Abraham Maslow’s Theory of Personality

Throughout the history of psychology, many psychologists have formulated personality theories. One of the best known is Abraham Maslow, along with Carl Rogers, for being the greatest exponent of what is called the third force in psychology, humanism. This current arose in contrast to psychoanalysis and behavioralism.

Unlike these schools, humanism sees the person in a holistic and positive perspective, where the emphasis is on the subjective experience of the subject. People are active beings who have the capacity to develop, and their basic instinct and dignity lies in the confidence they have in themselves.

    Who was Abraham Maslow

    Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist born in Brooklyn, New York, on April 1, 1908.. Their parents were unorthodox Russian Jews who came to the Land of Opportunity in the hope of securing a better future for their children. Abraham Maslow was never a very social guy, and as a child he took refuge in books.

    Before becoming interested in psychology, he first studied law at the City College of New York (CCNY). After marrying Berta Goodman, his older cousin, he moved to Wisconsin to attend university there. It was here that he began to study psychology. He worked with Harry Harlow, famous for his experiences with monkey puppies and disease behavior. After graduating and obtaining a doctorate in this discipline, he returned to New York to work with EL Thorndike at Columbia University, where he became interested in research on human sexuality. At this point in his life, he began teaching at Brooklyn College and came into contact with many European psychologists who had come to the United States, for example Adler or Fromm.

    Carl Rogers’ humanist theory

    Humanistic psychology is arguably one of the most important schools of thought in psychology. But to know what it is, you have to know the work of another great figure of this school. It is difficult to understand humanism without Rogers and Maslow. Therefore, before delving into Maslow’s theoretical propositions, let’s dive into Carl Rogers’ theory.

    If Freudian psychoanalysis saw the person from their problematic behaviors and behavior, people visualized as passive beings, that is, they did not have too many options to influence the environment. Carl Rogers’ vision and humanism, on the other hand, were totally different, as the human being is seen as an active individual and master of his own achievement. For Rogers, a person who pays attention to the organic assessment process is a fully functional or self-fulfilling person.

    Rogers Emphasizes Individual’s Freedom to Follow the Course of Their Lives. According to him, people’s personalities can be analyzed based on how they approach or move away from what they consider to be a highly functional individual.

    The fully functional person, that is to say in better health, when he has a certain number of characteristics. They are as follows:

    • existential experience: People open to the experience are more likely to live fully.
    • organic trust: These people rely on their internal experience to guide their behavior.
    • Freedom experience: The person is free to choose.
    • creativity: The person is creative and always finds new alternatives to live. They are mentally inflexible.

    You can deepen Rogers’ ideas in this article: “The Theory of Personality Proposed by Carl Rogers”

    Maslow’s personality theory

    Maslow adds his concept of needs to Rogers’ theory. The theory of this psychologist revolves around two fundamental aspects: our needs and our experiences. In other words, what motivates us and what we seek throughout life and what happens to us on this path, what we experience. This is where our personality is formed. In fact, Maslow is considered one of the great motivational theorists.

    Maslow’s theory of personality has two levels. A biological one, the needs that we all have and another more personal, which are those needs that must be the result of our desires and the experiences that we live.

    Certainly, Maslow is associated with the concept of self-realization, Because in his theory he talks about the needs that we must develop, to seek our full potential. And is that, according to this, people have an innate desire to fulfill themselves, to be what they want to be and have the ability to pursue their goals independently and freely.

    In a way, the way an individual approaches their self-actualization will match the type of personality they manifest in their day-to-day life. This implies that for Maslow the personality it is linked to motivational aspects which have to do with the goals and situations that every human being experiences; it is not a static thing that stays inside people’s heads and manifests unidirectionally, from the inside out, as one might criticize in some reductionist and deterministic conceptions of this psychological phenomenon .

    The implications of this are clear: to study personality, one must also know the context in which people live and how it meets the motivational needs of individuals. Just focus on administering multiple tests getting a score doesn’t give us a good view on this, as it starts with a bias in considering that personality is what can be captured by these data collection tests. This is a view similar to that applied in the field of mental abilities by psychologists such as Howard Gardner and Robert J. Sternberg, who criticize the psychometric conception of intelligence.

    Self-realized personality

    Maslow believes that meeting the needs of self-actualization is in everyone’s hands, but few do. People who successfully meet their self-actualization needs are self-fulfilling people. However, Maslow states that less than 1% of the population belong to this class of individuals.

    Self-realized people are characterized by:

    • They show a high level of self-acceptance
    • They perceive reality more clearly and objectively
    • They are more spontaneous
    • They think that the causes of the problems are external
    • They love loneliness
    • They have a curious and creative mindset
    • They love top experiences
    • They generate real ideas
    • They have a great sense of humor
    • They have a great critical mind and are governed by ethical values
    • They are respectful and humble
    • They are tolerant, unprejudiced and appreciate the presence of others

    If you want to know more about these types of people, you can read our article:

    • “13 characteristics of self-realized people according to Abraham Maslow”

    The pyramid theory of human needs

    Maslow is famous for his pyramid of needs theory because, according to him, the needs follow a hierarchy, from the most basic to the most complex, and its pyramid is built on five levels.

    At the base of this figure is the first and at the top the second. From bottom to top, here are the different levels of needs:

    • Psychological needs: Eat, breathe, drink …
    • Security needs: Physical security, employment, income …
    • Affiliate need: Getting married, being a member of a community …
    • Recognition needs: Respect for others, status, reputation …
    • Self-actualization needs: Moral, spiritual development, search for a goal in life …

    Needs must be met to aspire to the next level. For example, if we don’t have physiological needs covered, we cannot aspire to affiliate needs. At the level higher are the needs for self-actualization. It is this hierarchy which, according to Maslow, marked the way in which the personality adapts to circumstances, according to each situation experienced. It is, in short, a conception of the personality which encompasses very extensive psychological aspects and goes beyond the psychometric approach which dominated in its time.

    • You can learn more about the theory of human needs in our article: “Maslow’s Pyramid: The Hierarchy of Human Needs”

    Bibliographical references:

    • Maslow, Abraham. (1964). Ohio State University Press, ed. Maximum religions, values ​​and experiences.
    • Städler, Thomas. (1998). Lexicon of psychology, Stuttgart: Kröner.

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