At the start of Stephen Joseph’s book, “Authentic – How to be yourself and why it matters”, Professor Joseph writes, “In memory of Carl Rogers (1902 – 1987) who showed us that it is in good relationships that we are most able to be ourselves.” I’m a big fan of Carl Rogers – when I took my first counselling course his humanistic (client-centered) approach to psychology is one that stayed with me.
Why is this relevant? Because it’s all about how we form relationships and the qualities that have them work.
Although Rogers’ work was about creating a therapeutic relationship – the principles apply to building any relationship, particularly where trust is important and trust is always important.
In the first week of lockdown, I got upset with a colleague who is also a good friend. We were working (remotely of course!) together and I felt that something was ‘off’. I thought I was hearing irritation in what I was suggesting / how we were approaching the work. I challenged this but the big problem was that I challenged it before I was aware of what was going on for me and real upset came through. In this case, I was emotional and vocal – out of proportion to what was happening – and not how I would wish to show up.
It was ok to raise that something was feeling off but what I did was have it all over there with my friend, rather than checking out what was happening with me.
Reflecting afterwards, I can see that this is something that’s come up before – an emotional pattern – when someone I care about deeply is ‘off’ with me. In that moment I make it mean something. I’m not clear on the actual meaning but it’s something in the vein of ‘they don’t value me / love me anymore’ and I’m afraid that I’ll lose them / have lost them or their respect in some way.
I’ll reflect further on that, as understanding can help its release so there’s no trigger at all. In the meantime, the specifics of what I’m making it mean matter less than in how I respond. The awareness that I can be triggered in this way and finding ways to notice it more quickly do matter. I’d like to build in a pause before responding – or in this case reacting – that will help me show up as I wish to in the future.
Being authentic (congruent in Rogers’ language) means “that whatever I’m feeling or attitude I’m experiencing would be matched by my awareness of that attitude”. That’s a complete contrast to letting it all come out – whether that’s with tears, tantrums or even physical abuse. We can all benefit from exploring how our emotions help or hinder us in achieving what we wish. Considering how best to work with our emotions will help us gain more positive outcomes and build more productive relationships.
There’s a post reiterating more on congruence, from Rogers “On Becoming a Person” here.