Rogers and Maslow - Humanistic Theories of Personality
The humanistic approach in psychology of Rogers and Maslow. Self-actualization as the individual's potential within a synergistic society.
The humanistic approach in psychology developed in response to the deterministic dominance of behaviourism and psychoanalysis prevalent in the United States in the 1960s. Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers are two of the most influential names in Humanistic Psychology, both contending that the optimal psychological state for all humankind is self-actualization, an individual’s potential within a synergistic society (Pearson & Podeschi, 1997; Winston, Maher & Easvaradoss, 2017). Self-actualization, however, can be inhibited by extrapsychic determinants (Francis & Kritsonis, 2006). According to Rogers, individuals have an innate self-actualising tendency which can be promoted or inhibited by the environment imposed on them. Maslow emphasizes that certain basic needs must be satisfied before a person can reach self-actualization or fulfilment (Maslow, 1943). These extrinsic and intrinsic drives underpin both personality theories, and frustration of the human tendency toward ultimate fulfilment, results in psychological maladjustment (Robbins, 2008). This phenomenological and idiographic approach to personality has courted considerable criticism suggesting that it reduces the complexities of human nature to individualistic simplicity, overwhelming cultural variability and the problem of evil (Acevado, 2018; Koltko-Rivera, 2006; Person & Podeschi, 1997; Kesser & Sheldon, 2000), while lacking in its pursuit of rigorous scientific methodology. This essay seeks to assess and evaluate the theories of Maslow and Rogers against the backdrop of these criticisms and investigate whether their humanistic approaches to personality can answer the charges levelled against them.
To provide the framework for this discussion, it is first necessary to provide a fuller explanation of the two theories under examination. Personality theorists attempt to construct a concept of human nature and from this basic framework, a theory of personality. While respectful of Freud’s psychodynamic therapy, Maslow preferred to examine the magnificence of human potential rather than the psychic origin of neuroticism and he criticised Freud for seeing only undesirable evil in the unconscious when it was also the origin of the very best of human ethics and values (Valiunus, 2011). Maslow proposed that people are born with instinctive needs that help development and self-fulfilment which he described as instinctoid needs, arranged in a hierarchy of pre-potency and ultimately responsible for influencing human behaviour (Malsow, 1943, 1954). Briefly, Malsow’s needs are arranged from physiological needs at the bottom of the hierarchy (most potent), followed by safety, love, esteem and finally self-actualisation. By satisfying the basic, deficiency needs (d-needs), the individual is able to focus on more social needs (b-needs). The satisfaction of one need will usually depend on the satisfaction of the previous more potent need. However, Maslow was aware that this would not always be the case. Behaviour is shaped by both personality and environment, including cultural and situational factors (Maslow, 1943). An environment that promotes opportunities for spiritual development free from economic and material factors, will I turn promote the self-actualizing tendency to reach self-fulfilment.
Similar to Maslow’s emphasis on environment, Rogers also proposed that the environment in which an individual develops is integral to personality development and self-fulfilment (McGraw-Hill, 1959). The phenomenological field of subjective experiences, how a person perceives their experiences, rather than how they actually might be, is the most influential factor (Rogers, 1959). An environment that offers unconditional positive regard will promote an individual’s actualising tendency, the ability to experience oneself in the way that one consciously is (Maddi, 1996). A child growing up in this environment will engage fully in this organismic valuing process and successfully internalise self-positive regard producing a natural match in subjective self-perception and ideal self-perception (Rogers, 1959). In contrast, development in an environment of conditional positive regard, where certain types of behaviour result in the withdrawal of parental love or harsh punishment, a child will learn to attach conditions of worth to his or her behaviour and rather than internalising positive self-regard, the individual introjects these desired values. The self-concept is then based on these introjected standards rather than organismic evaluation, disrupting the organismic valuing process and creating incongruence between the real and ideal self (Rogers 1961). As a result, those experiences that are in accordance with these conditions of worth will be perceived and symbolised correctly in awareness, while those that are not will be distorted and denied into awareness causing confusion, tension, anxiety and maladaptive behaviour (Rogers, 1959). The fully functioning person, with congruence between self and experience, is open to new experiences, expressed feelings freely, acts independently and trusts his or her own organism (Rogers, 1959). While the development of personality is an ongoing process, it is also subject to possible change, but according to Rogers the key point is self-acceptance (Rogers, 1961).
As discussed briefly above, Rogers and Maslow take a holistic and phenomenological approach to personality in which mankind is striving toward self-actualization. However, such emphasis on the self, free from reliance on others seems to promote excessive individualism and elitism, where only those growing up in the right environment with the ability to satisfy their basic needs, have a chance of self-actualizing (Lethbridge, 1986). Maslow’s more Marxist critics take a darker view of the self-actualized person, suggesting that Maslow is regenerating a new Social Darwinism (Shaw & Colimore, 1988). Animal groups are made up of individuals, but human groups are societies of persons interacting with each-other rather than simply interacting with oneself and Malsow’s needs theory does seem to imply an individualistic imperative that even Maslow admits could result in cynicism and nihilism (Maslow, 1982; Frick, 2000; Acevado, 2018). Rogers also emphasizes individuality and considers the infant to be the model of congruence and it is socialization that alienates us from our true selves (Rogers, 1961). Conditions of worth that distort our perceptions of our experiences result from statements of ideals and social norms (Maddi, 1996). However, although there does seem to be tension between individuality and collective action, Maslow refers to Alfred Adler’s “Gemeinschaftsgefuhl” as the self-actualisers feelings of identification and affection towards fellow man (Huber et al., 2000) and further suggests that self-fulfilment is found in a state of synergy, serving the social good while enhancing individual happiness (Valiunus, 2011). Malsow called this best synergistic society Eupsychia, a community of humanity’s best which suggests that Maslow was concerned with promoting the social good, referring also to the meta-motivations of self-actualisers to look beyond themselves to the greater good (Maslow, 1961). It is arguable that the idea of self-transcendence that Maslow was not able to finish before his death, could have provided an answer to his seemingly elitist humanism (Maslow, 1968). Rogers and Maslow both celebrate individuality rather than individualism (Person & Podeschi, 1997). Rogers’s Person Centred Therapy seems to work towards facilitating the individual to accept themselves in order to enhance society itself (Pearson et al., 1997). So, while Rogers and Maslow do promote individuality, it does not seem to be done in such a way that ignores the feelings of others or society in general, rather enhances the individual’s ability to contribute to the best society can be (Winston, Maher & Easvaradoss, 2017).
The concept of the individual self, as we have seen, is an integral assumption of the humanistic approach to personality, however personality traits are a dynamic and complex concoction interacting as a whole and what is positive for one person, may be negative for another (Miller, 2008). This is particularly true of cultural norms and variability. Maslow differentiated individuality from individualism, by defining individuality as a person’s uniqueness within society and the motivation to resist cultural pressures (Robbins, 2008). However, critics continue to assert that the individual cannot evolve synergistically without taking into account the culture in which they are embedded (Pearson, 1991). Heines (2003), found that self-actualization is foremost a function of American Society, noting that North Americans tended to view themselves in unrealistically positive terms whereas Japanese tended to view themselves less positively. Maslow proposed that his hierarchy of needs pertained to needs that were universally important and differences across cultures were superficial (Winston et al., 2017), for example whether infants are cared for just by their parents or by a village of adults, the universal need is security. In contrast, critics suggest that such a generic approach to personality development endangers the rich complexities of human nature by applying an oversimplifying uniform formula (May, 1996; Merleau-Ponty, 1995). Arguably, Maslow has instead created a framework within which one can identify significant goals and ideals without being lost in generality (Robbins, 1996; Bortoft, 1996). Maslow’s self-actualiser is motivated to achieve his potential, whether it be an artist, musician or philosopher (Maslow, 1968). Similarly, Rogers emphasizes the importance of the phenomenological field, subjective experiences, that we necessarily experience within our own society and culture (Kerbs & Blackman, 1988). Criticism relating to culture also focusses on the methodology of humanistic approaches. Both Maslow and Rogers can be criticized for their sample base in their development of their personality theories. Maslow began his research by first examining those he believed encapsulated the characteristics of a self-actualising person and arguably creating a theory from an already bias starting point (Acevado, 2018). While there has been some research to support Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Graham & Balloun, 1973; Ryan & Deci, 2000), the very characteristics upon which such research is based come from a pre-existing notion of what Maslow believed to be the best of humanity within his limited sphere of White Western culture. Rogers’s undeniable contribution to psychotherapy may have been limited to a specific populous that fit his model (Nietzel, et al., 1994). However, he can also be credited with opening humanistic psychology to empirical study and assessment by recording his therapy sessions (Ryckmann, 1993). Nonetheless, both theories were born largely within white western culture, but it should be noted that Rogers and Maslow intended for their personality theories to form a basis for further research and investigation (Valiunas, 2011; Robbins, 2008) and by providing a universal framework for the development of personality, this endeavour has been facilitated (Assor, Roth & Deci, 2004; Campbell, Rudich & Sedikidas, 2002; Shostrom, 1964).
An interesting parallel between Maslow, Rogers and culturalisation discussed above, can be drawn between innate self-actualising tendency and the inner state of perfection achieved by the enlightened person of Zen Buddhism and the sage of Taoism (Chang, 2018). A similar framework plays out in Western culture (Humanisitic) and Eastern culture (Zen Buddhism and Taoism). However, Chang (2018) suggests that unlike the enlightened person of Zen Buddhism or the sage of Taoism, Rogers and Maslow’s self-actualiser is more influenced by their society. Within the western culture of consumerism, the self-actualiser stands autonomous and free from the approval or disapproval of others (Maslow, 1954, 1970). If so, then how does Maslow account for any concept of evil that could underlie the characteristic of self-actualisers that allows them to transcend any feelings of guilt (Acevado, 2018)? Shame and guilt provide individuals with a moral compass that indicates where repentance or reparation may be required (Acevado, 2018). However, in the absence of such feelings, the self-approved self-actualiser can justify the ultimate end of evil rather than good sanctioning individualism and eradicating moral responsibility (Acevado, 2018). Maslow’s answer to this could lie in his later conceptualisation of self-transcendence, which puts aside the individual’s own needs and serve a higher purpose (Koltko-Rivera, 2006). Those who have reached self-actualisation, now find that they are motivated by meta-needs. Meta-motivations underlie healthy functioning and include the need to know and understand the environment. According to Maslow there are 18 B-values that need to be realised in order for the self-actualiser to remain healthy (Maslow, 1954) (Shultz & Schultz, 2016) and as proposed by Koltko-Rivera (2006) provides a universal application for the pursuit of the meaning of life. In answer to the problem of unchecked evil tendencies, Maslow suggests that failure to realise these meta-motivations can result in pathogenic outcomes and each is associated with a pathology and metapathology. Self-actualisers can become helpless and depressed though unable to identify the source of their distress (Shultz & Shultz, 2016). While Maslow provides self-transcendence as a buffer for any malign, immoral tendencies of the self-actualiser, Rogers would suggest that the therapy would offer the individual the unconditional positive regard that is required to ensure that personality development is redirected and adjusted to account for moral responsibility and regard for others (Rogers, 1959). In this way, both theories are able to address, if not answer, the potential for narcissism and cynicism within the ideal human personality.
In conclusion, the personality theories of Rogers and Maslow cannot fully be covered in an essay of this length, however, some of the main criticisms of the theories have been addressed. Culture and individualism have been repeatedly raised as problematic, however if the theories of Maslow and Rogers are seen as frameworks to be used universally, then there is considerable scope for application outside the Western world. The same can be said for the repeated criticism of unsatisfactory methodology. The idiographic approach of humanism creates a problem for ecological validity, but nomothetic approaches can be too generic. Rogers provided opportunity for the empirical study of his theory by recording his therapy sessions and Maslow has created the framework for scientific testing and both qualitative and quantitative analysis, by providing a set of characteristics that can be tested and measured across cultures. These two personality theories have sought to provide an ideal that we are all innately motivated to achieve, the ability to take on the anxieties as well as the joys of life.