According to humanist psychologist Carl Rogers, human beings have an innate drive to grow as individuals and to achieve their full potential. He referred to this desire as the actualizing tendency.
Self-Actualization and the Actualizing Tendency
Rogers believe that the underlying motive that all people share is a need to become self-actualized. The self-actualized person is essentially an individual who has reached their highest potential.
This actualizing potential motivates people to do good things, explore who they are as people, and get the most out of life. In order to successfully grow as a person, Rogers believed that a few key things were necessary. First, people need to experience unconditional positive regard from other people. In other words, they need to be completely accepted for who they are with no conditions or judgments. Achieving one’s full potential also requires an individual to be open to new experiences, self-accepting, and capable of expressing emotions.
The actualizing tendency also plays an important role in Rogers’s approach to psychotherapy, known as client-centered therapy. In this type of therapy, the actualizing tendency serves a primary role to motivate the client to overcome his or her current problems and achieve mental well-being.
One thing that helps guide the actualizing tendency is what Rogers termed the organismic valuing process. This process involves evaluating subjective experiences in terms of their potential for helping the individual improve himself or herself in both short-term and long-term.
If the actualizing tendency leads to self-actualization, the individual can become what Rogers referred to as a fully-functioning person.
Observations About the Actualizing Tendency
“The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing organism.” (Rogers, 1951)
“Actualizing tendency refers to an innate growth drive or impulse that is said to exist within all human beings. Proponents of the concept make the optimistic assumption that people have an inherent tendency to become more elaborated, integrated, and internally coordinated over time – that is, to grow and develop as personalities. Although not everyone grows throughout the lifespan, the potential remains throughout. The challenge for teachers, therapists, and service providers, then, is to help people “unlock” these sometimes-hidden capacities.” (Sheldon, 2009)
“The motivation underlying the desire for self-improvement is the actualizing tendency. The actualizing tendency motivates a person to develop personal attributes (e.g., social, spiritual, and intellectual) and capabilities (e.g., physical and mental) in a direction of increasing autonomy through self-awareness.” (Carducci, 2009)
Carducci, B. J. (2009). The psychology of personality: Viewpoints, research, and applications. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing.
Rogers, C. (1951). Client-centered Therapy: Its Current Practice, Implications and Theory. London: Constable.
Sheldon, K. M. (2009). Actualizing tendency. In S. J. Lopez (Ed.), The Encyclopedia of Positive Psychology. John Wiley & Sons.