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Archetypes Through a Psych Lens: Humanistic (still)

Tantz_Aerine at 12:00AM, April 17, 2021

Sooo…. we have already covered the illustrious Maslow and his pyramid of needs. Now comes Carl Rogers to complete what I consider the complete package of the Humanistic school of thought when it comes to personality theories. (well it's not just me, it's a lot of eh, colleagues)

As I mentioned in the previous article, Carl Rogers accepted Maslow's theory and built on it, exactly in the fashion of expanding basic ideas and refining theories that takes place in all schools of thought.

You could say that Carl Rogers is the opposite of jaded and cynical: he believed that humans are born inherently good, and their sole purpose and motivation in life is to self-actualize.

Self-actualizing involves full filfilling your potential as a human being, and experiencing your own humanity and the world around you in the greatest extent possible.

However, to develop and grow towards self-actualization, the individual needs the environment to provide them with three conditions.

Unconditional Positive Regard: The individual must feel accepted without any ‘conditions’, which means acceptance and inclusion despite faults that need to be worked on. For example, a parent might discipline their child, but the child cannot feel that he/she is in risk of losing the parent's love over the issue, or any issue.

Genuineness: The environment must be one of openness and self-disclosure. No hidden agendas, underminings, double-speak, conniving, or intrigue. Things have to be communicated from and to the individual clearly and frankly. For example, instead of keeping a grudge and pretending nothing is the matter, one would need to openly communicate their distress to the person.

Empathy: This means that the environment has to listen to the individual, and understand them. This often goes hand in hand with acceptance/ unconditional positive regard. Empathy would require listening to the person's problem, dilemma, or emotional situation and actively respond with understanding, even if there is disagreement.

According to Rogers, each person as an “ideal self”. The ideal self is the person each of us would like to be.

Consequently, we all also have an “actual self” which is how we see ourselves to be right now.

The closer the actual self is to the ideal self, the higher the self worth (and self-esteem) a person has.

When the ideal self overlaps well with the actual self (i.e. a lot of elements of the idea self are perceived to exist in the actual self) the person is in a state of Congruence, and growth and self-actualization can be achieved.

If the actual self overlaps very little or not at all with the ideal self, then the person's self worth (and self-esteem) is low, and they are in a state of Incongruence. Growth and self-actualization in this state are hard to achieve.

See that “PERCEPTION” arrow in all caps in the image? It's because we also have the “perceived self”!

The perceived self is who the individual THINKS they are, not who they actually are. basically this meme:

This is played for laughs of course, but consider the ramifications: how would a person behave if they thought they were the next Michael Phelps but instead are on par with a paddling puppy? And the reverse: how would they fare if they thought they were worse than a paddling puppy, but instead are the next Michael Phelps?

All of these can breed Incongruence: if the three selves don't coincide enough, we got a problem. Which brings me to…

When does a person become destructive, according to Carl Rogers?

When they have a poor self concept, when they are experiencing Incongruence because their perceived/actual/ideal selves don't overlap enough (or at all) or when the environment brings obstacles to their growth, usually by lacking one or more of these three conditions to various degrees.

If they are experiencing incongruence, the person will develop defense mechanisms, to try and fabricate a feeling of congruence which of course, is fragile, and easily demolished.

So when using the Humanistic approach to building a character, approach them from their ideal self first:

1. Ideal self: who do they want to be? Ideal self carries a lot of society's expectations, or parental expectations, or other idealizations the person may have picked up. NOTE: it does NOT have to be all roses and sunshine. A person's ideal self can be to top the most notorious serial killer and never get caught.

2. Actual self: how close are they to that ideal self? Why haven't they managed to be closer? How did the parts that are incongruent develop? For example, if they want to be the best pianist but can't even play twinkle twinkle little star, how did that happen?

3. Perceived self: how close to the truth is it? Ideally it should completely overlap with the Actual Self. Does it? If not, why not? What part of the environment has cause that? What elements have been lacking as they grow up?

4. Congruent or incongruent? If congruent, are they able to grow towards self-actualization or is the environment stopping them from that, and in what way? If incongruent, what defense mechanisms do they have to mitigate this distress? How do they react if their defense mechanisms fail and they are forced to own up to the incongruence? How can that happen?

I'd suggest to use the Humanistic approach for characters who are generally young, or young enough to change, or characters on a redeeming/fall from grace arc. It works really well.

Again, the usual disclaimer applies: all of these are theories. Do not take as the One and Only Truth, and explore them when it comes to your own self only with the help and aid of a professional who knows how to work through them.

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PaulEberhardt at 4:22AM, April 18, 2021

For some reason, possibly because much of what I come up with is comedy, I immediately think of the Dunning-Kruger-effect. This effect basically describes the defense-mechanisms against incongruencies between perceived self and actual self working double shifts. Dunning and Kruger are two social psychologists who found that the more incompetent somebody is at something, the more likely they are to overestimate their abilities and to cut down on self-reflection. This can be counteracted by making them learn or practice more in the field their incompetent at, but if that doesn't happen their opinion of themselves may even spiral downward to self-delusions about being vastly superior to anyone else. "I'm just too far ahead of my time." (Think Cacofonix, the bard in Asterix.) Truth in comics, as it turns out.

PaulEberhardt at 3:45AM, April 18, 2021

Here's a great difference to teaching: part of my real-life job is trying to keep up an environment that at least doesn't hinder self-actualization any more than necessary, while when creating stories you'll often want to try and do just the opposite for your characters.

bravo1102 at 2:34AM, April 18, 2021

@hushicho: also good to remember that TA first burst on the scene in a monster best selling book. It was packaged and sold and became the model self-help book of a decade. So much so it inspired so many parodies including Stuart Smalley. But I can credit TA with helping to save my marriage two decades ago. It works. But again it's only one tool in the tool box.

hushicho at 3:16PM, April 17, 2021

Bringing corporate nonsense into it typically means something is being used in its most superficial and generally useless manner, so I don't think that has much to do with using these approaches for character enrichment, but I do think the humanistic approach is probably going to be the one that is typically easiest to apply with creators. Interesting article, as always well written. I'm interested to see people applying this knowledge to their creative process!

bravo1102 at 5:42AM, April 17, 2021

Transactional analysis is better used as a tool rather than the end-all, be-all of therapy. I can approach this as an enlightened patient because I've undergone it. It leaves a lot out of how it deals with relationships and falls short in RL applications. It's one tool but needs other therapies and views to supplement it. I have accumulated tons of handouts on the humanistic theories as required reading for my therapy and over the years have internalized a lot of it. It's how I see my mind working, so it's easy to apply it to characters and break them down through what I know and experience and especially perceive. Mistaken perception is a magnificent tool for characterizations. Good and Evil is merely a difference in perception so that can inspire so many heroes and villains. And it opens the possibilities of so many traps and even provide a guide to the hero's journey.

Tantz_Aerine at 5:35AM, April 17, 2021

Marcorossi, to be honest, I don't know much about it at all, as TA is a psychoanalytically based method and I am really... REALLY.... not into psychoanalysis. So I don't want to sound off on something I haven't studied or touched upon. What I know is that TA is not a go-to for most administrational and HR practices at least as far as I've been trained (and I got an american-style education when it comes to psychology) but i'll look into it more now and come back to you in a PQ if you'd like. THAT SAID, if the theory works for your characters, then that's all you need really! Go for it!

marcorossi at 3:41AM, April 17, 2021

Some years ago, the company I work for had a short seminar for workers about interpersonal comunication, and the teacher introduced the theories of "transactional analysis". I have a degree in "scienze della comunicazione", that would be media studies in english I suppose, and I studied a lot of sociology about comunication, but almost no psychology, so it hooked me and by now I read two or three books about TA. I find this approach interesting, but reading on the web I see many think TA is quack science. Do you know something about it? (I think it's more an american than european thing). While I wouldn't say that I plan my characters through TA I think my personal worldview is close enough to it that my characters could be explained by TA.

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