Conditions of Worth

In Carl Roger’s model, conditions of worth are the moral and behavioural codes that we live by. The curious thing is that often we are not entirely clear about what our conditions of worth are.

Are you attached to conditions of worth that don’t belong to you?

When you were a child you needed to fit into your family.  If you were ignored or shunned by your caregivers you would be extremely vulnerable. You had to go along with what people expected and wanted from you.

Carl Rogers, the founder of Person Centred Counselling, considered it to be the case that external factors, other people’s values, effect how we value, or measure, our own self-worth.

Conditions of worth – conditions of love

  • You may have been lucky and been loved no matter what you did.  This is called unconditional love. 
  • You may only have been loved if you met certain conditions, this is called conditional love. 
  • You may not have been consistently loved no matter what you did.

In an ideal world there would be an abundance of unconditional love for all of us.  Most of us don’t get that version.

In Carl Rogers’ hypothesis, if as children we met our conditions of worth then, all being equal, we would receive love.

But, if we grow up in families in which we only got valued and loved if we met certain conditions of worth, then our development and our capacity to have appropriate self-regard and appropriate love and regard for others may have been compromised.

What were your conditions of worth?

It may be necessary for you to reappraise the conditions of worth you have internalised. It may help you to develop a better relationship with yourself now.

A child might believe that doing well at school is something that he will be praised for and get further encouragament for.  His teachers and parents then encourage him and praise his work and tell him how well he is doing. 

In Rogers’ view, this circle of the child striving to do well, then getting positive feedback reinforces his experience and sets up conditions of worth.  ‘I am expected to do well at school, I do well and I am praised for it’.

The opposite might also true, if the child does badly at school or doesn’t get appropriate feedback, then he may develop ideas of himself as less worthy.  He may become confused about what is expected from him.

Conditions of worth and person-centred counselling

Conditions of worth is central to Carl Rogers theory of person-centred counselling, and it relates to the way in which we get approval from significant others and what that experience of feedback and approval does to us.  The way it shapes our character.

Rogers’ idea is that we acquire conditions of worth based upon the messages that we are given by our parents and significant others.  We internalise or introject these ideas and they become central to the sense of self and the sense of self-worth that we develop.

Typically we acquire the bulk of these ideas about our condition of worth in childhood.  We learn that we are approved of or that we are lovable when we comply with these conditions of worth.  We come to learn how we will be approved of if we live in line with the conditions of worth, and that we will be disproved of when we break these rules or conditions of worth.

These conditions of worth can be subtle, they can be very powerful, they create a moral code that we live by, and some of them may not be so obvious to us.  We internalise them so well that we don’t notice them.  We know we feel good about certain things, we know other things may leave us feeling bad about ourselves but we may not know why.

We learn as children that we should

  • Be good
  • Do as we are told
  • Don’t break the rules
  • Work hard etc.,

These conditions of worth put a certain pressure on us to behave well.  They build up the moral code that we are expected to live within as children. 

But what if these rules and conditions of worth feel alien to us?

Rogers observed that some of our conditions of worth may feel like they do not fit well with us.  Rogers called this incongruence.

  • Our task as adults, if we feel we have internalised a set of conditions of worth that actually may be getting in the way of us living more satisfying lives, is to recognise this and to change this.  
  • Our task is to find a way to identify the conditions of worth that feel false to our true selves and to find a way to live more authentic and real lives. To identify the conditions of worth that we need to resist or reject.

Identifying your conditions of worth in Psychotherapy

It can be very difficult to do this on your own.  This is why a psychotherapist or counsellor may be required, someone that you can work with who will hep you to identify these ill fitting conditions of worth and help you to develop your own adult sense of what values are important for you now.

Psychotherapy does this because it doesn’t set up conditions of worth that you have to comply with. Psychotherapy helps you identify the freedom you need to develop.

  • It is helpful to have support when you are trying to grasp the subtle factors that have created this experience. 
  • It is challenging work because you are trying to free yourself from the binds of a moral code that you internalised in childhood.  

It may make you feel very uncomfortable to be challenging some of those rules.  But, if we are going to accept ourselves and our genuine feelings now, then we have to find a way to recognise and reject certain conditions of worth that we have lived with to date.

Contact me

Having the chance to speak in a confidential setting is often key to developing a clearer understanding of our reactions and the reasons for our reactions, of the way we may lack a sense of emotional permanence.  By giving yourself a safe space to speak you may start to discover a greater sense of possibilities and this may be the beginning of developing a greater sense of emotional stability. 

The chance to reflect on your memories, feelings and experience can be powerful and transformative.  Out of this, you may be able to develop a clearer understanding of how you and your sense of your problems have developed.

I have been working with people on issues such like this for more than twenty years.  My work is built around helping you to develop greater insight into who you are, and how you live. 

Contact me to arrange a free telephone consultation to discuss how my approach might help you.

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