The Learning Reflection Journal is a compilation of weekly learning reflections you’ll independently write about across Weeks 2, 3, 5, 6 and 7. During each of the assigned weeks, you will write two paragraphs, each 300 words in length (i.e., 600 words total). The first paragraph will describe a topic that you found particularly interesting during that week and what made it interesting, and the second paragraph will describe something that you have observed occurring in the real world that exemplified that topic. Only one topic may be recorded in the journal for each assigned week and your observed real word occurrence must be clearly related to it.
Created July 7, 2017 by userMark Kelland
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 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)
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?
Connections Across Cultures: Self-Realization as the
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 wise man
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 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?
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:
1. The client and the therapist must be in psychological contact.
2. The client must be in a state of incongruence, being vulnerable or anxious.
3. The therapist must be congruent in the relationship.
4. The therapist must experience unconditional positive regard for the client.
5. The therapist must experience empathic understanding of the client’s frame of reference and endeavor to communicate this experience to the client.
6. 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).
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)
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.
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?
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?
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.
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)
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 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).
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?
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, 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?
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).
· 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.
Created July 7, 2017 by userMark Kelland
Man is nothing else but what he makes of himself. Such is the first principle of Existentialism…For we mean that man first exists, that is, that man first of all is the being who hurls himself toward a future and who is conscious of imagining himself as being in the future…Thus, Existentialism’s first move is to make every man aware of what he is and to make the full responsibility of his existence rest on him. (pg. 456; Jean-Paul Sartre, 1947/1996)
Existential psychology is the area within psychology most closely linked to the field of philosophy. Curiously, this provides one of the most common complaints against existential psychology. Many historians identify the establishment of Wilhelm Wundt’s experimental laboratory in Germany in 1879 as the official date of the founding of psychology. Sigmund Freud, with his strong background in biomedical research, also sought to bring scientific methodology to the study of the mind and mental processes, including psychological disorders and psychotherapy. Shortly thereafter, Americans such as Edward Thorndike and John Watson were establishing behaviorism, and its rigorous methodology, as the most influential field in American psychology. So, as existential psychology arose in the 1940s and 1950s it was viewed as something of a throwback to an earlier time when psychology was not distinguished from philosophy (Lundin, 1979).
However, as with those who identify themselves as humanistic psychologists, existential psychologists are deeply concerned with individuals and the conditions of each unique human life. The detachment that seems so essential to experimental psychologists is unacceptable to existential psychologists. The difference can easily be seen in the titles of two influential books written by the leading existential psychologists: Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl (1946/1992) and Man’s Search for Himself by Rollo May (1953). Existential psychology differs significantly from humanistic psychology, however, in focusing on present existence and the fear, anguish, and sorrow that are so often associated with the circumstances of our lives (Lundin, 1979).
The roots of existentialism as a philosophy began with the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard (1813-1855). Kierkegaard was intensely interested in man’s relationship with God, and its ultimate impossibility. Man is finite and individual, whereas God is infinite and absolute, so the two can never truly meet. In pursuing the relationship, however, man goes through three stages or modes of existence: the aesthetic mode, the ethical mode, and the religious mode. The aesthetic mode is concerned with the here and now, and focuses primarily on pleasure and pain. Young children live primarily in this mode. The ethical mode involves making choices and wrestling with the concept of responsibility. An individual in the ethical mode must choose whether or not to live by a code or according to the rules of society. This submission to rules and codes may prove useful in terms of making life simple, but it is a dead end. In order to break out of this dead end, one must live in the religious mode by making a firm commitment to do so. While this may lead to the recognition that each of us is a unique individual, it also brings with it the realization of our total inadequacy relative to God. As a result, we experience loneliness, anxiety, fear, and dread. All of this anguish, however, allows us to know what is really true, and for Kierkegaard truth was synonymous with faith (in God). However, as important as man’s relationship to God was for Kierkegaard, he was adamantly opposed to organized religion. Kierkegaard rejected objective, so-called “truth” in the form of religious dogma in favor of the subjective “truth” that each person “knows” within themselves. While this subjective, personal truth brings with it the responsibility that leads to anxiety, it can also elevate a person to an authentic existence (Breisach, 1962; Frost, 1942).
Another philosopher considered essential to the foundation of existentialism was the enigmatic German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900). A key element of Nietzsche’s philosophy is the will-to-power. He believed this will-to-power is the fundamental force in the universe (Alfred Adler considered it fundamental to personality development). Ironically, according to Nietzsche, the universe has no regard for humanity. Natural forces (such as disaster and disease) destroy people, life is extremely difficult, and even those who struggle on attempting to realize their will eventually succumb to death. There is no hope to be found in an afterlife, since Nietzsche is famous for declaring that God is dead! Neither is there much hope within society for many people. Nietzsche believed that inequality was the natural state of humanity, so he considered slavery to be perfectly understandable and he felt that women (who are physically weaker than men) should never expect the same rights as men. Nonetheless, Nietzsche saw a great future for humanity, in the belief, indeed the faith, that we would create a superman (or superwoman, as the case may be). It is the creation of the superman that gives purpose to existence. Although the concept of the superman helped to fuel Nazi views on creating a German master race, it also made its way into American comic books as the great hero Superman (Fritzsche, 2007; Frost, 1942; Jaspers, 1965). In perhaps Nietzsche’s most famous work, Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the would-be prophet Zarathustra encouraged people to seek a better future for humanity:
I will teach you about the superman. Man is something that should be overcome. What have you done to overcome him? (pg. 81, Nietzsche, quoted in Fritzsche, 2007)
The German existentialists Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) and Karl Jaspers (1883-1969) focused on human existence itself and our role in the world. In a sense, Heidegger trivialized the nature of God, equating God with little more than the greatest being in the world, but a being nonetheless (just as humans are). Jaspers was not an atheist, but still his existential theory focused on the human journey toward a freedom that has meaning only when it reveals itself in union with God (Breisach, 1962; Lescoe, 1974). Heidegger considered individuals as beings who are all connected in Being, thus distinguishing between mere beings (including other animals) and the nature of truth or Being. Only humans are capable of understanding this connection between all beings, and Heidegger referred to this discovery as Dasein (“being here,” or existence). On one level, Dasein is common to all creatures, but the possibility of being aware of one’s connection to Being is uniquely human. For those who ask the big questions, Dasein can become authentic existence. This experience comes in the fullness of life, but only if one adopts the mode of existence known as being-in-the-world. Heidegger insisted that Dasein and being-in-the-world are equal. Being-in-the-world is an odd concept, however, since Heidegger believed that Being can only arise from nothingness, and so we ourselves arise as being-thrown-into-this-world. Having been thrown into this mysterious world we wish to make it our own, but our desire for connection with Being leads to anxiety. This anxiety cannot be overcome, because we are aware that we will die! Surprisingly, however, Heidegger considers death to be something positive. It is only because we are going to die that some of us strive to experience life fully. If we can accept that death will come, and nothing will follow, we can be true to ourselves and live an authentic life (Breisach, 1962; Lundin, 1979).
Finally we come to the French existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre (1905-1980). Sartre was an extraordinary author and one of the most important philosophers of the twentieth century. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964, but chose to reject it. More importantly for us, however, is the fact that he carried existential philosophy directly into psychology, with books such as The Transcendence of the Ego (Sartre, 1937/1957) and a section entitled “Existential Psychoanalysis” in his extraordinary work Being and Nothingness (Sartre, 1943). Whereas Kierkegaard believed that man could never truly be one with God, and Heidegger trivialized God, Sartre simply stated that God does not exist. But this is not inconsequential:
The Existentialist, on the contrary, thinks it very distressing that God does not exist, because all possibility of finding values in a heaven of ideas disappears along with Him; there can no longer be an a priori Good, since there is no infinite and perfect consciousness to think it. (pg. 459; Sartre, 1947/1996).
If one looks at the title of Sartre’s most famous philosophical work, Being and Nothingness (Sartre, 1943), you might get the impression that Sartre followed in the footsteps of Heidegger. However, Sartre did not agree with Heidegger (see Sartre, 1943). Sartre divided the world into en-soi (the in-itself) and pour-soi (the for-itself). Pour-soi can be defined as conscious beings, of which there is only one kind: human beings. Everything else is en-soi, things (including non-human animals) that are silent and dead, and from which come no meaning, they only are (Breisach, 1962). For Sartre, there is no mystery, no Being, tying all of creation together. Man’s consciousness is not a connection to God that can be realized, it is simply a unique characteristic of the human species. The nothingness to which Sartre refers is a shell around the pour-soi, the individual, which separates it from the en-soi. People who try to deny living authentically, those who try to deny the responsibility that comes with being conscious and settle into being nothing more than en-soi will have a shattering experience and be totally destroyed (since there is no Being, as described by Heidegger, beyond the shell surrounding the pour-soi; Breisach, 1962). This establishes critical ethical implications for the individual, since their life will be what they make of it, and nothing more.
Unfortunately, many people do reject their unique consciousness and desire to be en-soi, just letting life happen around them. As the en-soi closes in around them, they begin to experience nausea, forlornness, anxiety, and despair. Herein lays the need for existential psychoanalysis:
Existential psychoanalysis is going to reveal to man the real goal of his pursuit, which is being as a synthetic fusion of the in-itself with the for-itself; existential psychoanalysis is going to acquaint man with his passion…Many men, in fact, know that the goal of their pursuit is being; and … they refrain from appropriating things for their own sake and try to realize the symbolic appropriations of their being-in-itself…existential psychoanalysis…must reveal to the moral agent that he is the being by whom values exist. It is then that his freedom will become conscious of itself… (pg. 797; Sartre, 1943)
Sartre proposed that individuals become conscious, and through that consciousness create the world itself, but also that we are “condemned to despair” and “doomed to failure” when we realize that all human activities are merely equivalent. This philosophical approach leads into Sartre’s criticism of the psychology of his time. Sartre believed that psychologists, and even most philosophers, stopped short of really understanding people:
For most philosophers the ego is an “inhabitant” of consciousness…Others – psychologists for the most part – claim to discover its material presence, as the center of desires and acts, in each moment of our psychic life. We should like to show here that the ego is neither formally nor materially in consciousness: it is outside, in the world. It is a being of the world, like the ego of another. (pg. 31; Sartre, 1937/1957)
So, Sartre believed that an existential psychoanalysis was needed to go beyond the limits of Freudian psychoanalysis. It is not enough, according to Sartre, to stop at describing mere patterns of desires and tendencies (Sartre, 1943). In critiquing the psychoanalytic biography of a famous author named Flaubert, Sartre asked very meaningful questions about this individual’s life: why did Flaubert become a writer instead of a painter, why did he come to feel exalted and self-important instead of gloomy, why did his writing emphasize violence, or amorous adventures, etc.? Sartre’s point is a common criticism of Freudian psychoanalytic theory. If most any result can come from an individual’s experiences, then what does psychoanalysis really tell us about anyone? Sartre proposed a deeper form of psychoanalysis:
This comparison allows us to understand better what an existential psychoanalysis must be if it is entitled to exist. It is a method destined to bring to light, in a strictly objective form, the subjective choice by which each living person makes himself a person; that is, makes known to himself what he is. Since what the method seeks is a choice of being at the same time as a being, it must reduce particular behavior patterns to fundamental relations – not of sexuality or of the will-to-power, but of being – which are expressed in this behavior. It is then guided from the start toward a comprehension of being and must not assign itself any other goal than to discover being and the mode of being of the being confronting this being. It is forbidden to stop before attaining this goal…This psychoanalysis has not yet found its Freud. (pp. 733-734; Sartre; 1943)
Placing Existential Psychology in Context: Height Psychology
Goes Deeper Than Depth Psychology
The two theorists highlighted in this chapter were truly extraordinary individuals. Both Viktor Frankl (who coined the term “height psychology”) and Rollo May were well immersed in existential thought and its application to psychology when they faced seemingly certain death. For Frankl, who was imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps, death was expected. For May, who was confined to a sanitarium with tuberculosis, death was a very real possibility (and indeed many died there). But Frankl and May were intelligent, observant, and thoughtful men. They watched as many died, while some lived, and they sought answers that might explain who was destined for each group. Both men observed that for those who resigned themselves to death, death came soon. But for those who chose to live, they had a real chance to survive despite the terrible conditions in which they existed.
Frankl and May also shared their training in traditional psychoanalysis, and both had studied with Alfred Adler, at least somewhat. However, they found the so-called depth psychology as lacking, since it did not address the true potential for humans to rise above their conditions. In this regard, existential psychologists have typically been viewed as belonging within the humanistic psychology camp. However, both Frankl and May considered humanistic psychology to also be lacking, in that it neglected the true potential for humans to make bad choices, and to harm both themselves and others. So for existential psychologists, the center of their focus is on the immediate existence of the individual, in the context of their relationship to others. It is this seeming paradox, and the drive to resolve it, that provides the motivation and energy for life.
There is also a natural connection between existentialism and Eastern schools of thought, including yoga, Buddhism, and Taoism. Some of the comparisons are so striking that, shortly after discussing Taoism, May wrote “one gets the same shock of similarity in Zen Buddhism” (May, 1983). And so, this chapter should provide an interesting transition to the final section of this text, in which we will examine both Eastern and Western spiritual approaches to making positive choices in one’s life.
Viktor Frankl (1905-1997) was truly an extraordinary man. His first paper was submitted for publication by Sigmund Freud; his second paper was published at the urging of Alfred Adler. Gordon Allport was instrumental in getting Frankl’s book Man’s Search for Meaning (Frankl, 1946/1992) published in English, a book that went on to be recognized by the Library of Congress as one of the ten most influential books in America. He lectured around the world, and received some thirty honorary doctoral degrees in addition to the medical degree and the Ph.D. he had earned as a student. He was invited to a private audience with Pope Paul VI, even though Frankl was Jewish. All of this was accomplished in spite of, and partly because of, the fact that he spent several years in Nazi concentration camps during World War II, camps where his parents, brother, wife, and millions of other Jews died.
Viktor Frankl was born in Vienna, Austria on March 26, 1905. Although his father had been forced to drop out of medical school for financial reasons, Gabriel Frankl held a series of positions with the Austrian government, working primarily with the department of child protection and youth welfare. He instilled in his son the importance of being intensely rational and having a firm sense of social justice, and Frankl became something of a perfectionist. Frankl described his mother Elsa as a kindhearted and deeply pious woman, but during his childhood she often described him as a pest, and she even changed the words of Frankl’s favorite childhood lullaby to include calling him a pest. This may have been due to the fact that Frankl was often asking questions, so much so that a family friend nicknamed him “The Thinker” (Frankl, 1995/2000). From his mother, Frankl inherited a deep emotionality. One aspect of this emotionality involved a deep attachment to his childhood home, and he often felt homesick as his responsibilities kept him away. And those responsibilities began at an early age (Frankl, 1995/2000; Pattakos, 2004).
Even in high school Frankl was developing a keen interest in existential philosophy and psychology. At the age of 16 he delivered a public lecture “On the Meaning of Life” and at 18 he wrote his graduation essay “On the Psychology of Philosophical Thought.” Throughout his high school years he maintained a correspondence with Sigmund Freud (letters that were later destroyed by the Gestapo when Frankl was deported to his first concentration camp). When Frankl was just 19, Freud submitted one of Frankl’s papers for publication in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, afterward hoping that Frankl would agree and give his belated consent. Despite having impressed Freud, Frankl himself was already impressed by Alfred Adler. Frankl became active in Adler’s individual psychology group, and as he began medical school he was urged by Adler to publish a paper in the International Journal of Individual Psychology. It is hard to imagine that many people could have come into the favor of both Freud and Adler by such a young age, even before having begun medical school or a career in psychiatry. Despite Frankl’s young age and somewhat limited experience, the paper published by Adler was dealing with difficult material, specifically the “border area that lies between psychotherapy and philosophy, with special attention to the problems of meanings and values in psychology” (Frankl, 1995/2000). Eventually, however, Frankl fell out of favor with Adler. Frankl had been impressed with two men, Allers and Schwarz, whose views were at odds with Adler. On the evening when Allers and Schwarz announced to the society that they could not agree with Adler, Adler challenged Frankl and a friend to speak up. Frankl chose to do so, and he defended Allers and Schwarz, believing that a middle ground could be found. Adler never spoke to Frankl again, even when Frankl said hello in the local coffee shop. For a few months Adler had other people suggest to Frankl that he should quit the society. When Frankl did not, he was expelled by Adler (Frankl, 1995/2000; Pattakos, 2004).
Frankl proceeded to develop his own practice and his own school of psychotherapy, known as logotherapy (the therapy of meaning, as in finding meaning in one’s life). As early as 1929, Frankl had begun to recognize three possible ways to find meaning in life: a deed we do or a work we create; a meaningful human encounter, particularly one involving love; and choosing one’s attitude in the face of unavoidable suffering. Logotherapy eventually became known as the third school of Viennese psychotherapy, after Freud’s psychoanalysis and Adler’s individual psychology. During the 1930s Frankl did much of his work with suicidal patients and teenagers. He had extensive talks with Wilhelm Reich in Berlin, who was also involved in youth counseling by that time. As the 1930s came to an end, and Austria had been taken over by the Nazis, Frankl sought a visa to emigrate to the United States, which was eventually granted. However, Frankl’s parents could not get a visa, so he chose to remain in Austria with them. He also began work on his first book, eventually published in English under the title The Doctor and the Soul (Frankl, 1946/1986), which provided the foundation for logotherapy. He fell in love with Tilly Grosser, and they were married in 1941, the last legal Jewish marriage in Vienna under the Nazis.
Shortly thereafter, the realities of Nazi Germany overcame what little privilege Frankl had enjoyed as a doctor at a major hospital. Since it was illegal for Jews to have children, Tilly Frankl was forced to abort their first child. Frankl later dedicated The Unheard Cry for Meaning “To Harry or Marion an unborn child” (Frankl, 1978). Then the entire Frankl family, except for his sister who had gone to Australia, was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp (the same camp from which Anna Freud cared for orphans after the war). As they marched into the camp with hundreds, perhaps thousands, of other prisoners, his father tried to calm those who panicked by saying again and again: “Be of good cheer, for God is near.” Frankl’s parents, his only brother, and his wife Tilly died in the concentration camps. Most tragically, Frankl believed that his wife died after the war, but before the liberating Allied forces could care for all of the many, many suffering people (Frankl, 1995/2000).
When Frankl was deported, he tried to hide and save his only copy of The Doctor and the Soul by sewing it into the lining of his coat. However, he was forced to trade his good coat for an old one, and the manuscript was lost. While imprisoned, he managed to obtain a few scraps of paper on which to make notes. Those notes later helped him to recreate his book, and that goal gave such meaning to his life that he considered it an important factor in his will to survive the horrors of the concentration camps. It would be difficult to adequately describe the conditions of the concentration camps, or how they affected the minds of those imprisoned, especially since the effects were quite varied. Frankl describes those conditions in Man’s Search for Meaning. The book is rather short, but its contents are deep beyond comprehension. Frankl himself, however, might take exception to referring to his book as “deep.” Depth psychology was a term used for psychodynamically-oriented psychology. In 1938 Frankl coined the term “height psychology” in order to supplement, but not replace, depth psychology (Frankl, 1978).
After the war, Frankl’s life was nothing less than amazing. He returned to his home city of Vienna, married Eleonore Katharina, née Schwindt, and raised a daughter named Gabriele, whose husband and the Frankl’s grandchildren all lived in Vienna. He lectured around the world, received many honors, wrote numerous books, all while continuing to practice psychiatry and teach at the University of Vienna, Harvard, and elsewhere. He had a great interest in humor and in cartooning. Throughout his life, Frankl steadfastly refused to acknowledge the validity of collective guilt toward the German people. When asked repeatedly how he could return to Vienna, after all that happened to him and his family, Frankl replied:
…I answered with a counter-question: “Who did what to me?” There had been a Catholic baroness who risked her life by hiding my cousin for years in her apartment. There had been a Socialist attorney (Bruno Pitterman, later vice chancellor of Austria), who knew me only casually and for whom I had never done anything; and it was he who smuggled some food to me whenever he could. For what reason, then, should I turn my back on Vienna? (pp. 101-102; Frankl, 1995/2000)
Viktor Frankl died peacefully on September 2, 1997. He was 92 years old. During his life, his work influenced many people, from the ordinary to the famous and influential. “Viktor Frankl, to be sure, leaves a profound legacy” (pg. 24; Pattakos, 2004).
While Frankl was in medical school, he considered specializing in dermatology or obstetrics. A fellow student who was aware of Frankl’s wide-ranging interests, however, introduced Frankl to the works of Kierkegaard. This friend had been reminded of Kierkegaard’s emphasis on living an authentic life, and he urged Frankl to pursue his interest in psychiatry. While still in medical school Frankl delivered a lecture to the Academic Society for Medical Psychology, of which Frankl was the founding vice-president, and used the term logotherapy for the first time (a few years later he first used the alternative term existential analysis; Frankl, 1995/2000). The word logos is Greek for “meaning,” and this third Viennese school of psychotherapy focuses on the meaning of human existence and man’s search for such a meaning. Logotherapy, therefore, focuses on man’s will-to-meaning, in contrast to Freud’s will-to-pleasure (the drive to satisfy the desires of the id, the pleasure principle) or Adler’s will-to-power (the drive to overcome inferiority and attain superiority; adopted from Nietzsche) (Frankl, 1946/1986, 1946/1992).
The will-to-meaning is, according to Frankl, the primary source of one’s motivation in life. It is not a secondary rationalization of the instinctual drives, and meaning and values are not simply defense mechanisms. As Frankl eloquently points out:
…as for myself, I would not be willing to live merely for the sake of my “defense mechanisms,” nor would I be ready to die merely for the sake of my “reaction formations.” Man, however, is able to live and even to die for the sake of his ideals and values! (pg. 105; Frankl, 1946/1992)
Unfortunately, one’s search for meaning can be frustrated. This existential frustration can lead to what Frankl identified as a noogenic neurosis (a neurosis of the mind or, in other words, the specifically human dimension). Frankl suggested that when neuroses arise from an individual’s inability to find meaning in their life, what they need is logotherapy, not psychotherapy. More specifically, they need help to find some meaning in their life, some reason to be. When reading Frankl’s examples of how he helps such people, and Frankl offers many of these examples in his writings, it seems so simple. But it must be remembered that it takes a great deal of experience, knowledge, and maturity, as well as an ability to put oneself in another’s shoes, in order to creatively think of how another person can find meaning in their life. It would be safe to say that many of us find it difficult to find meaning in our own lives, and research has indeed shown that the will-to-meaning is a significant concern throughout the world (Frankl, 1946/1992). In order to make sense of this problem, Frankl has suggested that we should not ask what we expect from life, but rather, we should understand that life expects something from us:
A colleague, an aged general practitioner, turned to me because he could not come to terms with the loss of his wife, who had died two years before. His marriage had been very happy, and he was now extremely depressed. I asked him quite simply: “Tell me what would have happened if you had died first and your wife had survived you?” “That would have been terrible,” he said. “How my wife would have suffered?” “Well, you see,” I answered, “your wife has been spared that, and it was you who spared her, though of course you must now pay by surviving and mourning her.” In that very moment his mourning had been given a meaning – the meaning of a sacrifice. (pg. xx; Frankl, 1946/1986)
The latter point brings us back to Frankl’s discussion of how one can find meaning in life: through creating a work or doing a deed; by experiencing something or encountering someone, particularly when love is involved; or by choosing one’s attitude toward unavoidable suffering. Those of us who have lost someone dear know how easily it leads to deep suffering. Frankl had already written the first version of The Doctor and the Soul when he entered the Theresienstadt concentration camp, so his views on how one should choose their attitude toward unavoidable suffering were put to a test that no research protocol could ever hope to achieve! His observations form the basis for much of Man’s Search for Meaning. Both his observations of others and his own reactions in this unimaginably horrible and tragic situation are quite fascinating:
…as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of was thinking his wife…my mind clung to my wife’s image…Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun…A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. (pp. 48-49; Frankl, 1946/1992)
…One evening, when we were already resting on the floor of our hut, dead tired, soup bowls in hand, a fellow prisoner rushed in and asked us to run out to the assembly grounds and see the wonderful sunset. Standing outside we saw sinister clouds glowing in the west and the whole sky alive with clouds of ever-changing shapes and colors, from steel blue to blood red…Then, after minutes of moving silence, one prisoner said to another, “How beautiful the world could be!” (pg. 51; Frankl, 1946/1992)
…The experiences of camp life show that man does have a choice of action. There were enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions of psychic and physical stress.
We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way. (pp. 74-75; Frankl, 1946/1992)
Discussion Question: Frankl considered the most important aspect of survival to be the ability to find meaning in one’s life. Have you found meaning in your life? Are there goals you have that you believe might add meaning to your life? Do you know anyone personally whose life seems to be filled with meaning, and if so, how does it appear to affect them?
Unfortunately, as noted by Frankl, not everyone can successfully accomplish the will-to-meaning. Those who rapidly declined toward death itself had lost the ability to have faith in the future; they could not identify any goal that provided meaning for their future. Such individual’s exist in what Frankl called an existential vacuum. We have no instincts that tell us what we have to do, fewer and fewer traditions that tell us what we should do, and we often don’t even know what we want to do. Therein lays the need for logotherapy. As a technique, logotherapy relies primarily on paradoxical intention and dereflection (Frankl, 1946/1986, 1946/1992). Paradoxical intention is based on a simple trap in which neurotic individuals often find themselves. When a person thinks about or approaches a situation that provokes a neurotic symptom, such as fear, the person experiences anticipatory anxiety. This anticipatory anxiety takes the form of the symptom, which reinforces their anxiety. And so on… In order to help people break out of this negative cycle, Frankl recommends having them focus intently on the very thing that evokes their symptoms, even trying to exhibit their symptoms more severely than ever before! As a result, the patient is able to separate themselves from their own neurosis, and eventually the neurosis loses its potency.
Similar to anticipatory anxiety, people often experience a compulsive inclination to observe themselves, resulting in hyper-reflection. For example, people who suffer from insomnia focus on their efforts to sleep, or people who cannot enjoy a sexual relationship often focus on their physical, sexual responses. Because of this intense focus on sleep, or having an orgasm, these very things are unattainable. In dereflection, patients are taught not to pay attention to what they desire. A person who cannot sleep might read in bed, they will eventually fall asleep. A person who cannot enjoy intimate sexuality could focus on their partner, and as a result they should experience satisfaction that they did not expect. In essence, whereas paradoxical intention teaches the patient to ridicule their symptoms, dereflection teaches the patient to ignore his or her symptoms (Frankl, 1946/1986).
Discussion Question: Logotherapy relies on paradoxical intention and dereflection to break the anticipatory anxiety that often leads to failure (and then, more anxiety). Are there situations where you find yourself getting anxious or nervous even before the situation begins? What steps, if any, have you taken to break out of that pattern?
Kierkegaard believed that man could never truly be in contact with the infinite and absolute God. Similarly, Frankl talked about a super-meaning to life, something that goes far deeper than logic. When Frankl told his daughter that the good Lord had cured her measles, his daughter reminded him that the good Lord had given her the measles in the first place. Since children may not benefit from the challenges of suffering as adults might, and even adults find it difficult to find meaning in truly horrible situations like the concentration camps of Nazi Germany or the gulags of the former Soviet Union, the meaning of life in the greater context of human societies is often not readily apparent. But as Frankl says:
This ultimate meaning necessarily exceeds and surpasses the finite intellectual capacities of man; in logotherapy, we speak in this context of a super-meaning. What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic. (pg. 122; Frankl, 1946/1992)
In discussing the value of logotherapy, Frankl offered critiques of other popular fields in psychology and psychiatry. His most serious critique was of the deterministic nature of psychoanalysis. Frankl fervently believed in an individual’s freedom to transcend their self and choose to make the best of any situation. And he had plenty of experience to back up his opinion: “…I am a survivor of four camps – concentration camps, that is – and as such I also bear witness to the unexpected extent to which man is capable of defying and braving even the worst conditions conceivable” (pg. 47; Frankl, 1978). He did not, however, reject determinism entirely. Instead, he attributed determinism to the psychological dimension, whereas freedom exists within the noölogical dimension. He acknowledged Freud and Adler for teaching us to “unmask the neurotic.” As for behaviorism, Frankl acknowledged that it helped to “demythologize” neurosis, by pointing out that not every psychological problem is due to unconscious forces from early childhood, and he included Pavlov, Watson, and Skinner as great pioneers. Still, both psychoanalysis and behaviorism ignore the essential humanness of the individual.
Despite his emphasis on the individual human, Frankl did not consider logotherapy as belonging within humanistic psychology (or at least not within what he called pseudo-humanism; Frankl, 1978). He believed that humanistic psychology focused so much on the humanity of individuals, that they did not quite appreciate the uniqueness of each person. It is not enough to merely encounter another person. In order to be moved on the personal level there must be an element of love (love for another person, if not a more intimate and personal love as for a spouse or a child). As we will see below, Rollo May also considered love to be of great importance to our lives. The emphasis that Frankl placed on love may have something to do with his deep spirituality. Frankl believed in a spiritual unconscious, separate from the instinctual unconscious described by Freud (Frankl, 1948/2000). In order for an individual to experience an authentic existence, they must determine whether a given phenomenon (thoughts, feelings, impulses, etc.) is instinctual or spiritual, and then freely choose how to behave or respond. Frankl returned to Heidegger’s concept of Dasein, living according to the understanding that one is connected to Being. Although this concept may seem reminiscent of Jung’s collective unconscious, nothing could be further from the truth:
…It cannot be emphasized strongly enough that not only is the unconscious neither divine nor omniscient, but above all man’s unconscious relation to God is profoundly personal. The “unconscious God” must not be mistaken as an impersonal force operant in man. This understanding was the great mistake to which C. G. Jung fell prey. Jung must be credited with having discovered distinctly religious elements within the unconscious. Yet he misplaced this unconscious religiousness of man, failing to locate the unconscious God in the personal and existential region. Instead, he allotted it to the region of drives and instincts, where unconscious religiousness no longer remained a matter of choice and decision. According to Jung, something within me is religious, but it is not I who then is religious; something within me drives me to God, but it is not I who makes the choice and takes the responsibility. (pg. 70; Frankl, 1948/2000)
According to Frankl, the most human of all human phenomena is the will-to-meaning. Religion, or spirituality, seeks a will-to-ultimate-meaning. Once again, Frankl believed that Freudian psychoanalysis and Adlerian individual psychology had failed to sufficiently credit the self-transcendent quality of individuals who live authentic lives. It is in the study of authentic lives that “height psychology,” as Frankl called it, can address the higher aspirations of the human psyche. In other words, beyond seeking pleasure and/or power, there is man’s search for meaning (Frankl, 1948/2000).
Discussion Question: Frankl was a very spiritual man. He talked about super-meaning and a will-to-ultimate-meaning. Are you a spiritual and/or religious person? If yes, does your faith help to give meaning to your life?
Rollo May (1909-1994) introduced existentialism to American psychologists, and has remained the best known proponent of this approach in America. Trained in a fairly traditional format as a psychoanalyst, May considered the detachment with which psychoanalysts approached their patients as a violation of social ethics. For example, if a psychoanalyst helps a patient to be the best they can be, and the person happens to earn their living in an unseemly or criminal way, it hardly seems proper (Stagner, 1988). On the other hand, who is to decide which values should be preferred in a particular society? In the pursuit of freedom, May suggested that sometimes individuals might reasonably oppose the standards or morality of their society. Politics, a wonderful topic for lively debates, is dependent on opposing viewpoints. Only when an individual lives an authentic life, however, should their opinion be considered valid, and existential psychology seeks to help individuals live authentic lives.
Rollo Reese May was born on April 21, 1909, in Ohio, and grew up in Marine City, Michigan. He attended Oberlin College in Ohio, graduating in 1930. Having always been interested in art and artistic creativity, he joined with a small group of artists and traveled to Europe, where they studied the local art of Poland. In order to remain in Europe, May took a teaching position with the American College at Salonika in Greece. When not teaching, he traveled widely throughout Greece, Poland, Romania, and Turkey. He attended the summer school taught by Alfred Adler. Deeply impressed by Adler (as Frankl had been), he nonetheless considered Adler’s theories overly simplistic and too general. This may well have been due to his awakening awareness of the tragic side of human life, keeping in mind that much of Europe suffered greatly during the depression between World War I and World War II (Reeves, 1977).
Upon returning to the United States, May worked as a student advisor and the editor of a student magazine at Michigan State University. In 1936, he enrolled at Union Theological Seminary in New York, with the intention of asking, and most likely hoping to find answers to, the ultimate questions about human life. Despite having no particular desire to become a minister, he did serve in a parish in Montclair, New Jersey for a while. While at the seminary, he became a lifelong friend of Paul Tillich, a well-known existential theologian. Tillich, whose classes May regularly attended, introduced May to the works of Kierkegaard and Heidegger. May also met Kurt Goldstein during this time, and became acquainted with Goldstein’s theories of self-actualization and anxiety as a reaction by organisms to catastrophic events. Regarding his time as a minister, May reflected that the only events which seemed to include an element of reality were the funerals (Reeves, 1977).
Shortly after graduating from the seminary, May began writing books on counseling and creative living. He worked as a counselor at the College of the City of New York, and trained as a psychoanalyst at the William Alanson White Institute of Psychiatry, Psychoanalysis, and Psychology in New York. His time at the training institute overlapped with Harry Stack Sullivan being the president of the William Alanson White Foundation, and Erich Fromm as a fellow associate. In 1946, May began a private practice in psychoanalysis, in 1948 he became a faculty member at the institute, and in 1949 he received the first Ph.D. in clinical psychology at Columbia University. His doctoral dissertation was published as The Meaning of Anxiety (May, 1950), a book that heavily cites the work of Freud and Kierkegaard on anxiety, as well as Fromm, Horney, and Tillich (May, 1950; Reeves, 1977).
Similar to Viktor Frankl, May’s life had taken a dramatic turn during this time, an uncontrollable event that threatened his life: May contracted tuberculosis. At the time, there were no effective treatments for this contagious disease, many people died from it, and like many others May had to spend several years at a sanitarium (Saranac Sanitarium in upstate New York). It was during his time in the sanitarium that May theorized about anxiety and came to one of the most important conclusions in his career. He determined that although Freud had done a masterful job of characterizing the effects of anxiety on the individual, it was Kierkegaard who had truly identified what anxiety is: the threat of becoming nothing. From this point on May could clearly be identified as an existential psychologist. He collaborated with Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Gordon Allport to present a symposium on existential psychology, in conjunction with the 1959 annual convention of American Psychological Association, which led to the publication of a book on the subject (Reeves, 1977).
As May’s career continued, he became a supervisory and training analyst at the William Alanson White Institute, and an adjunct professor of psychology in the graduate school at New York University. He gave a series of radio talks on existential psychology on a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation show, he served as a visiting professor at Harvard and Princeton, and he continued writing. His later books include works on dreams, symbolism, religion, and love. He eventually settled in California, where he died in 1994.
May considered anxiety to be the underlying cause of nearly every crisis, whether domestic, professional, economic, or political. He described the world we live in as an age of anxiety. Even though May published The Meaning of Anxiety in 1950, it is safe to say that his concerns are even more relevant today, particularly with the advent of the depersonalization of our world due to the computer age (Reeves, 1977). May considered a wide range of theories on anxiety, including philosophers, neurologists (Kurt Goldstein), and the major psychodynamic theorists (including Freud, Adler, Jung, Horney, Sullivan, and Fromm). He came to the conclusion that Freud had done the best job of explaining anxiety, but it was Kierkegaard who best understood anxiety. May was particularly impressed by Kierkegaard’s idea that anxiety must be understood in the context of an orientation toward freedom. Freedom is the goal of personality development, and although this freedom brings with it anxiety, it is through facing this anxiety that the possibility of freedom arises (May, 1950). In praise of Kierkegaard, May wrote:
…Kierkegaard is proclaiming that “self-strength” develops out of the individual’s successful confronting of anxiety-creating experiences; this is the way one becomes educated to maturity as a self. What is amazing in Kierkegaard is that despite his lack of the tools for interpreting unconscious material – which tools have been available in their most complete form only since Freud – he so keenly and profoundly anticipated modern psychoanalytic insight into anxiety; and that at the same time he placed these insights in the broad context of a poetic and philosophical understanding of human experience. (pg. 45; May, 1950)
In defining anxiety, May distinguished between anxiety and fear, and between normal anxiety and neurotic anxiety. According to May, “anxiety is the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as a personality” (pg. 191; May, 1950). The threat may be either physical or psychological, such as facing death from tuberculosis or being imprisoned in a concentration camp (which, of course, brought the threat of death in addition to the loss of freedom), or the threat may challenge some other value that the individual identifies with their existence or personal identity (such as the loss of a career, a divorce, a challenge to patriotism in time of war, etc.). What differentiates anxiety from fear, is that fear is a reaction to a specific event, whereas anxiety is vague and diffuse. For example, during a robbery you may fear a man with a gun, but in America today many people are anxious about terrorism. No one can tell when or where terrorists may strike, or even whether they will be foreign terrorists (such as in the World Trade Center attacks) or American terrorists (such as the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City or the D.C. sniper killings). May carefully pointed out that using the terms “vague” and “diffuse” to describe anxiety should in no way diminish our understanding of the intensity and painfulness that anxiety can bring. Therein lies the difference between normal vs. neurotic anxiety (May, 1950).
Everyone faces challenges in life, but not everyone sees the same challenges as actual threats. Losing one’s job can be an opportunity to begin a new career, perhaps to go back to school to pursue that new career. However, the transition is often difficult, especially when one is used to being the primary wage earner in the family, and also if the family has to cut back on items they can no longer afford. So anxiety would be a reasonable reaction. That anxiety is considered normal if it is 1) not disproportionate to the objective threat, 2) does not involve mechanisms of intrapsychic conflict, and 3) does not require defense mechanisms for its management (May, 1950). Normal anxiety is often overlooked in adults since it is not particularly intense, especially compared to neurotic anxiety, and it can be managed constructively. It does not show itself in panic or other dramatic symptoms. Neurotic anxiety is, simply, the opposite of normal anxiety. It is disproportionate to the objective threat, it does require intrapsychic defense mechanisms, and it results in neurotic symptoms in spite of those defense mechanisms. It is important to keep in mind that we should not consider individuals who suffer from neurotic anxiety as suffering from objective weaknesses, but rather they suffer from inner psychological patterns and conflicts that prevent them from using their powers to cope.
True to his training in psychodynamic theory, May believed that the psychological patterns resulting in the inability to cope have their origin in childhood, particularly due to poor early relations between the infant and its parents, since an infant’s essential values arise from the security patterns established between the infant and its caregivers (as in Erikson’s first psychosocial crisis: trust vs. mistrust, see Chapter 7). One of the most important factors seems to be the infant’s subjective interpretation of rejection by its primary caregiver, and that subjectivity is influenced by expectations that form later in life (e.g., middle- and upper-class children, who expect more support from their parents, are especially prone to react to rejection with neurotic anxiety; May, 1950).
Discussion Question: May felt that we must understand anxiety in relation to freedom, or rather, as the fear that we will lose our freedom. He said that some of this anxiety is normal, and only in extreme cases does it become neurotic anxiety. What are some of the situations in your life that make you anxious, and how might they be a threat to your personal freedom? Do you think the level of these anxieties is normal, or is it severe enough to perhaps be considered neurotic?
May also addressed the effects of culture on anxiety, and the close interrelationship between anxiety and hostility. Culture affects both the kinds and the quantities of anxiety experienced by individuals. Beyond the essential relationship between infant and caregiver, the determinants of personality that each of us consider essential to our existence as a personality are largely cultural. Indeed, even the nature of the infant/caregiver relationship is subject to cultural influence. The amount of anxiety most people are likely to experience is determined, in part, by the stability of the culture. For example, if a culture is relatively stable and unified, there will be less anxiety throughout that culture (May, 1950). Today, however, many societies are in dramatic flux, due in large part to the powerful trend toward globalization.
As psychologists have begun to examine anxiety in different groups around the world, a variety of interesting, and sometimes disturbing, results have been found. Keep in mind, however, that these are generalities, and do not necessarily apply to each individual within any group. Generally, Asians are more anxious than Europeans and White Americans, who are more anxious than Black Americans and Africans, and there may be a neurological basis for these relative anxiety levels (Rushton, 1999). However, when looking at the specific form of anxiety related to taking academic tests, Black Americans and Chilean students demonstrate higher levels of test anxiety than White Americans (Clawson, Firment, & Trower, 1981; Guida & Ludlow, 1989). One suggestion for the higher levels of anxiety among Blacks in America is that our society is much less sociocentric than most African cultures. Thus, Blacks in America, even if they have lived here for generations, still experience the effects of their displacement from Africa when the culture they carried with them is at odds with Western cultural expectations (Okeke at al., 1999), and even more so when an individual seems to be at odds with most members of their own cultural group (Copeland, 2006). Indeed, the greater the discrepancy between one’s individual cultural expectations and the cultural expectations of the majority of society, the greater the anxiety an individual experiences. This is particularly true during attempts at intercultural communication (Matsumoto & Juang, 2004). Any subsequent breakdown of intercultural communication, which is more likely during periods of high anxiety, can either lead to or enhance pre-existing hostility, prejudice, discrimination, and scapegoating (Whitley & Kite, 2006). One important challenge to intercultural communication in psychology is the need for clinical psychologists to recognize the growing number of anxiety disorders unique to non-Western cultures, such as: hwa-bung (Korea), koro (Malaysia and Southern China), nervios (Latin America), dhat syndrome (India), susto (Latin America), and taijin kyofusho (Japan) (Castillo, 1997).
Culture can influence individuals in a wide variety of ways. May (1950) used the example of competitive individual success in the Western world as his main example, which he considered to be the dominant goal in America. There are many negative effects of this competition, including the high incidences of gastric ulcers and heart disease in our society. Less than a decade later, Freidman and Rosenman (1959) published their classic study on the relationship between Type A behavior (studied in highly competitive businessmen) and cardiovascular disease. Subsequent studies have shown that the key component of Type A behavior predictive of heart disease is hostility, which we will discuss in more detail below (Dembrowski et al., 1985; Lachar, 1993; MacDougal et al., 1985). There has also been a great deal of discussion in our society about media influences on body image, the relationship between unreasonable expectations for women to be thin and the incidence of eating disorders in girls and women, and the repression of female sexuality in many cultures. Goldenberg (2005) recently presented an existential perspective on the body itself as a threat. Cultural beliefs often help to overcome fears of mortality by convincing individuals that they are of greater value than other, lower animals. However, despite the beliefs of many that only humans have a soul, our body is still a mortal animal. As a reaction to the anxiety presented by the reality of our mortal body, many people act in a hostile fashion toward their own bodies, ranging from denying themselves healthy physical relationships with others (e.g., sexual repression) to outright self-destructive behavior (e.g., anorexia nervosa). The problem reaches its extreme, however, when one powerful group directs its hostility in an organized fashion toward another group.
The relationship between anxiety and hostility, according to May, involves a vicious circle. Anxiety gives rise to hostility, and hostility gives rise to increased anxiety. But which comes first? May believed that it was anxiety that underlies hostility, and the evidence can be found in clinical cases involving repressed hostility:
Granted the interrelation between hostility and anxiety, which affect is generally basic? There is ground for believing that, even though hostility may be the specific affect present in many situations, anxiety is often present below the hostility…For one example, in some of the psychosomatic studies of patients with hypertension…it has been found that the reason the patients repressed their hostility was that they were anxious and dependent…The hostility would not have to be repressed in the first place except that the individual is anxious and fears counter-hostility or alienation… (pg. 223; May, 1950)
In Reeves’ analysis of May’s theory (1977), Reeves discusses one of the most important social issues to have faced the United States: the civil rights movement of the 1960s. When an individual’s sense of selfhood is challenged by dramatic changes in society, it can be a very painful experience. And one is likely to resent those responsible for those changes. While it is true that many White people in America supported the civil rights movement, White people in the Deep South (and elsewhere, of course) turned their anxiety, and its associated hostility, toward Blacks. It should not be necessary here to describe the many terrible acts of violence that followed. Suffice it to say that the federal government had to use military troops to intervene in some of the worst cases. Today, we face a similar problem in the war on terrorism. Given the often unequal and unfair manner in which globalization brings vastly different cultures into conflict, and the ease with which so many people can travel the globe, perhaps we should not be surprised at the dramatic level of terrorism in the world today.
Connections Across Cultures: Terrorists and Terrorism
Since September 11, 2001, when agents of the terrorist organization Al Qaeda destroyed the World Trade Center in New York City and killed some 3,000 people, the United States has been involved in what has been called an international war on terrorism. As the war on terrorism developed, it had two main goals: to capture Osama bin Laden, leader of Al Qaeda and mastermind of the World Trade Center bombings, and to overthrow Saddam Hussein, the dictator of Iraq (for his alleged role in supporting international terrorism). To date, this war has lasted much longer than World War II, we have spent hundreds of billions of dollars, and thousands more young American men and women have died fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. Many Iraqi and Afghan civilians, as well as additional coalition military personnel, have also died. Saddam Hussein was removed from power in Iraq; he was also tried, convicted, and executed. It took nearly 10 years, but Osama bin Laden was finally tracked down and killed in a raid in Pakistan by U.S. Navy Seals. However, Al Qaeda is still committing acts of terrorism, Iraq is descending once again into bitter sectarian violence (rising to the level of civil war), and Americans continue to die fighting in Afghanistan as our intended date for withdrawal slowly draws near (after 13 years!). One thing that will not be addressed in this section, because it does not exist, is an easy answer to these problems.
Please allow me to share a little personal history here. When the Iranian revolution under Ayatollah Khomeini overthrew the Shah of Iran, and the revolutionaries captured the American embassy in Tehran and took sixty-six people hostage (fifty-two of those hostages were held for well over a year before being released), I was in the United States Marine Corps Reserve. I received a phone call at 2:00 a.m. on a Friday morning at my apartment in Cambridge, MA. By midnight, that same day, my reserve unit was in Camp Lejeune, NC, with full combat gear, ready to go to war in Iran. We spent the weekend preparing, though President Carter ultimately chose not to send us overseas. Approximately 10 years later, when the first Gulf War erupted after Iraq invaded Kuwait, my sister took part in Operation Desert Storm. As an Air Force nurse, she was sent to England to help prepare a hospital for wounded military personnel being evacuated from the Middle East (fortunately casualties were minimal). I considered re-enlisting in the Marine Corps at that time, since I certainly wasn’t going to sit at home while my own sister “fought” for our country and our allies. Thankfully, that first Gulf War was brief and, seemingly, simple. So I have followed events in the Middle East carefully ever since, and when Al Qaeda attacked us in New York, I saw it as the latest in a continuation of events in my own life since 1979. For people in the Middle East, however, it was a continuation of events that have lasted for thousands of years.
What I believe matters most for Americans today is to begin to make an honest effort to understand terrorism, its causes, its goals, and how best to deal with it around the world. First, we must dispense with misconceptions. Terrorism and Islam are not one and the same. In an insightful and easily readable book entitled Islam versus Terrorism, Firooz Zadeh (2002) discusses how Islam opposes violence and murder, especially of innocent women and children. He also attempts to identify what is and is not terrorism, and in that effort he identifies eight types of terrorism: state terrorism, religious terrorism, criminal terrorism, terrorism by those who are mentally sick, political terrorism, oppositional terrorism, copy cat terrorism, and victim terrorism. According to Zadeh, the highest cost to society results from state terrorism. When the United States supports corrupt, terrorist governments in other parts of the world, our credibility as a nation fighting terrorism is suspect at best. Has this been the case? Yes, and in the worst possible way: we switch sides as it serves our political and economic interests. The United States helped to train Osama bin Laden and the Taliban fighters in Afghanistan when we wanted them to fight the Russians. Now we call them enemies. We provided weapons and training to Saddam Hussein’s army when they were fighting the Iranians, because of the hostages taken in Tehran. Now we have deposed Hussein. We also sold weapons to Iran, and used the money to help support the Contras (freedom fighters or terrorists, depending on your point of view) trying to overthrow the leftist Sandinista government of Nicaragua. Zadeh proposes that people in the Middle East cannot trust the United States, except in one area: our support of Israel. And since other Middle Eastern countries see Israel as the one obstacle to a Palestinian homeland, they disapprove of that support. It does not matter whether the actions of the United States were right or wrong, whether they really were in our best interests or not. What matters is how the rest of the world sees us now, and whether our top government officials are willing to consider how we are viewed globally and to act responsibly in terms of foreign policy in order to ensure what is best for all people around the world. In addressing the Middle East in particular, Fathali Moghaddam wrote:
Islamic communities in many parts of the world are experiencing a profound and historic identity crisis, one tragic manifestation of which is terrorism. In order to understand and avert this destructive trend, we must come to grips with the monumental crisis of identity that is paralyzing moderate movements but energizing fanatic forces in Islamic communities.
…Why do we need to understand how the terrorists see the world? Because this is the best way for us to find an effective means to end terrorism…Seeing the world from the terrorists’ point of view does not mean condoning terrorism; rather, it means better understanding terrorism so as to end it. (pg. ix; Moghaddam, 2006)
As mentioned above, there are many different forms of terrorism, so it is difficult to define exactly what it is. Nevertheless, in an effort to do so, Moghaddam (2005) defines terrorism as “politically motivated violence, perpetrated by individuals, groups, or state-sponsored agents, intended to instill feelings of terror and helplessness in a population in order to influence decision making and to change behavior.” Moghaddam suggests that psychologists need to play an important role in understanding terrorism for two main reasons: the basis for terrorist actions is typically subjectively interpreted values and beliefs, and the actions of terrorists are designed to cause specific psychological experiences, i.e., terror and helplessness. Moghaddam (2005, 2006) proposes a metaphor for how one becomes a terrorist, based on climbing a staircase, in which options are perceived to become more and more limited as one climbs the stairs. The most significant factor is the condition in which many people live on the ground floor, before they even consider climbing that staircase. Many people in this world live in abject poverty, under repressive governments that are unjust. When individuals see no hope within the system, and they lack any political means to effect change, then a path toward terrorism becomes perhaps the only reasonable possibility. Still, very few people are likely to become suicide bombers.
Individuals living in desperate conditions may move to the first floor on the staircase toward terrorism, where they evaluate their perceived options to fight unfair treatment. If there appear to be no options for justice within one’s society, no opportunity to be heard, and no opportunity for personal mobility, the individual may then move to the second floor. Here the individual begins to displace their aggression. This often involves education/propaganda that identifies a clear target, for example the United States, also known as the “Great Satan.” This is the important beginning of an us-versus-them mentality. On the third floor, individuals become morally engaged with the terrorist organization. While we may see terrorists as immoral, they are beginning to believe that they are fighting for a just cause, against the immoral repression of their chosen target. As they move to the fourth floor, they solidify their categorical thinking (the us-versus-them mentality) and begin to see the terrorist organization, and terrorist acts, as legitimate. At this point there is little chance that they can leave the terrorist organization alive. For specific individuals, the training necessary to carry out a terrorist act takes place, often very quickly. Not only does a terrorist need to learn about weapons and tactics, they must also be trained to sidestep the natural, biological inhibition against killing other human beings. Two factors in helping to prepare people to kill are the intense indoctrination in the belief that their actions are for a greater good and secrecy. If an attack is done suddenly and without warning, victims have no opportunity to submit or to beg for mercy. The act occurs before the terrorist might become compassionate as he or she faces their intended victims (Moghaddam, 2005, 2006). Based on this model, Moghaddam proposes four steps that are necessary to stop terrorism by interrupting the formation of new terrorists. First, there must be prevention. Unfortunately, our government has a long history of choosing short-term fixes, rather than long-term preventative measures. Case in point: America’s failure in the war on drugs. Aggressive responses aimed at individuals only provide an opening for someone new to step in and continuing using and/or selling drugs, and the same is true of terrorists. We need to work toward eliminating the pathway to terrorism, so we will not need to use the military and/or FBI to track down individuals (except, of course, in extreme cases such as terrorism that results from psychological disorder – e.g., consider the case of Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber). In addition, Moghaddam suggests supporting contextualized democracy, educating against categorical thinking, and promoting interobjectivity and justice. In order for there to be a long-term solution, there must be international dialogue and improved intercultural understanding (Moghaddam, 2005).
Returning to the misconception in the minds of many Americans that terrorism is synonymous with Islam, let’s examine where known terrorist organizations are located around the world. Fairly notorious organizations have come from Northern Ireland (e.g., the Irish Republican Army and the Ulster Defense Association), throughout mainland Europe (e.g., the Red Army Faction in Germany, the Red Brigades in Italy, and Action Directe in France), throughout the Middle East (e.g., Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Palestinian group Hamas, the Stern Gang that fought for the establishment of Israel, and Al Qaeda), Africa, Asia, Latin America, Canada, and the United States (e.g., the Animal Liberation Front, Aryan Nations, the Black Panthers, and the Ku Klux Klan). As of 1999, at least twenty-eight well-organized terrorist groups existed, and when one takes into account factions within those groups and smaller, yet still identifiable, groups, as many as eighty-three terrorists groups have been identified around the world (Henderson, 2001). Some are primarily political, and some are primarily religious. Some are global, and some are more local. They include people and cultures of great diversity: Black, White, Asian, Latin, Catholic, Protestant, Muslim, Hindu, etc. Although terrorism appears to arise out of poverty and desperation, terrorists themselves, or at least the leaders, tend to be better educated than most and they are well versed in propaganda and well trained in weapons and tactics (Moghaddam, 2005; Zadeh, 2002). The only characteristic that all terrorists seem to share is an extreme commitment to violence, which arises out of desperation and perceived injustice, and is viewed as the only means to be heard and to effect change.
So can terrorism effect change, is terrorism effective? One can easily find authors who argue that it does indeed work (Dershowitz, 2002) or that it always fails (Carr, 2002). Alan Dershowitz (2002) argues that the very reason terrorism works is everything we have looked at so far: an effort to understand the root causes of terrorism and the terrorists themselves. Accordingly, he says:
We must take precisely the opposite approach to terrorism. We must commit ourselves never to try to understand or eliminate its alleged root causes, but rather to place it beyond the pale of dialogue and negotiation. Our message must be this: even if you have legitimate grievances, if you resort to terrorism as a means toward eliminating them we will simply not listen to you, we will not try to understand you, and we will certainly never change any of our policies toward you. Instead, we will hunt you down and destroy your capacity to engage in terror. (pp. 24-25; Dershowitz, 2002)
As a case in point, Dershowitz cites the awarding of observer status at the United Nations to the Palestinian Liberation Organization only after Palestinian terrorists began hijacking commercial airliners. Prior to the hijackings, 20 years of pleading their case to the United Nations had little effect. Dershowitz then offers a timeline that appears to clearly establish an effective relationship in which terrorism became more and more effective over time (from 1968-1999) in eliciting international recognition and support for the Palestinian cause. In contrast, Caleb Carr (2002) views terrorism entirely within the discipline of military history. He considers today’s terrorism to be nothing more than a modern permutation of warfare against civilians in order to break their support for either leaders or policies that the terrorists oppose, the origins of which are as old as human conflict itself. Viewing terrorism as warfare has certain interesting implications. Throughout history, those who wage war against civilians ultimately defeated themselves by turning sentiment against them. On 9/11, Al Qaeda attacked civilians to a degree that has not been seen in ages:
…In so doing, the organizers, sponsors, and foot soldiers of every terrorist group involved in the September 11 attacks have unwittingly ensured that their extremist cause will be discredited among many of their sympathizers, disowned by most of their former sponsors, and finally defeated by their enemies: two thousand years of the lessons of terror dictate that this is the ultimate fate that awaits the attackers, no matter how many noncombatants they manage to kill along the way. (pp. 223-224; Carr, 2002).
Carr also addresses the other most important implication of treating terrorism as warfare: it must be met with warfare, but that warfare must not be excessive, such that it might also be viewed as terrorism. If our response to terrorism is excessive military might, then the tide of public opinion can swing back in favor of Al Qaeda, especially in Muslim countries where the United States is not trusted.
Echoing Carr’s concerns about the extent and nature of our military actions in the war on terror, one way in which terrorism might work against us, without seeming to have gained what was intended (if we can even know what was intended), is if our fundamental democratic principles change. In The Lesser Evil: Political Ethics in an Age of Terror, Michael Ignatieff (2004) argues that terrorism must be met with force, and that such force is a lesser evil than the terrorism that necessitated the response. The danger lies in succumbing to the greater evil of seeking revenge. Dershowitz (2002) provides a compelling case for how an amoral society could control and possibly eliminate all terrorism, but America is not an amoral society. Our responses are constrained by the constitution and by the political debate that forms the very basis of our democracy. When we respond to terrorist acts, we must consider what we want that response to accomplish:
Terrorism requires us to think carefully about who we are as free peoples and what we need to do in order to remain so. When we are confronted with terrorist violence, we cannot allow the claims of national security to trump the claims of liberty, since what we are trying to defend is our continued existence as a free people. Freedom must set a limit to the measures we employ to maintain it. (pg. 145; Ignatieff, 2004)
Finally, can the ultimate answer to terrorism be found in promoting democratic governments in every nation? The war on terror has led us to depose both Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Taliban in Afghanistan, and to replace them with democratically elected governments. Only time will tell whether those governments will survive, but there is reason for caution. Religious turmoil continues in the Middle East. In America, our constitution provides for separation of church and state, and that separation has become an important tradition. But for Muslims, the idea of a secular democracy, one that is not guided by Allah, is simply inconceivable. They are not opposed to democracy per se, indeed it has been argued that Islam is likely to eventually lead to pluralist democracies (Aslan, 2005). But to pressure Islamic countries into accepting the secular democracy that we hold so dear is, according to Robert Shedinger (2004), equivalent to declaring war on Islam. So what appears to be essential to promoting stability in the Middle East, and elsewhere, is an effort to support contextual democracy, that is, forms of democracy that fit with the culture of the people who will create and participate in that democracy (Aslan, 2005; Moghaddam, 2005, 2006; Shedinger, 2004; Zadeh, 2002).
In the preface to Man’s Search for Himself (May, 1953), May presents the existential philosophy that there is meaning to be found in challenges and suffering, and that psychologists in particular may find a special opportunity in such circumstances:
When our society, in its time of upheaval in standards and values, can give us no clear picture of “what we are and what we ought to be,”…we are thrown back on the search for ourselves. The painful insecurity on all sides gives us new incentive to ask, Is there perhaps some important source of guidance and strength we have overlooked?…How can anyone undertake the long development toward self-realization in a time when practically nothing is certain, either in the present or the future?…The psychotherapist has no magic answers…But there is something in addition to his technical training and his own self-understanding…This something is the wisdom the psychotherapist gains in working with people who are striving to overcome their problems. He has the extraordinary, if often taxing, privilege of accompanying persons through their intimate and profound struggles to gain new integration. (pg. 7; May, 1953)
Integration, according to May, is similar to Heidegger’s concept of Dasein (being-in-the-world). As conscious, free, and responsible beings our goal should be to separate ourselves from the conformist, automaton masses (the en-soi, according to Sartre) and progressively integrate with others in freely chosen love and creative work (May, 1953), or as Clement Reeves puts it: “To understand and elucidate the specific, distinguishing characteristics of the human being, and to grasp what it is to achieve courageous, decisive, integrated response to the challenge inherent in existence…” (Reeves, 1977). The process of integration is lifelong, and should be appropriate for whatever age each one of us happens to be right now. May suggests that a healthy child of eight, who is fulfilling his capacity of self-conscious choice for a child of eight years old, is more of a person than a neurotic adult who is 30 years old. Likewise, a person who can face death courageously at the age of thirty is more mature than someone 80 years old who “cringes and begs still to be shielded from reality” (May, 1953). Thus, it is important to live each moment with freedom, honesty, and responsibility. If each of us lives within the present moment, working to fulfill our potential, being true to whom we are and the situations within which we live, May proposes that we will experience joy and gratification:
…Does not the uncertainty of our time teach us the most important lesson of all – that the ultimate criteria are the honesty, integrity, courage and love of a given moment of relatedness? If we do not have that, we are not building for the future anyway; if we do have it, we can trust the future to itself. (pg. 276; May, 1953)
One of the challenges to living an integrated life is seen in what May described as the human dilemma (May, 1967). Are we the subject of our lives, or are we an object in our world? When we become absorbed in the details of our responsibilities and actions, when we allow ourselves to be controlled and directed in order to accomplish our assigned tasks, when we become slaves to the clock, doing this and that, going here and there, as others expect us to, we are viewing ourselves as objects. This is reminiscent of what Karen Horney called the tyranny of the should. On the other hand, when we consider our feelings, wishes, and desires, when we are true to ourselves, or living authentically, then we are viewing ourselves as subjects, as active participants in our own lives. According to May (1967), the human dilemma arises out of our capacity to experience ourselves as both subject and object at the same time. But how can opposite poles of the human experience both be true? It is in the process between the two poles that development of human consciousness develops, both deepening and widening that consciousness. This is essentially the same idea, though in different form, used by Heidegger and Sartre in describing the unique nature of human beings. For Heidegger this nothingness was the undefined distinction between Being and beings, for Sartre it was the shell that surrounded the pour-soi.
May believed that existential psychology occupied a space somewhere between the two extremes that existed, and continue to exist, in psychology: behaviorism vs. humanism. May rejected Skinner’s arguments that all human behavior can be understood in terms of stimuli and responses, declaring that there is ample evidence in both clinical practice and everyday life of people being active participants in their view of, actions in, and reactions to their world. He was equally critical of Carl Rogers, believing that humanistic psychologists no longer recognized very real irrational behavior, as well as aggression and hostility (May, 1967). He believed that psychology had become trapped in a misguided desire to define everything scientifically, and according to rules that then determined each psychologist’s view of the world and their patients. As a caution to those psychologists who cannot see beyond their theories, May wrote:
Now I am certainly aware, if I may say so without sounding patronizing, that the compelling need for honesty is one of the motives which leads psychologists to seek quantitative measures…I am also aware that research in our day has to be carefully set up so that the results are teachable and can be built upon by others. The compelling drive to get at the truth is what improves us all as psychologists, and is part and parcel of intellectual integrity. But I do urge that we not let the drive for honesty put blinders on us and cut off our range of vision so that we miss the very thing we set out to understand – namely, the living human being. (pg. 14; May, 1967)
Discussion Question: May suggested that we need to separate ourselves from the conformist masses, and then integrate ourselves with others in free and responsible ways. Are you a follower, or a leader? Either way, do you consciously choose the role you play, thereby living an authentic life?
Love was a very important topic for May. Simply put, “To be capable of giving and receiving mature love is as sound a criterion as we have for the fulfilled personality” (May, 1953). He was certainly not alone. Harry Harlow, best known for his studies on contact comfort, described love as “a wondrous state, deep, tender, and rewarding,” and Abraham Maslow said “We must understand love; we must be able to teach it, to create it, to predict it, or else the world is lost to hostility and to suspicion” (Harlow, 1975; Maslow, 1975). However, there are “a million and one” types of relationships that people call love, so it remains a perplexing issue (May, 1953).
May talked about four types of love in Western tradition: sex, eros, philia, and agape (May, 1969). Sex and eros are closely related, but they are different. Sex is what we also call lust or libido, whereas eros is the drive of love to procreate or create. As changes in society allowed the more open study of sex, prompted by the work of people like Sigmund Freud and Wilhelm Reich, May noted three particular paradoxes. First, our so-called enlightenment has not removed the sexual problems in our culture. In the past, an individual could refrain from sexual activity using the moral guidelines of society as an explanation. As casual sex became common, even expected, individuals had to face expressing their own morality as just that: their own! This also created a new source of anxiety for some, namely the possibility that their personal relationships might carry an expectation of sexual activity, and that if they did not comply they might not be able to continue dating someone they liked. The second paradox is that “the new emphasis on technique in sex and love-making backfires” (May, 1969). Emphasizing technique (or prowess) can result in a mechanistic attitude toward making love, possibly leading to alienation, feelings of loneliness, and depersonalization. This can lead to the anticipatory anxiety described by Frankl. Finally, May believed that our sexual freedom was actually a new form of Puritanism. There is a state of alienation from the body, a separation of emotion from reason, and the use of the body as a machine. Whereas in the Victorian era people tried to be in love without falling into sex, today many people try to have sex without falling in love.
Philia and agape are also related to one another, as with sex and love. Philia refers to feelings of friendship or brotherly love, whereas agape is the love devoted to caring for others. Friendship during childhood is very important, and May believed it was essential for meaningful and loving relationships as adults, including those involving eros. Indeed, the tension created by eros in terms of continuous attraction and continuous passion would be unbearable if philia did not enter into the equation and allow one to relax in the pleasant and friendly company of the object of one’s desires. Harry Harlow, once again, showed that the opportunity to make friends was as essential in the development of young monkeys as it appears to be in humans (cited in May, 1969). In the West, however, given our highly individualistic and competitive society, deep, meaningful friendships seem to be something of the past, especially among men. May cautions, however, that since the evidence shows the importance of friendship during development perhaps we should remember the value of having good friends.
Finally we have agape, a selfless love beyond any hope of gain for oneself. May compared this love to the biological aspect of nature in which a parent will fight to the death in defense of their offspring. With agape, we run the risk of being like God, in the sense that we know others never act without some degree of their own interests in mind. Similarly, we don’t want to be loved in an ethereal sense, or on the other hand only for our body. We want to be loved completely. So, all true love involves some element of the other types of love, no matter how little or how obscured it may be (May, 1969).
In the foreword to Love and Will (May, 1969) May acknowledged that some of his readers might find it odd that he combined the two topics in one book, but he felt strongly that the topics belong together. He considered both love and will to be interdependent, they are processes in which people reach out to influence others, to help to mold and create the consciousness of others. Love without will is sentimental and experimental, whereas will without love is manipulative. Only by remaining open to the influence of others can we likewise influence them, so love must have an honest purpose, and purpose must be taken with care.
Will, or will power as it is more commonly known, was one of the earliest subjects in American psychology, having been examined in detail by William James as early as 1890 (see James, 1892/1992) and again in 1897 in The Will to Believe (James, 1897/1992). May considered Sigmund Freud’s greatest discovery to be the uncovering of unconscious desires and motives. Although many people may believe themselves to be acting out of higher ideals, most of us are, in reality, acting according to psychologically determined factors of which we are unaware. Nonetheless, May considered this to be one of the most unfortunate results of Freud’s work. By accepting determinism, we undermine the influence of will and making decisions. As May put it, Freud’s theory suggests that we are “not driving any more, but driven” (May, 1969).
The suggestion that we are no longer in charge of our own lives, that we are driven by psychological determinism, seems strange to those who believe that never before have people had such power, both in terms of individual freedom and in the collective conquest of nature. But May referred to a contradiction in will, the contrast between our feelings of powerlessness and self-doubt and the societal assurances that we can do anything we set our minds to. May believed that we exist in a “curious predicament,” in that the technical wonders that make us feel so powerful are the very same processes that overwhelm us (May, 1969):
Thus, the crisis in will does not arise from either the presence or absence of power in the individual’s world. It comes from the contradiction between the two – the result of which is a paralysis of will. (pg. 189; May, 1969)
Will alone is not the driving force that leads us to responsible and authentic lives. Underlying will is something May called intentionality. Intentionality is the structure that gives meaning to experience, it is both how we perceive the world and how the world can be perceived by us. In other words, through our perceptual processes we influence the world around us; we affect the very things that we perceive. Intentionality is a bridge between subject and object (May, 1969). Compare this once again to the nothingness between beings and Being (à la Heidegger), or between the en-soi and the pour-soi (à la Sartre). Still, our ability to reach and form the very objects that we perceive, in other words, to participate actively in our lives, can be dramatically curtailed by the problem addressed by May early in his career, anxiety:
Overwhelming anxiety destroys the capacity to perceive and conceive one’s world, to reach out toward it to form and re-form it. In this sense, it destroys intentionality. We cannot hope, plan, promise, or create in severe anxiety; we shrink back into a stockade of limited consciousness hoping only to preserve ourselves until the danger is past. (pp. 244; May, 1969)
Discussion Question: Consider the different loves in your life. How do they differ? How have they brought meaning to your life? Has your view of what love is changed during your life, in either good or bad ways?
The daimonic, according to May, is “any natural function which has the power to take over the whole person” (May, 1969). It can be either destructive or creative, and is often both. In this way it is similar to Jung’s concept of the shadow, and May himself made that comparison (May, 1991; see also Diamond, 1996, Reeves, 1977). In fact, it is the mixture of good and evil in the daimonic that protects us from the dangers of excess, whether excess good or the passivity of feeling powerless. When May did not know whether he would live or die from tuberculosis, he realized that his feelings of helplessness were turning into passivity, and that this was sure to lead to his death (as he had seen with others). He described this experience as the product of his innocence, and that because he was innocent he allowed the bacteria infecting his body to do violence to him. However, when he chose to fight the disease, when he asserted his will to live, he began to make steady progress and, indeed, he recovered. In this sense, May had chosen to allow the daimonic to take over his self in the interest of self preservation. In each instance, how one allows the daimonic to take over is influenced by personal responsibility (Reeves, 1977).
When the daimonic takes over without one having made a responsible choice, however, it can lead to violence toward others. Our lives often involve conflict between those who have power and those who do not. When a person feels powerless, helpless, insignificant, they can lash out under the control of the daimonic. According to May, violence is bred in impotence and apathy (May, 1972). This can be particularly important for those who have little or no advantage in our society. In Power and Innocence (May, 1972), May described a patient who was a young, Black woman. Being both Black and female, born before the civil rights movement, she was about as powerless as one could be in America. Her stepfather had forced her to serve as a prostitute for years. Although quite intelligent, and successful in school and college, she felt so helpless that May described her as having “no active belief that she deserved to be helped.” An important aspect of therapy for this patient was to get in touch with her anger, to get in touch with the violence that had been done to her and that she wished to do to others.
In considering the case of this young woman, May concluded that we must not simply condemn all violence and try to eliminate even the possibility of it. To do so would be to take away a part of full humanity. In this context, May criticizes humanistic psychology and its emphasis on fulfilling self-actualization, an emphasis that May felt moved toward greater moral perfection. However, the recognition that we are not perfect, that each of us has good and evil within, prohibits us from moral arrogance. Recognizing this leads to the restraint necessary for making forgiveness possible.
Our ability to achieve good is dependent on who we are, and who we are is based partly on our own creativity. Since humans are not simply driven by instinct and fixed action patterns, in contrast to every other creature on earth we must create ourselves. This creation must take place within the world that exists around us, and must take into account all of the emotions and predispositions that we do carry with us as biological organisms.
Art – and creative activities of all kinds – can provide comparatively healthy outlets for the constructive expression of anger and rage. Creativity cannot, however, always substitute for psychotherapy. Nevertheless, creativity is at the very core of the psychotherapeutic project: The patient is encouraged to become more creative in psychologically restructuring his or her inner world, and then to continue this creative process in the outer world, not only by accepting and adjusting to reality, but, whenever possible, by reshaping it…
“Creativity” can be broadly defined as the constructive utilization of the daimonic. Creativity is called forth from each one of us by the inevitable conflicts and chaos inherent in human existence… (pp. 255-256; Diamond, 1996)
Pursuing this creativity is not easy, however. We live in a world that is rapidly changing. Since May’s death in 1994 change in the world has probably even accelerated. May asked whether we would withdraw in anxiety and panic as our foundations where shaken, or would we actively choose to participate in forming the future (May, 1975). Choosing to live in the future requires leaping into the unknown, going where others have not been, and therefore cannot guide us. It involves what existentialists call the anxiety of nothingness (May, 1975). Making this bold choice requires courage. One of the reasons we need to be courageous is that we must fully commit ourselves to pursuing a responsible creation of the future, but at the same time we must recognize that sometimes we will be wrong. Those who claim they are absolutely right can be dangerous, since such an attitude can lead to dogmatism, or worse, fanaticism (May, 1975).
Finally, not only must we accept that we might make bad choices, we must also recognize that our creativity is limited. In The Courage to Create (May, 1975), May described having attended a conference where the introductory speaker declared that there is no limit to the possibilities of the human being. Following this statement, the discussion at the conference was a flop. May realized that if there is no limit to what we can accomplish, then there really aren’t any problems any more, we only need to wait until our potentiality catches up with our situation and the problem solves itself. May offered a rather amusing example to clarify this point:
…it is like putting someone into a canoe and pushing him out into the Atlantic toward England with the cheery comment, “The sky’s the limit.” The canoer is only too aware of the fact that an inescapably real limit is also the bottom of the ocean. (pg. 113, May, 1975)
Another inescapable limit is our death. There is no creative act that can change the fact that we will die someday, and that we cannot know when or how it will happen. May believed, however, that these limits are valuable, that creativity itself needs limits. He proposed that consciousness arises from our awareness of these limits, and from the struggle against these limits. May compared this concept to Adler’s theory that much of what we as individuals, and also society as a whole, are arises from our efforts to compensate for inferiority. Thus, our limits lead to what May called a passion for form. In its passion for form, the mind is actively forming and re-forming the world in which we live (May, 1975).
Discussion Question: May believed that creatively taking charge of your life required courage. Have you ever had to make a really difficult decision? Did you take the easy way out, or the safe path, or did you make a bold decision that offered great opportunity?
As a practicing psychoanalyst I find that contemporary therapy is almost entirely concerned, when all is surveyed, with the problems of the individual’s search for myths. The fact that Western society has all but lost its myths was the main reason for the birth and development of psychoanalysis in the first place. (pg. 9; May, 1991)
The preceding quote is how May began The Cry for Myth, the last book of his career (May, 1991). According to May, the definition of a myth is quite simple: it “is a way of making sense in a senseless world.” In addition, myths give substance to our existence. In a healthy society the myths provide relief from neurotic guilt and excessive anxiety, and so a compassionate therapist will not discourage them. In the twentieth century, especially in Western culture, we have lost our myths, and with them we have lost our sense of existence and our direction or purpose in life. The danger in this is that people are then susceptible to cults, drugs, superstition, etc., in a vain effort to replace that purpose (May, 1991).
As we pass through the experiences of our lives, our memory is dependent mainly upon myth. It is well accepted today that human memory is constructive, and influenced by our expectations of memory. As May describes it, the formation of a memory, regardless of whether it is real or fantasy, is molded like clay. We then retain it as a myth, and rely on that myth for future guidance in similar situations. For example, an infant is fed three times a day and put to bed 365 days a year, and yet they remember only one or two of these events from their years of early childhood. For whatever reason, good or bad, these specific events take on mythic proportions and greatly influence the course of our lives. May acknowledges the contribution of Alfred Adler in recognizing the value of these early memories, describing Adler as “a perceptive and humble man, he was gifted with unusual sensitivity for children” (May, 1991). As we have seen, Adler considered the basis for neurosis to be a lack of social interest. In therapy, Adler focused on the “guiding fiction” of a child’s life, something May considered to be synonymous with a “myth.” Since “memory is the mother of creativity,” and memory depends upon myth, May believed that the myths that form the identity of our culture are essential for the formation of our self.
May ends his final book with a chapter entitled The Great Circle of Love. Having covered a variety of famous myths in the book, including Dante’s Divine Comedy, Marlow’s Faust, Captain Ahab in Moby Dick, and Poe’s The Raven, May concludes:
In each of these dramas the liberation of both woman and man is possible only when each achieves a new myth of the other sex, leading to a new significant psychological relationship. They are both then liberated from their previous empty and lonely existence. The woman and the man find their true selves only when they are fully present to each other. They find they both need each other, not only physically but psychologically and spiritually as well. (pg. 288; May, 1991)
Existential psychotherapy is not so much a technique as it is an overall approach to understanding the nature of the human being. By asking deep questions about the nature of anxiety, loneliness, isolation, despair, etc., as well as about creativity and love, existential psychotherapists seek to avoid the “common error of distorting human beings in the very effort of trying to help them” (May & Yalom, 1995). May believed that American psychology has had both an affinity for and an aversion to existential psychotherapy. The affinity arises from an historical place in American psychology that was very similar to existentialism: William James’ emphasis on the immediacy of experience, the importance of will, and the unity of thought and action. The aversion arises from the Western tendency to dehumanize people through strict adherence to scientific principles of research, i.e., to reform humans in the image of machines (May, 1983).
An essential aspect of existential psychotherapy is to help individuals realize their own being, their own role in choosing the form that their life will take. This is known as the “I-Am” experience. It is all too common for us to associate ourselves with external factors: I am a professor, I am a student, I work at a store, I run a business, etc. We repress our own sense of being. To use an example similar to a case described by May: I am a professor, but that is not really who I am. I am a father and a husband, but that isn’t all that I am. I have a family and a career, but that isn’t quite it either. What is left, or what is common in each of these statements? I am! And as May put it, if I am, I have a right to be (example cited in May & Yalom, 1995). This realization is not the solution to my problems, but it is a necessary precondition to finding the courage to pursue the rest of my life.
Once an individual finds the courage to recreate their life, the existential therapist will address a variety of issues. As discussed above, May placed a great deal of emphasis on anxiety. Guilt is also an important issue to be addressed, since we may feel guilty about poor ethical choices or instances when we failed to be responsible with our actions. As with anxiety, guilt can be normal (after actually doing something bad) or neurotic (when we fantasize some transgression). Both anxiety and guilt affect how we experience Kierkegaard’s concept of being-in-the-world. Our world can be viewed in several different ways, however. There is the Umwelt (the world around), the Mitwelt (the with-world), and the Eigenwelt (the own-world). The Umwelt is the world around us, the natural environment. It encompasses our biological needs, and the unavoidable reality that we will die one day. The Eigenwelt refers to our self-awareness and our ability to relate to our selves, and it is uniquely human (May & Yalom, 1995).
The Mitwelt bears a special relationship to another important concept in existential psychotherapy: time. Because we tend to think about ourselves spatially, as objects within our life, we tend to focus on the past. In other words, we focus on what we have become, as opposed to what we might be. Moments when we truly encounter ourselves are rare, but it is only when we grasp the moment that we truly experience life. Those moments can be positive, such as the experience of love, or negative, such as the experience of depression, but they are real nonetheless. The Mitwelt contains the inner meaning of the events that occur in our lives. Individuals who suffer from brain damage often cannot think in terms of abstract possibilities, they become trapped in concrete time. In order to be fully healthy, and something essential to the growth of humans, is our ability to transcend time:
If we are to understand a given person as existing, dynamic, at every moment becoming, we cannot avoid the dimension of transcendence. Existing involves a continual emerging, in the sense of emergent evolution, a transcending of one’s past and present in order to reach the future. (pg. 267; May & Yalom, 1995)
Although the content described above might seem very different from the type of psychoanalysis described by Freud, the general process of existential psychotherapy is similar to psychoanalysis. It is accepted that the client experiences anxiety, that some of this anxiety is unconscious, and that the client is relying on defense mechanisms in order to cope with the anxiety. A fundamental difference, however, is the focus of the therapy. Rather than digging into the deep, dark past, the existential psychotherapist strives to understand the meaning of the client’s current experiences, the depth of experience in the given moment. For this reason, the therapist-client relationship remains important, but the emphasis is not on transference. Rather, the emphasis is on the relationship itself as fundamentally important (May & Yalom, 1995).
Discussion Question: Have you ever had an “I-Am” experience?
Buddhism is by far the oldest theory of psychology that we will cover in this book. Applied existentialism, particularly the work of Rollo May, is one of the more recent developments in psychology. And yet, these two approaches share a great deal in common, a fact readily acknowledged by May:
…The likenesses between these Eastern philosophies and existentialism go much deeper than the chance similarity of words. Both are concerned with ontology, the study of being. Both seek a relation to reality which cuts below the cleavage between subject and object. Both would insist that the Western absorption in conquering and gaining power over nature has resulted not only in the estrangement of man from nature but also indirectly in the estrangement of man from himself. The basic reason for these similarities is that Eastern thought never suffered the radical split between subject and object that has characterized Western thought, and this dichotomy is exactly what existentialism seeks to overcome. (pp. 58-59; May, 1983)
In Japan there is a form of psychotherapy, known as Morita, which emphasizes the treatment of anxiety. The treatment consists of acceptance, reattribution, dereflection, and active engagement. The dereflection mentioned is the same technique developed by Viktor Frankl. The active engagement continues this effort at distracting the client from their anxiety, hopefully breaking them out of the circle of anticipatory anxiety and subsequent failure described by Frankl. This procedure has proven both successful and, consequently, influential amongst Japanese psychotherapists. A second Japanese technique, Naikan, combines a more traditional Buddhist approach with elements of existential psychology. The client is directed to reflect intensely on their past relationships, and then to consider what they have done for others, what others have done for them, and the difficulties they have caused for others. The goal is to help the client recognize the interdependence of humans, and to appreciate whether or not they, as well as others, have acted responsibly within the relationships. By confronting feelings of guilt and unworthiness, it is hoped that the client will realize that they have been loved and appreciated nonetheless (Walsh, 1995).
Belinda Siew Luan Khong (2003) has examined the role of responsibility in a particular form of existential psychotherapy known as daseinsanalysis (developed by the Swiss psychiatrist Medard Boss and grounded in the philosophy of Heidegger) and compared it to Buddhist practice in the Theravadan tradition. She found that daseinsanalysis and Buddhist practices share much in common, and that both have something to offer to each other:
…An integration of these two disciplines will make their ideas and practices more accessible to communities outside their traditional domains. The daseinsanalytic and Buddhist perspectives relating to personal and social responsibility provide us with valuable philosophical and psychological insights into this very important human phenomenon and show us practically how individuals can be assisted in taking responsibility for every moment of their existence, and to develop a sense of respond-ability to different situations. (pg. 158; Khong, 2003)
Stephen Batchelor, a former Buddhist monk turned author and teacher, has presented existentialism as an interesting approach to the primary problem facing Buddhism in America today (Batchelor, 1983). According to Batchelor, Buddhism in the west is split between those who wish to follow a traditional path (emphasizing meditation and practice) and those who insist upon an academic approach to the analysis and understanding of Buddhism. Between the two approaches lies a great chasm. As we have seen, existentialism draws its deepest and most meaningful philosophy from nothingness, be it the distinction between Being and beings (Dasein, according to Heidegger) or the shell separating the pour-soi from the en-soi (as proposed by Sartre). Drawing primarily from his Buddhist training and the philosophy of Heidegger and Tillich (see below), Batchelor contrasts being-alone and being-with. We are essentially alone at birth and at death, in that we cannot share the experience with others, and this leads to unavoidable anxiety throughout our lives (though not necessarily overwhelming anxiety for most people). As we will see in the next chapter, the first noble truth of Buddhism is that human life is suffering. But just as much as we are alone, we are unavoidably linked to others as well. What matters then, is that we experience authentic being-with-others, and the root of authentic being-with is concern for others (as opposed to the inauthentic distortion of self-concern; Batchelor, 1983).
The genuine welfare of man, of both oneself and others, is found in the optimum actualization of the potentialities of his being. To exist in the fullest possible way in our aloneness as well as in our relations with others is the fulfillment of the inner aim of human life…(pg. 88; Batchelor, 1983)
Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (1943) is considered the defining text of modern existentialism. Sartre was an atheist, so the brief introduction to existentialism in this chapter went in the direction of atheism. However, Frankl and May were not atheists, and one of May’s most influential mentors, as well as a close personal friend, was Paul Tillich. Tillich remains a well-known and respected existential philosopher in the spiritual tradition. May went so far as to say that Tillich’ book The Courage to Be might be the best and most understandable presentation of existentialism as an approach to life that has been written in English (May, 1983).
It is also interesting to note that both Frankl and May were significantly influenced by Alfred Adler. Frankl worked closely with Adler for a time, and May took a summer course with Adler. Both cite Adler regularly in their writings. Adler’s focus on the childhood struggle against one’s own inferiority, his emphasis on social interest as a responsible means to superiority, and his recognition of the dangers inherent in seeking superiority at the expense of others, all fit well with the existential perspective on making responsible choices in living one’s life. This point emphasizes, once again, the profound influence that Adler has had on psychology, and that he is in all probability the most under-recognized figure in the history of psychology.
In 1897, William James published an essay entitled Is Life Worth Living? (James, 1897/1992). James begins by describing how some people see the value in life, indeed they fully enjoy life, no matter what happens to them or around them. However, for most people this is not the case, and there is no magic way to give everyone such an optimistic point of view. So, James presents a series of arguments that one might use with suicidal people (that is the term he uses) in order to convince them that life is worth living. He relies heavily on religious faith, though not on any particular religion, but also leads into a discussion of existential thought. Approximately a decade before Frankl and May were even born, James wrote the following words:
…Suppose, however thickly evils crowd upon you, that your unconquerable subjectivity proves to be their match, and that you find a more wonderful joy than any passive pleasure can bring in trusting ever in the larger whole. Have you not now made life worth living on these terms?…This life is worth living, we can say, since it is what we make it, from the moral point of view, and we are determined to make it from that point of view, so far as we have anything to do with it, a success…These, then, are my last words to you: Be not afraid of life. Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will help create the fact. (pp. 501-503; James, 1897/1992)
The challenges that we all face in trying to live authentic lives, the challenges of making responsible and ethical choices that are true to who we ourselves are, can be difficult. In a fascinating book entitled Not a Genuine Black Man, Brian Copeland (2006) talks about his family’s racial struggles during the civil rights movement and the difficulties he faces today as a Black man who has adopted many so-called “White” cultural values. Copeland insists, however, that we cannot so easily claim that any given value or personal interest belongs only to one group of people:
…When all is said and done, I AM indeed a Genuine Black Man – because I am resilient. That’s what being black in America is truly about: resilience…I stayed on my feet through taunts and harassment, through police intimidation and bigoted nuns, through schoolyard bullies and Sylvester, through my mother’s death and bouts of sometimes crippling depression. I am still standing.
I am black because, as my friend Mr. Wilkins once told me, people should be called what they want to be called. I have the right and the ability to determine my identity regardless of what other blacks or whites say. I am not an “oreo,” nor am I “still a nigger.” I am a man. I am a black man.
No one person or group of individuals holds the monopoly on what in this society is the “true” black experience. My world is as “black” as that of Malcolm X, Colin Powell, Snoop Dogg, Jesse Jackson, Usher, Bill Cosby, or Diddy. As their experiences in America are unique, mine is unique – yet it is the same. It is as valid as that of the poor African American living in “the ‘hood,” the rich black rapper balancing a lifestyle of fame and violence, and the black scholar working to better this world through academic dissertation. It is as authentic as the experiences of those who marched with Dr. King for civil rights and those who defy the black community by arguing the conservative point of view.
It is the “true” black experience because it is my experience… (pp. 243-244; Copeland, 2006)
Discussion Question: Brian Copeland talked about how difficult it can be to live an authentic life when you don’t meet the expectations of others. Have you ever gone against the advice of family or friends? Did it prove to be the right decision, or did it at least help you to feel better about your own confidence in yourself?
Personality Theory in Real Life: The Application
of Frankl’s Theories to the Workplace and Everyday Life
In 1989, Stephen Covey published The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s book became very popular, selling millions of copies on the way to becoming a #1 New York Times bestseller. If you were to read the first chapter of that book now, it would seem very familiar. Covey presents a very existential approach to understanding our lives, particularly with regard to the problems we experience every day. Perhaps it should not be surprising, then, that in the chapters describing the first two of these seven habits he cites and quotes Viktor Frankl numerous times. Indeed, Covey cites Frankl’s first two books as being profoundly influential in his own life, and how impressed Covey was having met Frankl shortly before Frankl’s death (see Covey’s foreword in Pattakos, 2004).
The first two habits, according to Covey, are: 1) be proactive, and 2) begin with the end in mind. He briefly describes Frankl’s experiences in the concentration camps, and refers to Frankl’s most widely quoted saying, that Frankl himself could decide how his experiences would affect him, and that no one could take that freedom away from Frankl! People who choose to develop this level of personal freedom are certainly being proactive, as opposed to responding passively to events that occur around them and to them. It is not necessary, of course, to suffer such tragic circumstances in order to become proactive in one’s own life:
…It is in the ordinary events of every day that we develop the proactive capacity to handle the extraordinary pressures of life. It’s how we make and keep commitments, how we handle a traffic jam, how we respond to an irate customer or a disobedient child. It’s how we view our problems and where we focus our energies. It’s the language we use. (pg. 92; Covey, 1989)
Covey compares his habit of beginning with the end in mind to logotherapy, helping people to recognize the meaning that their life holds. Covey works primarily in business leadership training, so the value of working toward a greater goal than simply keeping a company in business from day to day is clear, especially for those who care about employee morale and quality control (see also Principle-Centered Leadership; Covey, 1990). When employees share a sense of purpose in their work, they are likely to have higher intrinsic motivation. Think about it for a moment. Have you ever had a job you didn’t really understand, and didn’t care about? Have you ever been given that sort of homework in school or college? So, how much effort did you really put into that job or assignment?
Covey’s remaining habits are: 3) put first things first, 4) think win/win, 5) seek first to understand, then to be understood, 6) synergize, and 7) sharpen the saw. At first glance these principles seem reasonably straight forward, emphasizing practical and responsible actions. However, what does “sharpen the saw” mean? Sharpening the saw refers to keeping our tools in good working order, and we are our most important tool. Covey considers it essential to regularly and consistently, in wise and balanced ways, to exercise the four dimensions of our nature: physical, mental, social/emotional, and spiritual. By investing in ourselves, we are taking care to live an authentic life.
More recently, Covey has examined his principles beyond the business world. In 1997 he published The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families, a book in which he applies the same 7 habits to family life. Covey certainly has solid credentials as a family man, as father of 9 and grandfather of 43 children, and he won the 2003 Fatherhood Award from the National Fatherhood Initiative. Drawing in large part on his own extensive, personal experience, Covey uses many stories, anecdotes, and examples of real-life situations to help provide context to the challenges of raising a family and how we might best work with them. But first, he introduces a simple process: have a clear vision of what you want to accomplish, have a plan of how you might accomplish it, and use a compass (your own unique gifts that enable you to be an agent of change in your family). In essence, Covey is recommending that you prepare yourself to develop the seven habits. We all know how difficult it is to establish a new habit or break a bad habit; how is your New Year’s resolution going?
Just as families change, so does the world we live in. Recently, Covey addressed this change by proposing an eighth habit (Covey, 2004). He says that this was not simply an important habit he had overlooked before, but one that has risen to new significance as we have fully entered the age of information and technology in the twenty-first century. As communication has become much easier (e.g., email), it has also become less personal and meaningful. Thus the need for the eighth habit: find your voice and inspire others to find theirs. According to Covey, “voice is unique personal significance.” Essentially, it is the same as finding meaning in one’s life, and then helping others to find meaning in their own lives. It is through finding a mission or a purpose in life that we can move “from effectiveness to greatness” (Covey, 2004).
Whereas Covey presented an approach to personal and professional effectiveness (and later to greatness as well) that parallels the principles set forth by Viktor Frankl, Alex Pattakos very directly applies Frankl’s theories to both the workplace and one’s everyday life in Prisoners of Our Thoughts: Viktor Frankl’s Principles at Work (with a foreword by Stephen Covey; Pattakos, 2004). Frankl himself urged Pattakos to publish his book during a meeting in 1996. Pattakos, like Covey, has been profoundly influenced by Frankl’s writings throughout Pattakos’ career. According to Pattakos, we are creatures of habit, and we prefer a life that is both predictable and within our comfort zone. As the world is changing in the twenty-first century, so the conditions under which we work are changing. Pattakos believes there is a need for humanizing work. More than just balancing one’s personal life and career, humanizing work is an attempt to honor our own individuality and to fully engage our human spirit at work. Simply put, it is an effort to apply Frankl’s will-to-meaning in our workplace (Pattakos, 2004).
Like Covey, Pattakos presents seven core principles. They are similar to Covey’s seven habits, but in keeping with Pattakos’ intentions they are aligned more directly with the principles of logotherapy and existential psychology described by Frankl. The seven core principles are: 1) exercise the freedom to choose your attitude, 2) realize your will-to-meaning, 3) detect the meaning of life’s moments, 4) don’t work against yourself, 5) look at yourself from a distance, 6) shift your focus of attention, and 7) extend beyond yourself. These principles include not only the ideas of personal freedom and will-to-meaning, but also dereflection (principles 4 and 6) and the will-to-ultimate-meaning (principle 7). Clearly Pattakos has accomplished his goal of applying logotherapy to the workplace, but how well does this application work in real life?
Pattakos describes the case of a probation officer with the state department of corrections. Rick, as Pattakos identifies him, was raised in foster care and orphanages. However, rather than developing a sense of caring and concern for others who have difficulties in their lives, Rick refers to his clients as “maggots.” Rick has become insensitive and unforgiving, he has also become deeply depressed and anxious. Overall, he feels lost, unhappy, and unfulfilled, and he doesn’t know what to do about it. According to Pattakos, he has become a prisoner of his own thoughts, and only he has the key to his own freedom. Very simply put, he needs to find a new job or find meaning in the one he has now. One possibility is for Rick to consider his own life circumstances in relationship to his clients:
…Whenever we stop long enough to connect to ourselves, to our environment, to those with whom we work, to the task before us, to the extraordinary interdependence that is always part of our lives, we experience meaning. Meaning is who we are in this world. And it is the world that graces us with meaning. (pg. 157; Pattakos, 2004)
By making a responsible choice to seek meaning in our lives, to not work against ourselves, we can put ourselves on a path we had not seen before:
When we live and work with meaning, we can choose to make meaning, to see meaning, and to share meaning. We can choose our attitudes to life and work; we can choose how to respond to others, how to respond to our jobs, and how to make the very best of difficult circumstances. We can transcend ourselves and be transformed by meaning. We can find connection to meaning at work, in the most unusual places and with the most unexpected people. Meaning is full of surprises. (pg. 159; Pattakos, 2004)
And finally, it does not matter what sort of job we have. It is our choice, our freedom:
No matter what our specific job might be, it is the work we do that represents who we are. When we meet our work with enthusiasm, appreciation, generosity, and integrity, we meet it with meaning. And no matter how mundane a job might seem at the time, we can transform it with meaning. Meaning is life’s legacy, and it is as available to us at work as it is available to us in our deepest spiritual quests. We breathe, therefore we are – spiritual. Life is; therefore it is – meaningful. We do, therefore we work.
Viktor Frankl’s legacy was one of hope and possibility. He saw the human condition at its worst, and human beings behaving in ways intolerable to the imagination. He also saw human beings rising to heights of compassion and caring in ways that can only be described as miraculous acts of unselfishness and transcendence. There is something in us that can rise above and beyond everything we think possible… (pg. 162; Pattakos, 2004)
Discussion Question: Stephen Covey and Alex Pattakos have applied Frankl’s theories to both the workplace and our everyday lives. How well do you think the principles of existential psychology can address the problems that you face at work, home, school, etc.? Is it ever really as simple as applying one’s will and choosing to act responsibly? Do you live an authentic life?
· Existentialism focuses on an individual’s subjective “truth.” The freedom and responsibility that come with personal truth lead to anxiety, but they can also elevate the individual to lead an authentic life.
· Heidegger believed that all creatures are connected, but that only humans can become aware of this connection. Dasein, the realization of this connection, allows us to connect with Being. Awareness of our impending death, however, leads to anxiety, but if we accept that truth we can live an authentic life.
· Sartre believed that humans were unique, something he called en-soi. Awareness of the nothingness that separates the en-soi from the pour-soi is what drives some individuals to make something significant of their lives. For those who cannot, Sartre expressed a need for existential psychoanalysis.
· Viktor Frankl developed his ideas for logotherapy (an existential psychoanalysis) during his impressive early career. He had an extraordinary opportunity to put his ideas to the test while imprisoned in the Nazi concentration camps.
· Recognized as the third Viennese school of psychotherapy, logotherapy focuses on one’s will-to-meaning, the desire to find meaning and purpose in one’s life.
· People who cannot find meaning experience existential frustration, which can lead to a noogenic neurosis.
· Logotherapy itself relies primarily on the techniques of paradoxical intention and dereflection. These techniques are designed to break the cycle of anticipatory anxiety and failure that plague individuals who suffer from existential crises.
· Going beyond ordinary, everyday life, Frankl proposed a super-meaning to life, and he suggested that there is also a will-to-ultimate-meaning that can be pursued through religion or spirituality. In this light, Frankl referred to logotherapy as “height psychology” (in contrast to depth psychology, another term for psychoanalysis).
· Rollo May believed that anxiety underlies nearly every crisis. He proposed that anxiety must be understood in terms of freedom, and he distinguished between normal anxiety and neurotic anxiety.
· Culture has significant effects on the nature and amount of anxiety that people are likely to experience in their lives. Since anxiety can lead to hostility, these cultural factors are, and have been throughout history, very important issues (e.g., opposition to the civil rights movement in the United States, and the recent dramatic rise in international terrorism).
· A critical factor in life, according to May, is our ability to integrate into our world. One of the challenges to integration is the human dilemma: whether we are the subject or the object in our lives. As self-aware beings we can know that we are both subject and object, and so, in psychological terms, we exist in a world between either behaviorism or humanistic psychology.
· There are different types of love, all of which are very important to our lives. Love can give meaning to our lives, but it must be honest and responsible love.
· Through will and intentionality we can give structure to our lives and meaning to our actions. However, overwhelming anxiety can destroy our ability to participate actively in our own lives.
· The daimonic is any function that can take over the whole person. It can be a source of violence, but also a source of creativity. We can choose how the daimonic takes over, and whether that choice is responsible or not determines whether our actions are violent or creative.
· Being creative requires that we live in the future and actively participate in shaping our lives. Such bold choices require courage, especially in light of the inescapable reality that we will die.
· May felt that myth provides an important cultural framework within which we can form our lives. Unfortunately, the Western world has lost many of its myths, making people susceptible to cults, drugs, superstition, etc.
· According to May, the primary goal of existential psychotherapy is to help the client realize their own being, to have an “I-Am” experience. Time is an important aspect of this procedure. The client must be helped to shift their focus from the past to the future, and even more so, to transcend time altogether.
· Although existential psychology is younger than most other schools of psychology, it has much in common with ancient Eastern philosophies, such as Yoga, Buddhism, and Taoism.
· Terrorism is not the result of Islam. Terrorists are found all over the world, from many different races, religions, and nationalities. Islam opposes violence and murder.
· Terrorism is based on psychological factors (a perception that there are no alternatives, and that terrorism is legitimate), and seeks to cause psychological effects (feelings of terror and helplessness). Thus, psychologists have an important role to play in understanding and eliminating terrorism.
· One can easily find those who believe that terrorism either never works or always works. Some believe that we must respond with understanding to eliminate the root causes of terrorism, whereas others believe we must use force (but not too much force, lest we become terrorists as well). Clearly there are no easy answers for dealing with terrorists themselves or terrorism in general.
Existentialism is the part of philosophy that concerns itself with the question of human existence. The being in the world idea of existentialism posits that the person cannot exist without the world and the world cannot exist without a person to see it. Likewise, positivists focus on laws that govern the behavior of entities and articles in the world, non-positivists focus on the subjective nature of the world. They argue that nothing would exist if there were no individuals to see it. Existentialism argues against the idea that people are ruled by some fixed material laws. Because of this belief, the approach encourages theories that study the individual in terms of creativity, ingenuity, and self-fulfillment.
Learn more about Existentialism as an approach and a framework for the study of personality here.
Humanism is the term in psychology that applies to an approach which studies the uniqueness, worth and values of the entire person not only from the observer’s perspective but also from the person’s perspective. As we noted in existentialism this system is called phenomenological. Personality is studied from the individual’s particular slant on his experience. This humanistic approach is sometimes called the third force, the first two being psychoanalysis and behaviorism.
The humanistic approach rejects the psychodynamic approach because of its reliance on the unconscious, irrational and instinctive forces as determinants of human behavior and thoughts. The humanists also deny the hypotheses of the behaviorist approach, which concentrates its energies on reinforcement, the stimulus and response paradigm and its strong reliance on animal research. Humanists view these perspectives as basically dehumanizing.
When we talk about the human potential movement we are talking about psychotherapies follow the humanistic approach and stress the development of individuals through the methods of encounter groups, meditation and sensitivity training, etc. Theorists associated with the humanistic movement are Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, and Gordon Allport to name a few.
There are some very important elements from existential and humanistic psychology.
· CONCEPT OF LOVE
· NOTION OF RESPONSIBILITY
Erich Fromm always encouraged the importance of personal relationships and commitment to the common good over submission to the state. He believed that love was not something that just happened to the individual but needed attention, knowledge, and struggle. He felt that love allows us to become less alienated while we continue to maintain personal honor. Much of his work is drawn from both religion and mysticism and he incorporates many of their ideas into his understanding of personality.
Instead of focusing on pathology or what goes wrong with people, Abraham Maslow was interested in what goes right with people. Toward that end, he formulated what he called a Hierarchy of Human Needs. It is usually displayed as a pyramid. At the very bottom of his pyramid are the basic survival needs. As we fulfill these needs we work our way up the pyramid to higher aspirations such as security, love and self-esteem needs. At the pinnacle of the pyramid, we find self-actualization. At this point, the individual wants to realize his personal potential. He seeks self-fulfillment, grows spiritually and achieves his greatest potential.
While both Jung and James spoke of self-actualization it is most closely associated with Maslow mainly due to his work on the hierarchy of needs and the ideas of self-actualization, peak experiences, and personal growth. The Personal Orientation Inventory is one scale that attempts to assess self-actualization; it seems to capture at least some aspects of a healthy personality. One parting thought is that later in his life Maslow came to the realization that people had a darker, brittle side but he remained optimistic about the inherent good and potential of all people.
Learn more about Maslow’s theory and other theories of personal motivation as a part of personality and the human condition here.
This seems like a straightforward and even simplistic question and yet it is complex. Let’s take a look at one thing it is not. It is not a function of being in fortunate situations. It appears to symbolize a combination of personal qualities, optimistic cognitions such as things always work out for the best, and internal psychological procedures.
Positive psychology focuses on enhancing the functioning of human beings from the standpoint of mental wellness, not mental illness. It investigates, among other things, what makes individuals happy. It explores the positive strengths of life such as hope, wisdom, inventiveness, and spirituality.
American psychologist David G. Myers is concerned with what he calls the American Paradox. He has found that even though Americans have more in the way of material goods they are less likely to say they are happy. While on one hand, we have an abundance on the other we have more adolescent violence, more people in prisons and more teen suicides, etc. This is often seen as a moral decline.
The interpersonal theory of psychiatry revolves around the notion that personality is influenced by the regular social experiences faced by the individual. Harry Stack Sullivan considered the idea of chumship, and the adolescent social threats of rejection, loneliness, and isolation. Sullivan called the idea that we have one fixed personality the illusion of individuality.
Any discussion of the interactionist perspective must center on the social circumstances that surround an individual. The interactionist approach elicits from many other perspectives but in the end, it crafts a more complex view of patterns of behavior.
Henry Murray is a principal founder of the interactionist approach to personality. He developed his theory that he structured in terms of motives, presses, and needs. He was influenced by Lewin’s idea of contemporaneous causation. This means that behavior occurs at the moment due to a variety of influences in both the person and the environment.
In Murray’s lexicon, a press was an environmental push on the personality. He felt some needs change and are transitory while other needs are more ingrained in us. He believed that the psychogenic needs, though mostly unconscious in their operation, play a key role in our personality. He called his theory a personological system because it focused on personality as a vigorous process that integrated the individual’s responsiveness to the pressures of the environment.
A combination of needs and presses are what Murray termed thema which he measured with the Thematic Apperception Test or TAT. An outgrowth of Murray’s work can be seen in the work of Dan P. McAdams. He and his colleagues try to study the entire person through biographies. His ideas of internal needs and external presses work in harmony.
In summary, Murray took unconscious motivation proposed by Freud, Jung, and Adler; environmental pressures of Lewin indicated by the equation B=f(P, E) or behavior is a function of personality and environment; concepts of traits developed by Gordon Allport; the idea of chums and the psychosocial threats of adolescence proposed by Sullivan; Mead’s concept of the social self; and Sapir’s assessments of the importance of culture and combined them into a study of personality and the aspects that influence an individual’s life course.
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The first he identified were primary needs. These are similar to Maslow’s survival needs.
Walter Mischel’s argument that the idea of personality traits makes hardly any sense is predicated on his notion that behavior varies so greatly by situation. He argued that correlations involving traits predicting behavior had a correlation coefficient of .30 which he considered too small to assume a personality/behavior relationship. He posits what is more important is the situation. He believes that a person’s behavior is influenced by two factors; one of these is the features of the situation the person is focusing on and the second is how the person perceives the situation. He believes similarity in behavioral response is only likely when the behavior is likely to produce the same results as happened in a similar situation.
Recently Mischel has looked at individual differences by looking at the meanings that people give to stimuli and reinforcements. Since he posits that these different meanings are a result of learning while experiencing various situations he called them strategies. The strategies are encoding or how an individual categorizes external information; competencies which include intelligence; expectancies or an individual’s prediction of outcomes of various behaviors; and goals and values which provide the individual with behavior reliability.
Attribution or Implicit Personality theories examine how people make inferences about other people based on what they observe about their behavior. This type of attributional behavior tends to simplify our world. Individuals, it has been found, tends to overestimate the consistency of their own behaviors.
The power of situations is an interesting reason why personality can be such a weak predictor of behavior. Sometimes the situation is so powerful that it supersedes our inclinations. A good example of this type of situation would be a fire in a building. Although an individual is usually quiet and calm, it would not be unusual for that person to be caught up in the hysteria of the crowd trying to escape the flames and behave in a panicked or irrational way.
As we have seen previously, not all traits are similarly relevant to all people and certain situations give individuals the opportunity to put forth certain traits. Consistency within situations comes with the problem of how do we classify situations and where would we expect behavioral consistency. We also look at the aggregation or average of behavior across situations. If for example, a person is known to be an extrovert but we observe him at a party as quiet and keeping to himself we might ask ourselves what is going on. There are at least two possible answers. There is the issue of reliability. Is this one sample of behavior a good indicator of personality? The issue of appropriateness of the situation to a particular trait has to also be considered. Perhaps this is a very formal and low-key affair.
· DEVELOPING A SOCIAL SELF
· SOCIAL IDENTITY VS. PERSONAL IDENTITY
· JACK BLOCK
Have you ever wondered why when you see someone get hurt you feel bad, or when you are watching an exciting sporting event you get excited? Or how about when you watch someone tasting food and they wrinkle their nose at it and you feel disgusted? Psychologists have also wondered about these things and now some researchers believe that mirror neurons in the brain might hold the answers. Simply put, these brain neurons fire in response to the actions or states that we observe in others and mirror or respond equally in us whether or not we are performing the same action or are in the same state. It seems to be a simple idea, but the implications are not simple at all. Researchers now think that mirror neurons might account for autism, empathy and even the development of language.
Developing a social self is one of the primary tasks of infancy and childhood. The child learns that his hand is separate from another’s hand and begins to learn how to behave appropriately in social situations. The social self is more dominant in some people and some situations than others. Going back to Kurt Lewin’s ideas about field independence and field dependence we can reasonably say that in social situations a person who has high field independence may act more independently. Conversely, a person with high field dependence may conform to situational demands.
In summary, the humanistic and existential perspectives involve theorists Abraham Maslow, Carl Rogers, Erich Fromm and others. Their greatest strength is recognizing that humans have a spiritual potential and struggle for dignity and self-fulfillment. One of their weaknesses as we have noted in some of the other approaches, is that it shuns quantification and the principles of the scientific method, which are needed in order to understand personality from a scientific perspective.
Cherry, Kendra (updated January 21, 2016). Murray’s Theory of
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