In the field of humanistic psychology, incongruence refers to a state where there is a mismatch or conflict between an individual’s self-image and actual experience. Rooted in Carl Rogers’ client-centered therapy, incongruence is the difference between our ‘real self’ and ‘ideal self. The ‘real self’ is who we actually are, with all our characteristics, abilities, weaknesses, and experiences. The ‘ideal self’, on the other hand, is the person we would like to be or believe we should be, often influenced by societal expectations and personal aspirations. When these two selves are not aligned, we experience incongruence.

Understanding Incongruence

Incongruence arises when an individual’s self-concept is challenged by life experiences that do not align with this self-concept. This discrepancy can lead to feelings of discomfort, unease, and even psychological distress, often manifesting as anxiety or depression.

For example, if a person perceives themselves as a successful entrepreneur but their business ventures continue to fail, they may experience a state of incongruence. Their reality (the ‘real self’) does not match their self-image (the ‘ideal self’).

The Impact of Incongruence

Incongruence can have a significant impact on an individual’s mental and emotional health. It can lead to feelings of dissatisfaction, and low self-esteem, and may also contribute to a range of mental health disorders. On a broader level, incongruence can influence decision-making and behavior, often leading individuals to act in ways that are inconsistent with their authentic selves.

Addressing Incongruence through Therapy

In client-centered therapy, the goal is to help clients achieve congruence, or alignment between their self-image and personal experiences. This is done by providing a supportive and non-judgmental environment in which clients can explore their self-concept and reconcile it with their experiences.

Examples of Incongruence

Incongruence can be seen in various aspects of life, from personal relationships to professional settings. Here are some additional examples:

Personal Identity and Social Roles

Incongruence often occurs when individuals feel pressured to behave in a certain way that does not align with their true personality or beliefs. For instance, a person may identify as introverted but feel pressured to act extroverted at social events to fit in. This discrepancy between their ‘real self’ (introverted) and their ‘ideal self’ (perceived need to be extroverted) can create a sense of incongruence.

Value Misalignment

Incongruence can also manifest when an individual’s personal values are not reflected in their actions or lifestyle. For instance, someone who values health and wellness might feel incongruence if they’re in a demanding job that doesn’t allow time for exercise and self-care.

Discrepancy in Personal Relationships

In relationships, incongruence can arise when an individual’s actions do not match their true feelings. For example, a person might tell their partner they are happy in the relationship to avoid conflict, even though they feel unhappy and unsatisfied.

Incongruence in Career Choices

A person might feel a sense of incongruence if their job does not match their personal interests or values. A highly creative individual working in a highly regimented job that offers little room for creative expression might experience this form of incongruence.

Overall, these examples illustrate how incongruence can permeate various facets of life, causing discomfort and conflict that may require psychological intervention or personal reflection to resolve.


Incongruence is a fundamental concept in humanistic psychology that helps explain why people experience internal conflict and distress. Understanding and addressing incongruence is a critical step toward achieving psychological well-being and living a life that is authentic and fulfilling.