The Psychology of Abraham Maslow


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The Psychology of Abraham Maslow

  1. 1. Running head: ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 1 The Psychology of Abraham Maslow Atlantic University February 1990 Author Note David Grinstead is now at the Health Center of Hillsborough ( and Alamance Community College. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to David Grinstead, Department of Continuing Education, Alamance Community College, P.O. Box 8000, Graham, NC 27253-8000. Contact:
  2. 2. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 2 The Psychology of Abraham Maslow The corner stone of Maslow’s psychology are his ideas regarding the inner nature of man. It is a nature that is biologically based, natural and unchanging. Though it is partially species wide, it is particularly unique to self. This nature can be scientifically studied and discovered. Basic human needs, emotions and capacities are not evil or good; they are neutral; therefore, this nature is not inherently evil. Because it is not good or evil, it should be encouraged and permitted to guide our lives resulting in happiness and growth. If this essential core is suppressed, it causes sickness and unhappiness. At best, it is weak and easily overcome by habit, culture and wrong attitudes. Even when its existence is denied, it never goes away, even in a sick person; and is constantly trying to get out. Discipline, deprivation, frustration, pain, and tragedy are necessary because these experiences foster and fulfill his inner nature. (1968, pp. 3- 4) Psychologically speaking, that which designates a normal human being is in reality a psychopathology of the average. It depicts a life style that is so widespread and nondramatic that we don’t even notice it ordinarily. In general, this normal life is one of general phoniness, illusion, and fear; showing that it is a sickness that is widely spread. (1968, p. 16) The authentic person who seeks to employ full humanness transcending himself and his culture in various ways is the normal person. (1968, pp. 11-12) It is the inner core that drives man in this direction seeking self-authenticity. When this inner core is ignored or repressed it results in personality problems that act as a loud protest against the crushing of one’s inner nature. Living one’s life in a way that is less than what it should be can result in neurosis (Maslow’s definition of neurosis) which is defined as “related to spiritual disorders, to loss of
  3. 3. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 3 meaning, to doubts about the goals of life, to grief and anger over a lost love, to seeing life in a different way, to loss of courage or of hope, to dislike of oneself, to recognition that one’s life is being wasted.” (1976, p. 30) All of these represent a falling away from full humanness. What is involved in achieving a state of full humanness? How does one arrive at it? Maslow declares that the concept of tension reduction, homeostasis, lack of pain, etc., as a basis for motivation is lacking in insight and is circular in nature. “It’s only striving is toward cessation, toward getting rid of itself, toward a state of not wanting” (1968, p. 29) How does this relate to the desire for change, development, movement, how do people get smarter, make advances or have zest for living if the only desire is to achieve a constant state of rest? “In practically every human being, and certainty in almost every newborn baby …there is an active will toward health, an impulse toward growth, or toward the actualization of human potentialities.” (1976, p. 24) Need gratification is the single most important principle underlying this active will towards growth. Growth is progressive satisfaction of basic needs as well as specific growth motivation other than needs. As emerging lower needs are fulfilled by being sufficiently gratified, new and higher needs emerge. The gratification of needs (goals) causes increased motivation, a desire for more and more resulting in growth, in and of itself, becoming a satisfying and rewarding process. Growth is long term in character and can last a life time. Pleasure is obtained from growing and being grown. Healthy people are able to transform activity into end experiences – so the activity is enjoyed while obtaining an end. (1968, pp. 30- 31)
  4. 4. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 4 There are some needs which are shared by all members of a species such as food, shelter, sun, water, safety, love, and status. These are species-wide goals. Once the basic species wide needs are satisfied, individuality develops. The individual develops his own style, personality and unique self. When these idiosyncratic goals are satisfied, the individual becomes inner directed. (1968, pp. 33-34) This development of a unique selfhood is termed self-actualization which while being pursued as an end becomes a means to growth. Self-actualization is ongoing – growth oriented, it is a pressing forward to fullness – good values, serenity, kindness, courage, honesty, love, unselfishness and goodness. (1968, p. 155) People that are not self-actualizers are deficiency motivated. They see the world in a black and white manner categorizing things, people, and events. The result is a valuing, judging, interfering, condemning attitude towards others and life at large. They are need motivated which often results in exploiting, blustering, and overriding with a selfish need to control. Others are seen as objects to be used to meet needs. This deficiency motivation is not applicable to the attainment of full humanness or higher human relations. (1968, pp. 36-44) Very few people actually achieve self-actualization. Most experience it as an urge, hope, drive, a wishing for something not yet achieved. Simultaneously you are what you are while becoming what you can be. Self-actualizers exhibit values that are goals. They desire what is good for others and self by doing right because they want to, need to, enjoy doing right, approve of doing right and continue to enjoy doing right. There is self-control and self-discipline which is not found in the average person. Duty and pleasure, work and play, self-interest and altruism, individualism and selflessness all become the same thing in healthy self-actualizers. (1968, pp.
  5. 5. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 5 159-164) They are good at perceiving reality and truth and are rarely confused about right and wrong being quicker to make ethical decisions than the average person. (1976, p. 118) Believing in a cause, a vocation, and my work; is their mission in life which is done for the sake of ultimate fulfillment. (1976, pp. 184-185) There two types of self-actualizers: (1) the healthy ones with little or no transcendence experience – the Y’s (2) those that a transcendent experience was important and central too – the Z’s. This is known as theory Y and Z. (1976, p. 270) The merely – healthy self-actualizers fulfill the expectations of theory Y (nontranscending self-actualizers). They represent those more involved in the here and now secular existence – the practical, pragmatic, and concrete. They are healthy and well-adjusted but of this world. Theory Z is for people known as peakers: those having transcended self-actualization thereby fulfilling and transcending and surpassing theory Y. Both shares the common traits of self-actualization expect the Z’s have experienced a greater number of peak experiences, B-cognitions, and plateau experiences. (1976, pp. 272-273) The peak experience is a moment of highest fulfillment and greatest happiness such as: the parental experience, the mystic, a nature experience, an aesthetic perception, a creative moment, intellectual insight, the orgasmic experience, athletic fulfillment, etc. During such experiences, “the world looks more honest, and naked, more true, or is reported to look more beautiful than at other times.” (1968, p. 102) There are two components of the peak experience “the emotional one of ecstasy and an intellectual one of illumination.” (1968, p. 51) They do not necessarily occur simultaneously. It is an end product of developing greater autonomy, achieving self-identity and self-transcendence.
  6. 6. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 6 The after-effects of a peak experience are very positive. It has therapeutic effect by causing symptom removal such as a conversion experience, the view of self changes in a healthy way. The view of the world and the view of others and relations to others are changed. Life becomes more worthwhile and validated calling for greater creativity, spontaneity and expressiveness. (1968, pp. 101-102) You acquire the ability to discover your identity by listening inwardly to impulse voices, your won guts, and their reactions to what is going on inside of you. (1976, p. 171) Though the peak experience has much positive impact, it is not a permanent experience and requires that man return to the ordinary world. To describe behavior and attitudes associated with peak experiences, Maslow used the concept of B-cognition. It describes how a self-actualizer views self, expresses self, or interacts with the world. He is more spontaneous and expressive. Behavior flows; it is emitted easier and is more honest. Self, others and all reality is perceived better. (1976, p. 160) This improved perception results in B-love versus the impoverished D-love (deficiency love) which is incomplete or partial in its expression of love. “The B-lover is able to perceive realities in the beloved to which others are blind, i.e., he can be more acutely and penetratingly perceptive.” (1968, p. 73) B-love is a richer, higher, greater experience than D-love. It allows full development of others, gives self-image a sense of worth, and provides self-acceptance. The benefits and effects of experiencing B-love are profound and widespread much like experiencing the love of the perfect God. It is completely enjoyed, non-possessive, and almost always pleasure giving. B-lovers are independent of each other, but more helpful in self-actualization of each other, altruistic and generous. (1968, pp. 42-43)
  7. 7. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 7 Peak experiences produce values that people are willing to die for or to pay for with great effort, pain, and suffering. These are B-values the highest values existing within human nature waiting to be discovered. They do not come from a supernatural God but from human nature. (1968, p. 170) They are the highest values because they come from the best people during their best moments under the best conditions. The same values that the great religionists and philosophers and great thinkers have agreed on are B-values, the highest values in life. (1976, pp. 104-105) Living B-values is living the spiritual life. B-values are as necessary as vitamins and love. Without them, even if not neurotic, a person will “suffer from a cognitive and spiritual sickness, for to a certain extent your relationship with reality is distorted and disturbed.” (1976, p. 186) Though B-values are not hierarchical in and of themselves one is as important as the next. They all interrelate and one is defined in terms of the others. They transcend many traditional dichotomies such as selfishness, unselfishness, religious, secular, flesh and spirit. (1976, p. 186) In all people there is an inner civil war between the forces of defenses and control. These forces are resolved in a self-actualized person causing a deeper acceptance of the deeper self that come from the deep roots of creativeness. (1968, p. 141) This primary creativeness is different from secondary creativeness which is a technique that enables the uncreative person to work with others in a structured way that allows him to create and discover. Coming out the deeper self, primary creativeness is the ability “to be spontaneous and, what’s more important for us here, creativity, which is a kind of intellectual play, which is a kind of permission to be ourselves, to fantasy, to let loose, and to be crazy, privately.” (1976, p. 82) In many ways it is like the creativeness that comes from happy and secure children. It is natural,
  8. 8. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 8 flowing, and less controlled, coming directly from the personality and is manifested in the ordinary affairs of life. This creativity is an inherent trait in human nature that is present at birth which is lost, buried or inhibited as a person grows into adulthood. With self-actualized growth, it is regained. Instead of stressing problem solving or product making, it stresses qualities of character such as boldness, freedom, courage, spontaneity, self-acceptance, integration, all of which make possible self-actualized creativity. (1968, pp. 137-145) Because of primary creativeness, self-actualizers see the world as it is and want to change it – to improve it. They are not afraid of the unknown or unfamiliar, but are often attracted to it, puzzling and meditating over it. Such people are often accused of causing trouble within an organization because they are considered unconventional, a little bit odd, called undisciplined, occasionally inexact and unscientific. (1976, p. 89) This unconventionality comes from listening to the inner voices which can provide great insight; however, such insight can lead one to make mistakes. A habitually creative person knows that a large portion of great moment of insight may never work out. What happens is that the “spontaneity (the impulses from our best self) gets confused with impulsivity and acting out (the impulses from our sick self) and there is then no way to tell the difference.” (1976, p. 333) Education’s goal should be the awakening and fulfillment of B-values as expressed through self-actualization. It would result in people being stronger, healthier, living lives to the greatest extent possible. The reward of doing and learning – that experience of awe, wonder, and mystery would become more common place. This is intrinsic education – learning how “to be a human being in general.” (1976, p.163)
  9. 9. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 9 The peak experience that is naturally occurring in children is crushed and discouraged by the current education system. The standard educational model of 35 kids in a class with lots of material to be finished in a certain time period forces the teacher to pay more attention to orderliness and lack of noise. This results in learning not being a joyful experience. Leaning is more efficient when it is enjoyable. The teacher as lecturer, conditioner, reinforce, and boss needs to be changed to the Taoist helper or teacher who is receptive not intrusive. (1976, pp. 180-181) Extrinsic learning with its required response to grades and examinations and classical schooling requiring forced participation needs to be replaced with a new kind of education. An education “which moves toward fostering the new kind of human being that we need, the process person, the creative person, the improvising person, the self-trusting courageous person.” (1976, p. 96) The use of nonverbal education through art, music, dancing, etc. is needed. Fostering creativity, teaching children to confront the here-now, to improvise, using it as a growth technique to permit deeper layers of psyche to emerge. This is intrinsic education – in music, art, dancing and rhythm. These should be the core curriculum resulting in the removal of the balance of the school curriculum from the “value-free, value-neutral, goal-less meaninglessness into which it has fallen.” (1976, p. 172) The ultimate goal of education is to uncover and help out, a process of growing into the best human being possible, to help transcend the values of one’s culture by picking and choosing objectively from society personal likes and dislikes. Valuelessness is the ultimate disease of our times. The affluence of Western society shows the spiritual, ethical and philosophical hunger of people. This affluence has essentially removed the sense of lacking which causes one to strive towards a goal. Striving for something
  10. 10. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 10 that one lacks gives a feeling of purpose and meaning. When one lacks nothing, he has nothing to strive for leaving a sense of emptiness or worthlessness. (1983, p. 38) Accompanying this valuelessness is the neurosis of success. People struggle long and hard to achieve goals and success, yet upon attainment the sense of emptiness reappears. They are happy and hopeful during the struggle while seeking false panaceas so long as they are not attained. When reached, hopelessness ensures and continues until new hopes become possible. (1983, p. 83) The naturalistic value free version of science of the 19th century, often held in high esteem by religious liberals and non-theists, has tried to eradicate the non-rational. This has failed to fill the void because it leaves a blank, boring, cold philosophy of life that fails to do what religions have tried to do – “inspire, to awe, to comfort, to guide in the value choices.” (1983, p.42) All too often science is too narrowly conceived being seen as having nothing to say about ultimate values. It has nothing to do with ideals or end values being instead amoral and not ethical. Science produces technology without direction becoming an end of itself without purpose. (31983, p.13) Religion all too often stands on the opposite side of science providing partial definitions and partial answers to ultimate questions. Compartmentalizing life, one part for the secular and the other part for the sacred, religion loses its daily usefulness. This produces a cripple-religion that represents cripple-values. (1983, p. 13) The sacred and profane, religious and secular are not separable for both are opposite sides of the same coin, each one half of the same circle, they encompass all that is life. This emptiness, void, hunger for ultimate values represents a religious question, a religious quest. Religions are expressions of human aspirations, a desire to become if able –
  11. 11. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 11 what one desires to be. Religious questions are valid questions concerning serious ultimate concerns. This quest verifies the human need for self-actualization because it is a striving toward self-actualization. The description of self-actualizers parallels in many ways the ideals put forth by religion: “transcendence of self, wisdom, honesty, naturalness, transcendence of selfish and personal motivations, giving up lower desires in favor of higher ones, kindness, easy differentiation between ends and means, decreases of hostility, cruelty and destructiveness.” (1983, p. 158) The desire for these values, self-actualization, is a naturalistic urge and does not require super naturalistic explanations. The ecstatic core of the religious experience, the essence, the beginning point of illumination for every high religion began with a lonely individual, very sensitive prophet, or seer. Such a mystical illumination can be subsumed or the same as peak experience or transcendent experience. Though cloaked in religious and cultural supernatural explanations such experiences were really natural human peak experiences. (1983, pp. 19-20) All men and women do or can have peak experiences. A peak experience cuts across all non- common ground – the content of the experience is approximately the same but the trigger of the situation may differ coming from different sources. (1983, p. 28) Spiritual and ethical values as well as the hungers, needs or desires for such cannot be turned over to a Church for safe keeping. Neither can they be removed from the realms of science, per healthy skeptical examination or empirical investigation. “Personal revelations – the mystic experience, the peak experience, the personal illumination” – these should be the focus of examination. (1983, p. 47) A humanistic psychology, an inclusive science that is able to study
  12. 12. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 12 values and teach mankind about them should be the examiner, protector, and conveyor of spiritual and ethical values; plus an expanded science that is concerned with ultimate concerns. A Critique of Key Ideas When I first began to meditate, I found it most difficult to empty my mind of thoughts and relax. The harder I tried, making every conscious effort possible, the more the ability to mediate eluded me. The one day I just quit trying and to my amazement, I was able to meditate. Likewise, when trying to master the proper techniques of newspaper advertising layout and design, I made little progress until I learned to flow and just let my mind make it happen. The harder a person consciously tries to make something happen in their life, the more effort (will power) expended in achieving a goal, the more difficult it becomes to achieve the desired goal. Basically the degree of difficulty in achieving a goal is equal to the amount of conscious effort expended creating an ever widening chasm between the effort and the goal. An adolescent may wish to act like an adult and be treated like an adult, but the harder he tries to gain acceptance in an adult world the more he messes up, proving that he is still a child. The end result may be poor self-confidence, embarrassment, depression, feelings of rejection, etc. Then one day it happens, he is treated with respect, his opinions are valued, his company is enjoyed by adults, he attains adulthood. The goal of adulthood was not achieved at any particular time or in any particular way, it just happened when he was least expecting it to happen. The subconscious is like water in that it finds its own level. A person is where he is because that is where his subconscious knows that is where he needs to be. Self-actualization cannot be willed, it can only be desired. The subconscious will allow only as much self-
  13. 13. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 13 actualization as it is ready to handle, and that occurs without foreknowledge. It just happens, and after the fact, you become consciously aware of it. So it is best to be active, occupying one’s mind applying what one already knows, seeking to be the best that one presently knows how to be; and it is during this process of being that one become what one desires to be. Like a flower gradually unfolding one pedal at a time until it is wholly and completely revealed in its entire natural and spiritual splendor. Self-actualization is not achieved by looking inward, focusing attention on self. It occurs while projecting the current personal inner substance outward and actively living what one has already become. The peak experience may be natural, it may occur in various ways, and it may result in behavior or value changes reflective of a higher level of consciousness; but it is not the same as encountering God face-to-face. There is a major difference between a sudden conversion experience that causes a 180 degrees behavior change in an alcoholic, drug addict, habitual criminal, etc. and a pleasant nature experience, intellectual insight, the orgasmic experience, athletic fulfillment, or a creative moment. Anyone having come face-to-face with the living God knows the difference. Such an encounter is natural in that anyone desiring it enough can experience it; however, the desire and longing comes from man, but it is God who initiates the encounter. Religion generally is an extension of the culture in which it is expressed. The public forum may be that it exists to proclaim the truth as revealed by its founder; however, many times its main function is to maintain the status quo within its membership. Instead of prompting concerns of conscience that cause introspection and reflection, too often it surrounds the conscience with an impenetrable wall that stifles rather than protects. Popular religion tends to
  14. 14. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 14 divide the world an life into conflicting sides – one part for God and the other part for Caesar, the secular and the spiritual. Under such conditions, a private moment alone with God can be much more comforting and revealing. Regardless of the liturgy, it is hard to experience the spiritual flow in the static environment that is expressed in many institutionalized religious worship services. In such circumstances, I agree with Maslow that religion hampers rather than helps.
  15. 15. ABRAHAM MASLOW PSYCHOLOGY 15 References Maslow, A. (1976). The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York, NY: Penguin Maslow, A. (1968). Toward a Psychology of Being. New York, NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold. Maslow, A. (1983). Religions, Values and Peak Experiences. New York, NY: Penguin