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Perceived World of the Client May Not Approximate the World Sought

People come to counseling for help because of difficulties evolving from the fact that the world they perceive is not close to the world they would naturally seek for themselves. The natural, growth-oriented, self-trusting nature of these people has been pushed into conflict with their chosen world, where they continually look outside their true selves for decisions. They act based on perceptions of what others think is right, and the results of their actions are not personally fulfilling or effective. This conflict is termed incongruence.

It is a common occurrence, for example, to find that people who are abusive have also experienced an abusive environment. They have often struggled inside themselves, verbally and even physically, to reject the unnatural, hurtful, and untrusting aspects of the environment, but at some point they come to believe that this is "just the way things are" because others do it. They take actions based on the acceptance of this direction from others only to find it comes into conflict with the receiving and giving of love, caring, and self-trust they naturally desire. The result is increasing levels of incongruence both within themselves and in their relationships.

Congruent Individuals Trust Their Worldview

Congruent individuals are those who trust their view of the world, trust their ability to act on their basic positive nature, and generally gain the acceptance they expect. They feel confident about reacting in the present moment because of a belief in their ability to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate behaviors. Those around them then generally verify this self-trust because their actions tend to be beneficial both personally and socially. Where human fallibility causes errors in reactions, congruent individuals also have a view of the world that allows the reactions of others to be evaluated and appropriate adaptive responses taken for the immediate and distant future. More congruent people are not infallible, but they do have the ability to recognize and use mistakes to grow without devaluing themselves or others.

The congruence versus incongruence construct helps explain the concept of anxiety in person-centered theory. Low personal anxiety occurs when the perceived self is in line with actual experiences (congruence). Alternatively, the degree to which individuals' perceptions of themselves do not match the way they actually are (incongruence) is directly related to higher levels of anxiety. It is significant for the practitioner to recognize that in person-centered theory, efforts are made to increase congruence in the client rather than directly reduce anxiety.

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