Empathetic understanding of needs and behaviour.

Behaviour is directed towards need satisfaction; needs are not always on the level of awareness, but also on the unsymbolised level that we are not aware of. Behind sometimes “unexplainable” behaviour there would be a need that the person is not aware of. These behaviours might, to others, appear “odd” and as “unsuccessful means” or behaviour to satisfy needs.

When attempting to satisfy unsymbolised needs that the person is not aware of; these distorted needs could be experienced as threatening to the unique individual. Odd or unexplainable behaviours could not be judged, keep in mind that the unsymbolised experiences are in some or other way experienced as threatening to the structure of self. People will at all cost aim to protect, enhance and develop the self. According to Carl Rogers (1951:488,491) behaviour should be understood as efforts by the individual to preserve the self:

The organism has one basic tendency and striving – to actualise, maintain and enhance the experiencing organism. Behaviour is basically goal-directed attempt of the organism to satisfy its needs as experienced in the field as perceived.

Not understanding my own behaviour or making sense of my experiences could result in psychological tension, but people would always strive to resolve psychological discomfort in many ways. Behaviour that seems odd could also be a person’s attempts to “creatively address” needs that s/he is not aware of. Creativity is where original and novel objects and ideas are produced. Creativity is not necessarily “solving problems” but rather an open ended creating of something new and unique. “Problems” can however be solved in creative ways by exploring needs and behaviour as well as asking new questions about ourselves. The therapeutic environment would aim to create psychologically safe conditions where persons could explore their needs, behaviour and experiences without any threat to the self:

Under certain conditions, involving primarily complete absence of any threat to the self-structure, experiences that are inconsistent with it may be perceived, and examined, and the structure of self revised to assimilate and include such experiences (Rogers 1951:517).

A psychological safe environment needs to be created together with an effort to empathetically understand the experiential world of the person. The experiences that have been denied to the level of awareness should also be accepted as being part of the person’s structure of self and both forms of acceptances should be characterised with the same warmth and unconditional regard for the person’s uniqueness. Contributing to the psychologically safe environment, would be understanding the person from his or her inner world of experiences: The best vantage point for understanding behaviour is from the internal frame of reference of the individual himself [herself] (Rogers 1951:494).

A psychological safe environment should aim to create conditions where a person can explore inner discrepancies as well as contradictory experiences; these inner conflicts could be investigated and integrated as part of the structure of self. The process towards “hearing” the inner person should be approached creatively with respect for unique experiences and individuality of persons.

The attempts to satisfy needs mostly are unsuccessful if we are not clear on the exact root of the need. Once the need or emotional discomfort is symbolised, we also become aware of creative means to address the need or psychological discomfort. How unsuccessful attempts towards need satisfaction might seem to be, how threatening these experiences might present itself, one should never fail to treasure the hope that the self will significantly seek means towards growth and change.

Hope and self-determination to preserve and enhance the self is the “music” (potential) locked up in all living organisms. The notes, melody and rhythm are there and are waiting to construct a dance and song that would harmonise with the self. At times, it starts with a soft hum and could build to a beautiful orchestral work of art. The music becomes a beautiful experience for the own self as well as others, wanting to join in the dance to the rhythm and melody that is being created.

Self-determination and believe that I can change and grow brings an excitement as well as calmness, it creates vitality where there has not been hope and constructs anticipation of awesome experiences in the self and the world that surrounds us. It starts with an awareness of a soft hum waiting to unlock the melody, rhythms and beat of life, a willingness to be creative in the construction of self and the world.

Rogers, CR. 1951. Client-centered therapy: Its current practice, implications and theory. London: Constable.

Too often we underestimate the power of touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment or the smallest act of caring, all of which has the potential to turn a life around.

 - Leo Buscaglia

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