Incongruence in Psychology: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:35 What Is Incongruence?
  • 1:00 Incongruence In Therapy
  • 2:30 Incongruence in Communication
  • 3:15 Incongruence of The Self
  • 4:30 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Ron Fritz
In this lesson, you will learn what incongruence in psychology is and who first introduced the concept. Additionally, you will learn about incongruence as it applies to therapy, communication and the theory of self.

What is Inconguence?

When you were a little boy or girl, did you want to grow up to be a firefighter, a movie star or a ballet dancer? At some point you probably gave up that dream in favor of something more attainable (unless you currently are a firefighter, movie star or ballet dancer). When our dreams appear to be out of reach, the result is often frustration, stress and anxiety. Many people wind up abandoning their dreams, believing they are impossible to achieve. These individuals have learned the pain of incongruence.

Carl Rogers introduced the concept of incongruence to psychology in the 1950s. Although general use of the word has come to mean inconsistent or incompatible, Rogers had a more specific definition in mind. He defined congruence as the matching of experience and awareness. Incongruence was therefore lacking congruence, or having feelings not aligned with your actions.

Incongruence in Therapy

Rogers is considered by many to be one of the founders of the humanistic school of thought. Humanistic psychology emphasizes the client and his or her desire to achieve goals. One of the basic principles or tenets of humanistic psychology is that human beings are intentional, aim at goals, are aware that they cause future events and seek meaning, value and creativity. Essentially, people seek to better themselves.

Rogers wrote that the client's personal change is helped when the therapist is genuine with the client and is open with the feelings he or she has at the moment. Essentially, Rogers is saying that the therapist should be 'real' with the client and that if he or she is not, the client will sense it. Rogers calls this 'being congruent.' Incongruency is, therefore, using a mask or a facade with the client in an attempt to hide the therapist's true feelings.

If there is congruency in the client-therapist relationship, each person knows where the other stands. Likewise, when incongruence is present, each individual must resort to 'mind-reading' as the other is talking to understand the person's feelings and emotions (a poor form of communication). An example of incongruence between therapist and client would be the therapist maintaining a neutral smile after listening to something the client said that was particularly 'shocking.'

Incongruence in Communication

Sometimes people say things that are contradictory to their non-verbal communication cues. The result is poor communication that leaves the listener wondering why the individual didn't say what he or she meant all along. When a person's words don't match what he or she is feeling or thinking, the communication is said to be incongruent.

An example of this would be if someone who is so angry that he or she is red in the face, answers the question 'How are you?' with, 'Fine.' The person is obviously not fine, therefore his or her answer is clearly not the truth. The individual's words and actions are incongruent.

Incongruence of the Self

One of Rogers' biggest contributions to psychology was his theory of self. He believed that every person has multiple selves that include the perceived self (how they see themselves) and the ideal self (how they would like to be). Rogers stated that to have the perceived self and the ideal self overlap perfectly represents a state of congruency. Rogers also believed that a state of perfect congruency was an impossible ideal.

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