Can we reach our ideal selves?

By Hanna Kim

I pass the time by creating my ideal self while the qualities of my ideal self constantly changes, from a popular jock like my sister, to a strong respected warrior like Thorin Oakenshield, one aspect always stays the same. My ideal self is never who I actually am.

Carl Rogers, an American psychologist who was a large contributor to the humanistic approach to psychology, proposes the theory that a person who reached self-actualization has accomplished actually becoming his/her ideal self. According to Simply Psychology, this self-actualization can be achieved through a number of methods, such as being raised in an environment that encourages genuineness, acceptance, and empathy. Rogers claims that humans are inherently good, but when they are placed in an environment that fails to provide or foster the abovementioned qualities, their personality degrades. And so, while one’s ideal image is retained, one’s actual image strays further and further from the goal.

On the bright side, however, Rogers’ theory suggests that there is room for improvement, and our “destiny,” or what I like to call our future selves, is not solidified into a single path. Our environment can be changed, and, as the natural response so can our actual image. As our actual image nears our ideal image, our self-worth increases as well.

Let’s ignore, for a moment, the fact that Carl Rogers has been voted one of the most prestigious and respected psychologists of all time. Let’s ignore, for a moment, that his rationale may be supported by years and years of expert research whilst my claim is not.

If we forget all that, we are left with a question: is actually achieving harmony between our actual and ideal selves possible? Changing one’s environment may be as simple as resolving to see life in a more positive light or utilizing  a diet and exercise plan. But environments are hardly as simple as a moody outlook or an unhealthy lifestyle. Sometimes, our undesirable actions become habits when they provide something that other habits cannot. Kleptomaniacs often insist that they steal because it gives them the rush they sorely need. Self-harmers allege that their exercise releases their pent-up anxiety better than any other attempted method had before. And while it is more than obvious that the actual image of these people must be changed, it is less obvious what methods will be able to adequately replace their previous ones.

Point being, we cannot expect a sudden change of environment when, in reality, people have made their surroundings a foundation for the identities they have shaped themselves into today.

In addition, Rogers bases his theory off of one simple fact: all of our ideal selves somehow represent the epitome of good, or of justice. And yet, our ideal selves are not based off of typical Aesop’s fables, but rather of our own desires and motivations in life. Had one’s desire been to have people take him/her more seriously, the resulting ideal image could be one of a tyrant or a dictator, someone powerful and feared.

In other words, encouraging people to strive to achieve that “ideal image” is a practice that, turns out, should not be encouraged as avidly as we do today.

Rogers trusted that people were inherently good. And, in many ways, he is not wrong. Here we are, already in the year 2017, and we still have not gotten rid of empathy, love, or forgiveness. Despite all of the horrible acts humans are capable of, the extent of which we find out more and more about everyday, the amount of good deeds humans are capable of has not lessened by any means. While we expect achieving congruence between our ideal and actual selves to be the only way to a better future, I myself am optimistic that our actual selves, with both good and bad, will continue to uphold our self-worth and the good of humanity.

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