Letting Our Feelings Be Our Guide: How Smart is That?

Since Carl Rogers has exercised such a profound influence in shaping our culture, an influence that continues as a primary guiding force in our society, I am identifying some of his basic concepts as expressed in what many consider his salient publication, On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy.

One of his primary concepts resides in the belief that the human being has an internal guidance system that Rogers refers to as the self-actualizing tendency. If we follow this internal guidance system it will lead us to becoming a fully functioning person.

In On Becoming a Person Rogers describes the nature and impact of his own self-actualizing tendency as he has employed it as a guide in his life. Here are some of his thoughts.

I can trust my experience.

One of the basic things which I was a long time in realizing, and which I am still learning, is that when an activity feels as though it is valuable or worth doing, it is worth doing. Put another way, I have learned that my total organismic sensing of a situation is more trustworthy than my intellect.

All of my professional life I have been going in directions which others thought were foolish, and about which I have had many doubts myself. But I have never regretted moving in directions which “felt right,” even though I have often felt lonely or foolish at the time.

I have found that when I have trusted some inner non-intellectual sensing, I have discovered wisdom in the move. In fact I have found that when I have followed one of these unconventional paths because it felt right or true, then in five or ten years many of my colleagues have joined me, and I no longer need to feel alone in it.

As I gradually come to trust my total reactions more deeply, I find that I can use them to guide my thinking. I have come to have more respect for those vague thoughts which occur in me from time to time, which feel as though they were significant. I am inclined to think that these unclear thoughts or hunches will lead me to important areas. I think of it as trusting the totality of my experience, which I have learned to suspect is wiser than my intellect. It is fallible I am sure, but I believe it to be less fallible than my conscious mind alone.[i]

I have included the full flow of Rogers’ thoughts above to allow him to speak for himself.

Notice that he uses several different names here for what he elsewhere refers to as a self-actualizing tendency, such as “my experience,” an activity that “feels as though it is valuable,” “organismic sensing,” directions which “felt right,” and “inner non-intellectual sensing.”

In describing this internal guidance system Rogers makes two factors clear. First, this mechanism comprises a component of the subjective aspect of our nature. It is rooted in feeling and sensing. The second factor, related to the first, is that this guidance system is distinct from our objective thinking. Several of the statements above make that crystal clear. For example, he suspects that this subjective inclination is “wiser than my intellect,” thus differentiating it from the human rational capability.

Rogers claims that by following this guidance system his conclusions have been five or 10 years ahead of his colleagues, whom he apparently assumes have been guided by their rational minds.

This leads to the question of whether Scripture addresses this approach to guidance comprised of following a path that feels right rather than our intellect. Actually, in this regard Scripture gives us exactly the same advice twice, in Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” As our society under the influence of Carl Rogers has followed the impulses that seem right rather than the objective truth of Scripture derived from the employment of our intellect, the results verify that Solomon is right and Rogers is wrong.

[i] Rogers, Carl (2012-07-20). On Becoming a Person: A Therapist’s View of Psychotherapy (p. 22-23). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

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