Getting to Know Your Why: Understanding Carl Rogers’ Humanistic Theory

Humanistic theory lets us understand who we are. However, we also need to understand our WHY or purpose in life to live a meaningful life. By that, we’ll see how Carl Roger’s Humanistic Theory can lead us to the answer regarding our WHY.

Carl Rogers’ humanism theory looks at the uniqueness and wholeness of an individual as a human. That means looking at our experiences, skills, and behavior that contribute to who we are. Humanism also believes that we have the ability and motivation to become the best version of ourselves and reach our full potential. 

But how about finding our WHY or purpose in life? Can humanistic theory help us find our purpose? 

For us to answer that question, we need to look at the different concepts that Carl Rogers used in his Humanistic Theory.

Carl Rogers’ Self Concept

Getting to Know Your Why Understanding Carl Rogers' Humanistic Theory

As you know, humanism is a personality theory proposed by Carl Rogers. Part of this theory is what he calls “self-concept,” which is essential in personality development

Self-concept is the organized set of perceptions and beliefs about oneself. It is who you are as a person, and it can be influenced by the following.

  • Childhood experiences
  • Evaluation by others

According to Carl Rogers, we want to experience, behave, and feel based on our self-image and in a way that reflects our ideal self.

If our self-image is close or congruent to our ideal self, we can achieve a higher or increased self-worth. But if the self-image and ideal self are too far apart, it can give us low self-worth.

Three components of self-concept


Self-image is how we see ourselves. It includes how we view our body image and how it influences our inner personality.

In short, self-image is your perception of whether you’re a beautiful or ugly individual or a good or bad person. It also affects how you think, behave, and feel.

Ideal self

Based on its term, the ideal self is the person we want to be. It includes our ambitions, goals, and aspirations in life, which are dynamic or consistently changing.

For example, your ideal self when you’re a child isn’t the ideal self in your late thirties, etc.


Self-worth is also known as self-esteem. It is the sum of what you think about yourself. Carl Rogers claims that self-worth starts to develop as early as early childhood.

Self-esteem is a continuum and can range from very high to very low. 

  • An individual with high self-worth has positive feelings about himself, is confident, is open with others, accepts failure and challenges, etc.
  • An individual with low self-worth is equal to someone who rejects challenges in life, is defensive, is dependent on other people, won’t accept that life can be unhappy and painful at times, etc.

Why is it important to know your WHY?

Here are why you must know your WHY or purpose in life. 

It gives you clarity.

Knowing your WHY gives you clarity on where you are going, which helps you stay focused on your goals. It also helps you to know what’s important so that you can make decisions quickly and decisively.

When you know what drives you, you can make decisions based on what matters most instead of just going through the motions. 

Knowing your purpose will help you decide what to do with your time and limited resources, whether it’s how much time to spend on work or how much money to spend on a vacation. It will also help you see what is important in life and what isn’t worth sacrificing for.

It gives you a sense of direction.

Knowing your WHY will help you figure out what to do next. It will drive you to keep going when things get tough.

One way you can get a sense of direction is by setting goals and then working hard to achieve them. Your purpose will help you see which tasks are important and aren’t worth spending too much time on.

It helps you to take action.

Your purpose keeps you concentrated on what’s important and helps you make decisions aligned with your values and goals. Knowing your WHY makes it easier for you to make changes when needed because you have an exact and clear vision of where you want to go and how things should be done.

You can’t be successful without a clear vision of what you want. The clearer you are on your vision, the more motivated you will be to achieve it!

It is the core of success.

To succeed in anything, whether it’s a hobby or a career, there needs to be a strong WHY behind your actions.

Success is not just about having the right skills or being in the right place at the right time. Success is also about having a reason for what you do.

Once you know your WHY, everything else will fall into place. You’ll find purpose and motivation in everything you do because it’s all going toward something meaningful or because you know where exactly you are going!

Defining Humanistic Theory

Humanistic theory is a philosophical and psychological approach that focuses on the individual. 

  • It’s based on the belief that humans have free will and can make decisions for themselves rather than being driven by external forces.
  • This theory also believes that humans can be self-actualized, meaning they live up to their potential as individuals. They are happy, healthy, and productive. 

Humanistic psychology focuses on the human experience, including how we interact with each other and our environment. The goal is to help us achieve greater fulfillment and happiness through self-knowledge and personal growth.

If you’re struggling with finding your purpose in life, humanistic theory can help get you started on the path to discovering what makes you tick.

How can humanistic theory help you find your WHY?

As I said earlier, the humanistic theory focuses on achieving fulfillment and happiness through self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is when you understand yourself way better than other people. 

It means you understand your

  • Feelings
  • Emotions
  • Abilities
  • Motivations

And that’s exactly how humanistic theory can help you find your purpose! 

Here are the detailed steps you need to follow to find out your WHY.

Identify where you are right now.

This first step simply means looking back and seeing where you are in your life and career. It’s challenging to see the big picture when you’re in the middle of it all.

You might feel overwhelmed by responsibilities or a lack of recognition for your hard work. But if you’ll just step back and look at the bigger picture, you’ll be able to see where your life is taking you and if it’s going somewhere that will make you happy.

So next time you feel like you’re at lost, try this technique.

  • Take an hour or two of your day to write down everything happening in your life. It includes both professional and personal life.
  • Then take some time to think about each item on that list and ask what does it mean? What does it tell you about where your life is headed? Is this item makes sense to me?

After you’ve clearly identified where you are right now, then you’re ready for the next step.

Identify your ideal self.

One essential concept we’ve learned about humanistic theory is our ideal self. Now, the second step in finding your purpose is to identify your ideal self. 

These are the questions you need to ask yourself to find your ideal self.

  • What would my life look like if everything was exactly how I wanted it? 
  • What would my work be? 
  • Who would I spend my time with? 
  • How would I spend my time? 
  • What kinds of activities would make up the bulk of my day-to-day life?
  • What are my goals?
  • Where do I see myself in 5 or 10 years?

Once you know what being “ideal” means for you, start taking steps toward getting there. And that’s our next step.

What steps do you need to achieve your ideal self?

If you’ve already started down this path, you’ve probably already created some of these steps. If not, this is where they come in handy! You can use them as a way to visualize what you want and as a guide for achieving it.

To lay down these steps, consider what qualities make up your ideal self.

  • What qualities do you want to see reflected back at you in the mirror?
  • What kind of person do you aim to be?
  • What kind of life do you dream of having?

Once you know that, think about how those characteristics can be achieved through actions, actions that will help bring about these positive qualities within yourself.

For example, if you’re trying to figure out what makes someone an ideal parent and spouse, you might write down qualities like the following.

  • loving
  • caring
  • responsible

Once you’ve got your list written down, think about how these qualities are reflected in your own life and how you can be like this.

Another example is this.

Let’s say your goal is to open a business. (Because you see your ideal self as financially stable while living a happy and fulfilling life away from office politics.)

How can you achieve that goal? That’s when you need to lay down the steps to get there, just like the following.

  • Contemplate what business you plan to operate.
  • Research or take entrepreneurship classes.
  • Talk to other business owners who’ll inspire you and give you perspectives.
  • Join a community or organization designed specifically for startups.

In short, this step is all about planning to achieve your ideal self.

How can you increase your self-worth?

Earlier in this article, we discussed self-worth and why it’s important. In this step, you need to start thinking about the following.

  • What makes you special?
  • What’s unique about you?
  • What do you love doing?

When we think of ourselves as valuable and worthwhile people, it makes us feel happy and confident. And when we feel happy and confident, we’re more likely to make decisions that align with our values.

That’s exactly what humanistic theory teaches us! Carl Rogers wants us to achieve the best version of ourselves, feeling happy and fulfilled while using our free will and motivation.

So it’s important to find ways to increase your self-worth or self-esteem. Here are some tips for doing that.

  • Find a hobby that you love.
  • Make a list of all the things you’re good at, and then go do one of those things.
  • Try new things! Switch it up if you’ve been doing the same thing for a long time. You might find something new that you enjoy more than the old thing.
  • Let go of your expectations, and don’t compare yourself to anyone else.
  • Practice gratitude daily by noting everything in your life that makes you happy, like friends and family members, pets, sunshine, delicious food, etc.
  • Practice being kind to yourself. 

Self-worth is a big deal for introverts. And if you’re an introvert reading this, the most important thing you can do to boost your esteem is to think that your uniqueness is your power. 

Believe me or not, all the ways I have mentioned above are what introverts like you usually do. As an introvert, I know that you’re good at reflecting and you can use it to boost your self-worth.

What are the five characteristics of a fully functioning person?

So, now that you know the steps to find your WHY in life, you might be curious if you’re already on the right track. For this one, Rogers identified five characteristics of a fully functioning person. 

Open to experience

When you’re open to experience, you accept positive and negative life consequences. It includes emotions and experiences. You won’t deny negative or unpleasant feelings and experiences, and you’ll work hard to find solutions to such issues.

Existential living

This characteristic best defines the phrase “living in the moment.” This is when you stop looking back at your past and overthinking your future. Instead, you’re more focused on your present and don’t judge the situation easily. You also appreciate what you have right now.

Trust feelings

It simply means you’re paying attention and trusting your feelings and gut reactions. You also trust other people’s decisions, and you start trusting yourself to make the right decisions.


Creativity and taking risks are part of your life. It simply means you can adjust and change your life when necessary. You are also not afraid of taking risks.

Fulfilled life

This is when you’re finally happy and fulfilled in life. Plus, you’re open and continuously looking for new experiences and challenges.

Understanding ourselves is what humanistic theory wants to teach us.

Rogers’ humanistic theory is all about understanding ourselves as human beings. It includes identifying your present self, your ideal self, and the intensity of your self-worth. Digging deeper and learning more about yourself will soon lead you to your purpose in life. 

I know that identifying your purpose in life isn’t an easy task. But you can use humanistic theory to kickstart the process. Besides, there’s no better way to do it than to contemplate who you are and where you want to go.

Humanistic theory won’t do the whole thing for you but it can guide you to better comprehend your personality, traits, and experiences essential in finding your WHY in life.

Garo Kotchounian

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