Rogers tells us that organisms know what is good for them. Evolution has provided us with the senses, the tastes, the discriminations we need: When we hunger, we find food — not just any food, but food that tastes good. Food that tastes bad is likely to be spoiled, rotten, unhealthy. That what good and bad tastes are — our evolutionary lessons made clear! This is called organismic valuing.
Among the many things that we instinctively value is positive regard, Rogers umbrella term for things like love, affection, attention, nurturance, and so on. It is clear that babies need love and attention. In fact, it may well be that they die without it. They certainly fail to thrive — i.e. become all they can be.
Another thing — perhaps peculiarly human — that we value is positive self-regard, that is, self-esteem, self-worth, a positive self-image. We achieve this positive self-regard by experiencing the positive regard others show us over our years of growing up. Without this self-regard, we feel small and helpless, and again we fail to become all that we can be!
Like Maslow, Rogers believes that, if left to their own devices, animals will tend to eat and drink things that are good for them, and consume them in balanced proportions. Babies, too, seem to want and like what they need. Somewhere along the line, however, we have created an environment for ourselves that is significantly different from the one in which we evolved. In this new environment are such things as refined sugar, flour, butter, chocolate, and so on, that our ancestors in Africa never knew. These things have flavors that appeal to our organismic valuing — yet do not serve our actualization well. Over millions of years, we may evolve to find brocolli more satisfying than cheesecake — but by then, it’ll be way too late for you and me.
Our society also leads us astray with conditions of worth. As we grow up, our parents, teachers, peers, the media, and others, only give us what we need when we show we are “worthy,” rather than just because we need it. We get a drink when we finish our class, we get something sweet when we finish our vegetables, and most importantly, we get love and affection if and only if we “behave!”
Getting positive regard on “on condition” Rogers calls conditional positive regard. Because we do indeed need positive regard, these conditions are very powerful, and we bend ourselves into a shape determined, not by our organismic valuing or our actualizing tendency, but by a society that may or may not truly have our best interests at heart. A “good little boy or girl” may not be a healthy or happy boy or girl!
Over time, this “conditioning” leads us to have conditional positive self-regard as well. We begin to like ourselves only if we meet up with the standards others have applied to us, rather than if we are truly actualizing our potentials. And since these standards were created without keeping each individual in mind, more often than not we find ourselves unable to meet them, and therefore unable to maintain any sense of self-esteem.
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