George Alexander Kelly (1905-67) was surprised at how readily common people took to authority explanations of their problems. It dawned on him that what mattered to common people was that they had some explanation of their difficulties, that they had some way of understanding them. And while just about any order and understanding that came from an authority was accepted gladly, order and understanding that came out of their own lives and their own culture, was even better.
Out of these insights, Kelly developed his theory and philosophy. He teaches that reality is experienced or constructed from some perspective, and some constructions are better than others. His constructs are "patterns or templates which [a person] creates and then attempts to fit over the realities of which the world is composed . . . Patterns that are . . . [w]ays of construing the world." Constructs and concepts in a wide sense are largely the same.
"Man, to the extent that he is able to construe his circumstances [conceptualise them well enough in some fit way or ways], can find for himself freedom from their domination . . . Man can also enslave himself with his own ideas and then win his freedom by re-construing his life. The social reality and the personal reality need to be considered together for developing an understanding of the psychological processes," thinks Kelly.
Kelly organized his phenomenological theory into a fundamental postulate and amplified it through 11 corollaries, all of which published in the 1200 page The Psychology of Personal Constructs (in 2 vols., New York: Norton, 1955).
At the heart of Kelly’s theory was an image of persons as budding scientists who were constructing, testing, revising, and expanding personal theories of self and world that enabled them to anticipate [hypothesise] significant, recurring themes of their lives. One aim of forming hypotheses is to be able to understand things better, and hopefully be able to control things better too, in time, as a result of such "milling in the mind".
Kelly had noticed that scientists and therapists often displayed a peculiar attitude towards people: While they thought quite well of themselves, they tended to look down on others. They tended to see ordinary people as the victims of their sexual energies or conditioning histories. But Kelly, with his experience with students and farm people, noted that ordinary people, too, were trying to understand what was going on. Ordinary people had constructions of their reality, like scientists have theories. They had anticipations or expectations, like scientists have hypotheses. They engaged in behaviours that test those expectations, like scientists do experiments. They improve their understandings of reality on the bases of their experiences, like scientists adjust their theories to fit the facts. From this comparison came Kelly's entire theory.
This is the central movement in the scientific process: from hypothesis to experiment or observation, that is, from anticipation to experience and behaviour.
His fundamental postulate says this: "A person's processes are psychologically channelized by the ways in which he anticipates events." By processes, Kelly means experiences, thoughts, feelings, behaviours. These chunks are co-determined, by our efforts to anticipate the world, other people, and ourselves, from moment to moment as well as day-to-day and year-to-year. We construct our anticipations using our past experience. We look for the patterns, the consistencies, in our experiences. When things do not happen the way they have in the past, we may reconstruct.
Many constructs have names or are easily nameable: good-bad, happy-sad, but probably most of our constructs are non-verbal. Constructs with names are more easily thought about and talked about.
Kelly also differentiates between peripheral and core constructs. Peripheral constructs are most constructs about the world, others, and even one's self. Core constructs, on the other hand, are the constructs that are most significant to you, that to one extent or another actually define who you are. The first fifteen adjectives or so that occur to you about yourself may very well represent core constructs.
Some constructs, and some aspects of our construct systems, are more important than others: Some of our constructs - which represent our core values and concern our key relationships - are complex, quite firmly fixed, wide-ranging, and difficult to change; others, about things which don't matter so much, or about which we haven't much experience, are simpler, narrower, and carry less personal commitment.
Some constructs are subordinate to other constructs. And sometimes the relationship between constructs is left loose: There is a connection, but it is not absolute. A danger is that if we use loose construction often and inappropriately, we appear flaky rather than flexible, and certainly not reserved.
When we are being creative, we first loosen our constructions, for example by fantasizing and brainstorming alternative constructions. We use the creativity cycle (obviously) in the arts - we conceive ideas, and then give them form.
Some constructs are very comprehensive, or broad in application. Good-bad is perhaps the most comprehensive construct of all, being applicable to nearly anything. Other constructs are very incidental.
Some constructs are open to increased range: open-ended. To the good-bad construct we can add new elements, for example. At times we broaden the range of our constructs; at other times we narrow the range of our constructs. So our construct systems can grow and change - it is vital to have enough adequate information.
Our construct systems influence our expectations and perceptions: Because our construct systems reflect our past experience, they also influence our expectations and behaviour.
Although many things of life seem beyond the range of convenience, we store our experience in the form of convenient concepts and "place" these "templates" on the world [apply them to our world], and they guide our perceptions and behaviours. Constructs can get connected, and may enable us to predict, prognosticate, or anticipate things to come. Sometimes one construct may be consistently used to predict another. The dangers involved include "jumping to conclusions" and prejudicial stereotypes."
How do we choose our behaviours? A person chooses for himself constructs through which he anticipates the greater possibility for extending and defining his system, says Kelly. We will choose to do what we anticipate will most likely improve our understanding, and our ability to anticipate. Choose to interpret reality in a way that helps nicely. Under some circumstances it might be by making the security choice: staying home, if that is what we think is best or needed.
To choose constructs that preserve and enlarge freedoms may be good and work well.
If we share the same culture, we'll see things in a similar way. The closer we are, the more similar we will be in some ways. Even if you are not really similar to another person, you can still relate and train yourself in empathy. By and by you can understand decisive parts of the construct systems of others.
Also, Kelly says that we spend a great deal of our time seeking validation from other people. We look for support from those who are similar to ourselves. Kelly's definition of a psychological disorder is: "Any personal construction which is used repeatedly in spite of consistent invalidation."
When anticipations fail, we may feel anxiety. When our core constructs are on the line, aggression may become hostility.
Kelly also points out that we can be inconsistent within ourselves. Construct systems are not always internally consistent. Some are apparently able to tackle inconsistencies up to a point; where inner unpleasantness drives them toward changed notions. Similarly, if a person's problem is poor construction, then the solution should be reconstruction, to see things in a different way, one that allows the choices that lead to what he calls elaboration. In other words: Most people live with a certain level of inconsistency, but when the distortions of judgement of someone become too costly or inappropriate the person (and possibly those around them) he or she is likely to suffer some form of distress.
Being wholehearted is much to go for.
C. George Boeree.
Robert A. Neimeyer.
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