In contrast to both the often dark, subconscious emphasis of the psychodynamic theorists and the somewhat cold, calculated perspectives of behavioral/cognitive theorists, the humanistic psychologists focus on each individual’s potential for personal growth and self-actualization. Carl Rogers was influenced by strong religious experiences (both in America and in China) and his early clinical career in a children’s hospital. Consequently, he developed his therapeutic techniques and the accompanying theory in accordance with a positive and hopeful perspective. Rogers also focused on the unique characteristics and viewpoint of individuals.
Abraham Maslow is best known for his extensive studies on the most salient feature of the humanistic perspective: self-actualization. He is also the one who referred to humanistic psychology as the third force, after the psychodynamic and behavioral/cognitive perspectives, and he specifically addressed the need for psychology to move beyond its study of unhealthy individuals. He was also interested in the psychology of the work place, and his recognition in the business field has perhaps made him the most famous psychologist.
Henry Murray was an enigmatic figure, who seemingly failed to properly acknowledge the woman who inspired much of his work, and who believed his life had been something of a failure. Perhaps he felt remorse as a result of maintaining an extramarital affair with the aforementioned woman, thanks in large part to the advice and help of Carl Jung! Murray extended a primarily psychodynamic perspective to the study of human needs in normal individuals. His Thematic Apperception Test was one of the first psychological tests applied outside of a therapeutic setting, and it provided the basis for studying the need for achievement (something akin to a learned form of self-actualization).
Carl Rogers and Humanistic Psychology
Carl Rogers is the psychologist many people associate first with humanistic psychology, but he did not establish the field in the way that Freud established psychoanalysis. A few years older than Abraham Maslow, and having moved into clinical practice more directly, Rogers felt a need to develop a new theoretical perspective that fit with his clinical observations and personal beliefs. Thus, he was proposing a humanistic approach to psychology and, more specifically, psychotherapy before Maslow. It was Maslow, however, who used the term humanistic psychology as a direct contrast to behaviorism and psychoanalysis. And it was Maslow who contacted some friends, in 1954, in order to begin meetings that led to the creation of the American Association for Humanistic Psychology. Rogers was included in that group, but so were Erich Fromm and Karen Horney, both of whom had distinctly humanistic elements in their own theories, elements that shared a common connection to Alfred Adler’s Individual Psychology (Stagner, 1988). In addition, the spiritual aspects of humanistic psychology, such as peak experiences and transcendence, have roots in the work of Carl Jung and William James, and go even further back in time to ancient philosophies of Yoga and Buddhism.
In at least one important way, Rogers’ career was similar to that of Sigmund Freud. As he began his clinical career, he found that the techniques he had been taught were not very effective. So, he began experimenting with his own ideas, and developing his own therapeutic approach. As that approach developed, so did a unique theory of personality that aimed at explaining the effectiveness of the therapy. Rogers found it difficult to explain what he had learned, but he felt quite passionately about it:
…the real meaning of a word can never be expressed in words, because the real meaning would be the thing itself. If one wishes to give such a real meaning he should put his hand over his mouth and point. This is what I should most like to do. I would willingly throw away all the words of this manuscript if I could, somehow, effectively point to the experience which is therapy. It is a process, a thing-in-itself, an experience, a relationship, a dynamic… (pp. ix; Rogers, 1951)
Brief Biography of Carl Rogers
Carl Ransom Rogers was born on January 8, 1902, in Chicago, Illinois. His parents were well-educated, and his father was a successful civil engineer. His parents loved their six children, of whom Rogers was the fourth, but they exerted a distinct control over them. They were fundamentalist Christians, who emphasized a close-knit family and constant, productive work, but approved of little else. The Rogers household expected standards of behavior appropriate for the ‘elect’ of God: there was no drinking of alcohol, no dancing, no visits to the theater, no card games, and little social life at all (DeCarvalho, 1991; Thorne, 2003).
Rogers was not the healthiest of children, and his family considered him to be overly sensitive. The more his family teased him, the more he retreated into a lonely world of fantasy. He sought consolation by reading books, and he was well above his grade level for reading when he began school. In 1914 the family moved to a large farm west of Chicago, a move motivated primarily by a desire to keep the children away from the temptations of suburban city life. The result was even more isolation for Rogers, who lamented that he’d only had two dates by the end of high school. He continued to learn, however, becoming something of an expert on the large moths that lived in the area. In addition, his father encouraged the children to develop their own ventures, and Rogers and his brothers raised a variety of livestock. Given these interests, and in keeping with family tradition, Rogers enrolled in the University of Wisconsin-Madison to study scientific agriculture (DeCarvalho, 1991; Thorne, 2003).
During his first year of college, Rogers attended a Sunday morning group of students led by Professor George Humphrey. Professor Humphrey was a facilitative leader, who refused to be conventional and who encouraged the students to make their own decisions. Rogers found the intellectual freedom very stimulating, and he also began to make close friends. This increased intellectual and emotional energy led Rogers to re-examine his commitment to Christianity. Given his strong religious faith, he decided to change his major to history, in anticipation of a career as a Christian minister. He was fortunate to be chosen as one of only twelve students from America to attend a World Student Christian Federation conference in Peking, China. He traveled throughout China (also visiting Korea, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines, and Hawaii) for 6 months, surrounded by other intelligent and creative young people. He kept a detailed journal, and wrote lengthy letters to his family and Helen Elliott, a childhood friend whom he considered to be his “sweetheart.” His mind was stretched in all directions by this profound cross-cultural experience, and the intellectual and spiritual freedom he was embracing blinded him to the fact that his fundamentalist family was deeply disturbed by what he had to say. However, by the time Rogers was aware of his family’s disapproval, he had been changed, and he believed that people of very different cultures and faiths can all be sincere and honest (Kirschenbaum, 1995; Thorne, 2003). As a curious side note, Rogers’ roommate on the trip was a Black seminary professor. Rogers was vaguely aware that it was strange at that time for a Black man and a White man to room together, but he was particularly surprised at the stares they received from the Chinese people they met, who had never seen a Black person before (Rogers & Russell, 2002). After his return from China, Rogers graduated from college, and 2 months later he married Helen. Again his family disapproved, believing that the young couple should be more established first. But Rogers had been accepted to the Union Theological Seminary in New York City, and both he and Helen wanted to be together. His family may have wanted them to wait because Union Theological Seminary was, perhaps, the most liberal seminary in America at the time (DeCarvalho, 1991; Rogers & Russell, 2002; Thorne, 2003).
Rogers spent 2 years at the seminary, including a summer assignment as the pastor of a small church in Vermont. However, his desire not to impose his own beliefs on others, made it difficult for him to preach. He began taking courses at nearby Teachers’ College of Columbia University, where he learned about clinical and educational psychology, as well as working with disturbed children. He then transferred to Teachers’ College, and after writing a dissertation in which he developed a test for measuring personality adjustment in children, he earned his Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. Then, in 1928, he began working at the Rochester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (DeCarvalho, 1991; Thorne, 2003).
Rogers was immersed in his work in Rochester for 12 years. He found that even the most elaborate theories made little sense when dealing with children who had suffered severe psychological damage after traveling through the courts and the social work systems. So Rogers developed his own approach, and did his best to help them. Many of his colleagues, including the director, had no particular therapeutic orientation:
When I would try to see what I could do to alter their behavior, sometimes they would refuse to see me the next time. I’d have a hard time getting them to come from the detention home to my office, and that would cause me to think, “What is it that I did that offended the child?” Well, usually it was overinterpretation, or getting too smart in analyzing the causes of behavior…So we approached every situation with much more of a question of “What can we do to help?” rather than “What is the mysterious cause of this behavior?” or “What theory does the child fit into?” It was a very good place for learning in that it was easy to be open to experience, and there was certainly no pressure to fit into any particular pattern of thought. (pg. 108; Rogers & Russell, 2002)
Eventually Rogers wrote a book outlining his work with children, The Clinical Treatment of the Problem Child(Rogers, 1939), which received excellent reviews. He was offered a professorship at Ohio State University. Beginning as a full professor gave Rogers a great deal of freedom, and he was frequently invited to give talks. It has been suggested that one such talk, in December 1940, at the University of Minnesota, entitled “Newer Concepts in Psychotherapy,” was the official birthday of client-centered therapy. Very popular with his students, Rogers was not so welcome amongst his colleagues. Rogers believed that his work was particularly threatening to those colleagues who believed that only their own expertise could make psychotherapy effective. After only 4 years, during which he published Counseling and Psychotherapy (Rogers, 1942), Rogers moved on to the University of Chicago, where he established the counseling center, wrote Client-Centered Therapy (Rogers, 1951) and contributed several chapters to Psychotherapy and Personality Change (Rogers & Dymond, 1954), and in 1956 received a Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association. Then, in 1957, he accepted a joint appointment in psychiatry and psychology at the University of Wisconsin to study psychotic individuals. Rogers had serious doubts about leaving Chicago, but felt that the joint appointment would allow him to make a dramatic contribution to psychotherapy. It was a serious mistake. He did not get along with his colleagues in the psychology department, whom he considered to be antagonistic, outdated, “rat-oriented,” and distrustful of clinical psychology, and so he resigned. He kept his appointment in the psychiatry department, however, and in 1961 published perhaps his most influential book, On Becoming a Person (Rogers, 1961).
In 1963, Rogers moved to California to join the Western Behavioral Sciences Institute, at the invitation of one of his former students, Richard Farson. This was a non-profit institute dedicated to the study of humanistically-oriented interpersonal relations. Rogers was leery of making another major move, but eventually agreed. He became very active in research on encounter groups and educational theory. Five years later, when Farson left the institute, there was a change in its direction. Rogers was unhappy with the changes, so he joined some colleagues in leaving and establishing the Center for Studies of the Person, where he remained until his death. In his later years, Rogers wrote books on topics such as personal power and marriage (Rogers, 1972, 1977). In 1980, he published A Way of Being (Rogers, 1980), in which he changed the terminology of his perspective from “client-centered” to “person-centered.” With the assistance of his daughter Natalie, who had studied with Abraham Maslow, he held many group workshops on life, family, business, education, and world peace. He traveled to regions where tension and danger were high, including Poland, Russia, South Africa, and Northern Ireland. In 1985 he brought together influential leaders of seventeen Central American countries for a peace conference in Austria. The day he died, February 4, 1987, without knowing it, he had just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize (DeCarvalho, 1991; Kirschenbaum, 1995; Thorne, 2003).
Placing Rogers in Context: A Psychology 2,600 Years in the Making
Carl Rogers was an extraordinary individual whose approach to psychology emphasized individuality. Raised with a strong Christian faith, exposed to Eastern culture and spirituality in college, and then employed as a therapist for children, he came to value and respect each person he met. Because of that respect for the ability of each person to grow, and the belief that we are innately driven toward actualization, Rogers began the distinctly humanistic approach to psychotherapy that became known as client-centered therapy.
Taken together, client-centered therapy and self-actualization offer a far more positive approach to fostering the growth of each person than most other disciplines in psychology. Unlike the existing approaches of psychoanalysis, which aimed to uncover problems from the past, or behavior therapies, which aimed to identify problem behaviors and control or “fix” them, client-centered therapy grew out of Rogers’ simple desire to help his clients move forward in their lives. Indeed, he had been trained as a psychoanalyst, but Rogers found the techniques unsatisfying, both in their goals and their ability to help the children he was working with at the time. The seemingly hands-off approach of client-centered therapy fit well with a Taoist perspective, something Rogers had studied, discussed, and debated during his trip to China. In A Way of Being, Rogers (1980) quotes what he says is perhaps his favorite saying, one which sums up many of his deeper beliefs:
If I keep from meddling with
people, they take care of themselves,
If I keep from commanding people, they behave themselves,
If I keep from preaching at people, they improve themselves,
If I keep from imposing on people, they become themselves.
Lao Tsu, c600 B.C.; Note: This translation differs somewhat from the one
cited in the References. I have included the translation Rogers quoted,
since the difference likely influenced his impression of this saying.
Rogers, like Maslow, wanted to see psychology contribute far more to society than merely helping individuals with psychological distress. He extended his sincere desire to help people learn to really communicate, with empathic understanding, to efforts aimed at bringing peace to the world. On the day he died, he had just been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. Since a Nobel Prize cannot be awarded to someone who has died, he was not eligible to be nominated again. If he had lived a few more years, he may well have received that award. His later years were certainly committed to peace in a way that deserved such recognition.
Rogers believed that each of us lives in a constantly changing private world, which he called the experiential field. Everyone exists at the center of their own experiential field, and that field can only be fully understood from the perspective of the individual. This concept has a number of important implications. The individual’s behavior must be understood as a reaction to their experience and perception of the field. They react to it as an organized whole, and it is their reality. The problem this presents for the therapist is that only the individual can really understand their experiential field. This is quite different than the Freudian perspective, in which only the trained and objective psychoanalyst can break through the defense mechanisms and understand the basis of the patient’s unconscious impulses. One’s perception of the experiential field is limited, however. Rogers believed that certain impulses, or sensations, can only enter into the conscious field of experience under certain circumstances. Thus, the experiential field is not a true reality, but rather an individual’s potential reality (Rogers, 1951).
The one basic tendency and striving of the individual is to actualize, maintain, and enhance the experiencing of the individual or, in other words, an actualizing tendency. Rogers borrowed the term self-actualization, a term first used by Kurt Goldstein, to describe this basic striving.
The tendency of normal life is toward activity and progress. For the sick, the only form of self-actualization that remains is the maintenance of the existent state. That, however, is not the tendency of the normal…Under adequate conditions the normal organism seeks further activity. (pp. 162-163; Goldstein, 1934/1995).
For Rogers, self-actualization was a tendency to move forward, toward greater maturity and independence, or self-responsibility. This development occurs throughout life, both biologically (the differentiation of a fertilized egg into the many organ systems of the body) and psychologically (self-government, self-regulation, socialization, even to the point of choosing life goals). A key factor in understanding self-actualization is the experiential field. A person’s needs are defined, as well as limited, by their own potential for experience. Part of this experiential field is an individual’s emotions, feelings, and attitudes. Therefore, who the individual is, their actual self, is critical in determining the nature and course of their self-actualization (Rogers, 1951). We will examine Maslow’s work on self-actualization in more detail below.
What then, is the self? In Rogers’ (1951) initial description of his theory of personality, the experiential field is described in four points, the self-actualizing tendency in three points, and the remaining eleven points attempt to define the self. First and foremost, the self is a differentiated portion of the experiential field. In other words, the self is that part of our private world that we identify as “me,” “myself,” or “I.” Beyond that, the self remains somewhat puzzling. Can the self exist in isolation, outside of relationships that provide some context for the self? Must the self be synonymous with the physical body? As Rogers’ pointed out, when our foot “goes to sleep” from a lack of circulation, we view it as an object, not as a part of our self! Despite these challenging questions, Rogers tried to define and describe the self.
Rogers believed the self is formed in relation to others; it is an organized, fluid, yet consistent conceptual pattern of our experiential interactions with the environment and the values attached to those experiences. These experiences are symbolized and incorporated into the structure of the self, and our behavior is guided largely by how well new experiences fit within that structure. We may behave in ways inconsistent with the structure of our self, but when we do we will not “own” that behavior. When experiences are so inconsistent that we cannot symbolize them, or fit them into the structure of our self, the potential for psychological distress arises. On the other hand, when our concept of self is mature enough to incorporate all of our perceptions and experiences, and we can assimilate those experiences symbolically into our self, our psychological adjustment will be quite healthy. Individuals who find it difficult to assimilate new and different experiences, those experiences that threaten the structure of the self, will develop an increasingly rigid self-structure. Healthy individuals, in contrast, will assimilate new experiences, their self-structure will change and continue to grow, and they will become more capable of understanding and accepting others as individuals (Rogers, 1951).
The ability of individuals to make the choices necessary for actualizing their self-structure and to then fulfill those choices is what Rogers called personal power (Rogers, 1977). He believed there are many self-actualized individuals revolutionizing the world by trusting their own power, without feeling a need to have “power over” others. They are also willing to foster the latent actualizing tendency in others. We can easily see the influence of Alfred Adler here, both in terms of the creative power of the individual and seeking superiority within a healthy context of social interest. Client-centered therapy was based on making the context of personal power a clear strategy in the therapeutic relationship:
…the client-centered approach is a conscious renunciation and avoidance by the therapist of all control over, or decision-making for, the client. It is the facilitation of self-ownership by the client and the strategies by which this can be achieved…based on the premise that the human being is basically a trustworthy organism, capable of…making constructive choices as to the next steps in life, and acting on those choices. (pp. 14-15; Rogers, 1977)
Discussion Question: Rogers claimed that no one can really understand your experiential field. Would you agree, or do you sometimes find that close friends or family members seem to understand you better than you understand yourself? Are these relationships congruent?
Although Rogers described personality within the therapist-client relationship, the focus of his therapeutic approach was based on how he believed the person had arrived at a point in their life where they were suffering from psychological distress. Therefore, the same issues apply to personality development as in therapy. A very important aspect of personality development, according to Rogers, is the parent-child relationship. The nature of that relationship, and whether it fosters self-actualization or impedes personal growth, determines the nature of the individual’s personality and, consequently, their self-structure and psychological adjustment.
A child begins life with an actualizing tendency. As they experience life, and perceive the world around them, they may be supported in all things by those who care for them, or they may only be supported under certain conditions (e.g., if their behavior complies with strict rules). As the child becomes self-aware, it develops a need for positive regard. When the parents offer the child unconditional positive regard, the child continues moving forward in concert with its actualizing tendency. So, when there is no discrepancy between the child’s self-regard and its positive regard (from the parents), the child will grow up psychologically healthy and well-adjusted. However, if the parents offer only conditional positive regard, if they only support the child according the desires and rules of the parents, the child will develop conditions of worth. As a result of these conditions of worth, the child will begin to perceive their world selectively; they will avoid those experiences that do not fit with its goal of obtaining positive regard. The child will begin to live the life of those who set the conditions of worth, rather than living its own life.
As the child grows older, and more aware of its own condition in the world, their behavior will either fit within their own self-structure or not. If they have received unconditional positive regard, such that their self-regard and positive regard are closely matched, they will experience congruence. In other words, their sense of self and their experiences in life will fit together, and the child will be relatively happy and well-adjusted. But, if their sense of self and their ability to obtain positive regard do not match, the child will develop incongruence. Consider, for example, children playing sports. That alone tells us that parents have established guidelines within which the children are expected to “play.” Then we have some children who are naturally athletic, and other children who are more awkward and/or clumsy. They may become quite athletic later in life, or not, but during childhood there are many different levels of ability as they grow. If a parent expects their child to be the best player on the team, but the child simply isn’t athletic, how does the parent react? Do they support the child and encourage them to have fun, or do they pressure the child to perform better and belittle them when they can’t? Children are very good at recognizing who the better athletes are, and they know their place in the hierarchy of athletics, i.e., their athletic self-structure. So if a parent demands dominance from a child who knows they just aren’t that good, the child will develop incongruence. Rogers believed, quite understandably, that such conditions are threatening to a child, and will activate defense mechanisms. Over time, however, excessive or sudden and dramatic incongruence can lead to the breakdown and disorganization of the self-structure. As a result, the individual is likely to experience psychological distress that will continue throughout life (Rogers, 1959/1989).
Discussion Question: Conditions of worth are typically first established in childhood, based on the relationship between a child and his or her parents. Think about your relationship with your own parents and, if you have children, think about how you treat them. Are most of the examples that come to mind unconditional positive regard, or conditional positive regard? How has that affected your relationship with your parents and/or your own children?
Another way in which Rogers approached the idea of congruence and incongruence was based on an individual’s dual concept of self. There is, of course, the actual self-structure, or real self. In addition, there is also an ideal self, much like the fictional finalism described by Adler or the idealized self-image described by Horney. Incongruence develops when the real self falls far short of the accomplishment expected of the ideal self, when experience does not match the expectations of the self-structure (Rogers, 1951, 1959/1989). Once again, the relationship between parents and their children plays an important role in this development. If parents expect too much, such as all A’s every marking period in school, but the child just isn’t academically talented, or if the parents expect their child to be the football team’s quarterback, but the child isn’t a good athlete, then the ideal self will remain out of reach. Perhaps even worse, is when a child is physically or emotionally abused. Such a child’s ideal self may remain at a relatively low standard, but the real self may be so utterly depressed that incongruence is still the result. An important aspect of therapy will be to provide a relationship in which a person in this unfortunate condition can experience the unconditional positive regard necessary to begin reintegrating the self-structure, such that the gap between the real self and the ideal self can begin to close, allowing the person to experience congruence in their life.
What about individuals who have developed congruence, having received unconditional positive regard throughout development or having experienced successful client-centered therapy? They become, according to Rogers (1961), a fully functioning person. He also said they lead a good life. The good life is a process, not a state of being, and a direction, not a destination. It requires psychological freedom, and is the natural consequence of being psychologically free to begin with. Whether or not it develops naturally, thanks to a healthy and supportive environment in the home, or comes about as a result of successful therapy, there are certain characteristics of this process. The fully functioning person is increasingly open to new experiences, they live fully in each moment, and they trust themselves more and more. They become more able and more willing to experience all of their feelings, they are creative, they trust human nature, and they experience the richness of life. The fully functioning person is not simply content, or happy, they are alive:
I believe it will become evident why, for me, adjectives such as happy, contented, blissful, enjoyable, do not seem quite appropriate to any general description of this process I have called the good life, even though the person in this process would experience each one of these feelings at appropriate times. But the adjectives which seem more generally fitting are adjectives such as enriching, exciting, rewarding, challenging, meaningful. This process…involves the courage to be. …the deeply exciting thing about human beings is that when the individual is inwardly free, he chooses as the good life this process of becoming. (pp. 195-196; Rogers, 1961)
Discussion Question: Rogers described self-actualized people as fully functioning persons who are living a good life. Do you know anyone who seems to be a fully functioning person? Are there aspects of their personality that you aspire to for yourself? Does it seem difficult to be fully functioning, or does it seem to make life both easier and more enjoyable?
Across Cultures: Self-Realization as
Path to Being a Fully Functioning Person
Rogers described an innate drive toward self-actualization, he talked about an ideal self, and he said that a fully functioning person lived a good life. But what does this actually mean? In the Western world we look for specific, tangible answers to such questions. We want to know what the self-actualization drive is, we want to know which ideals, or virtues, are best or right, and we want to define a “good life.” All too often, we define a good life in terms of money, power, and possessions. The Eastern world has, for thousands of years, emphasized a very different perspective. They believe there is a natural order to life, and it is important that we let go of our need to explain the universe, and it is especially important that we let go of our need to own pieces of the universe. In the Tao Te Ching, Lao Tsu (c. 600 B.C./1989) writes:
Something mysteriously formed,
Born before heaven and earth.
In the silence and the void,
Standing alone and unchanging,
Ever present and in motion.
Perhaps it is the mother of ten thousand things.
I do not know its name,
Call it Tao.
For lack of a better word, I call it great…
The greatest Virtue is to follow
Tao and Tao alone…
Tao follows what is natural.
At about the same time, some 2,600 years ago, the Bhagavad Gita was also written down (Mitchell, 2000). In the second chapter one finds:
When a man gives up all desires
That emerge from the mind, and rests
Contented in the Self by the Self,
He is called a man of firm wisdom…
In the night of all beings, the
Sees only the radiance of the Self;
But the sense-world where all beings wake,
For him is as dark as night.
In each of these sacred books, we are taught that there is something deeper than ourselves that permeates the universe, but it is beyond our comprehension. It is only when we stop attempting to explain it, our way of trying to control it, and be content to just be ourselves, that we can actually attain that goal. To achieve this goal seems to require the absence of conditions of worth. If someone has been given unconditional positive regard throughout their life, they will be content to live that life as it is. Rogers was well aware of this challenge, and he described the good life as a process, not something that you could actually get, but something that you had to “Be.” Still, is it possible that a fully functioning person might have the insight necessary to understand the essence of the universe? Not according to Swami Sri Yukteswar:
Man possesses eternal faith and believes intuitively in the existence of a Substance, of which the objects of sense – sound, touch, sight, taste, and smell, the component parts of this visible world – are but properties. As man identifies himself with his material body, composed of the aforesaid properties, he is able to comprehend by these imperfect organs these properties only, and not the Substance to which these properties belong. The eternal Father, God, the only Substance in the universe, is therefore not comprehensible by man of this material world, unless he becomes divine by lifting his self above this creation of Darkness or Maya. See Hebrews 11:1 and John 8:28.
“Now faith is the substance of things
hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
“Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the son of man, then shall ye know that I am he.”
Jnanavatar Swami Sri Yukteswar Giri, 1894/1990
So whether we believe in God, Tao, an eternal Self, a mortal Self, or merely an actualizing tendency, for thousands of years there has been the belief, amongst many people, that our lives are about more than just being alive for a limited period of time. And it is in the recognition and acceptance, indeed the embracing, of that something more, even if we can’t conceive it in our conscious mind, that we find and live a good life. When Paramahansa Yogananda, a direct disciple of Swami Yukteswar, came to the United States in 1920 to establish a permanent Yoga society, it was suggested that he name his society God-Realization. However, since he believed life is about realizing (or actualizing, in psychological terms) our selves, he established his organization as the Self-Realization Fellowship (Yogananda, 1946).
Self-realization, in the context of Yoga, refers to becoming aware of one’s connection to the spark of divinity that exists within us, which may well be the source of our actualizing tendency. It is not the same as the sense of “I” or “me” that we normally think of. After all, are we our body or our mind? Consider the body. Is it the body we were born with, or the body we have now? Is our mind what we are thinking now, or what we were thinking 2 years ago? Both the body and the mind are transient, but the Self continues. It is that Self that Yogis, Buddhists, and Taoists seek to realize, and it may well be that Self which seeks its own actualization (separate from the consciousness created by the brain underlying our mind; see Feuerstein, 2003; Kabat-Zinn, 1994). This is also the Self of Being and transcendence, as described by Maslow.
Social Relationships and Marriage
Social and personal relationships were very important to Rogers, both in therapy and in everyday life. During each moment, we have our awareness (or consciousness), our experience (our perception of what is happening), and our communication (our relational behavior). For the fully functioning person, there is congruence between each of these phenomena. Unfortunately, we tend to be a poor judge of our own congruence. For example, if someone becomes angry with another person at a meeting or in a therapy group, they may remain unaware of their anger, even though it may be quite obvious to everyone else in the room. Thus, our relationship with others can reflect the true nature of our own personality, and the degree to which we are congruent. If others are congruent, and therefore are willing to talk to us openly and honestly, it will encourage us to become more congruent and, consequently, more psychologically healthy (Rogers, 1961, 1980). Curiously, the reason this became so important to Rogers was the lack of such meaningful relationships in his own life. Because his family followed strict, fundamentalist rules, they discouraged relationships with people outside their family. The consequences were rather disturbing for Rogers:
…the attitudes toward persons outside our large family can be summed up schematically in this way: “Other persons behave in dubious ways which we do not approve in our family. Many of them play cards, go to movies, smoke, dance, drink, and engage in other activities, some unmentionable. So the best thing to do is to be tolerant of them, since they may not know better, but to keep away from any close communication with them and to live your life within the family…”
I could sum up these boyhood years by saying that anything I would today regard as a close and communicative interpersonal relationship with another was completely lacking during that period…I was peculiar, a loner, with very little place or opportunity for a place in the world of persons. I was socially incompetent in any but superficial contacts. My fantasies during this period were definitely bizarre, and probably would be classed as schizoid by a diagnostician, but fortunately I never came in contact with a psychologist. (pp. 28-30; Rogers, 1980)
As noted above, the development of healthy relationships takes place whenever one person in the relationship is congruent. Their congruence encourages the other person to be more congruent, which supports the continued open communication on behalf of the first person. This interplay goes back and forth, encouraging continued and growing congruence in the relationship. As we will see below, this is basically the therapeutic situation, in which the therapist is expected to be congruent. However, it certainly does not require a trained therapist, since it occurs naturally in any situation in which one person is congruent from the beginning of the relationship.
One of the most important, and hopefully meaningful, relationships in anyone’s life is marriage. Rogers was married for 55 years, and as the end of his wife’s life approached he poured out his love to her with a depth that astonished him (Rogers, 1980). As relationships became more and more meaningful to him, he wanted to study the extraordinary relationships that become more than temporary. Although this is not necessarily synonymous with marriage, it most typically is. So he conducted a series of informal interviews with people who were, or had been, in lengthy relationships (at least 3 years). In comparing the relationships that seemed successful, as compared to those that were unhappy or had already come to an end, Rogers identified four factors that he believed were most important for long-term, healthy relationships: dedication or commitment, communication, the dissolution of roles, and becoming a separate self (Rogers, 1972).
Dedication, Commitment: Marriage is challenging: love seems to fade, vows are forgotten or set aside, religious rules are ignored (e.g., “What therefore God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”; Matthew 19:6; Holy Bible, 1962). Rogers believed that in order for a relationship to last, each person must be dedicated to their partnership. They must commit themselves to working together throughout the changing process of their relationship, which is enriching their love and their life.
Communication: Communication encompasses much of human behavior, and it can be both subtle and complex. Communication itself is not a good thing, since many negative and hurtful things can be communicated. However, Rogers believed that we need to communicate persistent feeling, whether positive or negative, so that they don’t overwhelm us and come out in inappropriate ways. It is always important to express such communication in terms of your own thoughts and feelings, rather than projecting those feelings onto others (especially in angry and/or accusatory ways). This process involves risk, but one must be willing to risk the end of a relationship in order to allow it to grow.
Dissolution of Roles: Culture provides many expectations for the nature of relationships, whether it be dating or something more permanent like marriage. According to Rogers, obeying the cultural rules seems to contradict the idea of a growing and maturing relationship, a relationship that is moving forward (toward actualization). However, when individuals make an intentional choice to fulfill cultural expectations, because they want to, then the relationship can certainly be actualizing for them.
Becoming a Separate Self: Rogers believed that “a living partnership is composed of two people, each of whom owns, respect, and develops his or her own selfhood” (pg. 206; Rogers, 1972). While it may seem contradictory that becoming an individual should enhance a relationship, as each person becomes more real and more open they can bring these qualities into the relationship. As a result, the relationship can contribute to the continued growth of each person.
Discussion Question: Consider Rogers’ criteria for a successful marriage, which begins with commitment to the marriage. Given the divorce rate (which studies now place at over 60%), and ongoing political debates about what marriage is or is not, what is your opinion of the status of marriage in society today?
Client-Centered and Person-Centered Therapy
Central to Rogers’ view of psychotherapy is the relationship between the therapist and the client, and we must again emphasize the distinction between a client and a patient. This involves shifting the emphasis in therapy from a psychologist/psychiatrist who can “fix” the patient to the client themselves, since only the client can truly understand their own experiential field. The therapist must provide a warm, safe environment in which the client feels free to express whatever attitude they experience in the same way that they perceive it. At the same time, the client experiences the therapist as someone temporarily divested of their own self, in their complete desire to understand the client. The therapist can then accurately and objectively reflect the thoughts, feelings, perceptions, confusions, ambivalences, etc., of the client back to the client. In this open, congruent, and supportive environment, the client is able to begin the process of reorganizing and reintegrating their self-structure, and living congruently within that self-structure (Rogers, 1951).
In 1957, Rogers published an article entitled The Necessary and Sufficient Conditions of Therapeutic Personality Change (Rogers, 1957/1989). The list is fairly short and straightforward:
- The client and the therapist must be in psychological contact.
- The client must be in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
- The therapist must be congruent in the relationship.
- The therapist must experience unconditional positive regard for the client.
- The therapist must experience empathic understanding of the client’s frame of reference and endeavor to communicate this experience to the client.
- The client must perceive, at least to a minimal degree, the therapist’s empathic understanding and unconditional positive regard.
According to Rogers, there is nothing else that is required; if these conditions are met over a period of time, there will be constructive personality change. What Rogers considered more remarkable are those factors that do not seem necessary for positive therapeutic change. For example, these conditions do not apply to one type of client, but to all clients, and they are not unique to client-centered therapy, but apply in all types of therapy. The relationship between the therapist and client is also not unique, these factors hold true in any interpersonal relationship. And most surprisingly, these conditions do not require any special training on the part of therapist, or even an accurate diagnosis of the client’s psychological problems! Any program designed for the purpose of encouraging constructive change in the personality structure and behavior of individuals, whether educational, military, correctional, or industrial, can benefit from these conditions and use them as a measure of the effectiveness of the program (Rogers, 1957).
Can any one of these conditions be considered more important than the others? Although they are all necessary, Rogers came to believe that the critical factor may be the therapist’s empathic understanding of the client (Rogers, 1980). The Dalai Lama (2001) has said that empathy is an essential first step toward a compassionate heart. It brings us closer to others, and allows us to recognize the depth of their pain. According to Rogers, empathy refers to entering the private world of the client, and moving about within it without making any judgments. It is essential to set aside one’s own views and values, so that the other person’s world may be entered without prejudice. Not just anyone can accomplish this successfully:
In some sense it means that you lay aside your self; this can only be done by persons who are secure enough in themselves that they know they will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and that they can comfortably return to their own world when they wish. (pg. 143; Rogers, 1980)
Finally, let us consider group therapy situations. Within a group, all of the factors described above hold true. Rogers, who late in his career was becoming more and more interested in the growth of all people, including those reasonably well-adjusted and mature to begin with, became particularly interested in T-groups and encounter groups. These groups were developed following the proposition by Kurt Lewin that modern society was overlooking the importance of training in human relations skills (the “T” in T-group stands for “training”). Encounter groups were quite similar to T-groups, except that there was a greater emphasis on personal growth and improved interpersonal communication through an experiential process. Each group has a leader, or facilitator, who fosters and encourages open communication. The group serves as a reflection of the congruence, or lack thereof, in the communication of whoever is currently expressing themselves. As a result, the group hopefully moves toward congruence, and the subsequent personal growth and actualization of the individual (Rogers, 1970).
Given the usefulness of T-groups and encounter in a variety of settings, as well as the importance of continued personal growth and actualization for the well-adjusted as well as those suffering psychological distress, Rogers shifted his focus from simply client-centered therapy to a more universal person-centered approach, which encompasses client-centered therapy, student-centered teaching, and group-centered leadership (Rogers, 1980; see also Rogers & Roethlisberger, 1952/1993). Rogers believed that all people have within them vast resources for self-understanding and for changing their self-concepts, attitudes, and behaviors. In all relationships, whether therapist-client, parent-child, teacher-student, leader-group, employer-employee, etc., there are three elements that can foster personal growth: genuineness or congruence, acceptance or caring, and empathic understanding. When these elements are fostered in any setting, “there is greater freedom to be the true, whole person.” The implications go far beyond individual relationships. We live in what seems to be an increasingly dangerous world. Globalism has brought with it global tension and conflict. However, Rogers argued that a person-centered approach would help to ease intercultural tension, by helping each of us to learn to appreciate and understand others. Whether the cultural differences are political, racial, ethnic, economic, whatever, as more leaders become person-centered there is the possibility for future growth of intercultural understanding and cooperation (Rogers, 1977).
Abraham Maslow and Holistic-Dynamic Psychology
Maslow stands alongside Rogers as one of the founders of humanistic psychology. Although he began his career working with two of the most famous experimental psychologists in America, he was profoundly influenced by the events that led into World War II. He became devoted to studying the more virtuous aspects of personality, and he may be viewed as one of the founders of positive psychology. Well-known primarily for his work on self-actualization, Maslow also had a significant impact on the field of management. His fame in both psychology and business makes him a candidate for being, perhaps, the best-known psychologist of all time (Freud is certainly more famous, but remember that he was a psychiatrist). According to Maslow, his holistic-dynamic theory of personality was a blend of theories that had come before his:
This theory is, I think, in the functionalist tradition of James and Dewey, and is fused with the holism of Wertheimer, Goldstein, and Gestalt psychology, and with the dynamicism of Freud, Fromm, Horney, Reich, Jung, and Adler. This integration or synthesis may be called a holistic-dynamic theory. (pg. 35; Maslow, 1970)
Brief Biography of Abraham Maslow
Abraham H. Maslow was born on April 1, 1908 in Brooklyn, New York, the first of seven children. His father, Samuel, had left Kiev, Russia at just 14 years old. When Samuel Maslow arrived in America he had no money and did not speak English. Samuel Maslow spent a few years in Philadelphia, doing odd jobs and learning the language, before moving to New York City, where he married his first cousin Rose and began a cooperage business (a cooper builds and repairs barrels). Samuel and Rose Maslow did not have a happy marriage, and Abraham Maslow was particularly sensitive to this fact. Maslow resented his father’s frequent absences, and apparently hated his mother. His mother was a superstitious woman, who severely punished Maslow for even minor misbehavior by threatening him with God’s wrath. Maslow developed an intense distrust of religion, and was proud to consider himself an atheist (Gabor, 2000; Hoffman, 1988; Maddi & Costa, 1972).
Maslow’s childhood was no better outside the home. Anti-Semitism was rampant in New York. Many teachers were cruel, and he overheard them say nasty things about him. He had no friends, and there were anti-Semitic gangs that would find and beat up Jewish children. At one point he decided to join a Jewish gang for protection, but he didn’t have the “right” attitude:
I wanted to be a member of the gang, but I couldn’t: they rejected me because I couldn’t kill cats…We’d stake out a cat on a [clothesline] and stand back so many paces and throw rocks at it and kill it.
And the other thing was to throw rocks at the girls on the corner. Now I knew that the girls liked it, and yet I couldn’t throw rocks at girls and I couldn’t kill cats, so I was ruled out of the gang, and I could never be the gangster that I wanted to become. (pg. 4; Maslow, cited in Hoffman, 1988)
With six more children joining the family, one every couple of years, the family was constantly moving and, following the troubling death of one of his little sisters (Maslow blamed her illness, in part, on their mother’s neglect), Maslow became a very unhappy and shy child. He also thought he was terribly ugly, something his father said openly at a large family gathering! Perhaps worst of all, he felt profoundly strange and different than other children, largely because he was so intellectual. Maslow reconciled with his father later in life. During the depression, Samuel Maslow lost his business. By that time he had divorced Maslow’s mother, Rose, and he moved in with his son. The two became close, and after Samuel Maslow died, his son remembered him fondly. Maslow never forgave his mother, however. Some of the childhood stories he related were shockingly cruel. Once, he had searched through second-hand record shops for some special 78-RPM records. When he failed to put them away soon after returning home, his mother stomped them into pieces on the living room floor. Another time, Maslow brought home two abandoned kittens he had found. When his mother caught him feeding them a saucer of milk, she grabbed the kittens and smashed their heads against a wall until they were dead! Later in life, he refused to even attend her funeral.
What I had reacted to and totally hated and rejected was not only her physical appearance, but also her values and world view…I’ve always wondered where my utopianism, ethical stress, humanism, stress on kindness, love, friendship, and all the rest came from. I knew certainly of the direct consequences of having no mother-love. But the whole thrust of my life-philosophy and all my research and theorizing also has its roots in a hatred for and revulsion against everything she stood for. (pg. 9; Maslow cited in Hoffman, 1988)
Maslow spent much of his childhood reading, and despite the treatment he received from many of his prejudiced teachers, he loved to learn. After high school Maslow won a scholarship to Cornell University, but encountered pervasive anti-Semitism throughout his first year. So he transferred to City College, where he first studied the work of behavioral scientists like John B. Watson. He was impressed by Watson’s desire to use the newly created science of behaviorism to fight social problems, such as racial and ethnic discrimination. At the same time, however, Maslow had fallen in love with his first cousin Bertha Goodman, a relationship his parents strongly opposed. So Maslow left for the University of Wisconsin (Gabor, 2000; Hoffman, 1988; Maddi & Costa, 1972). Bertha Goodman followed, and they were soon married. Marriage boosted Maslow’s self-esteem, and provided him with a sense of purpose in life. He later said that “life didn’t really start for me until I got married and went to Wisconsin” (pg. 128; cited in Maddi & Costa, 1972).
In Wisconsin, Maslow studied the behavior of primates under the supervision of the renowned Harry Harlow (most famous for his studies on contact comfort). One day, while watching some monkeys seemingly enjoy munching on peanuts and other treats, Maslow recognized that appetite and hunger are two different things. Thus, motivation must be comprised of separate elements as well. In another study, Maslow tried to address the different aspects of Freud and Adler’s psychodynamic perspectives by observing dominance behavior amongst the monkeys. His colleagues and professors, however, had little interest in the psychoanalytic science that they considered to be a European endeavor. Maslow completed his Ph.D. at Wisconsin in 1934, and then returned to New York. He earned a position at Columbia University with the renowned Edward Thorndike, and began studying the relative contributions of heredity and environment on social behavior, as part of a project to study factors involved in poverty, illiteracy, and crime. As a curious side note, Thorndike had also developed an IQ test; Maslow scored 195 on this test, one of the highest scores ever recorded. During this time at Columbia University, Maslow also began relationships with many of the psychologists, sociologists, and anthropologists who had fled Nazi Germany. He was very impressed with Max Wertheimer, one of the founders of Gestalt psychology, and who helped to lay the foundation for positive psychology:
“Are there not tendencies in men and in children to be kind, to deal sincerely [and] justly with the other fellow? Are these nothing but internalized rules on the basis of compulsion and fear?” he asked rhetorically. (pg. 159; Wertheimer, cited in Gabor, 2000)
Maslow was one of the first students to study with Alfred Adler in America, being particularly impressed with Adler’s work helping academically-challenged children to succeed despite their low IQ scores. Maslow also studied with Erich Fromm, Karen Horney, and Ruth Benedict. Benedict was an anthropologist who encouraged Maslow to gain some field experience. She sponsored a grant application that Maslow received to study the Blackfoot Indians. During the summer of 1938, Maslow examined the dominance and emotional security of the Blackfoot Indians. He was impressed by their culture, and recognized what he believed was an innate need to experience a sense of purpose in life, a sense of meaning. A few years later, shortly after the beginning of World War II, Maslow had an epiphany regarding psychology’s failure to understand the true nature of people. He devoted the rest of his life to the study of a hopeful psychology (Gabor, 2000; Hoffman, 1988; Maddi & Costa, 1972).
Maslow taught for a few years at Brooklyn College, and also served as the plant manager for the Maslow Cooperage Corporation (from 1947-1949). In 1951 he was appointed Professor and Chair of the Department of Psychology at Brandeis University, where he conducted the research and wrote the books for which he is most famous. By the late 1960s, Maslow had become disillusioned with academic life. He had suffered a heart attack in 1966, and seemed somewhat disconnected from the very department he had helped to form. In 1969, however, he accepted a four year grant from the Laughlin Foundation, primarily to study the philosophy of democracy, economics, and ethics as influenced by humanistic psychology. He had been troubled by what he viewed as a loss of faith in American values, and he was greatly enjoying his time working in California. He also attended management seminars at the Saga Corporation, urging the participants to commit themselves to humanistic management. One day in June, 1970, he was jogging slowly when he suffered a massive heart attack. He was already dead by the time his wife rushed over to him (Gabor, 2000; Hoffman, 1988; Maddi & Costa, 1972). He was only 62 years old. Shortly after his death, the International Study Project of Menlo Park, CA published a memorial volume in tribute to Abraham Maslow (International Study Project, 1972).
Placing Maslow in Context: Beyond Humanistic Psychology
Whereas Carl Rogers is often thought of as the founder of humanistic psychology, in large part because of his emphasis on psychotherapy, it was Maslow who studied in great detail the most significant theoretical aspect of it: self-actualization. In addition to studying self-actualization, he applied it both in psychology and beyond. His application of self-actualization to management continued the classic relationship between psychology and business (which began with John B. Watson and his application of psychological principles to advertising). Unfortunately, Maslow died just as he was beginning to study his proposed fourth force: transpersonal psychology. Transpersonal psychology offered a connection between psychology and many of the Eastern philosophies associated with Yoga and Buddhism, and also provided a foundation for the study of positive psychology.
Maslow’s interest in business and management has quite possibly led to his being the most famous psychologist of all time, since he is well-known in both psychology and business. If he had continued being a vocal advocate for transpersonal psychology (if not for his untimely death at an early age), given today’s growing interest in Eastern philosophy and psychology and the establishment of positive psychology as a goal for the field of psychology by former APA President Martin Seligman, Maslow may well have become even more famous. It is interesting to note that someone so truly visionary seems to have become that way as a result of studying people whom he felt were themselves self-actualized. If positive psychology, the psychology of virtue and values, becomes the heir of Maslow’s goal, it should become a significant force in the field of psychology. That will be Maslow’s true legacy.
The Importance of Values in the Science of Psychology
A common criticism leveled against many personality theorists is that they have not confirmed their theories in a strict, scientific manner. When one goes so far as to consider values, which are typically associated with religious morality, there is even greater resistance on the part of those who would have psychology become “truly” scientific to consider such matters worthy of examination. However, Maslow felt that:
Both orthodox science and orthodox religion have been institutionalized and frozen into a mutually excluding dichotomy…One consequence is that they are both pathologized, split into sickness, ripped apart into a crippled half-science and a crippled half-religion…As a result…the student who becomes a scientist automatically gives up a great deal of life, especially its richest portions. (pg. 119; Maslow, 1966)
Consequently, Maslow urged that we need to be fully aware of our values at all times, and aware of how our values influence us in our study of psychology. Although people approach the world in common ways, they also pay selective attention to what is happening, and they reshuffle the events occurring around them according to their own interests, needs, desires, fears, etc. Consequently, Maslow believed that paying attention to human values, particularly to an individual’s values, actually helps the psychological scientist achieve the goal of clearly understanding human behavior (Maslow, 1970). In a similar vein, when Maslow co-authored an abnormal psychology text early in his career, he included a chapter on normal psychology. His description of the characteristics of a healthy, normal personality provides an interesting foreshadowing of his research on self-actualization (Maslow & Mittelmann, 1941).
Maslow felt so strongly about the loss of values in our society that he helped to organize a conference and then served as editor for a book entitled New Knowledge in Human Values (Maslow, 1959). In the preface, Maslow laments that “…the ultimate disease of our time is valuelessness…this state is more crucially dangerous than ever before in history…” (pg. vii; Maslow, 1959). Maslow does suggest, however, that something can be done about this loss of values, if only people will try. In the book, he brought together an interesting variety of individuals, including: Kurt Goldstein, a well-known neurophysiologist who studied the holistic function of healthy vs. brain-damaged patients and who coined the term self-actualization; D. T. Suzuki, a renowned Zen Buddhist scholar; and Paul Tillich, a highly respected existential theologian (who had a direct and significant influence on the career of Rollo May). There are also chapters by Gordon Allport and Erich Fromm. In his own chapter, Maslow concludes:
If we wish to help humans to become more fully human, we must realize not only that they try to realize themselves but that they are also reluctant or afraid or unable to do so. Only by fully appreciating this dialectic between sickness and health can we help to tip the balance in favor of health. (pg. 135; Maslow, 1959)
Discussion Question: Maslow believed that values are very important, not only in the study of psychology, but in society as well. Do you agree? When politicians or religious leaders talk about values, do you think they represent meaningful, true values, or do they just support the values that are an advantage to their own goal or the goals of their political party or church?
The Hierarchy of Needs
Maslow’s is undoubtedly best known for his hierarchy of needs. Developed within the context of a theory of human motivation, Maslow believed that human behavior is driven and guided by a set of basic needs: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and the need for self-actualization. It is generally accepted that individuals must move through the hierarchy in order, satisfying the needs at each level before one can move on to a higher level. The reason for this is that lower needs tend to occupy the mind if they remain unsatisfied. How easy is it to work or study when you are really hungry or thirsty? But Maslow did not consider the hierarchy to be rigid. For example, he encountered some people for whom self-esteem was more important than love, individuals suffering from antisocial personality disorder seem to have a permanent loss of the need for love, or if a need has been satisfied for a long time it may become less important. As lower needs are becoming satisfied, though not yet fully satisfied, higher needs may begin to present themselves. And of course there are sometimes multiple determinants of behavior, making the relationship between a given behavior and a basic need difficult to identify (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970).
The physiological needs are based, in part, on the concept of homeostasis, the natural tendency of the body to maintain critical biological levels of essential elements or conditions, such as water, salt, energy, and body temperature. Sexual activity, though not essential for the individual, is biologically necessary for the human species to survive. Maslow described the physiological needs as the most prepotent. In other words, if a person is lacking everything in life, having failed to satisfy physiological, safety, belongingness and love, and esteem needs, their consciousness will most like be consumed with their desire for food and water. As the lowest and most clearly biological of the needs, these are also the most animal-like of our behavior. In Western culture, however, it is rare to find someone who is actually starving. So when we talk about being hungry, we are really talking about an appetite, rather than real hunger (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970). Many Americans are fascinated by stories such as those of the ill-fated Donner party, trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains during the winter of 1846-1847, and the Uruguayan soccer team whose plane crashed in the Andes mountains in 1972. In each case, either some or all of the survivors were forced to cannibalize those who had died. As shocking as such stories are, they demonstrate just how powerful our physiological needs can be.
The safety needs can easily be seen in young children. They are easily startled or frightened by loud noises, flashing lights, and rough handling. They can become quite upset when other family members are fighting, since it disrupts the feeling of safety usually associated with the home. According to Maslow, many adult neurotics are like children who do not feel safe. From another perspective, that of Erik Erikson, children and adults raised in such an environment do not trust the environment to provide for their needs. Although it can be argued that few people in America seriously suffer from a lack of satisfying physiological needs, there are many people who live unsafe lives. For example, inner city crime, abusive spouses and parents, incurable diseases like HIV/AIDS, all present life threatening dangers to many people on a daily basis.
One place where we expect our children to be safe is in school. However, as we saw in the last chapter (in the section on the martial arts), 160,000 children each day are too frightened to attend school (Nathan, 2005). Juvonen et al. (2006) looked at the effects of ethnic diversity on children’s perception of safety in urban middle schools (Grade 6). They surveyed approximately 2,000 students in 99 classrooms in the greater Los Angeles area. The ethnicity of the students in this study was 46 percent Latino (primarily of Mexican origin), 29 percent African American, 9 percent Asian (primarily East Asian), 9 percent Caucasian, and 7 percent multiracial. When a given classroom, or a given school, is more ethnically diverse, both African American and Latino students felt safer, were harassed less by peers, felt less lonely, and they had higher levels of self-worth (even when the authors controlled for differences in academic engagement). Thus, it appears that ethnic diversity in schools leads toward satisfaction of the need for safety, at least in one important area of a child’s life. Unfortunately, most minority students continue to be educated in schools that are largely ethnically segregated (Juvonen, et al., 2006).
Throughout the evolution of the human species we found safety primarily within our family, tribal group, or our community. It was within those groups that we shared the hunting and gathering that provided food. Once the physiological and safety needs have been fairly well satisfied, according to Maslow, “the person will feel keenly, as never before, the absence of friends, or a sweetheart, or a wife, or children” (Maslow, 1970). Although there is little scientific confirmation of the belongingness and love needs, many therapists attribute much of human suffering to society’s thwarting of the need for love and affection. Most notable among personality theorists who addressed this issue was Wilhelm Reich. An important aspect of love and affection is sex. Although sex is often considered a physiological need, given its role in procreation, sex is what Maslow referred to as a multidetermined behavior. In other words, it serves both a physiological role (procreation) and a belongingness/love role (the tenderness and/or passion of the physical side of love). Maslow was also careful to point out that love needs involve both giving and receiving love in order for them to be fully satisfied (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970).
Maslow believed that all people desire a stable and firmly based high evaluation of themselves and others (at least the others who comprise their close relationships). This need for self-esteem, or self-respect, involves two components. First is the desire to feel competent, strong, and successful (similar to Bandura’s self-efficacy). Second is the need for prestige or status, which can range from simple recognition to fame and glory. Maslow credited Adler for addressing this human need, but felt that Freud had neglected it. Maslow also believed that the need for self-esteem was becoming a central issue in therapy for many psychotherapists. However, as we saw in Chapter 12, Albert Ellis considers self-esteem to be a sickness. Ellis’ concern is that self-esteem, including efforts to boost self-esteem in therapy, requires that people rate themselves, something that Ellis felt will eventually lead to a negative evaluation (no one is perfect!). Maslow did acknowledge that the healthiest self-esteem is based on well-earned and deserved respect from others, rather than fleeting fame or celebrity status (Maslow, 1943/1973; Maslow, 1970).
When all of these lower needs (physiological, safety, belongingness and love, and esteem) have been largely satisfied, we may still feel restless and discontented unless we are doing what is right for ourselves. “What a man can be, he must be” (pg. 46; Maslow, 1970). Thus, the need for self-actualization, which Maslow described as the highest of the basic needs, can also be referred to as a Being-need, as opposed to the lower deficiency-needs (Maslow, 1968). We will examine self-actualization in more detail in the following section.
Although Maslow recognized that humans no longer have instincts in the technical sense, we nonetheless share basic drives with other animals. We get hungry, even though how and what we eat is determined culturally. We need to be safe, like any other animal, but again we seek and maintain our safety in different ways (such as having a police force to provide safety for us). Given our fundamental similarity to other animals, therefore, Maslow referred to the basic needs as instinctoid. The lower the need the more animal-like it is, the higher the need, the more human it is, and self-actualization was, in Maslow’s opinion, uniquely human (Maslow, 1970).
In addition to the basic needs, Maslow referred to cognitive needs and aesthetic needs. Little is known about cognitive needs, since they are seldom an important focus in clinic settings. However, he felt there were ample grounds for proposing that there are positive impulses to know, to satisfy curiosity, to understand, and to explain. The eight-fold path described by the Buddha, some 2,600 years ago, begins with right knowledge. The importance of mental stimulation for some people is described quite vividly by Maslow:
I have seen a few cases in which it seemed clear to me that the pathology (boredom, loss of zest in life, self-dislike, general depression of the bodily functions, steady deterioration of the intellectual life, of tastes, etc.) were produced in intelligent people leading stupid lives in stupid jobs. I have at least one case in which the appropriate cognitive therapy (resuming part-time studies, getting a position that was more intellectually demanding, insight) removed the symptoms.
I have seen many women, intelligent, prosperous, and unoccupied, slowly develop these same symptoms of intellectual inanition. Those who followed my recommendation to immerse themselves in something worthy of them showed improvement or cure often enough to impress me with the reality of the cognitive needs. (pg. 49; Maslow, 1970)
There are also classic studies on the importance of environmental enrichment on the structural development of the brain itself (Diamond et al., 1975; Globus, et al., 1973; Greenough & Volkmar, 1973; Rosenzweig, 1984; Spinelli & Jensen, 1979; Spinelli, Jensen, & DiPrisco, 1980). Even less is known about the aesthetic needs, but Maslow was convinced that some people need to experience, indeed they crave, beauty in their world. Ancient cave drawings have been found that seem to serve no other purpose than being art. The cognitive and aesthetic needs may very well have been fundamental to our evolution as modern humans.
Maslow began his studies on self-actualization in order to satisfy his own curiosity about people who seemed to be fulfilling their unique potential as individuals. He did not intend to undertake a formal research project, but he was so impressed by his results that he felt compelled to report his findings. Amongst people he knew personally and public and historical figures, he looked for individuals who appeared to have made full use of their talents, capacities, and potentialities. In other words, “people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable” (Maslow, 1970). His list of those who clearly seemed self-actualized included Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, Aldous Huxley, and Baruch Spinoza. His list of individuals who were most-likely self-actualized included Goethe (possibly the great-grandfather of Carl Jung), George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Harriet Tubman (born into slavery, she became a conductor on the Underground Railroad prior to the Civil War), and George Washington Carver (born into slavery at the end of the Civil War, he became an agricultural chemist and prolific inventor). In addition to the positive attributes listed above, Maslow also considered it very important that there be no evidence of psychopathology in those he chose to study. After comparing the seemingly self-actualized individuals to people who did not seem to have fulfilled their lives, Maslow identified fourteen characteristics of self-actualizing people (Maslow, 1950/1973, 1970), as follows:
More Efficient Perception of Reality and More Comfortable Relations with It: Self-actualizing people have an ability to recognize fakers, those who present a false persona. More than that, however, Maslow believed they could recognize hidden or confused realities in all aspects of life: science, politics, values and ethics, etc. They are not afraid of the unknown or people who are different, they find such differences to be a pleasant challenge. Although a high IQ may be associated with this characteristic, it is not uncommon to find those who are seemingly intelligent yet unable to be creative in their efforts to discover new phenomena. Thus, the perception of reality is not simply the same as being smart.
Acceptance (Self, Others, Nature): Similar to the approach Albert Ellis took with REBT (and his hypothesized dangers inherent in self-esteem), Maslow believed that self-actualizing people accept themselves as they are, including their faults and the differences between their personal reality and their ideal image of themselves. This is not to say that they are without guilt. They are concerned about personal faults that can be improved, any remaining habits or psychological issues that are unhealthy (e.g., prejudice, jealousy, etc.), and the shortcomings of their community and/or culture.
Spontaneity: The lives of self-actualizing people are marked by simplicity and a natural ease as they pursue their goals. Their outward behavior is relatively spontaneous, and their inner life (thoughts, drives, etc.) is particularly so. In spite of this spontaneity, they are not always unconventional, because they can easily accept the constraints of society and find their own way to fit in without being untrue to their own sense of self.
Problem-Centering: Self-actualizing individuals are highly problem-centered, not ego-centered. The problems they focus on are typically not their own, however. They focus on problems outside themselves, on important causes they would describe as necessary. Solving such problems is taken as their duty or responsibility, rather than as something they want to do for themselves.
The Quality of Detachment; the Need for Privacy: Whereas social withdrawal is often seen as psychologically unhealthy, self-actualizing people enjoy their privacy. They can remain calm as they separate themselves from problematic situations, remaining above the fray. In accordance with this healthy form of detachment, they are active, responsible, self-disciplined individuals in charge of their own lives. Maslow believed that they have more free will than the average person.
Autonomy, Independence of Culture and Environment: As an extension of the preceding characteristics, self-actualizing individuals are growth-motivated as opposed to being deficiency-motivated. They do not need the presence, companionship, or approval of others. Indeed, they may be hampered by others. The love, honor, esteem, etc., that can be bestowed by others has become less important to someone who is self-actualizing than self-development and inner growth.
Continued Freshness of Appreciation: Self-actualizing people are able to appreciate the wonders, as well as the common aspects, of life again and again. Such feelings may not occur all the time, but they can occur in the most unexpected ways and at unexpected times. Maslow offered a surprising evaluation of the importance of this characteristic of self-actualization:
I have also become convinced that getting used to our blessings is one of the most important nonevil generators of human evil, tragedy, and suffering. What we take for granted we undervalue, and we are therefore too apt to sell a valuable birthright for a mess of pottage, leaving behind regret, remorse, and a lowering of self-esteem. Wives, husbands, children, friends are unfortunately more apt to be loved and appreciated after they have died than while they are still available. Something similar is true for physical health, for political freedoms, for economic well-being; we learn their true value after we have lost them. (pp. 163-164; Maslow, 1970)
The “Mystic Experience” or “Oceanic Feeling;” Peak Experiences: The difference between a mystic experience (also known as an oceanic feeling) and a peak experience is a matter of definition. Mystic experiences are viewed as gifts from God, something reserved for special or deserving (i.e., faithful) servants. Maslow, however, believed that this was a natural occurrence that could happen for anyone, and to some extent probably did. He assigned the psychological term of peak experiences. Such experiences tend to be sudden feelings of limitless horizons opening up to one’s vision, simultaneous feelings of great power and great vulnerability, feelings of ecstasy, wonder and awe, a loss of the sense of time and place, and the feeling that something extraordinary and transformative has happened. Self-actualizers who do not typically experience these peaks, the so-called “non-peakers,” are more likely to become direct agents of social change, the reformers, politicians, crusaders, and so on. The more transcendent “peakers,” in contrast, become the poets, musicians, philosophers, and theologians.
Maslow devoted a great deal of attention to peak experiences, including their relationship to religion. At the core of religion, according to Maslow, is the private illumination or revelation of spiritual leaders. Such experiences seem to be very similar to peak experiences, and Maslow suggests that throughout history these peak experiences may have been mistaken for revelations from God. In his own studies, Maslow found that people who were spiritual, but not religious (i.e., not hindered by the doctrine of a specific faith or church), actually had more peak experiences than other people. Part of the explanation for this, according to Maslow, is that such people need to be more serious about their ethics, values, and philosophy of life, since their guidance and motivation must come from within. Individuals who seek such an appreciation of life may help themselves to experience an extended form of peak experience that Maslow called the plateau experience. Plateau experiences always have both noetic and cognitive elements, whereas peak experiences can be entirely emotional (Maslow, 1964). Put another way, plateau experiences involve serene and contemplative Being-cognition, as opposed to the more climactic peak experiences (Maslow, 1971).
Gemeinschaftsgefuhl: A word invented by Alfred Adler, gemeinschatfsgefuhl refers to the profound feelings of identification, sympathy, and affection for other people that are common in self-actualization individuals. Although self-actualizers may often feel apart from others, like a stranger in a strange land, becoming upset by the shortcomings of the average person, they nonetheless feel a sense of kinship with others. These feelings lead to a sincere desire to help the human race.
Interpersonal Relations: Maslow believed that self-actualizers have deeper and more profound personal relationships than other people. They tend to be kind to everyone, and are especially fond of children. Maslow described this characteristic as “compassion for all mankind,” a perspective that would fit well with Buddhist and Christian philosophies.
The Democratic Character Structure: Self-actualizing people are typically friendly with anyone, regardless of class, race, political beliefs, or education. They can learn from anyone who has something to teach them. They respect all people, simply because they are people. They are not, however, undiscriminating:
The careful distinction must be made between this democratic feeling and a lack of discrimination in taste, of an undiscriminating equalizing of any one human being with any other. These individuals, themselves elite, select for their friends elite, but this is an elite of character, capacity, and talent, rather than of birth, race, blood, name, family, age, youth, fame, or power. (pg. 168; Maslow, 1970)
Discrimination Between Means and Ends, Between Good and Evil: Self-actualizers know the difference between right and wrong. They are ethical, have high moral standards, and they do good things while avoiding doing bad things. They do not experience the average person’s confusion or inconsistency in making ethical choices. They tend to focus on ends, rather than means, although they sometimes become absorbed in the means themselves, viewing the process itself as a series of ends.
Philosophical, Unhostile Sense of Humor: The sense of humor shared by self-actualizers is not typical. They do not laugh at hostile, superior, or rebellious humor. They do not tell jokes that make fun of other people. Instead, they poke fun at people in general for being foolish, or trying to claim a place in the universe that is beyond us. Such humor often takes the form of poking fun at oneself, but not in a clown-like way. Although such humor can be found in nearly every aspect of life, to non-self-actualizing people the self-actualizers seem to be somewhat sober and serious.
Creativeness: According to Maslow, self-actualizing people are universally creative. This is not the creativity associated with genius, such as that of Mozart or Thomas Edison, but rather the fresh and naive creativity of an unspoiled child. Maslow believed that this creativity was a natural potential given to all humans at their birth, but that the constraints on behavior inherent in most cultures lead to its suppression.
As desirable as self-actualization may seem, self-actualizing individuals still face problems in their lives. According to Maslow, they are typically not well adjusted. This is because they resist being enculturated. They do not stand out in grossly abnormal ways, but there is a certain inner detachment from the culture in which they live. They are not viewed as rebels in the adolescent sense, though they may be rebels while growing up, but rather they work steadily toward social change and/or the accomplishment of their goals. As a result of their immersion in some personal goal, they may lose interest in or patience with common people and common social practices. Thus, they may seem detached, insulting, absent-minded, or humorless. They can seem boring, stubborn, or irritating, particularly because they are often superficially vain and proud only of their own accomplishments and their own family, friends, and work. According to Maslow, outbursts of temper are not rare. Maslow argued that there are, in fact, people who become saints, movers and shakers, creators, and sages. However, these same people can be irritating, selfish, angry, or depressed. No one is perfect, not even those who are self-actualizing (Maslow, 1950/1973, 1970).
Discussion Question: Consider Maslow’s characteristics of self-actualizing people. Which of those characteristics do you think are part of your personality? Are there any characteristics that you think may be particularly difficult for you to achieve?
Obstacles to Self-Actualization
In The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (Maslow, 1971), which was completed by Maslow’s wife and one of his colleagues shortly after Maslow’s death, Maslow described self-actualization as something that one does not obtain or fulfill at a specific point in time. Rather, it is an ongoing process of self-actualizing, characterized for some by brief periods of self-actualization (the peak experiences, for example). Maslow also described two major obstacles to achieving self-actualization: desacralizing and the Jonah complex. The Jonah complex, a name suggested by Maslow’s friend Professor Frank Manuel, refers to being afraid of one’s own greatness, or evading one’s destiny or calling in life. Maslow specifically described this as a non-Freudian defense mechanism in which a person is as afraid of the best aspects of their psyche as they are afraid of the worst aspects of their psyche (i.e., the socially unacceptable id impulses). He described the process of this fear as a recognition, despite how much we enjoy the godlike possibilities revealed by our finest accomplishments, of the weakness, awe, and fear we experience when we achieve those accomplishments. According to Maslow, “great emotions after all can in fact overwhelm us” (Maslow, 1971). Nonetheless, he encouraged people to strive for greatness, within a reasonable sense of their own limitations.
A very important defense mechanism, which affects young people in particular, is what Maslow called desacralizing. The source of this problem is usually found within the family:
These youngsters mistrust the possibility of values and virtues. They feel themselves swindled or thwarted in their lives. Most of them have, in fact, dopey parents whom they don’t respect very much, parents who are quite confused themselves about values and who, frequently, are simply terrified of their children and never punish them or stop them from doing things that are wrong. So you have a situation where the youngsters simply despise their elders – often for good and sufficient reason. (pg. 49; Maslow, 1971)
As a result, children grow up without respect for their elders, or for anything their elders consider important. The values of the culture itself can be called into question. While such a situation may sometimes be important for changing social conventions that unfairly discriminate against some people, can we really afford to live in a society in which nothing is sacred? Indeed, can such a society or culture continue to exist? Thus, Maslow emphasized a need for resacralizing. Maslow noted that he had to make up the words desacralizing and resacralizing “because the English language is rotten for good people. It has no decent vocabulary for the virtues” (Maslow, 1971). Resacralizing means being willing to see the sacred, the eternal, the symbolic. As an example, Maslow suggested considering a medical student dissecting a human brain. Would such a student see the brain simply as a biological organ, or would they be awed by it, also seeing the brain as a sacred object, including even its poetic aspects? This concept is particularly important for counselors working with the aged, people approaching the end of their lives, and may be critical for helping them move toward self-actualization. According to Maslow, when someone asks a counselor for help with the self-actualizing process, the counselor had better have an answer for them, “or we’re not doing what it is our job to do” (Maslow, 1971).
Discussion Question: Maslow believed that desacralizing was particularly challenging for young people. Do you think our society has lost its way, have we lost sight of meaningful values? Is nothing sacred anymore? Is there anything that you do in your life to recognize something as sacred in a way that has real meaning for your community?
Maslow had something else interesting to say about self-actualization in The Farther Reaches of Human Nature: “What does self-actualization mean in moment-to-moment terms? What does it mean on Tuesday at four o’clock?” (pg. 41). Consequently, he offered a preliminary suggestion for an operational definition of the process by which self-actualization occurs. In other words, what are the behaviors exhibited by people on the path toward fulfilling or achieving the fourteen characteristics of self-actualized people described above? Sadly, this could only remain a preliminary description, i.e., they are “ideas that are in midstream rather than ready for formulation into a final version,” because this book was published after Maslow’s death (having been put together before his sudden and unexpected heart attack).
What does one do when he self-actualizes? Does he grit his teeth and squeeze? What does self-actualization mean in terms of actual behavior, actual procedure? I shall describe eight ways in which one self-actualizes. (pg. 45; Maslow, 1971)
- They experience full, vivid, and selfless concentration and total absorption.
- Within the ongoing process of self-actualization, they make growth choices (rather than fear choices; progressive choices rather than regressive choices).
- They are aware that there is a self to be actualized.
- When in doubt, they choose to be honest rather than dishonest.
- They trust their own judgment, even if it means being different or unpopular (being courageous is another version of this behavior).
- They put in the effort necessary to improve themselves, working regularly toward self-development no matter how arduous or demanding .
- They embrace the occurrence of peak experiences, doing what they can to facilitate and enjoy more of them (as opposed to denying these experiences as many people do).
- They identify and set aside their ego defenses (they have “the courage to give them up”). Although this requires that they face up to painful experiences, it is more beneficial than the consequences of defenses such as repression.
Being and Transcendence
Maslow had great hope and optimism for the human race. Although self-actualization might seem to be the pinnacle of personal human achievement, he viewed Humanistic Psychology, or Third Force Psychology, as just another step in our progression:
I should say also that I consider Humanistic, Third Force Psychology to be transitional, a preparation for a still “higher” Fourth Psychology, transpersonal, transhuman, centered in the cosmos rather than in human needs and interest, going beyond humanness, identity, self-actualization, and the like…These new developments may very well offer a tangible, usable, effective satisfaction of the “frustrated idealism” of many quietly desperate people, especially young people. These psychologies give promise of developing into the life-philosophy, the religion-surrogate, the value-system, the life-program that these people have been missing. Without the transcendent and the transpersonal, we get sick, violent, and nihilistic, or else hopeless and apathetic. We need something “bigger than we are” to be awed by and to commit ourselves to in a new, naturalistic, empirical, non-churchly sense, perhaps as Thoreau and Whitman, William James and John Dewey did. (pp. iii-iv; Maslow, 1968)
Although Maslow wrote about this need for a Fourth Force Psychology in 1968, it was not until the year 1998 that APA President Martin Seligman issued his call for the pursuit of positive psychology as an active force in the field of psychology. Maslow believed that all self-actualizing people were involved in some calling or vocation, a cause outside of themselves, something that fate has called them to and that they love doing. In so doing, they devote themselves to the search for Being-values (or B-values; Maslow, 1964, 1967/2008, 1968). The desire to attain self-actualization results in the B-values acting like needs. Since they are higher than the basic needs, Maslow called them metaneeds. When individuals are unable to attain these goals, the result can be metapathology, a sickness of the soul. Whereas counselors may be able to help the average person with their average problems, metapathologies may require the help of a metacounselor, a counselor trained in philosophical and spiritual matters that go far beyond the more instinctoid training of the traditional psychoanalyst (Maslow, 1967/2008). The B-values identified by Maslow (1964) are an interesting blend of the characteristics of self-actualizing individuals and the human needs described by Henry Murray: truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, dichotomu-transcendence, aliveness, uniqueness, perfection, necessity, completion, justice, order, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-sufficiency.
Transcendence is typically associated with people who are religious, spiritual, or artistic, but Maslow said that he found transcendent individuals amongst creative people in a wide variety of vocations (including business, managers, educators, and politicians), though there are not many of them in any field. Transcendence, according to Maslow, is the very highest and most holistic level of human consciousness, which involves relating to oneself, to all others, to all species, to nature, and to the cosmos as an end rather than as a means (Maslow, 1971). It is essential that individuals not be reduced to the role they play in relation to others, transcendence can only be found within oneself (Maslow, 1964, 1968). Maslow’s idea is certainly not new. Ancient teachings in Yoga tell us that there is a single universal spirit that connects us all, and Buddhists describe this connection as interbeing. The Abrahamic religions teach us that the entire universe was created by, and therefore is connected through, one god. It was Maslow’s hope that a transcendent Fourth Force in psychology would help all people to become self-actualizing. In Buddhist terms, Maslow was advocating the intentional creation of psychological Bodhisattvas. Perhaps this is what Maslow meant by the term metacounselor.
Connections Across Cultures: Is Nothing Sacred?
Maslow described some lofty ambitions for humanity in Toward a Psychology of Being (1968) and The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971), as well as some challenges we face along the way. Transcendence, according to Maslow, is a loss of our sense of Self, as we begin to feel an intimate connection with the world around us and all other people. But transcendence is exceedingly difficult when we are hindered by the defense mechanism of desacralization. What exactly does the word “sacred” mean? It is not easily found in psychological works. William James often wrote about spiritual matters, but not about what is or is not sacred. Sigmund Freud mentioned sacred prohibitions in his final book, Moses and Monotheism (Freud, 1939/1967), but he felt that anything sacred was simply a cultural adaptation of all children’s fear of challenging their father’s will (and God was created as a symbol of the mythological father). A dictionary definition of sacred says that it is “connected with God (or the gods) or dedicated to a religious purpose and so deserving veneration.” However, there is another definition that does not require a religious context: “regarded with great respect and reverence by a particular religion, group, or individual” (The Oxford American College Dictionary, 2002). Maslow described desacralization as a rejection of the values and virtues of one’s parents. As a result, people grow up without the ability to see anything as sacred, eternal, or symbolic. In other words, they grow up without meaning in their lives.
The process of resacralization, which Maslow considered an essential task of therapists working with clients who seek help in this critical area of their life, requires that we have some concept of what is sacred. So, what is sacred? Many answers can be found, but there does seem to be at least one common thread.
Christians have long believed that forgiveness lies at the heart of faith. Psychologists have recently found that forgiveness may also lie at the heart of emotional and physical well-being.
David Myers & Malcolm Jeeves (2003)
…Compassion is the wish that others be free of suffering. It is by means of compassion that we aspire to attain enlightenment. It is compassion that inspires us to engage in the virtuous practices that lead to Buddhahood. We must therefore devote ourselves to developing compassion.
The Dalai Lama (2001)
I have been engaged in peace work for more than thirty years: combating poverty, ignorance, and disease; going to sea to help rescue boat people; evacuating the wounded from combat zones; resettling refugees; helping hungry children and orphans; opposing wars; producing and disseminating peace literature; training peace and social workers; and rebuilding villages destroyed by bombs. It is because of the practice of meditation – stopping, calming, and looking deeply – that I have been able to nourish and protect the sources of my spiritual energy and continue this work.
Thich Nhat Hanh (1995)
…Our progress is the penetrating of the present moment, living life with our feet on the ground, living in compassionate, active relationship with others, and yet living in the awareness that life has been penetrated by the eternal moment of God and unfolds in the power of that moment.
Fr. Laurence Freeman (1986)
Keep your hands busy with your duties in this world, and your heart busy with God.
Sheikh Muzaffer (cited in Essential Sufism by Fadiman & Frager, 1997)
Forgiveness is a letting go of past suffering and betrayal, a release of the burden of pain and hate that we carry.
Forgiveness honors the heart’s greatest dignity. Whenever we are lost, it brings us back to the ground of love.
Jack Kornfield (2002)
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself…”
Jesus Christ (The Holy Bible, 1962)
In examining self-actualizing people directly, I find that in all cases, at least in our culture, they are dedicated people, devoted to some task “outside themselves,” some vocation, or duty, or beloved job. Generally the devotion and dedication is so marked that one can fairly use the old words vocation, calling, or mission to describe their passionate, selfless, and profound feeling for their “work.”
The spiritual life is then part of the human essence. It is a defining-characteristic of human nature, without which human nature is not full human nature. It is part of the Real Self, of one’s identity, of one’s inner core, of one’s specieshood, of full humanness.
Abraham Maslow (1971)
Christians, Buddhists, Muslims, as well as members of other religions and humanists, all have some variation of what has been called The Golden Rule: treating others as you would like to be treated. If that is sacred, then even amongst atheists, young people can evaluate the values and virtues of their parents, community, and culture, and then decide whether those values are right or wrong, whether they want to perpetuate an aspect of that society based on their own thoughts and feelings about how they, themselves, may be treated someday by others. This resacralization need not be religious or spiritual, but it commonly is, and some psychologists are comfortable embracing spirituality as such.
Kenneth Pargament and Annette Mahoney (2005) wrote a chapter entitled Spirituality: Discovering and Conserving the Sacred, which was included in the Handbook of Positive Psychology (Snyder & Lopez, 2005). First, they point out that religion is an undeniable fact in American society. Some 95 percent of Americans believe in God, and 86 percent believe that He can be reached through prayer and that He is important or very important to them. Spirituality, according to Pargament and Mahoney, is the process in which individuals seek both to discover and to conserve that which is sacred. It is interesting to note that Maslow and Rogers consider self-actualization and transcendence to be a process as well, not something that one can get and keep permanently. An important aspect of defining what is sacred is that it is imbued with divinity. God may be seen as manifest in marriage, work can be seen as a vocation to which the person is called, the environment can been seen as God’s creation. In each of these situations, and in others, what is viewed as sacred has been sanctified by those who consider it sacred. Unfortunately, this can have negative results as well, such as when the Heaven’s Gate cult followed their sanctified leader to their deaths. Thus, spirituality is not necessarily synonymous with a good and healthy lifestyle.
Still, there is research that has shown that couples who sanctify their marriage experience greater marital satisfaction, less marital conflict, and more effective marital problem-solving strategies. Likewise, mothers and fathers who sanctify the role of parenting report less aggression and more consistent discipline in raising their children. For college students, spiritual striving was more highly correlated with well-being than any other form of goal-setting (see Pargament & Mahoney, 2005). So there appear to be real psychological advantages to spiritual pursuits. This may be particularly true during challenging times in our lives:
…there are aspects of our lives that are beyond our control. Birth, developmental transitions, accidents, illnesses, and death are immutable elements of existence. Try as we might to affect these elements, a significant portion of our lives remains beyond our immediate control. In spirituality, however, we can find ways to understand and deal with our fundamental human insufficiency, the fact that there are limits to our control… (pg. 655; Pargament & Mahoney, 2005)
Eupsychian Management and Theory Z
It is not merely a coincidence that Maslow is well-known in the field of business. He spent 3 years as the plant manager for the Maslow Cooperage Corporation, and later he spent a summer studying at an electronics firm in California (Non-Linear Systems, Inc.) at the invitation of the company’s president. He became very interested in industrial and managerial psychology, and the journal he kept in California was published as Eupsychian Management (Maslow, 1965). Eupsychia refers to real possibility and improvability, and a movement toward psychological health, as opposed to the vague fantasies of proposed Utopian societies. More precisely, though this is something of a fantasy itself, Maslow described Eupsychia as the culture that would arise if 1,000 self-actualizing people were allowed to live their own lives on a sheltered island somewhere. Maslow applied his psychological theories, including both the hierarchy of needs and self-actualization, to a management style that takes advantage of this knowledge to maximize the potential of the employees in a company (also see the collection of Maslow’s unpublished papers by Hoffman, 1996).
Maslow introduced a variety of terms related to his theories on management, one of the most interesting being synergy. Having borrowed the term from Ruth Benedict, synergy refers to a situation in which a person pursuing their own, selfish goals is automatically helping others, and a person unselfishly helping others is, at the same time, helping themselves. According to Maslow, when selfishness and unselfishness are mutually exclusive, it is a sign of mild psychopathology. Self-actualizing individuals are above the distinction between selfishness and unselfishness; they enjoy seeing others experience pleasure. Maslow offered the personal example of feeding strawberries to his little daughter. As the child smacked her lips and thoroughly loved the strawberries, an experience that thrilled Maslow, what was he actually giving up by letting her eat the strawberries instead of eating them himself? In his experience with the Blackfoot tribe, a member named Teddy was able to buy a car. He was the only one who had one, but tradition allowed anyone in the tribe to borrow it. Teddy used his car no more often than anyone else, but he had to pay the bills, including the gas bill. And yet, everyone in the tribe was so proud of him that he was greatly admired and they elected him chief. So, he benefited in other ways by following tradition and letting everyone use his car (Maslow, 1965). In the business field, when managers encourage cooperation and communication, everyone benefits from the healthy growth and continuous improvement of the company. And this leads us to Theory Z (which is Eupsychian management).
Douglas McGregor, a professor of industrial relations at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, was greatly impressed with Maslow’s work, and McGregor had used Motivation and Personality as a textbook in his business classes. Based on Maslow’s theories, McGregor published a book in 1960 in which he outlined two managerial models, Theory X and Theory Y (Gabor, 2000; Hoffman, 1996). Maslow described the two theories as follows:
…To put it succinctly, Theory Y assumes that if you give people responsibilities and freedom, then they will like to work and will do a better job. Theory Y also assumes that workers basically like excellence, efficiency, perfection, and the like.
Theory X, which still dominates most of the world’s workplace, has a contrasting view. It assumes that people are basically stupid, lazy, hurtful, and untrustworthy and, therefore, that you have got to check everything constantly because workers will steal you blind if you don’t. (pg. 187; Maslow, 1996a)
The Theory X/Theory Y strategy was intentionally put into practice at Non-Linear Systems, hence Maslow’s invitation to study there. Maslow concluded, however, that even Theory Y did not go far enough in maximizing people’s potential. People have metaneeds(the need for B-values), needs that go beyond simply offering higher salaries. When employees have their basic needs met, but recognize inefficiency and mismanagement in the company, they will still complain, but these higher level complaints can now be described as metagrumbles (as opposed to the lower level grumbles about lower level needs). Theory Z attempts to transcend Theory Y and actively facilitate the growth of a company’s employees toward self-actualization (Hoffman, 1996; Maslow, 1971; Maslow 1996b).
Discussion Question: How’s your job (or any job you have had)? Would you describe your supervisor or boss as someone who uses Eupsychian or Theory Z management? Does the workplace foster synergy amongst the employees? If not, can you imagine how the job would be different if they did?
Henry Murray and Personology
Henry Murray was primarily psychodynamic in his orientation. However, the fundamental aspect of his theory is the presence of needs in our lives, and there was a distinctly humanistic aspect to his theories as well (Maddi & Costa, 1972). Thus, it seems appropriate to include Murray alongside Maslow’s discussion of human needs. In addition, Murray developed a practical application of his famous test, the Thematic Apperception Test (or TAT), for screening candidates for special work assignments. Once again, this is similar to Maslow’s forays into the field of industrial/organizational psychology. Although it is common to present different fields as fundamentally opposed, such as humanistic psychology vs. psychodynamic psychology, Murray and Maslow provide an ideal opportunity to see the commonalities that often exist between different areas in psychology. It must also be remembered that Murray was no strict adherent to the dogmatic view of psychoanalysis presented by Freud:
…psychoanalysis stands for a conceptual system which explains, it seems to me, as much as any other. But this is no reason for going in blind and swallowing the whole indigestible bolus, cannibalistically devouring the totem father in the hope of acquiring his genius, his authoritative dominance, and thus rising to power in the psychoanalytic society, that battle-ground of Little Corporals. No; I, for one, prefer to take what I please, suspend judgment, reject what I please, speak freely. (pg. 31; Murray, 1940/2008).
Brief Biography of Henry Murray
Henry Alexander Murray, Jr. was born in 1893 in New York City. He had many nicknames, and typically asked his friends to call him Harry. His family was quite wealthy, and had a noble history. He was a descendant of John Murray, the fourth Earl of Dunmore, the last Royal Governor of Virginia, and his mother’s great-grandfather, Colonel Harry Babcock, had served on General George Washington’s staff during the Revolutionary War. Murray lived a life of luxury, spending the summers on Long Island and often traveling throughout Europe. He was educated at exclusive private schools. However, his childhood was not without challenges. He felt abandoned by his mother, who suffered from depression much of her life, when Murray was quite young. He stuttered, and was cross-eyed. The operation to help cure his internal strabismus accidentally left him with an external strabismus. This created problems for Murray when it came to competing in athletics, but Murray worked hard to overcome his difficulties and he excelled at sports. He became the quarterback of his football team and won a featherweight boxing championship at school. In college, he made the rowing team at Harvard University (Maddi & Costa, 1972; Robinson, 1992).
In spite of his athletic success at Harvard, or perhaps because of it, he did not do well academically, receiving below average grades. Nonetheless, he earned a degree in history in 1915. While at Harvard he also married Josephine Rantoul, after a lengthy courtship. Despite his mediocre grades at Harvard, Murray was accepted into the Columbia College of Physicians and Surgeons, and graduated first in his class in 1919. He then completed a surgical internship at Presbyterian Hospital in New York, where he once treated the future president Franklin D. Roosevelt, followed by a period of research at the Rockefeller Institute for Medical Research and Cambridge University, which culminated in a Ph.D. in biochemistry in 1927. He then accepted a position as assistant to Morton Prince, and became the director of Harvard University’s psychology clinic. Murray had never taken a psychology course, but he had some interesting experience (Maddi & Costa, 1972; Robinson, 1992).
Murray had a psychiatry course in medical school, and had read Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams. He also had a research assistant from Vienna, Alma Rosenthal, who had been a long-time friend of Anna Freud. While both working together and having an intimate love affair, Rosenthal introduced Murray to the deeper dimensions of the unconscious mind. However, it was Murray’s lifelong mistress, Christiana Morgan, who introduced him to Jung’s book Psychology Types. Murray was deeply impressed by Jung’s book, but even more by Jung himself. Murray was troubled by the intense love affair he had developed with Morgan, so he went to Zurich in order to be psychoanalyzed by Jung. Jung managed to help Murray understand his stuttering and accept having his affair with Morgan. After all, Jung had maintained a mistress of his own for many years. Jung also managed to convince Murray’s wife and Morgan’s husband to accept the affair as well, and Christiana Morgan remained a very important colleague throughout Murray’s life. It has been suggested that she played a far more important role in his theories, and in the development of the TAT, than she has been given credit for (Maddi & Costa, 1972; Robinson, 1992). Partly because Jung had directly helped him with a psychological problem, and partly because of the extraordinary range of ideas that Jung was open to, Murray always spoke highly of Jung (though he believed that Jung tended toward being psychotic, just as Freud tended toward being neurotic; see Brian, 1995).
Initially, Murray’s reappointment as clinic director was challenged by the experimental psychologists Edwin Boring and Karl Lashley, but he was supported by the clinical psychologists, who were led by Gordon Allport (Stagner, 1988). As his work continued he was quite productive (it was during this time that he developed the TAT), and many important clinicians passed through the clinic. Included among them was Erik Erikson, who came to the clinic after having been psychoanalyzed by Anna Freud in Vienna. Murray also spent a great deal of time traveling and studying in Europe, and enjoyed a memorable evening with Sigmund and Anna Freud. As he was preparing to return to the clinic, World War II began. Murray joined the Army Medical Corps, and eventually worked for the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). Of particular interest was his use of the TAT to screen OSS agents for sensitive missions (the OSS was the precursor to the CIA, so in peacetime these agents would be called spies). He was in China studying errors they had made in their assessments when the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Murray was shocked, and devoted the rest of his life to seeking alternatives to war (Maddi & Costa, 1972; Robinson, 1992).
As his career and life approached their ends, Murray received the Distinguished Scientific Contribution Award from the American Psychological Association, and the Gold Medal Award from the American Psychological Foundation. He received numerous honorary degrees, and collections of papers have been published in his honor (e.g., White, 1963; Zucker, Rabin, Aronoff, & Frank, 1992). In June, 1988, Murray told his nurse that he was dead. She disagreed with him, and pinched him gently on the cheek to prove her point. He curtly disagreed with her, declaring that he was the doctor, she was the nurse, and he was dead. A few days later he was right (Robinson, 1992).
Placing Murray in Context: A Challenging Task
There does not seem to be a consensus on where Murray fits within the field of personality theory. Trained as a Freudian psychoanalyst, he is often grouped with the neo-Freudians. However, he has also been placed with the trait theorists, and he was a colleague of Gordon Allport. However, many personality theory textbooks don’t consider Murray worthy of significant attention. He is included alongside Maslow in this textbook because his work focused primarily on needs. In addition, the practical application of his Thematic Apperception Test in screening candidates for OSS assignments was similar to Maslow’s application of psychological principles in the business field.
The Thematic Apperception Test is certainly Murray’s claim to fame. It remains one of the best-known tests in psychology, having been applied in research, business, and therapeutic settings. Since Murray used the TAT in combination with the Rorschach Inkblot Test, he maintained his ties to traditional psychoanalysis and helped to advance the fame of the other renowned projective test. As such, his practical contributions to psychology seem to outweigh his theoretical contributions.
It has been said that the value of a theory can be measured by the research that follows. David McClelland’s use of the TAT to study the need for achievement is a common topic in introductory psychology textbooks. Thus, Murray’s contributions have inspired classic research in psychology. That alone should ensure a place of significance for Murray in the history of personality theory.
In Explorations in Personality (Murray, 1938), Murray describes people as “today’s great problem”. What can we know about someone, and how can we describe it in a way that has clear meaning? Nothing is more important in the field of psychology:
The point of view adopted in this book is that personalities constitute the subject matter of psychology, the life history of a single man being a unit with which this discipline has to deal… Our guiding thought was that personality is a temporal whole and to understand a part of it one must have sense, though vague, of the totality. (pgs. 3-4; Murray, 1938)
Thus, Murray and his colleagues sought to understand the nature of personality, in order to help them understand individuals. He referred to this direct study of personality as personology, simply because he considered it clumsy to refer to “the psychology of personality” instead.
Murray described the very elegant process by which the Harvard Clinic group systematically approached their studies, and then presented a lengthy series of propositions regarding a theory of personality. The primary focus of these propositions came down to what Murray called a press-need combination. A need, according to Murray, is a hypothetical process that is imagined to occur in order to account for certain objective and subjective facts. In other words, when an organism reliably acts in a certain way to obtain some goal, we can determine that the organism had a need to achieve that goal. Needs are often recognized only after the fact, the behavior that satisfies the need may be a blind impulse, but it still leads toward satisfying the needed goal. Press is the term Murray applied to environmental objects or situations that designate directional tendencies, or that guide our needs. Anything in the environment, either harmful or beneficial to the organism, exerts press. Thus, our current needs, in the context of current environmental press, determine our ongoing behavior (Murray, 1938).
Like Maslow, Murray separated needs into biological and psychology factors based on how essential they were to one’s survival. The primary, or viscerogenic needs, include air, water, food, sex, harm-avoidance, etc. The secondary or psychogenic needs, which are presumed to derive from the primary needs, are common reaction systems and wishes. Although Murray organizes the psychogenic needs into groups, they are not rank-ordered as was Maslow’s hierarchy, so we will not consider the groups any further. Individually, there are a total of twenty-eight human needs (Murray, 1938). A partial list, with definitions, includes the following:
- Acquisition: the need to gain possessions and property
- Retention: the need to retain possession of things, to refuse to give or lend
- Order: the need to arrange, organize, put away objects, to be tidy and clean
- Construction: the need to build things
- Achievement: the need to overcome obstacles, to exercise power, to strive to do something difficult as well and as quickly as possible
- Recognition: the need to excite praise and commendation, to demand respect
- Exhibition: the need to attract attention to oneself
- Defendance: the need to defend oneself against blame or belittlement
- Counteraction: the need to proudly overcome defeat by restriving and retaliating, to defend one’s honor
- Dominance: the need to influence or control others
- Deference: the need to admire and willingly follow a superior
- Aggression: the need to assault or injure another, to harm, blame, accuse, or ridicule a person
- Abasement: the need to surrender, to comply and accept punishment
- Affiliation: the need to form friendships and associations, to greet, join, and live with others, to love
- Rejection: the need to snub, ignore, or exclude others
- Play: the need to relax, amuse oneself, seek diversion and entertainment
- Cognizance: the need to explore, to ask questions, to satisfy curiosity
According the Murray, in the course of daily life these needs are often interrelated. When a single action can satisfy more than one need, we can say that the needs are fused. However, needs can also come into conflict. For example, an individual’s need for dominance may make it difficult to satisfy their need for affiliation, unless they can find someone with a powerful need for abasement. Such a situation is one of the ways in which psychologists have tried to understand abusive relationships. In other words, when someone with a strong need for affiliation and debasement becomes involved with someone with a strong need for affiliation and dominance (particularly in a pathological sense), the results can be very unfortunate.
Any object, or person, that evokes a need is said to “be cathected” by the person being studied. In other words, they have invested some of their limited psychic energy (libido) into that object. Murray believed that an individual’s personality is revealed by the objects to which that person is attached by the cathexis of libido, especially if you can recognize the intensity, endurance, and rigidity of the cathexis. This process not only applies to individuals, but institutions and cultures also have predictable patterns in terms of their cathected objects. Put more simply, we can strive to understand individuals, including doing so from a cross-cultural perspective, by examining the nature and pattern of needs they seek to satisfy in their daily lives (Murray, 1938).
Morris Stein, who worked with Murray in the OSS and then earned a Ph.D. at the Harvard Clinic, combined Murray’s work on identifying human needs and Jung’s concept of psychological types. By looking at patterns in the rank-order of needs among industrial chemists and Peace Corps volunteers, Stein was able to divide each group into separate psychological types (Stein, 1963). For example, there were five basic types of industrial chemists: Type A was achievement oriented but still worked well with others; Type B focused on pleasing others, often at the expense of their own ideas; Type C was achievement oriented, but more driven and hostile than Type A; Type D was motivated by achievement and affiliation, but with an emphasis on order that protected them from criticism or blame; and Type E was particularly focused on relationships marked by cooperation and trust. As interesting as these types may be, they are quite different than the personality types identified amongst the Peace Corps volunteers (Stein, 1963). Thus, although Stein’s investigation suggests that personality types can be identified based on patterns of need, this approach probably would not provide a general theory of personology that could be applied to anyone.
Discussion Question: Consider Murray’s list of psychogenic needs. Which needs are the ones that affect you the most? Are you able to fulfill those needs?
The TAT and the OSS
Murray is typically credited with the development the TAT. However, the original article has Christiana Morgan as the first author (Morgan & Murray, 1935), and in Explorations in Personality most of the TAT work is described by Morgan (Murray, 1938). Apparently, when the test was revised and republished in 1943, Murray did most of the revision, partly because Morgan was quite ill at the time. The TAT consists of a series of pictures depicting potentially dramatic events (although the pictures are actually rather vague). The person taking the test is asked to provide a story that relates events preceding the picture to some final outcome of the situation. It is expected that the subject will project their own thoughts and feelings into the picture as they create their story. In order for this to be possible, Morgan and Murray made sure that in most pictures there was at least one person with whom the subject could easily empathize and identify themselves. The TAT became one of the most popular projective tests ever developed, and continues to be widely used today.
The TAT has been used in two particularly interesting settings outside of clinical psychology: to study the need for achievement (see the next section), and to screen agents for the Office of Strategic Services during World War II. Murray used the TAT as part of a program to help select members of the OSS for critical, dangerous missions. Even before joining the OSS, Murray worked for the government in support of the war effort. In conjunction with Gordon Allport, he provided an analysis of the personality of Adolf Hitler, along with predictions as to how Hitler might react after Germany was defeated. He also helped to develop a series of questions for the crew of a captured German U-boat. The OSS program involved assessing candidate’s responses to highly stressful situations. In addition to psychological testing, using instruments such as the TAT, the candidates were put into highly stressful situations. For example, they were told to pick two men to help them put together a five-foot cube with wooden poles, blocks, and pegs. However, the available men were all secretly on Murray’s staff. One of them would act helpless and passive, whereas the other made stupid suggestions and constantly criticized the recruit. The task was, of course, never completed, but it provided Murray with the information he needed on how the candidate performed under stress (Brian, 1995; Robinson, 1992).
In the next chapter we will see that the existential psychologist Rollo May talked about our need for myths, in order to make sense out of our often senseless world. Although this was not a need included by Murray, he did have an interest in mythology. The imagination that is necessary to create a story around a picture in the TAT often involves symbolism that arises from the depths of the whole self (Murray, 1960). In this regard, Murray sounds quite similar to Jung and his theory of archetypes, and Murray discussed some classic images from our historical mythology. Of particular interest to Murray, however, is whether or not we will establish new myths in the future. There are older myths that remain oriented to our future, such as the apocalyptic myths or the myth of the Promised Land (Murray, 1960). The existential philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre lamented the demythologizing of the universe by science, and he advocated a remythologizing of the self (see McAdams, 1992). Given that Murray did include a need for cognizance, the need to explore, to ask questions, and to satisfy curiosity, perhaps there will be new myths created in our future. If so, psychologists will need to keep current with the cultural phenomena that influence people’s unconscious projections onto the TAT and other projective tests.
David McClelland and the Need for Achievement
David McClelland, who joined the faculty of Harvard University a few years before Murray retired, conducted some well-known research utilizing the TAT to examine the need for achievement. The research began shortly after World War II, and was supported by the Office of Naval Research. McClelland and his colleagues made an interesting point, in the preface to their book The Achievement Motive (McClelland, Atkinson, Clark, & Lowell, 1953), about studying just one of Murray’s needs: “concentration on a limited research problem is not necessarily narrowing; it may lead ultimately into the whole of psychology.” Indeed, they felt that they learned a great deal about personality by studying one of the most important of human needs.
McClelland and his colleagues used the TAT and borrowed heavily from Murray’s procedures and scoring system. However, they made a number of modifications. They used additional pictures of their own, they often presented the pictures on a screen to a group of subjects, those subjects were all male college students, and some of their experimental conditions were designed to evoke achievement-oriented responses, or responses based on success or failure. An important aspect of this study was that the TAT (and similar pictures developed by McClelland) requires writing imaginative stories of what the subject projects onto the picture. Therefore, situations that stimulate achievement-oriented imagination can result in higher scores on the need for achievement, something that McClelland and his colleagues confirmed in Navaho children during the course of their research (suggesting it is a universal phenomenon). Overall, they found that individuals who are high in their need for achievement perform more tasks during timed tests, improve more quickly in their ability to perform those tasks, set higher levels of aspirations, remember more of the tasks they failed to perform, and they are more future-oriented and recognize achievement-oriented situations (McClelland et al., 1953). In addition, they found a positive correlation between the need for achievement and cultures and families in which there is an emphasis on the individual development of children, with early childhood being of particular importance. After examining eight Native American cultures (Navaho, Ciricahua-Apache, Western Apache, Hopi, Comanche, Sanpoil, Paiute, and Flatheads), McClelland and his colleagues determined that the need for achievement in each culture (measured from classic legends involving the archetypal trickster “coyote”) correlates highly with both an early age onset and the severity of independence training (McClelland et al., 1953). In summary, the need for achievement is a motivational force that develops in early childhood, and which pushes individuals toward accomplishing life’s tasks.
An excellent essay on the need for achievement, which addresses some of the criticism this concept has endured, was written by McClelland in a new introduction for the second printing of his book The Achieving Society (McClelland, 1976). This book also adds to the cross-cultural reach of McClelland’s work, since as he extends his theory on the need for achievement to the societies in which individuals live he also extends his theory to other societies around the world. First, the concept itself has typically been misunderstood:
…the word “achievement” cues all sorts of surplus meanings that the technically defined n Achievement variable does not have. It refers specifically to the desire to do something better, faster, more efficiently, with less effort. It is not a generalized desire to succeed… (pg. A; McClelland, 1976)
In studying the role of need for achievement within societies, McClelland focused on business and economic development as one of the most easily compared aspects of different cultures. He believed that nations possess something like a “group mind,” which can lead the nation in certain directions. Again using literary sources as examples of cultural perspectives on the need for achievement, McClelland found support for his theory that high need for achievement preceded dramatic societal development in ancient Greece, pre-Incan Peru, Spain in the late middle ages, England leading up to the industrial revolution, and during the development of the United States (particularly in the 1800s). Once again, McClelland cautions against over-generalizing the meaning of need for achievement:
It is a very specific, rather rare, drive which focuses on the goal of efficiency and which expresses itself in activities available in the culture which permit or encourage one to be more efficient; and across cultures the most common form such activity takes is business. (pg. B; McClelland, 1976)
The question of where the need for achievement comes from continued to perplex McClelland. Although early childhood appears to be when a lasting need for achievement develops, the need for achievement can be enhanced in adults through training seminars. More importantly, however, is the question of where need for achievement comes from in the first place, how does it develop within a society? When McClelland was working in Ethiopia with the Peace Corps, he studied the Gurage. This small tribal group was treated with disdain by both the dominant Christian Amhara and the Muslim Galla tribes. And yet the Gurage were recognized for their clever business strategies, and their children wrote stories filled with imagery indicative of a high need for achievement. Since the Gurage had developed without contact with Western Christian, Muslim, or Greco-Roman cultures, they seemed to have developed their own need for achievement. Unfortunately, so little is known about their history, that McClelland was unable to identify the source of their motivation (McClelland, 1976).
In support of the contention that studying the need for achievement could provide insights into many aspects of personality, McClelland pursued a number of interesting topics throughout his career, including how societies can motivate economic growth and identify talent (McClelland, Baldwin, Bronfenbrenner, & Strodtbeck, 1958; McClelland & Winter, 1969), the power motive (McClelland, 1975), the development of social maturity and values (McClelland, 1982a; McClelland, 1982b), and a cross-cultural study on the role of alcohol in society (McClelland, Davis, Kalin, & Wanner, 1972). Moving in a quite different direction, McClelland also wrote a book entitled The Roots of Consciousness (McClelland, 1964), in which he argues that Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis is really an expression of Jewish spiritual mysticism known as Kabbalah. We will examine Kabbalah, as well as Christian and Islamic mysticism, as a positive approach to one’s lifestyle in Chapter 18.
Discussion Question: McClelland found support for his ideas on the development of the need for achievement amongst Native Americans, but he did not find that same support among the Gurage tribe in Ethiopia (they had a strong need for achievement, but the source was unclear). How important do you think it is for us to re-examine psychological theories in multiple cultures, and what would it mean for psychology if we often find contradictions?
A Final Note: Humanistic or Existential?
In this chapter we have examined the humanistic theories of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. In the next chapter we will examine the existential theories of Viktor Frankl and Rollo May. What really is the difference? The distinction is subtle, based on definition, and may seem nonexistent at first glance. Indeed, both the humanistic and existential theorists have been influenced by the likes of Adler, Horney, Fromm, and Otto Rank, and Rogers in particular often writes about existential choices in his books. Even the cognitive therapist Albert Ellis, himself profoundly influenced by Adler, considered Rational Emotive Behavior Therapy to be distinctly humanistic (see Humanistic Psychotherapy; Ellis, 1973). In 1986, the Saybrook Institute republished a series of essays, which had appeared in the Journal of Humanistic Psychology, under the title Politics and Innocence: A Humanistic Debate (May, Rogers, Maslow, et al., 1986). In this volume, Rogers refers to May as “the leading scholar of humanistic psychology.” May, for his part, concluded an open letter to Rogers in which he expressed “profound respect for you and your contribution in the past to all of us.” May also maintained a friendship and correspondence with Maslow (May, 1991). Clearly, the humanistic and existential psychologists have much in common, and the important figures here in America communicated actively and with respect for the contributions of each other.
Personality Theory in Real Life: Seeking Self-Actualization
Carl Rogers described the actualizing tendency as something that exists within every living organism. It is a tendency to grow, develop, and realize one’s full potential. It can be thwarted, but it cannot be destroyed without destroying the organism itself. His person-centered approach was based on this belief, and the resulting trust that one can place in each person. In other words, we can trust that each person is driven forward by this actualizing tendency, and that under the right conditions it will flourish (Rogers, 1977, 1986/1989).
According to Abraham Maslow, life is a process of choices. At each point, we must choose between a progression choice and a regression choice. Although many people make safe, defensive choices, self-actualizing people regularly make growth choices (Maslow, 1971). Each growth choice moves the person closer to self-actualization, and the process continues throughout life.
So, consider your own life. Do you feel the actualizing tendency within you? Do you aspire to accomplish something great, or simply to be a good person in whatever path you choose? Think about your educational and/or career plans. Think about your life plans, and whether they include a family or special friends. Do you feel a calling that is pulling in one direction or another? The drive to accomplish, to make a contribution to your community or society, the belief that you are meant for great things, or simply that you are meant to be a source of support for others, all of these might be aspects of your actualizing tendency. Or are you moving through life without a plan, without goals? Do you skate along from day to day, with no destination in mind?
If you do feel your actualizing tendency, consider how you are living your life. Are you pursuing the steps necessary to accomplish your goals? Have you made choices, perhaps difficult choices, which have moved you forward toward those goals?
Basically, do you feel that you are on a path toward self-actualization, and do you think you should be? Is it reasonable to expect, or hope, that everyone might become self-actualized?
What might it be like to live a fully transcendent, self-actualized life? Although there are many different, and individual, answers to that question, we can find one example in the remarkable life of Peace Pilgrim (Friends of Peace Pilgrim, 1982). No one knows her original name, or exactly where or when she was born (other than it was on a small farm in the Eastern United States in the early 1900s). Her family was poor, but happy, and she enjoyed her childhood. Her life was fruitful, but eventually she found the world’s focus on self-centeredness and material goods to be unfulfilling. In 1953, she chose to leave her life behind. She adopted the name Peace Pilgrim, and began walking across America as a prayer for peace.
A pilgrim is a wanderer with a purpose…Mine is for peace, and that is why I am a Peace Pilgrim…My pilgrimage covers the entire peace picture: peace among nations, peace among groups, peace within our environment, peace among individuals, and the very, very important inner peace – which I talk about most often because that is where peace begins…I have no money. I do not accept any money on my pilgrimage. I belong to no organization…I own only what I wear and carry. There is nothing to tie me down. I am as free as a bird soaring in the sky.
I walk until given shelter, fast until given food. I don’t ask – it’s given without asking. Aren’t people good! There is a spark of good in everybody, no matter how deeply it may be buried, it is there. It’s waiting to govern your life gloriously. (pg. 25; Peace Pilgrim cited in Friends of Peace Pilgrim, 1982)
Between 1953 and her death in 1981, she walked, and walked, and walked. By 1964, she had walked 25,000 miles, including walking across the United States twice and through every Canadian province. After that, she no longer kept track of her mileage, but she completed at least four more pilgrimages, including Alaska, Hawaii, and a pilgrimage in Mexico. Among the many friends and admirers she met along the way, there are two notable people (whom psychology students should be familiar with) who provided comments for the cover of her book: Elisabeth Kubler-Ross called her “a wonderful lady,” and the popular author/counselor Wayne Dyer said “she is my hero.” As for your own life, Peace Pilgrim has some simple advice:
There is no glimpse of the light without walking the path. You can’t get it from anyone else, nor can you give it to anyone. Just take whatever steps seem easiest for you, and as you take a few steps it will be easier for you to take a few more. (pg. 91; Peace Pilgrim cited in Friends of Peace Pilgrim, 1982).
Review of Key Points
- Rogers began his clinical career searching for effective ways of conducting psychotherapy, since the techniques he had been taught were not providing adequate results.
- Rogers believed that each person exists in their own, unique experiential field. Only they can see that field clearly, although even they may not perceive it accurately (incongruence).
- Everyone has an actualizing tendency, according to Rogers. The term commonly applied to this tendency is self-actualization.
- The self is that portion of the experiential field that is recognized as “I” or “me.” It is organized into a self-structure.
- Rogers used the term personal power to describe each person’s ability to make choices necessary for the actualization of their self-structure and to then fulfill those choices or goals.
- In order for a person to grow, they must fulfill a need for positive regard. This can only come from receiving unconditional positive regard from important family members and friends (typically beginning with the parents).
- When people receive only conditional positive regard, they develop conditions of worth. Their self-regard then becomes tied to those conditions of worth.
- When an individual’s self-regard and positive regard are closely related, the person is said to be congruent. If not, they are said to be incongruent.
- Congruence and incongruence can be measured by understanding the gap between a person’s real self and their ideal self.
- Rogers described individuals who are congruent and continuing to grow as fully functioning persons.
- Relationships can serve to mirror our true personality, and to reveal incongruence we are unaware of ourselves.
- Successful marriages, according to Rogers, seem to be based on dedication/commitment, communication, dissolution of roles, and maintaining each person’s separate self.
- Rogers identified six necessary and sufficient conditions for positive therapeutic change, conditions that can exist in any interpersonal relationships (not just in therapy). The key factor in these relationships may be empathic understanding.
- Rogers extended his study of clinical psychology into other groups designed to help all people grow and self-actualize, such as T-groups and encounter groups. He described his shift from purely clinical work to fostering growth in all people as a person-centered approach.
- Maslow worked with an amazing range of people, from the renowned experimental psychologists Harry Harlow and Edward Thorndike, to the Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer and the personality theorists/clinicians Alfred Adler, Karen Horney, and Erich Fromm.
- Values were very important to Maslow in his approach to psychology. He did not, however, advocate his own values. He reached beyond humanistic psychology to include areas of study such as existential psychology, existential theology, and Zen Buddhism.
- Maslow described a hierarchy of needs, as follows: physiological needs, safety needs, belongingness and love needs, esteem needs, and the need for self-actualization. Lower needs must be largely satisfied before the individual begins to focus on higher needs.
- The lower needs can be described as deficiency-needs, whereas self-actualization is a Being-need.
- In addition to the basic needs, there are also cognitive needs and aesthetic needs.
- Maslow described fourteen characteristics of self-actualizing people. He developed his list by studying both contemporary and historical people who seemed to him to be self-actualizing.
- Perhaps the best know characteristic of self-actualizing is the peak experience. This experience is often described in mystical terms, and Maslow believed it may have provided a basis for the creation of religion in the early history of the human species.
- Maslow described two defense mechanisms that interfere with the process of self-actualizing: desacralizing and the Jonah complex.
- Maslow proposed a Fourth Force Psychology based on Being-values and metaneeds. He felt that some people could suffer from a sickness of the soul, a so-called metapathology, and Maslow suggested a need for metacounselors.
- Some individuals experience profound peak experiences, which Maslow described as transcendent. His concept of transcendence seems very close to the Buddhist perspective of interbeing.
- Maslow proposed that organizations should seek Eupsychia, a realistically attainable environment in which the actualizing tendency of all the organization’s members are supported.
- When Eupsychian management does support self-actualization, the actualization of each person benefits the others around them. The process is known as synergy.
- Based on a management model that described Theory X and theory Y management styles, Maslow proposed Theory Z. Theory Z management seeks a transcendent management style that encourages and maximizes self-actualization and synergy in the work place.
- Murray based “personology” on the study of needs. He distinguished between viscerogenic needs and psychogenic needs.
- Christiana Morgan and Murray developed the Thematic Apperception Test, a famous projective psychological test. Murray used the test during World War II to select special agents for highly sensitive, dangerous missions.
- Murray believed that a person’s ability to create a story around a picture in the TAT was based in large part on their personal mythology. He shared this interest in myth, and its role in psychology, with Carl Jung and Rollo May.
- McClelland used the TAT to study the need for achievement. Initially, McClelland considered parental influence very important for the development of the achievement need, a finding he confirmed in Native Americans. However, he found contradictory evidence when he studied the Gurage tribe in Ethiopia. Thus, he considered the true source of the achievement need as something needing further research.
- The distinction between humanistic psychology and existential psychology is not clear, and there is significant overlap in the thinking of representatives from both fields. In addition, there is a distinct humanistic element in the psychodynamic theories of Adler, Horney, Fromm, Murray, and others.