This acts as a theoretical integration of the most studied areas of psychology, philosophy, and counselling theories as they relate to one another. Existentialism as based on a human predisposition towards self-actualization (Jones-Smith, 2016) is supported by traditional philosophical thought systems and the scientific method, such as with mindfulness and the selfish gene theory. Though existentialism decries limitations of objectivity, the offered theory is based instead on valued individual experiences and subjectivity in their relation to the objects that create a congruent self (Jones-Smith, 2016). Objects are defined in this paper as any person, place, or thing that a person can both attribute meaning to and reflect that meaning onto their self-identity. This process forms the self-object. Self-object actualization occurs when the self-object produces thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviour. In the same way, thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviour define self-objects. Self-object actualization occurs where there is either a congruency or incongruency of an object with one’s thoughts, feelings, behaviour, alongside their self-identity as personally defined. The non-materialistic mind of a self holds this integration within other self-defined limits, by the meaning one places on their culture, religion, or sexual orientation, for example. In this way one’s culture is defined as an object of one’s mind along with the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours associated with other objects such as colour, sound, or physical objects, such as a bowl of soup. The brain is defined purely by biological processes based on an input-output stimuli relationship. The brain and mind meet where one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviours of objects have created a distinct neural network. This neural network mirrors one’s self-object identity in the real world. Furthermore, an incongruence can exist between the relationship of a self-object and another self-object. For example, a self-object relationship could be the idea that only red apples exist until a man finds proof of a green apple. This is an example of both a self-object actualization, as it reinforces the relationship of the object to the person and also an incongruency, where it conflicts with their pre-existing neural network of past self-object actualizations. Consequently, this person as now incongruent experiences a conflict of self-object relations that may manifest pathologically as confusion, anxiety, or anger. Psychotherapeutically, the therapist and the client work together to help integrate the incongruencies of a client. This involves psychoanalysis, cognitive and behavioural therapy, as well as a mindfulness to redefine neural networks. In this paper congruence is defined not as one of Carl Roger’s necessary conditions for therapy, but as the level of agreement the client holds with their internal and external self.
One’s worldview, or construct of outlook, can be defined simply with external input in an aligned construct of meaning with internal conceptualization of stimuli inputted with self. There are four levels of drivers that create one’s worldview. Drivers can be understood at all levels as meaningful human motivators by value, belief, and bias. The first driver is the most basic and is defined from the five senses common to all humans: the biological base. These five senses provide a basic contextual backing onto each experience in which any or all of them may be activated. Senses are linked with one’s emotions, memories, and thoughts. Therefore, senses form a foundation, though often unconscious, for other aspects of one’s worldview.
Upon one’s senses is placed the intrinsic human motivators, drivers such as sex, hunger, and self-preservation, these are level two drivers: the behavioural basis. Intrinsic drivers are many, and vary in importance from person to person. This variation is a critical aspect of the third-driver level, as the second and third together build mutual meaning. Often based statistically by one’s geographic and demographic distribution, are variances in societal values and beliefs: the third level drivers. Various cultures in turn have varying levels of effect on one’s interpretation and contextualization of their own personal values by means of their own first- and second- level drivers: the existential base. As an example, cultures hold differing importance on the ritualistic traditions surrounding hunger, food, and diet. This environment in which this natural human driver (hunger) is able to acceptably function within a value-based culture, limits the actions, behaviours, and attitudes surrounding one’s hunger. Using hunger as an example, one may experience the smell and taste of their grandma’s soup. This soup may have been made with the ingredients local to where this human’s grandma made the soup and lived. These ingredients may even have a larger contextual importance, such as a potato that holds great economic importance as a primary export in that geographical region. This person may have had this soup only during their childhood, after which, they only now hold their own unique set of thoughts and feelings that set-up the neural network of that memory.
The neural networks of drivers one, two, and three as a whole within one’s brain, constitute the fourth level of drivers as the whole biologically, contextually, and socially influenced network of understanding and enacting meaning: the cognitive base. The exampled soup may have had a positive representation in this person’s life and consequently, a now positive neural network. In this way, we as human’s search for additional meaning and understanding to help contextualize human drivers from intrinsic senses to intrinsic motivators, to cultural or social ideas, as cognitive and neural networks. This then delineates worldview value driver levels as follows: intrinsic, social, and neural. This idea incorporates common ideas from the first, second, third and fifth forces of psychotherapy. Here the persons past, cognition and behaviour, existentialist autonomy toward growth, and neural network contribute to their self-identity and journey toward self-actualization.
A neural worldview represents the physical semblance of this worldview based on its unique neural network. A human with a stable worldview maintains consistency across these four drivers along with environmental or social constructs. This worldview combines the theoretical concepts of existentialism, neuropsychology, cognitive and behaviour theories (ENCB). However, the self-object actualization theory categorizes these theories based on their position in a person’s input-output stimuli-based relationship with the world. At the lowest end of meaning-formation as one’s worldview, is the input of information (neuroscientific base), in the middle of the spectrum holds the self-defined relationship of input and output (existential and neuroscientific integration), whereas the end of the spectrum holds the output (existential, neuroscientific, cognitive, and behavioural base). This spectrum defines self-object actualization’s worldview as the process in which meaning is interpreted (input), attributed (input-output), and reflected (output) between a person and their environment.
The theory of Self-Object Actualization comprises a theoretical integration of Existentialism, Neuropsychotherapy, Cognitive, and Behavioism, with a definition of worldview as built by the spectrum of meaning one holds based on their ENCB self-actualizing tendencies. This theory holds its own definition of human pathology based on the relationship between the mind (the brain in a social world) and the body (the brain as its own world). Here, the theory defines the mind and body as ends of a spectrum that contribute to and constitute the human as an identified-self, relative to their broader world context.
Existentialistic ideals hold that each and every human is responsible for their own life as per their free will, personal growth defined by choices, and overall values. The action one may take is based from their own unique intent or will, constituted by their worldview, which holds the three motives of self as intrinsic, social and neural, as a combination of four postulated drivers. Therefore, with this, both action and intent are deliberate, as defined from the original ENCB theories. As deliberate, action and intent require motivation. Action can be defined as behaviour that consequently holds cognitivist intent. Intent can be further defined as cognitive, where worldview and neurological (level one) drivers combine to influence action.
Action and intent create a simple relationship defined by self-object actualization. From the accepted behaviourist view, “personality and self are conceptualized as behaviours that need to be identified and explained in terms of their causal variables” (Jones-Smith, p. 123, 2016). Similarly, from a brain-based (neuroscientific) view “human emotions and motivations arise from a distinct system of neural activity,” defined by neural networks (Jones-Smith, 2016, p. 629). Current cognitivism posits that “there is almost always a cognitive processing and appraisal of internal and external events”—these are the self-objects—“that can influence”— actualization of self-object as dependent upon one’s neural network rigidity—“a person’s response to life events”—objects (Jones-Smith, 2016, p. 159). This is the first of three cognitivist proposals, where this defines the context of cognitive objects. The second proposal offers that “cognitive activity may be monitored” (Jones-Smith, 2016, p. 160), which reinforces the neuroscientific representation of an object. The third proposal is that behaviour and cognition share mediated interactions (Jones-Smith, 2016, p. 160). The interaction between cognition and behaviour solidifies the triadic relationship of behaviour, cognition, neuroscience, and human motive or will (existentialism) on the input-output spectrum. It is important to note that though the input-output spectrum is fixed based on the actualizing relationship of self and object, it is fixed in a circularity not a linearity.
Causal variables as objects are anything that can be interpreted by the level one to four drivers and attributed meaning to, whether meaning may manifest as something concrete or abstract. An example of an object with meaning is a bowl of soup, that may bring strong feelings of sadness yet affection of one’s bereaved grandma. Here the soup is a concrete object that produces cognitive changes in affect, based on a relationship of self to object. Continuing with this process, the young male (for example), who has just finished his soup, may have a desire to call a long lost aunt that he’d had not spoken with in some time, yet who holds similar sentimental value toward this grandma. Here this person’s unique relationship between their four drivers that constitute their worldview creating his self-identity, extends meaning onto this bowl of soup. This meaning was previously created by the relationship of the person’s worldview (four drivers) with previously similar bowls of soup. Each successively similar bowl of soup solidified the ENCB object interpretation this person holds now. From this, he has created his current meaning of the soup object. This defines an existential, neuroscientific and cognitive effect of the soup object. The point in which he decides to and does call his long lost aunt is the point of Self-Object Actualization. It is here that the soup as an object has triggered an actualization. This event now holds novel meaning to this soup object among its many positions of meaning along with all the other objects of this person’s mind.
The Self-Object relations of one’s mind are in constant flux, where the mind is the brain in a social and context dependent world. The brain however has fixed pathways at any one moment. These fixed neural pathways of the brain represent Self-Object Actualizations; mind constructs. It is when the mind experiences incongruence that a human maladaptive psychopathology emanates. This can be explained with a continuation of the soup example. This young person built a love of soup based on the loving self-object actualizations that succeedingly contributed to this soup as a positive soup object. This is represented in the brain by an assimilation of soup and positive neural networking and by the mind as this network is in a larger social and contextual construct.
Now let’s imagine this person’s grandma has just died and at her funeral reception they are serving this hallmark soup that grandma was known for. Let’s presuppose this person hasn’t had this soup since his youth. Now as he has this soup in the intrinsic, social and neural basis of this funeral, he attributes a new meaning to the soup object based on a new input-output ENCB relationship. The soup now holds different context from drivers one to four defined now as hunger or smell, familial grieving or sadness, and neural changes. This new self-object actualizes a new neural network integration. The object that was held in the mind as a positive soup object, now constitutes love, sadness, and, well… just soup. This new soup object holds as a novel object of the mind based on its physical properties defined in his brain and its self-actualization in his mind.
The therapeutic relationship of self-object actualization across all therapists will hold a mutual goal with clients. The goal itself is intrinsically sensitive to multicultural backgrounds. The goal of the therapist and client has three steps or mini-goals. The primary goal as the culminated effect of the three mini-goals, is full self-congruence. However, self-congruence is not ever entirely possible as each client is a temporally changing self-state. If perfect congruency was to exist in a client, it would only exist up until the moment when a new incongruency presents itself.
The first of the three goals is identifying the incongruency. This requires the client and the therapist to work as collaborative detectives searching for all of the meaningful relations of the four drivers’ to intrinsic, social and neural objects. For example, identifying why a client has anxiety whenever they engage with family members during dinner could include incongruent facets of a bowl of soup such as warmth, nausea, happiness, and longing.
Once a sufficient understanding of this incongruency is established, the client and therapist can move toward an understanding of the ways in which this incongruent self-object actualizes in this person’s life. Whether this understanding may take the form of contextualizing this client’s anxiety or providing further insight into maladaptive behaviours, this step builds on the way in which this discovered incongruency is affectively incongruent with their self-actualization.
From the identifying, understanding, and further contextualized materialization of the client’s life’s incongruency can come the third mini-goal: integration. The client must now work to understand why their whole ENCB self, is off-balance or working against their intrinsic, social and neural motivators. It is where the therapist identifies the primary point of incongruent motivation and/or thought, and/or feeling, and/behaviour—ENCB as incongruently actualized with motivators—that the therapeutic alliance can incorporate this incongruent object into the congruent now self-actualized person. The point at which the client successfully incorporates a new meaning of the incongruency, is where the maladaptive self-object actualization becomes instead a manageable, sustainable, and positive self-object actualization.
This process requires a therapeutic relationship that is mutually-directed. Overall the processes of self-object actualization are mediated by the therapist, yet the client dictates the directions of therapy based on their understanding of themself and their incongruent state. Positivity can be maintained using the common factors of therapy, namely empathy and compassion, which have shown empirical efficacy across psychotherapeutic theories. Furthermore, this therapeutic relationship will welcome the client regardless of their background. Since it is the client’s self-object relations that are emitting incongruencies, it is both by their free will and autonomy that they have created maladaptation and in the same way must work to overcome this conflict in meaningful human existence. The therapist works with the client for the mutual benefit of both the client’s and counsellor’s understanding of the client’s self-state. In this way the counsellor holds unconditional positive regard for the client, yet also conditional regard as contextually-needed interpretations of incongruent client-states. The process of human self-discovery predisposes humans to default toward instances of incongruent self-states. This notion is seen with concepts such as man’s search for meaning, or the mid-life crisis of a now convertible owning 50-year-old male; as the stereotype goes. In this same way it is the client who defines the self-objects that will be focused on in therapy, with the encouraging, compassionate, and active therapist. A therapeutic alliance is created when the client and therapist agree to the same goal of reconfiguring a client-state of congruence.
The therapeutic techniques used are dependent on which one of the three goals the therapeutic alliance is currently focused. During the first stage of therapy the client and therapist will use psychoanalytic techniques that create the most substantial understanding of the client’s self and mind incongruence. During the second stage of therapy the goal is to uncover the cognitive and behavioural precepts that relate to the client’s self-object mismatch. This can extend to include a neuropsychological examination when circumstances warrant such an approach, such as contributing brain damage.
Effective psychoanalysis will involve the common factors of psychotherapeutic success previously discussed as having a mutual therapeutic goal, empathy, compassion, unconditional positive regard, context-based interpretive insight, and active listening. The early sessions in therapy will be devoted to the client’s examination of the self-object incongruency. Tools such as scaling and visualizations will be useful for providing a rank of object importance to self. This score can then be placed on the input-output spectrum based by its category of ENCB. As an example each piece of ENCB can hold its own 5-point scale.
Soup as a self-object of the client can then be scaled on this spectrum (now linear):
E 1 2 3 4 (5) N 1 2 3 4 5 C 1 2 3 (4) 5 B 1 2 3 (4) 5
The above scale may be interpreted with additional hypothetic information as follows: The client felt that the soup-object has had a large impact on their definition of self. This client sees themselves as someone whose will and personal freedom relate largely to purpose in social settings, specifically as a loved family member who wishes to bring his or her family closer together. This is a strong existential or humanistic motivation and consequently receives a 5. Contrastingly, following a DSM-V testing this person has shown no signs of mental illness. Therefore, anxiety symptoms around soup cannot be attributed to clinical depression etc. or brain damage. The client was rated as a 4 on both cognitive and behaviourist scales. This arises from the strong overlap of the client’s thoughts and feelings leading to behaviour, such as the client engaging in new eating behaviours based on anxiety surrounding family dinners. This can then be visualized on a pie chart or another medium which helps convey the client’s input-output self-object incongruence clearly.
As stage one involves analysis of cognitive and behavioural affect, this can be used to build a further understanding of how object-meaning manifests in the client’s life. It is at this point that the client’s mind is compared to their life, where this is a search for real-life incongruency. One technique for eliciting client insight into conflict of thought, feeling, and behaviour in their life involves using examples of maladaptive behaviour the client has issued previously.
As an example the client yelled at his or her significant partner for making potato soup for dinner. Since there are two selves here, the client must understand their partners self-object relationship to his or hers. To be specific, we’ll say the same male yells at his partner for making his grandma’s soup and the partner responds that she’s sorry and didn’t know. The young man will be 1 and the partner 2. Thoughts will be denoted T, Feelings F, and Behaviour B. T, F, and B are denoted as positive or negative by + and – respectively.
Let’s suppose that:
1: -T and -F = -B 2: +T and +F = +B
This can be defined as follows:
The man 1, has both negative thought and emotion tied to the soup-object which produces negative behaviour. Conversely, the wife 2, had a positive thought and emotion tied to the soup-object- which produces positive behaviour, making soup for her husband. Here the challenge is in identifying the differing self-object actualizations of the man and his wife. Due to differing self-object relations each has with the soup, the soup actualizes and produces differing affects. From this the B now turns into: B and T = F and/or B and F = T, which define further relations.
Continuing with this example the affect now produces changes in the neural network of this man. This incongruence with his input-output spectrum is now altering his neural network that represents the self-object relation to soup. A once positive self-object actualization of soup is now negative, in this example. From this, the man’s intrinsic, social, and neural motives ripple back through the ENCB spectrum. It is in this way that the input-output spectrum is in constant flux and circular.
Some of the techniques that will then be used to create congruent thinking are the contrapositives of cognitive distortional thinking. These follow a miracle question dynamic where the client is encouraged to imagine congruent contexts of self-object relation and self-object actualization. The nine cognitive thought strategies towards congruency are as follows:
- Finding exceptions to all or none beliefs
- Holding both a Global and Local view of an event
- Identifying categorizing or stereotypical thoughts and behaviour
- Respecting and identifying the autonomy of others
- Analyzing distorted thinking patterns with behavioural patterns (as seen above)
- Promoting humility and gratitude
- Positive prediction
- Recognizing and avoidance of self-stereotyping
- Glorifying (miracle questions)
The tenth cognitive strategy builds on the above nine. It is here that the client redefines a congruent self-object relationship. This can be done with self-object actualizing experiments where the client and therapist work to create an ideal mockup of a congruent ENCB self-object actualization. As an example, an instance where the client is able to live congruently with all of the previously incongruent positive and negative attributes of the soup object. The majority of the above techniques were chosen based on their ability to integrate with the other contributing theories and from their mutual evidence-based backing.
Application of the Theory
This theory in large part requires an active client. The client must be able to conceptualize incongruence in their life within the three-goal system to obtain their primary goal of reaching a self-determined level of self-congruence, also defined as self-actualization. Consequently, this theory also requires a large amount of insight and engagement from the client. This process is unlikely to work with client’s who are low in self-awareness, or whom do not endeavor to gain self-awareness. Furthermore, this process may be most beneficial for people from the ages of 25 to 65. This idea is based in larger part by the notion that it is in this age range that clients will have mostly completed brain development and are still capable of making plastic changes in their brain. Before the ages of 25 clients may not have enough insight into themselves as a purpose-based self and over the ages of 65 clients may be more rigid in behavioural and cognitive patterns with the resulting neural networks.
The self-object actualization theory prides itself on being a multiculturally indiscriminate theory as it focuses only on the client’s relations of self to objects, and these objects as persons, place and things, function in the brain in universally similar ways. Though, client’s may differ in the way they place importance on people versus things, for example, across culture the focus is not on these objects per se. The focus instead is on the object in relation to the person, hence the self-object relation. Consequently, though client’s may value objects differently across cultures the focus is only on the client and the object. As this relationship is client defined they then attribute their own meaning. It is this unique relationship of the client’s mind with their idealized congruent-self versus incongruent-self in relation to objects, that balances the input-output relationship (ENCB spectrum). Henceforth, the theory utilizes the universal constructs of human motivation with the mind.
This theoretical integration is broad, as it is defined by the psychological and philosophical processes of Existentialism, Neuroscience, Cognitivism, and Behavioursim, in relation to a fourth level human driver analysis that defined the human motivators of intrinsic, social, and neural. This theory explores these four pillars in psychotherapy and attempts to theoretically integrate them based on the common factors of therapeutic effectiveness and each theory’s evidence-based backing.
This theory does not offer a complete system in which a therapist can effectively administer therapy, yet it does constitute a theoretical integration and approach. This theory is in its draft stage and requires further elaboration.
Acharki, A. (2017). Silhouette woman holding lights at twilight [Photo]. Retrieved from https://unsplash.com/photos/OrWsyQdDGnU
Jones-Smith, E. (2016). Counseling and Psychotherapy: An Integrative Approach. (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks: California: SAGE Publications.