Posted by Mike

When I was in graduate school, among the most prominent clinical psychologists in the country was Carl Rogers. His focus was humanistic, and he called his approach client-centered therapy. One of his key concepts was congruence. It refers to a person’s presentation in interaction with others. To be congruent, one’s speech and ideas, emotional expression, and physical presentation should reflect the same theme. For example, if you’re thanking someone for a gift, one’s emotional expression and physical manner should express appreciation. I’ve been mulling over this idea of congruence for the past several days as I was in a situation recently in which several people I interacted with seemed to not be  congruent. Maybe people react differently in such a situation. What I tend to do is freeze up. I may not think “What’s going on here?” but that’s what I feel. I also experience a bit of confusion, what I’m experiencing from the other person just doesn’t add up and make sense.

It may be that an individual’s guardedness or insecurity will come across as a lacking of congruence. And of course that’s exactly what is going on. If I’m preoccupied with something that’s interfering with my ability to interact during the process of interaction, I’m not being congruent. One of the Presidential candidates during the debates two years ago was perplexing. His presentation seemed calculated and wooden; the words were right, but his emotional expression and physical presentation were stilted and unnatural. How can you trust a person like that, when it’s clear that there’s something else very important going on beneath the surface. It might only be a sort of perfectionism and ruleboundedness, but such qualities can have serious downsides in the heat of decision-making.

There is one kind of person who can come across as congruent, but is definitely not, and that’s the sociopath. These people are super smooth, and they can present idea, emotion, and manner perfectly congruently, and yet have a massive hidden agenda that the recipient of their attention must avoid at all costs. If anything, the sociopath is too smooth, too perfectly congruent. Given a little time with a sociopath they become unbelievable and the chinks in their defense become apparent. Hopefully this will occur before you discover that your wallet is missing!

Carl Rogers lived from 1902 to 1987


1 Comment

Filed under Psychology, Uncategorized

One response to “Congruence

  1. I don’t think we can really know the reasons why people lack congruence in different situations. There are a variety of reasons and I suspect that mostly we all fall into these categories:
    1) The individual is hiding something. a) A loved one might have just died. b) He/she might have just had a fight with their spouse. c) He/she might have internalized something painful long ago, which cycles deep within. d) They might have not had their stiff drink that keeps them going. e) They might have to pee.
    2) The other person is placing actual or perceived relational pressure on the person lacking congruence.
    3) Societal pressures might be difficult for that person to handle. Society places an incredible amount of pressure for the individual to conform. Some people just can’t conform to those standards. Some people are disabled, autistic, can’t speak, can’t relate, can’t think very well or just plain are awkward.

    At all times we need to give the benefit of the doubt.

    Only a fraction of communication is in the words and body language we hear and see. Our heart’s words escape us and speak out the truth. In everyone there is incongruence. It’s the state of man. In most people, what’s coming out of one’s mouth is very different than the state of the heart. We learn to say very early on, “Yes, very well, thank you,” even when our mind is a mess, spinning over something narcissitic or maybe a worry about a loved one.

    I believe we originally developed language so that we could offer a barrier between others and our heart, which has taken us down a long and painful route.

    Incongruence is the norm. You certainly seem to have a special ability to see it in others. The question is do others see it in you!

    I will add that I do think congruence is something we should hope for ourselves. I not sure if it’s something we should actually strive for because it would cause us too much inward focus. But by listening to others, seeking forgiveness, providing forgiveness and loving God we will naturally become more congruent, because our heart and mouth will sing the same song.

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