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"I began to lose me" : A letter to Carl Rogers

Dernière mise à jour : 2 déc. 2023

Rêverie : Jeune femme assise près de la mer

Alexandre Lunois, c. 1890

Extract from :

Carl Rogers

A Way of Being


Dear Dr. Rogers,

I don't know how to explain who I am or why I am writing to you except to say that I have just read your book, On Becoming a Person, and it left a great impression on me. I just happened to find it one day and started reading. It's kind of a coincidence because right now I need something to help me find me. I do not feel that I can do much for others until I find me.

I think that I began to lose me when I was in highschool. I always wanted to go into work that would be of help to people but my family resisted, and I thought they must be right. Things went along smoothly for everyone else for four or five years until about two years ago. I met a guy that I thought was ideal. Then nearly a year ago I took a good look at us, and realized that I was everything that he wanted me to be and nothing that I was. I have always been emotional and I have had many feelings. I could never sort them out and identify them. My fiance would tell me that I was just mad or just happy and I would say okay and leave it at that. Then when I took this good look at us I realized that I was angry because I wasn't following my true emotions.

I backed out of the relationship gracefully and tried to find out where all the pieces were that I had lost. After a few months of searching had gone by I found that there were many more than I knew what to do with and I couldn't seem to separate them. I began seeing a psychologist and am presently seeing him. He has helped me to find parts of me that I was not aware of. Some parts are bad by our society's standards but I have found them to be very good for me. I have felt more threatened and confused since going to him but I have also felt more relief and more sure of myself.

I remember one night in particular. I had been in formy regular appointment with the psychologist that day and I had come home feeling angry. I was angry because I wanted to talk about something but I couldn't identify what it was. By eight o'clock that night I was so upset I was frightened. I called him and he told me to come to his office as soon as I could. I got there and cried for at least an hour and then the words came. I still don't know all of what I was saying. All I know is that so much hurt and anger came out of me that I never really knew existed. I went home and it seemed that an alien had taken over and I was hallucinating like some of the patients I have seen in a state hospital. I continued to feel this way until one night I was sitting and thinking and I realized that this alien was the me that I had been trying to find.

I have noticed since that night that people no longer seem so strange to me. Now it is beginning to seem that life is just starting for me. I am alone right now but I am not frightened and I don't have to be doing something. I like meeting me and making friends with my thoughts and feelings. Because of this I have learned to enjoy other people. One older man in particular — who is very ill — makes me feel very much alive. He accepts everyone. He told me the other day that I have changed very much. According to him, I have begun to open up and love. I think that I have always loved people and I told him so. He said, "Were they aware of it ?" I don't suppose I have expressed my love any more than I did my anger and hurt.

Among other things, I am finding out that I never had too much self-respect. And now that I am learning to really like me I am finally finding peace within myself. Thanks for your part in this.

Let me paraphrase a number of crucial statements that summarize the feelings and attitudes expressed in the letter. By discussing these statements, I will try to provide a general explanation of personality growth and change.

I was losing me.

Her own experiences and their meanings were being denied, and she was developing a self that was different from her real experienced self, which was becoming increasingly unknown to her.

My experience told me the work I wanted to go into, but my family showed me that I couldn't trust my own feelings to be right.

This phrase shows how a false concept of self is built up. Because she accepted her parents' meanings as her own experience, she came to distrust her own organismic experience. She could hardly have introjected her parents' values on this subject had she not had a long previous experience of introjecting their values. As she distrusted more and more of her own experience, her sense of self-worth steadily declined until she had very little use for her own experience or herself.

Things went along smoothly for everyone else.

What a revealing statement! Of course things were fine for those whom she was trying to please. This pseudo-self was just what they wanted. It was only within herself, at some deep and unknown level, that there was a vague uneasiness.

I was everything he wanted me to be.

Here again she was denying to awareness all her own experiencing — to the point where she no longer really had a self and was trying to be a self wanted by someone else.

Finally my organism rebelled and I tried to find me again but I couldn't, without help.

Why did she finally rebel and take a good look at her relationship with her fiance ? One can only attribute this rebellion to the actualizing tendency that had been suppressed for so long but that finally asserted itself. However, because she had distrusted her own experience for such a long period and because the self by which she was living was so sharply different from the experiences of her organism, she could not reconstruct her true self without help. The need for help often exists when there is such a great discrepancy.

Now I am discovering my experiences — some had according to society, parents, and boyfriend, but all good as far as I am concerned.

The locus of evaluation that formerly had resided in her parents, in her boyfriend, and others, she is now reclaiming as her own. She is the one who decides the value of her experience. She is the center of the valuing process, and the evidence is provided by her own senses. Society may call a given experience bad, but when she trusts her own valuing of it, she finds that it is worthwhile and significant to her.

An important turning point came when a flood ofthe experiences that I had been denying to awareness came close to the surface. I was frightened and upset.

When denied experience comes close to awareness, anxiety always results because these previously unadmitted experiences will have meanings that will change the structure of the self by which one has been living. Any drastic change in the self-concept is always a threatening and frightening experience. She was dimly aware of this threat even though she did not yet know what would emerge. When the denied experiences broke through the dam, they turned out to be hurts and angers that I had been completely unaware of. It is impossible for most people to realize how completely an experience can be shut out of awareness until it does break through into awareness. Every individual is able to shut out and deny those experiences that would endanger his or her self-concept.

I thought I was insane because some foreign person had taken over in me.

When the self-concept is so sharply changed that parts of it are completely shattered, it is a very frightening experience, and her description of the feeling that an alien had taken over is a very accurate one.

Only gradually did I realize that this alien was the real me.

What she was discovering was that the submissive, malleable self by which she had been hving, the self that had been guided by the statements, attitudes, and expectations of others, was no longer hers. This new self that had seemed so alien was a self that had experienced hurt and anger and feelings that society regards as bad, as well as wild hallucinatory thoughts — and love. As she goes further into self-discovery, it is likely that she will find out that some of her anger is directed against her parents. The hurts will have come from various sources; some of the feelings and experiences that society regards as bad but that she finds good and satisfying are experiences and feelings that probably have to do with sexuality. In any event, her self is becoming much more firmly rooted in her own gut-level experiences. Another person put something of this in the phrase ''I am beginning to let my experience tell me what it means instead of my trying to impose a meaning on it." The more the individual's self-concept is rooted in the spontaneously felt meanings of his or her experiencing, the more he or she is an integrated person.

I like meeting me and making friends with my thoughts and feelings.

Here is the dawning of the selfrespect and self-acceptance of which she has been deprived for so long. She is even feeling affection for herself. One of the curious but common side effects of this change is that now she will be able to give herself more freely to others, to enjoy others more, to be more genuinely interested in them.

I have began to open up and love.

She will find that as she is more expressive of her love she can also be more expressive of her anger and hurt, her likes and dislikes, and her ''wild" thoughts and feelings (which will turn out to be creative impulses). She is in the process of changing from psychological maladjustment to a much healthier relationship to others and to reality.

I am finally finding peace within myself.

There is a peaceful harmony in being a whole person, but she will be mistaken if she thinks this reaction is permanent. Instead, if she is really open to her experience, she will find other hidden aspects of herself that she has denied to awareness, and each such discovery will give her uneasy and anxious moments or days until it is assimilated into a revised and changing picture of herself. She will discover that growing toward a congruence between her experiencing organism and her concept of herself is an exciting, sometimes disturbing, but never-ending adventure.

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