4.   Abraham Maslow (1904 - 1970)

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American psychologist Abraham Maslow broke new ground in psychology by putting emphasis on the best people instead of broken people.  Instead of studying cars in a junk yard, he moved to a new car showroom.  Prior to his time, psychology was limited to the spinal reflex theory of Sechenov (1863) and Pavlov (1927), the behaviorism of Watson (1913) and Skinner (1948).

While contemporary psychology at the time was wallowing in the mud of human misery, Maslow studied the values of the best men and women in history.  He asked what made people like Albert Einstein and Eleanor Roosevelt exemplary?


Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Behind everything thing we do is a need that wants to be satisfied.  We have instincts that keep us alive and continue our species.  But there are other needs that go beyond our body's instincts.  Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs starts at the basic physiological needs we need just to stay alive.  Once these are made we have a need for safety, then we want love and affection.  Within our group we want to have self esteem. Finally we have a need of satisfying our full potential that Maslow calls Self Actualization. The five needs in Maslow's Hierarchy include:

1 Self Actualization -Fulfillment Needs (full potential) This is the rare level where people have need of purpose, personal growth and realization of their potentials.  People on this level are fully functional, acting purely on their own volition and have a healthy personality.

2 Ego -Self Esteem Needs  (self respect, personal worth, autonomy) On this level, people act from their ego needs.  They value the options of others, in order to believe in themselves.  It is a matter of self-respect through respect from others.

3 Social - Love and Belongingness Needs  (love, friendship, comradeship) On this level, people need to feel loved.  Here loving one's self has not been fully discovered.  Some families are tightly bond.  If this need is very strong, there can be a rush to fulfill this need resulting in less than ideal partner selection.

4 Security - Safety Needs (security; protection from harm) Here we might include living in a safe area away from threats. This level is more likely to be found in children as they have a greater need to feel safe. Those who worry about small things, such as drinking out of plastic glasses have strong security needs.

5 Body -Physiological Needs (air, food, sleep, stimulation, activity) People on this level tend to be sick or in emergency type situations. They have biological needs for physical equilibrium (homeostasis).  People with lack of shelter, clothing, food focus on these needs.  People often neglect some of these basic needs in normal life when they eat junk food, go without sleep, don't exercise, or do not simulate their minds.

Maslow's B Values

In life we have to sort out what is important and make determination of our and others best course of action. We can chose plan A or plan B.  How do we determined what to do?  

We need a reference Maslow called B Values.  We compare this reference to the situation at hand.  For instance is something reflecting unity, perfection, richness and honesty?  As we ascend Maslow's Hierarcy of Needs, more B Values are considered.  Self-actualized people are most likely to reflect on them.

  • Wholeness/Unity/Oneness
  • Perfection/Just-so-ness
  • Completion/Finality/Ending
  • Justice/Fairness
  • Aliveness/Full-Functioning
  • Richness/Intricacy
  • Simplicity/Essential/Honesty
  • Beauty/Form/Richness
  • Goodness/Oughtness
  • Uniqueness/Idiosyncrasy/Novelty
  • Effortlessness/Ease/Perfect
  • Playfulness/Joy/Humor
  • Truth/Reality/Beauty/Pure
  • Self-Sufficiency/Independence

D Needs

D Needs or deficiency needs are needs we notice by their absence.  A D Need of air is quickly noticed.  We do not have to think about needing air, we just need it.

Teaching Methods

Maslow had comments on teaching children which included:

  • Be authentic.
  • Transcend their cultural conditioning and become world citizens.
  • Find their vocation and right mate.
  • Know that life is precious.
  • Be good and joyous in all kinds of situations.
  • Learn from their inner nature.
  • See that basic needs are satisfied.
  • Refresh their consciousness; appreciate beauty and other good things in life.
  • Understand that controls are good, and complete abandon is bad.
  • Transcend trifling problems
  • Grapple with serious problems such as injustice, pain suffering and death
  • Be good choosers
  • Be given practice in making choices, later allowing choices in their religious beliefs.

Self Actualization

Self Actualization can occur when people reflect on their B needs.  Maslow suggested that only two percent of the people in the world achieve self actualization. Maslow gave examples of people who met this criteria using biographical analysis. People who met this standard of self actualization included: Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Adams, William James, Albert Schweitzer, Benedict Spinoza, and Almost Huxley

Self actualized people were reality and problem centered, and could distinguished what was fake and dishonest from what genuine. They realized that the means and ends are different, and thus the end did not always justify the means. They enjoyed being by themselves, and having deeper relationships with a few people instead of more shallow relations with many people. These people tended to be autonomous, relatively free from physical and social needs. They had a sense of what was true beyond their culture, and were highly resistant to enculturalization and thus enjoyed being themselves and did not worried about fitting in.

Their humor was never a threat, and they often were the brunt of their own jokes.  They tended to be spontaneous and simple in their nonconformity while also having a certain humility and respect for others. They had freshness, a creative spirit and were original in the thinking.  These people had experiences of being moved by forces larger than themselves to enjoin peak experiences.

In reality, these people were not perfect. Indeed they suffered from what ordinary people do. Their anxiety and guilt was about real things, and their moments of coldness were brief and often somewhat justified.

Others saw them as natural, and flowing with life.  They appeared to rise above distinctions such as the spiritual and physical and were indifferent to what others perceived as masculine or feminine.  

Maslow has much more to offer in his books:

The Hierarchy of Needs: A Theory of Human Motivation (1943).

Maslow, A. H.  The Farther Reaches of Human Nature. New York: Esalen Books. Viking Press (1971)

Maslow, Abraham H.  Toward a Psychology of Being, New York: D. Van Nostrand Company (1968)

The term "Self Actualization" was not created by Maslow, but was coined by Kurt Goldstein in 1940 and later widely used by Carl Rogers.  Maslow died from a heart attack on June 8, 1970.

Commentary on Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

One Additional Spiritual Need

Many people have spiritual needs,  to feel one with Purpose.  At this level, people feel the power being close the Source, to Reference, to Insight.  I am not sure where to put spiritual needs.  It is rare but people can talk to God.   

At different need levels we see God in different ways.  When we are in physical danger, we pray to God to save us.  We we are lonely, we can talk to God as a friend.  When we are thinking for ourselves, we can ask God for guidance.  

But when we fell the presence of God, the wonderful warmth of God, we are at the top level.

The Four Agreements

Self actualization requires honesty, loving one's self, wanting the truth, and trying for the best.  These ideas are reflected in Don Miguel Ruiz's (2000) Four Agreements:

  1. Be impeccable with your word.  
  2. Don't take anything personally.
  3. Don't make assumptions.
  4. Always do your best.

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Copyright 2014 by George Norwood
Last Updated: May 10, 2014