsay Marie, turned eight on Monday, February 25th. Happy birthday, Lubird!
If you noticed the “positive reframe” as I shifted abruptly from the paradoxical yet unproven scientific phenomenon of ‘Sun Angst’ to my youngest daughter’s birthday, you’re following along quite nicely. My finger is pointing toward Positive Psychology (“PP”) and ready to offer a subtle yet respectful jab at the PP machine. As an entry, PP emerged in the 1990’s. Unfortunately, PP emerged in the 1990’s.
During the advent of PP, happiness became the marker of one’s mental health status. Ugh. There are some, not many, psychologists who have asserted the idea that rhetoric, institutionalization, and industry are the culprits behind the mistaken beliefs about happiness in our culture. Stated simply, PP offered easy answers and comfortable guidelines to and about mental health, which solved the problem of ambiguity and uncertainty. As soon as psychology and educational leaders backed positive psychology as a science, the intended or unintended consequence was industry (business) could sell positivity easily. In other words, rhetoric rode on the coattails of the binary movement, galvanized by the polarization and Self-righteousness embedded within the collective unconscious of our Environment.
On the surface, PP seems like a humanistic approach. Yet, PP criticizes the negative aspects of Life. Good/bad and agree/disagree found a new companion with positive/negative. Instead of happiness being a natural yet impermanent emotional state, happiness became an achievement holding the potential of permanence. PP makes happiness a goal for which human beings reframe, trick, deceive, manage, or quest. What happens when you quest for something only to figure out it was there all along? Carl Rogers, the father of Humanistic Psychology, offered the beautiful antidote below.
Dr. Rogers and I didn’t see eye to eye at first. His brilliance sunk in over time. Specifically, Dr. Rogers referred to human beings as organisms. Organisms? C’mon, Doc. Early in my doctoral training, the idea of human beings as organisms felt incongruent and seemed dehumanizing. Rogers coined the term congruence in his humanizing work. So how could this eminent scholar and leader of the humanistic movement refer to human beings as organisms? I didn’t like it. (I blamed the weather.) I held onto the feeling of incongruence because it seemed important to receive the words of Rogers, even though the language didn’t make sense initially.
Then, the power of the words struck me one night while I laid with my second daughter, Mallory, as an infant. Mallory slept on my chest, the nightly routine of giving Shan respite from her breast-feeding responsibilities. In those moments with each of my kids, I tried to receive their infancy. On that particular night with Mallory, I became aware of the subtle shifts she made with her body: for the purpose of gaining air, warmth, comfort, security, or belonging. She moved naturally, as she was built or designed to contort.
Yep, I understood Carl. His views on congruence and use of the word organisms resonated finally. Human beings are organisms that involuntarily and voluntarily (unconsciously and consciously) move toward comfort, safety, and security ‘cause survival and adaptability matter for human beings. In other words, human beings nestle into the neck of Mother Nature for warmth and comfort while creating enough space to breathe and feel confident in their Environment.
Congruence becomes a viable option for human beings experiencing and seeking Self in a way that allows abilities, interests, or capacities to manifest naturally. As an infant, Mallory shifted involuntarily. During development, I became a humanistic psychologist the very moment Mallory nestled her head into my neck. In fact, it’s our ability to fight for our lives that inspires Self and others to choose Life.
(For Matrix Trilogy fans, Neo wasn’t ‘The One’ until he rescued Morpheus from Agent Smith. Neo needed to believe in something (e.g., that Zion needed Morpheus) before he could manifest his capacity of dodging, and not needing to dodge, bullets.)
Congruence catalyzes confidence and trust in Self, extending or expanding beyond the “fake it ‘till you make it” jurisdiction. Shit, when you’re blind-sided; you may actually feel an incredible burst of energy instead of feeling defeated. Congruence sounds simple and easy even though it can feel frustratingly elusive as well. Speaking of frustrations, human beings’ fixation on time, in the short-term, unnaturally limits congruence. Instead, congruence unearths short-term and long-term bursts of energy. Time is finite and quantifiable. Time focuses on tasking more so than experiencing.
Extending Carl’s humanistic work, the paradox he presented earlier was the idea of change through acceptance. Yet, the paradox begs the question, “what do I accept, and what does change mean?” Hypothetically, congruence holds two primary characteristics; it unearths energy and offers the stability of subsistence. Energy is different insofar as it isn’t burdened by time. Energy seeks and discovers space.
For example, the ‘Sun Angst’ phenomenon wouldn’t blame the grey as seriously or pine for the Sun so desperately. As a result, we may flow with less resistance (thaw out more quickly) when the Sun rejoins our world. Since congruence unearths energy; we become younger and healthier as the energy pours out of us. We don’t disguise our interests, hide our talents, or mask our unique characteristics. We co-create, which enables our capacities to move toward the Sun and away from conflict, tension, and Self-righteousness. Magically, releasing our energy creates more time. Beautifully, we find acceptance.
(With energy, Neo found the energy to save time, speed up, and save Trinity.)
Moving along, unearthing energy and manifesting our Nature moves human beings toward subsistence. Practically, subsistence refers to Self-supporting at a minimum level. Philosophically, subsistence can exist outside of space and time. In other words, subsistence means human beings can Self-support in a way that isn’t dependent on or contingent upon the objective realities of cultural conventions (space) or standardized rules (time).
In other words, subsistence leads to sustainable change. Subsistence redirects the power to the inside, rendering the outside world less powerful and ruthless. For Carl, a primary tenet of Humanistic Psychology is the idea that human beings (organisms) don’t need to be managed or controlled. YEP! Can you sense the change, where ‘Sun Angst’ mutates into solar power?
Furthermore, congruence embodies flexible and fluid movement. The path of least resistance may result in movement away from barriers. However, fluid and flexible movement may result in moving against or moving toward various aspects of the Environment as well. Congruence exemplifies movement that varies per context and across situations. Human beings extend or expand into this type of fluid AND crystallized movement. Carl discussed the idea that human beings are driven by the process of becoming. The becoming process seems to be related to the union between fluid and crystallized intelligences, the fusion of non-linearity and linearity, or the synthesis between chaos and cosmos.