Interestingly, I spent four months on my research paper entirely focussing on phenomenology in philosophy and never came across the parallel ideas of phenomenology within psychology.
Looking more into Carl Rogers’ theories, I feel like I am hovering over the core of what my MA proposal is really about. I have only just made the connection that I started my own working career as a phenomenologist, albeit in physics, but as a researcher using the observation of experiences to guide our understanding of the workings of the world. This too is at the heart of phenomenology in both philosophy (getting back to Heidegger) and in psychology: our existence is a subjective construction – the ‘reality’ we observe is really a “private world of experience….the phenomenal field” (, Rogers, 1951/1977)
First some background: Unlike Freud, who teaches that our basic instincts are sexual and aggressive, Rogers had an inherently positive view of humanity. His theory, is built on a single ‘force of life’ he calls the actualising tendency, which is a fundamental motivation toward positive growth. From :
Rogers disagreed sharply with major emphases of Freudian theory: its depiction of humans as controlled by unconscious forces; its assertion that personality is determined, in a fixed manner, by experiences early in life; its associated belief that adult psychological experience is a repeating of the repressed conflicts of the past. Rogers’s view emphasized conscious perceptions of the present rather than merely unconscious residues of the past, interpersonal experiences encountered across the course of life rather than merely parental relations in childhood, and peoples capacity to grow toward psychological maturity rather than merely their tendency to repeat childhood conflicts.
A few points in summary of his theory [2, 3]:
- We value positive self-regard (self-esteem, self-worth or a positive self-image. We achieve this positive self-regard by experiencing the positive regard others show us over our years of growing up. Without this, we feel small and helpless, and can fail to become all that we can be.
- However, society can lead us astray with conditions of worth, when others only give us what we need when we show we are ‘worthy’, rather than just because we need it. (e.g. a dessert if we finish our greens, or love and affection if and only if we behave)
- These conditions are very powerful and we can adapt ourselves determined not by our inherent self-actualising tendency, but by society. We begin to like ourselves only if we meet up with the standards others have applied to us, rather than if we are truly actualising our potentials. Since these standards were created without keeping each individual in mind, more often than not we find ourselves unable to meet them, and therefore unable to maintain any sense of self-esteem. This conditional positive regard leads us to deny parts of ourselves that elicit rejection.
- The aspect of your being that is founded in the actualizing tendency and receives positive regard and self-regard, Rogers calls the real self. It is the “you” that, if all goes well, you will become.
- Where we receive only conditional positive regard and self-regard, we develop instead an image of the self which is out of reach.
Rogers posits that people seek self consistency and a sense of congruence between their sense of self and their everyday experience. He believed anxiety is the result of discrepancy between experience and the perception of the self. Once this happens, the person will be motivated to defend the self; he or she will engage in defensive processes against the loss of a consistent, integrated sense of self.
Rogers describes a range of characteristics of what makes a fully-functioning person. These are in short a person who is: Open to experience, living each moment as it comes, trusting their feelings, not worried about disapproval, nonconforming, with deep feelings, rich and an expressive emotional life. One of the points struck a chord with me, this quote taken from ref 
2. Existential living. This is living in the here-and-now. Rogers, as a part of getting in touch with reality, insists that we not live in the past or the future — the one is gone, and the other isn’t anything at all, yet! The present is the only reality we have. Mind you, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t remember and learn from our past. Neither does it mean we shouldn’t plan or even day-dream about the future. Just recognize these things for what they are: memories and dreams, which we are experiencing here in the present.
This idea of experiencing the present moment is a key concept of the humanistic approach. Humanistic phenomenology emphasises the individual’s subjective experience of his or her world – in other words, his or her phenomenological experience. Quoting from 
- The space of perceptions that makes up our experience is a subjective construction.
- The individual constructs this inner world experience, and the construction reflects not only the outer world of reality but also the inner world of personal needs, goals, and beliefs.
- Similar ideas can be traced back at least as far as the Allegory of the Cave by Plato, who depicted persons as perceiving mere shadows of reality, being unable to glimpse the objective world world of existence
These ideas, of an existential, subjective reality are going to be the basis upon which I build my project. I would like to investigate how we can map our sense of self by understanding the reality we have constructed – by looking at its manifestation in our sense of place, and places we identify with – these places being themselves a subjective experience of the world. Our ‘places of identity’ (for lack of a better term) are constructed from an overlay of real and imagined places, fiction, memory and promise.