Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Abraham Maslow: A Humanistic Theory of Personality

Maslow was a humanist who believed that man can
work out a better world for mankind as well as for
himself. His approach to understand human personality
is different from behaviourism as given by B.F. Skinner
(discussed later) and psychoanalysis. He depicted
human being as a “wanting animal” who rarely reaches
a state of complete satisfaction. It is characteristic of
human life that people almost always desire something.
If one desire is satisfied, another surfaces and so on.
Maslow consistently argued that lower order needs
must at least be satisfied before an individual can
become aware of the higher order needs. He proposed
that in general, human desires/needs are innate and
they are arranged in a hierarchy. He developed his
own system of needs and categorized them into two
a) Deficit Needs and
b) Growth Needs
The deficit needs include sex, sleep, protection from
extreme temperature and sensory stimulation. These
needs are most basic, powerful and obvious of all

human beings for their physical survival. In the second 
category come the needs for safety, needs of
belongingness and love, the esteem needs and the
need for self-actualization.
Now let’s examine each of Maslow’s need categories
in a little detail, in accordance of their order i.e. from
lower to higher.
1) Physiological Needs: As pointed out earlier these
are directly concerned with the biological
maintenance of the organism and must be gratified
at some minimal level. An individual who fails to
satisfy this set of basic needs won’t be able to
move upwards to satisfy the higher level needs.
For instance, a chronically hungry person will
never strive to compose music or join politics or
construct theories to build a new world order.
Without a doubt, the physiological needs are
crucial to the understanding of human behaviour.
Many autobiographies and experiments chronicled
in the history show the devastating effects on
behaviour produced by lack of food or water. For
example, in the Nazi concentration camps of World
War II, it was common for prisoners subjected to
prolonged deprivation and torture, to relinquish
their moral standards and steal food from each
2) Safety Needs: When the physiological needs are
successfully fulfilled then safety needs become
the dominant force in the personality of the
individual. Safety needs are many and are mainly
concerned with maintaining order and security.
The primary motivating force here is to ensure a
reasonable degree of certainty, order, structure
and predictability in one’s environment. Maslow
suggested that these needs are most readily
observed in infants and young children because of 
their relative helplessness and dependence on
adults. For example, children, respond fearfully if
they are suddenly dropped or startled by loud
noise or flashing lights. Eventually education and
experience neutrialize such dangers.
Nonetheless, the safety needs also exert active
influence beyond the stage of childhood. The
preference for a job with security and financial
protection, having a bank account, purchasing a
building/house and investment in insurance or
medical facilities or unemployment or old age
may be regarded as motivated by making the
future safe.
3) Belongingness and Love Needs: These needs
institute the third ladder in the Maslow’s scheme
of human needs and emerge only when the first
ladder and second ladder needs are satisfied.
These needs emphasize the basic psychological
nature of human beings to identify with group
life. These are the needs of making intimate
relationships with other members of society, being
an accepted member of an organization and to
have a family. In the absence of group membership,
a person will have a feeling of loneliness, social
ostracism, friendlessness and rejection. Maslow
rejected the Freudian notion that love and
affection are derived from sexual instincts. He
was of the view that love is not synonymous to
sex but a mature love involves healthy loving
relationship between two persons. Being loved
and accepted is instrumental to healthy feelings
of worth. Not being loved generates futility,
emptiness and hostility.
4) Self-Esteem Needs: When one’s needs for being
loved and loving others have been reasonably
satisfied, the need for self-esteem emerges. These
needs are divided into two groups : (a) Self-respect,
self-regard and self-evaluation
 (b) Esteem and respect from others. The first
group includes such things as desire for
competence, confidence, personal strength,
adequacy, achievement, independence and
freedom. An individual needs to know that he or
she is worth while – capable of mastering tasks
and challenges in life. The second group includes
prestige, recognition, acceptance, attention, status,
fame, reputation and appreciation. In this case,
people need to be appreciated for what they can
do, i.e. they must experience feelings of worth
because their competence is recognized and valued
by significant others.
5) Self-Actualization Needs: Finally, if all the
foregoing needs are sufficiently satisfied, the need
for self-actualization comes to the fore. Maslow
characterized self-actualization as the desire to
become everything that one is capable of becoming.
One wants to attain perfection. It is to reach the
peak of one’s potential. Self actualization is only
possible if the basic needs at lower levels are met
to the degree that they neither distract nor
consume all the available energy. The person
should not be worried about his or her survival
needs. He or she should feel satisfied with his/
her social relations in family, society and job.
Thus we need to keep in mind that Maslow’s needs
occur in an order. One seeks self-esteem only after
one’s love and belongingness needs are satisfied. And
one seeks love only when he or she feels secure and
safe. On the opposite side of it, one quickly goes back
to a lower level from the upper level, if the needs of
lower level are suddenly jeopardized. For example, let
us consider a lady who, thinking her love needs are
in good order, busies herself with becoming a business
tycoon. Suddenly and unexpectedly, her husband leaves
her. In such a situation, what she does is that she
casts aside all aspects of self-esteem (in this case
business) and becomes consumed in an effort to regain
her husband i.e. to satisfy her love needs. Once this
relationship is restored or a suitable alternative
developed, she is free to concern herself with the
business world.