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Existential Psychology
Existentialism uses a philosophical method called phenomenology. Phenomenology is the careful and complete study of phenomena, and is basically the invention of the philosopher Edmund Husserl. Phenomena are the contents of consciousness, the things, qualities, relationships, events, thoughts, images, memories, fantasies, feelings, acts, and so on, which we experience. Phenomenology is an attempt to allow these experiences to speak to us, to reveal themselves to us, so we might describe them in as unbiased a fashion as possible.
If you've been studying experimental psychology, this might seem like another way of talking about being objective. In experimental psychology, as in science generally, we try to get rid of our nasty subjectivity and see things as they truly are. But the phenomenologist would suggest that you can't get rid of subjectivity, no matter how hard you try. The very attempt to be scientific means approaching things from a certain viewpoint -- the scientific viewpoint. You can't get rid of subjectivity because it isn't something separate from objectivity at all. This inter-connectedness of subject and object is called intentionality.
This method has been used to study different emotions, psychopathologies, things like separation, loneliness, and solidarity, the artistic experience, the religious experience, silence and speech, perception and behavior, and so on. Existentialism just takes this method and asks the big question: What is it to be human?
You could say that the essence of humanity -- the thing that we all share, and makes us distinct from anything else in the world -- is our lack of essence, our "no-thing-ness," our freedom. We cannot be captured by a philosophical system or a psychological theory; we cannot be reduced to physical and chemical processes; our futures cannot be predicted with social statistics. It is true that some of us are men, some are women; some are black, some are white; some come from one culture, some from another; some are rich, some are poor; some have one imperfection, some another - the "raw materials" differ dramatically. But it is how we choose to live that makes each of us what we are. We each create ourselves.
Binswanger adopted many of the terms and concepts introduced by the existential philosopher Martin Heidegger. The first and foremost term is Dasein, which many existentialists use to refer to human existence. Literally, it means "being there," but the original word carries a few more subtle connotations: The emphasis is on the "Da" or "there," and so Dasein has the sense of being in the middle of it all, in the thick of things, yet never quite belonging there. We are "thrown" into a universe that is not of our choosing. When we begin choosing our lives, we begin with many choices made for us -- genetics, environment, society, family..., all those "raw materials."
Existentialists are famous for pointing out that life is hard. The physical world can give us pain as well as pleasure; the social world can lead to heartbreak and loneliness as well as love and affection; and the personal world, most especially, contains anxiety and guilt. And these hard things are not merely possibilities in life: They are inevitable.
Existentialists sometimes seem preoccupied with death. It is in facing death that we are most likely to come to an understanding of life. We are, it appears, the only creature that is aware of its own end. When we become aware of our mortality, we may at first shrink from it and try to forget its reality by getting "busy" in the day-to-day activities of the social world. But this will not do. Avoiding death is avoiding life.
According to Existentialists, most of us, most of the time, live lives that involve a denial of our full humanity, of our Dasein, with its anxiety and guilt and death. They call this denial inauthenticity. Someone who is living inauthentically is no longer "becoming" but only "being." If life is movement, they have stopped.
There are as many ways to be inauthentic as there are people, but conventionality is the most common style of inauthenticity today. It involves ignoring one's freedom and living a life of conformity and shallow materialism. If you can manage to be like everyone else, you don't have to make your own choices. You can turn to authority, or to your peers, or to the media for "guidance." You can become too "busy" to even notice the moral decisions you need to make.
To live authentically means to be aware of your freedom and your duty to create yourself, of the inevitability of anxiety, guilt, and death. It means to accept these things in an act of self-affirmation. It means involvement, compassion, and commitment
Humanistic Psychology
Humanists such as Carl Rogers see people as basically good or healthy -- or at very least, not bad or ill. In other words, they see mental health as the normal progression of life, and mental illness, criminality, and other human problems, as distortions of that natural tendency, which Rogers called self-actualization. Unlike Maslow, Rogers uses the term to refer to the drive every creature has to become "all that it can be," much like Adler's idea of striving for perfection.
Rogers tells us that organisms naturally know what is good for them. Evolution has provided us with the senses, the tastes, the discriminations we need: When we hunger, we find food -- and not just any food, but food that tastes good. Food that tastes bad is likely to be spoiled, rotten, unhealthy. That's what good and bad tastes are -- our evolutionary lessons made clear! This is called organismic valuing.
Among the many things that we instinctively value is positive regard, Rogers umbrella term for things like love, affection, attention, nurturance, and so on. It is clear that babies need love and attention. In fact, it seems that they die without it. They certainly fail to thrive -- i.e. become "all they can be."
Another thing -- perhaps peculiarly human -- that we value is positive self-regard, that is, self-esteem, self-worth, 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 self-regard, we feel small and helpless, and again we fail to become all that we can be!
Rogers believes that, if left to their own devices, animals will tend to eat and drink things that are good for them, and consume them in balanced proportions. Babies, too, seem to want and like what they need. Somewhere along the line, however, we have created an environment for ourselves that is significantly different from the one in which we evolved. In this new environment are such things as refined sugar, flour, butter, chocolate, and so on, that our ancestors in Africa never knew. These things have flavors that appeal to our organismic valuing -- yet do not serve our actualization well. This new, artificial environment is our society, with its rituals, its organizations, its technologies.
Our society also leads us astray with conditions of worth. As we grow up, our parents, teachers, peers, the media, and others, only give us what we need when we show we are “worthy,” rather than just because we need it. We get a drink when we finish our class, we get something sweet when we finish our vegetables, and most importantly, we get love and affection if and only if we “behave!”
Getting positive regard on “on condition” Rogers calls conditional positive regard. Because we do indeed need positive regard, these conditions are very powerful, and we bend ourselves into a shape determined, not by our organismic valuing or our actualizing tendency, but by a society that may or may not truly have our best interests at heart. A “good little boy or girl” may not be a healthy or happy boy or girl!
Over time, this “conditioning” leads us to have conditional positive self-regard as well. We begin to like ourselves only if we meet up with the standards others have applied to us, rather than if we are truly actualizing our potentials. And 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.
The aspect of your being that is founded in the actualizing tendency, follows organismic valuing, needs and receives positive regard and self-regard, Rogers calls the real self. It is the “you” that, if all goes well, you will become.
On the other hand, to the extent that our society is out of synch with the actualizing tendency, and we are forced to live with conditions of worth that are out of step with organismic valuing, and receive only conditional positive regard and self-regard, we develop instead an ideal self. By ideal, Rogers is suggesting something not real, something that is always out of our reach, the standard we can’t meet.
This gap between the real self and the ideal self, the “I am” and the “I should” is called incongruity. The greater the gap, the more incongruity. The more incongruity, the more suffering. In fact, incongruity is essentially what Rogers means by neurosis: Being out of synch with your own true self.
But Rogers is just as interested in describing the healthy person. His term is "fully-functioning," and involves the following qualities:
1. Openness to experience. This is the opposite of defensiveness. It is the accurate perception of one's experiences in the world, including one's feelings. It also means being able to accept reality, again including one's feelings. Feelings are such an important part of openness because they convey organismic valuing. If you cannot be open to your feelings, you cannot be open to acualization.
2. 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 here 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.
3. Organismic trusting. We should allow ourselves to be guided by the organismic valuing process. We should trust ourselves, do what feels right, what comes natural. Keep in mind that Rogers meant trust your real self, not the neurotic self so many of us have become! In other words, organismic trusting assumes you are in contact with the actualizing tendency.
4. Freedom. Rogers felt that it was irrelevant whether or not people really have free will: We feel very much as if we do. This is not to say, of course, that we are free to do anything at all: We are surrounded by a deterministic universe, so that, flap my arms as much as I like, I will not fly like Superman. It means that we feel free when choices are available to us. Rogers says that the fully-functioning person acknowledges that feeling of freedom, and takes responsibility for his choices.
5. Creativity. If you feel free and responsible, you will act accordingly, and participate in the world. A fully-functioning person, in touch with acualization, will feel obliged by their nature to contribute to the actualization of others, even life itself. This can be through creativity in the arts or sciences, through social concern and parental love, or simply by doing one's best at one's job.

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