- What is the best way to be able to self-actualise in the course of your life?
A. H. Maslow (1943), A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review, 50, 370-396.
Maslow believes in a hierarchy of human needs that would explain people’s motivation being their actions. Every drive that a person would have would be connected to the state of satisfaction of his or her previous needs. The first needs that would be taken as starting points for human beings’ motivations would be the physiological needs. Those needs categorised as the basic needs include the needs for food, water, sleep and sex. Then, comes the need for love and esteem. When the human being finds security in his life, when he finds shelter and can put food on the table, the need for love will now grow in him. Maslow explained this situation by identifying these needs as a “hierarchy of relative prepotency”.
“It is quite true that man lives by bread alone — when there is no bread. But what happens to man’s desires when there is plenty of bread and when his belly is chronically filled?” (Maslow, 1943, p. 375)
He believed that the physiological needs are the needs that naturally dominate the organism but when those needs are chronically satisfied, other “higher”needs emerge, and the previous needs become less important to the human being.
For Maslow the need for love and esteem comes after the physiological needs, when they are continuously gratified. Human beings will feel the need to be loved by family, friend or a partner with whom they share a serious relationship with. They would also feel the need to be recognised by others, to have a good reputation and to feel like they have a place in the society and feel important, they would want to feel useful which would give them self-confidence. And if those needs find gratification, Maslow believed that people who didn’t have the chance to become the person that they were meant to be potentially, those people would find the need to self-actualised. Self-actualisation was first coined by Kurt Goldstein, and was used after by Maslow to explain the highest need of the hierarchy of human needs. He believed that every man had the potential to be the best at something. “What a man can be, he must be”(Maslow, 1943, p. 383). This need can be translated by the need for self-fulfilment, the need to express creativity, the need for knowledge, for cognition, for a spiritual enlightenment or awareness. He believed that only the satisfaction of this need could bring true happiness to a person.
Now this need may be expressed differently from one person to the other. One person may find gratification in becoming the best mother to her children, another may find fulfilment in being recognised for his talent as a musician, or a person may even find true fulfilment in helping others find their own potential. Maslow argued that the self-actualisation need could only be satisfied if the previous needs such as the physiological needs are gratified. But when I think of people like Mother Teresa, who has dedicated her life in helping others, that need of transcendence seemed to come before any needs such has the need for love and belonging.
Maslow believed that this self-actualisation need is rarely met by human beings and is often quite unknown to the people. He called the people that are truly fulfilled as “exceptions”. But Maslow do state that when he speaks of the satisfaction of a need, he doesn’t mean that the need is satisfied a 100%. He means that it is at least half way satisfied, such as 50%.
He believed that the lack of gratification of any of those needs might bring the human being to be “sick”, like psychologically ill.
Steve J. Hanley and Steven C. Abell (2002). Maslow and Relatedness: Creating an Interpersonal Model of Self-Actualisation, Journal of Humanistic Psychology 42:37.
Maslow presented the need for “Love and Belonging” as “deficiency motives” that when gratified, can help reach the self-actualisation need that is so crucial to a person’s well-being. But Steve J. Hanley and Steven C. Abell want to present the “Love and Belonging” need in a more important manner than just deficiency motives. They want to modify that idea that the “Love and belonging” need is no longer needed when the person reaches self-actualisation. Maslow likes to present self-actualising people as autonomous individuals that value the time they have on their own. They believe that Maslow is underestimating the power of interpersonal relationships even after self-actualisation. Maslow believed that a bad environment for a person might be thwarting that person to become self-actualised. And a person apt to self-actualise should have it in him to go against or fight his environment if it’s needed to. The two Stevens talk about relationships in which the individual are able to gain personal growth such as a mother for her children or a dad and his son, or even in a marriage, in the purpose of understanding and pleasing the other, which they call “creative fidelity”.
Germain believed that to understand the development of an individual, you have to know about his relationship to his environment.
Searles also believes that “human beings not only must respect the natural world, our life-sustaining environment, but must remain in touch with its restorative and healing forces” (Searles, 1960, p. 30).
Understanding the importance of relatedness with human beings and the natural environment is argued to be absent in Maslow’s theories.
Roszak also mentioned that: “the needs of the planet are the needs of the person. And, therefore, the rights of the person are the rights of the planet” (p. xxx, preface).
They explained that the well-being of the individual is connected or even depended of the well-being of the global environment. Therefore our ability to self-actualise is depended on the health of the global environment.
Which makes me wonder how is our present and future with technology is going to affect our mental health?
Roszak also argues that if the earth suffers, human beings would inevitably suffer.
They believe that the symbiotic relation that exists between people and their planet can exist also with people and the objects they have created. Kurokawa also believes that since people’s creations have been surrounding them in every form than it is fair to say that people cannot operate without the influence of their creations. And the people and their creations together are believed to have a synergetic result that is bigger than the components themselves.
Contemporary psychoanalysts such as Rizutto (1979) and Spero (1992) valued spiritual connection as a healthy part in psychic life.
For Maslow, religion enters the category of the need for safety in order to self-actualise: “The tendency to have some religion or world philosophy that organises the universe and the people in it into some sort of satisfactorily coherent, meaningful whole is also part motivated be seeking safety” (p.19).
This notion denies the importance of a relationship with “God” or a “higher power” in order to self-actualise.
The two Stevens believe that an interpersonal model of self-actualisation will not see religion as a dependency.
They want people to embrace their unique qualities as human beings of having the ability to extend themselves in relationships with others and the world around them.
Ingrid Laas (2006), Self-Actualisation and Society: A New Application for an Old Theory, Journal of Humanistic Psychology 46: 77.
Ingrid believes that the traits of an open populist movement are common to the traits given by Maslow (1960) on a self-actualised individual. Ingrid calls “open populist movement” any group of people that want to gain or regain control over themselves and their community in a way that is open to the diversity of opinions and methods that give importance to the value of a person’s point of view and its self-growth. She also believed that the behaviour of each members of a movement could be explained with Maslow’s theories on human beings’ motivations. And looking at the leaders of an open populist movement such as Nelson Mandela, they can be seen as self-actualised individuals. An example given by Ingrid on the fact that open populists members have common traits of having “a self-actualising state of psychological health” like Maslow is the fact that there are flexible and value the freedom of expressions which can help them value opposite opinions and be creative, autonomous and problem-centered.
“Participation in this open populist movement often moved people closer to an ideal of psychological health.” Maslow believed that people could gain self-actualisation moments through the experience of living peak experiences that would lead them into a healthier psychological state. And in the study of some movements, members would experience moments similar to peak experiences that Maslow spoke about that would change their views on themselves and the world around them.
“A striking parallel between Maslow’s work on how people may progress toward greater psychological health individually and how a similar process may occur within individuals in the context of collective action.”
In his theories, Maslow believes that people are the same when it comes to our physiological and psychological needs but differ in their potential, in their strengths and weaknesses.
For him the motivations and actions of a person can be explained through the state of satisfaction of his needs.
“ The environmental and cultural context in which a person lives determines, to a large degree, how these universal needs are fulfilled or not fulfilled and whether needs will be met in a way that allows an individual to progress up the need hierarchy.”(Ingrid, 2006)
Ingrid believes that in a given situation, when people live in a common environment like the same country, nation or community, they may grow the same need or frustration. They may experience similar problems, which would lead them to act collectively.
Maslow described the quest for self-actualisation as a need for a person to ask himself who he is as an individual and as a member of the society.
“The higher need is a later phyletic or evolutionary development. We share the need for food with all living things, the need for love with (perhaps) the higher apes, the need for self-actualisation (at least through creativeness) with nobody. The higher the need, the more specifically human it is.” (Maslow, 1970, p.147)
Ingrid wanders, with the Darwinian perspective, if the people responsible for the uprising of democracy had planed in mind to maximise the opportunities for self-actualisation.
John Mayhem (1997), Psychological Change: A practical introduction, Basingstoke: Macmillan.
For humanistic psychologist, the development of a person’s unique potential is essential for that person’s mental health. Carl Rogers believed that all living things have the motivation to realise their potential. He gives examples such as the biological processes of the human being taking breath and also learning how to walk but later comes the motivation to self-actualise, to become the person that you are supposed to be which he refers to as a more social process rather than biological. He also believes that people can have a lot of preconceived ideas, prejudices on people that mostly might have originally came from the views and opinions of parents and teachers. Rogers believed that with those prejudices it is likely that the person who has might have a prejudice on black people for example, if he encounters with a black person, his mind would already be set by his prejudices and would most likely be close-minded on any other characteristics that may be displayed in front of him. But an openness to the true experience that you might have with a person, putting a side preconceived notions will help that person have a clear “self-image”, and a good sense of identity, which Rogers believes to be one of the criteria of mental health. The second criterion is when a person knows how to live fully in the moment. Rogers believes that if a person is able to make the best of each situation that he could face during the day, and be able to learn and grow from it, that person would gain a lot more. Freedom is also an important criterion for Rogers, so that the person can be free to create and development his or her self.
To study more on self-actualisation and mental healthiness, Maslow decided to study 3000 students. Sadly only one student was analysed as self-actualised and two dozen where taken as “growing well”. Maslow concluded that self-actualisation would generally happen after the age of 25. No matter the existent variations between theorists on mental health, they all agree on the fact that mentally healthy people “know who they are” and are “sufficiently autonomous to be in control of their lives.”
Frieda Fordham (1953), An Introduction to Jung’s Psychology, Penguin Books.
Carl G. Jung believed strongly that a child’s mental health is very much influenced by the parents. If parents show any unresolved problems, the child might pick up on it and it would have a negative effect on him. Parents have to be careful because the influence can be unconscious, and can be interpreted through the child’s dreams. The things that are left unsaid are a lot more dangerous and can take a much bigger toll on the child than the things that are said.
Not only the parents have to be careful but the teachers too. Teachers should know better than projects their own complexes onto the children in their care. Frieda believes that it is important for the teachers to fully develop their personalities to have a better understanding of the world we live in and to share their knowledge to the pupils. Jung believes that education is much needed for adults too. He thinks that it shouldn’t stop when the person gets a job and gets married. He believes that the high numbers of unhappy marriages and professional disappointments are due to the lack of education for the grown-ups. Frieda takes the example of introverted and extraverted people. She believes that in this society where extraverted people are more accepted than introverted, introverted people should not be forced to change, instead should be given a job that suits their personality.
Like Jung, she believes that if people were more educated on the fact that a person’s attitude would come from something inherent in his personality, then in marriages, the partner would be more understanding of the other partner’s differences. Frieda can see that nowadays, human beings have little connection with nature and is fragile to any storm that may hit. She believes that we live in a society that suppresses our “unconscious instinctive nature” and that the more we derail over our nature, the harder the unconscious level will burst out in a “chaotic manner” to compensate for the ordered and disciplined way of life. Jung believes that everyone should try to understand the unconscious.
Abraham H. Maslow (1970), Motivation and Personality, Third Edition, harper & Row, Publishers, Inc.
Maslow found out with his research that someone with talent isn’t necessarily mentally healthy or self-actualised. He analysed a difference between “special talent creativeness” and “self-actualising creativeness”. He saw the self-actualising creativeness as an easy and innocent procedure, a creativeness that came with the freedom of expression. A creativeness that is quiet child-like and that people would get from birth but later gets inhibited as the person gets enculturated.
Abraham H. Maslow (1968), Toward a Psychology of Being, Second Edition,Van Nostrand Reinhold.
Maslow believes that our self-growth can depend mostly on our environment. And our mental health can be defined by our “ability to master the environment”, to understand it and live with it in the most healthy way possible.
Alfred Adler ( 1992), Understanding Human Nature, Oneworld Publications.
Adler believes in the important of a communal life for human beings. Being physically weaker than other living things such as animals, human beings don’t have any teeth or nails to survive in the wild but instead relies on tools for their survival. They also have to live in favourable conditions. The human beings can be taken as the most inferior species on Earth when it comes to survival with natural physical attributes. And that feeling of inferiority and security can be felt in the constant search of ways to adapt better to life on Earth. And human being can thank their intellect to creatively be able to successfully adapt and live on this Earth. If human beings had to rely on their physical attributes to defend their species from other natural enemies, they would have been one of the weakest living things and their existence would have been threaten. Their thirst for survival and security have developed them to “feel, think and act”. Adler believes that society played an essential role in the process of adaptation. Speech is also very essential to the logic of a communal life. Language is very important.
Henryk Misiak (1973), Phenomenological, Existential, and Humanistic Psychology: A Historical Survey, Grune & Stratton, Inc.
Humanistic psychology understands the importance of the realisation of a person’s true potential. They want a society that values the quality of an individual and gives freedom for his true potential to be found and fulfilled. Humanistic psychology has tried to send and spread their message in education, business and psychotherapy. Like Maslow, they believe that it all starts in the education of the kids. Teachers should motivate the kids to find out who they truly are instead of forcing opinions and statements in them. In several corporations where they followed Maslow’s plan on putting first the aim of self-actualisation, workers there became a lot happier, efficient and productive.