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As Abraham Maslow wrote, “One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again”
Many people are familiar with Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs,” with self-actualization depicted at the top of a pyramid. Chances are, you learned about it in your introduction to psychology course in college or saw it diagrammed on Facebook (perhaps humorously with "WiFi" or "toilet paper" added to the base of the pyramid).
There are a lot of misconceptions about "Maslow's Pyramid", however. For one,
Rather than a lockstep Pyramid, Maslow actually emphasized a different feature of the hierarchy. I believe this framework of human motivation is highly relevant to the uncertain times we are currently living in.
Deficiency vs. Growth
Maslow argued that all the needs can be grouped into two main classes of needs, which must be integrated for wholeness: deficiency and growth. Deficiency needs, which Maslow referred to as “D-needs,” are motivated by a lack of satisfaction, whether it’s the lack of food, safety, affection, belonging, or self-esteem. The “D-realm” of existence colors all of our perceptions and distorts reality, making demands on a person’s whole being: “Feed me! Love me! Respect me!”
The greater the deficiency of these needs, the more we distort reality to fit our expectations and treat others in accordance with their usefulness in helping us satisfy our most deficient needs. In the D-realm, we are also more likely to use a variety of defense mechanisms to protect ourselves from the pain of having such deficiency in our lives. Our defenses are quite “wise” in the sense that they can help us to avoid unbearable pain that can feel like too much to bear at the moment.
Nevertheless, Maslow argued that the growth needs—such as self-actualization and transcendence—have a very different sort of wisdom associated with them. Distinguishing between “defensive-wisdom” and “growth-wisdom,” Maslow argued that the
From an evolutionary point of view, it makes sense that our safety and security concerns, as well as our desires for short-lived hedonic pleasures, would make greater demands on our attention than our desire to grow as a whole person. As the journalist and author Robert Wright put it in his book
However, such a narrowing of worldview runs the risk of inhibiting a fuller understanding of the world and ourselves. Despite the many challenges to growth, Maslow believed we are all capable of self-actualization, even if most of us do not self-actualize because we spend most of our lives motivated by deficiency. Maslow’s emphasis on the dialectical nature of safety and growth is strikingly consistent with
Becoming a Fully Functioning Human
At a very young age, we feel hungry, or tired, or fearful, but are often given messages by well-meaning (and, sadly, often not-so-well-meaning) parents and other caretakers that “if you feel that way, I won’t love you.”
This can happen in a number of subtle and unsubtle ways anytime an expression of a need is disregarded as not as important as the needs of the caretaker. And so we start acting how we think we should feel, not how we actually feel. As a result, so many of us grow up being constantly swayed by the opinions and thoughts of others, driven by our own insecurities and fears of facing our actual self, that we introject the beliefs, needs, and values of others into the essence of our being. Not only do we lose touch with our real felt needs, but we also alienate ourselves from our best selves.
To the psychotherapist Carl Rogers, one of the founders of humanistic psychology, the loneliest state of all is not the loneliness of social relationships, but an almost complete separation from one’s own experience. Based on his observations with a large number of patients with healthy development of their whole self, he developed the notion of the “
Rogers believed that we each have an innate self-actualizing tendency that can be explained by the existence of an
Modern research supports the existence and importance of an OVP in humans. Positive organizational psychologists Reena Govindji and P. Alex Linley
ORGANISMIC VALUING SCALE
I know the things that are right for me.
I get what I need from life.
The decisions I make are the right ones for me.
I feel that I am in touch with myself.
I feel integrated with myself.
I do the things that are right for me.
The decisions I make are based on what is right for me.
I am able to listen to myself.
In another line of research on OVP, Kennon Sheldon conducted a series of clever experiments demonstrating that when given autonomy,
Have well-respected opinions.
Have many nice things.
Be admired by many others.
Be well-known to many.
Be financially successful.
Be well-liked and popular.
Find a good, high-paying job.
Help those who need it.
Show affection to loved ones.
Feel much loved by intimates.
Make others’ lives better.
Be accepted for who I am.
Help improve the world.
Contribute something lasting.
Sheldon found that under conditions of complete freedom to choose, people tend to move toward growth, changing their minds over time in directions most likely to be growth-enhancing. Of course, the goal isn’t to become 100 percent growth-oriented and 0 percent security-driven; we need both security goals and growth goals. The point here is that under optimal conditions for choosing, the relative balance over time tends to tip toward growth.
In fact, Sheldon found that those with the highest initial adoption of security goals shifted the most toward growth goals over time. As Sheldon notes, those holding “unrewarding values are most in need of [growth-relevant] motivational change and are thus most likely to evidence such change.” Therefore, the research suggests that when free of anxiety, fear, and guilt, most people do tend to not only move in the direction of the realization of their unique potential but also tend to move in the direction of goodness.
This should give us hope and point to what is possible under optimal conditions. But it should also give us a healthy dose of realism, considering that in the real world, most people are not entirely free to choose their most valued direction. The cultural climate matters a lot. For instance, many individuals with marginalized identities—whether based on ethnicity, race, religion, gender, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, disability, or even special education status (“learning disabled,” “gifted,” “
The culture of an institution can also have an effect on everyone within it. Sheldon
There are many other harsh and unpredictable environmental conditions that can lead people to be more safety focused at the expense of growth. All over the world-- at this very moment-- people are finding themselves in just such a position with the growing Coronavirus pandemic that is forcing us all into a prolonged state of extreme insecurity and anxiety.
Not only can environmental conditions impede the realization of our self-actualizing tendency, but even within ourselves, we have so many different (often unconscious) aspects of our mind constantly clamoring for our attention. Which is why awareness is so important, including awareness of our inner conflicts and extreme traits.
Ultimately, though, we must choose growth, over and over again. As Maslow wrote, "One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again."
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The views expressed are those of the author(s) and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.
Scott Barry Kaufman, Ph.D., is a humanistic psychologist exploring the depths of human potential. He has taught courses on intelligence, creativity, and well-being at Columbia University, NYU, the University of Pennsylvania, and elsewhere. He hosts
Credit: Andrew French
Save all ideas
Abraham Maslow argued that all needs could be grouped into two main classes: deficiency and growth.
At a young age, when an expression of a need is disregarded as not as important as the needs of the caretaker, a child may get the message that they are not loved while they have this need.
This causes people to behave in a way they think they should feel, not how they really feel. As adults, they are always influenced by others' opinions and driven by their insecurities and fears of facing themselves.
To psychotherapist Carl Rogers, the loneliest state is not the loneliness of social relationships, but a separation from one's own experience. Rogers developed the notion of the "fully functioning person" that is characterized as:
Goals are grouped into two main clusters:
When people are under conditions of freedom, they tend to move towards growth. The goal isn’t to become completely growth-oriented and despise security, but under freedom, the balance tips towards growth.
SIMILAR ARTICLES & IDEAS:
Abraham Maslow, the famous psychologist, had worked on a theory that linked self-actualization to spirituality and self-transcendence.
His Hierarchy Of Needs Pyra...
Self-Actualization is an internal struggle that one must take by leaning towards stability and our higher goals while minimizing disruption from distracting thoughts and impulses (disruptive impulsivity).
One also has to look out for oneself to not fall in the dark abyss of negativity and doubt, apart from feeling directionless or meaningless.
It implies acknowledging and respecting the sacredness and uniqueness of each kind of person. Self-Actualization also necessitates full access to information, full knowledge of the truth, and being able to choose without fear or social pressure.
The one thing left out of this theory is social psychology, as all the needs of a human being cannot be understood in isolation and social conditions are also necessary for personal growth.
It involves advancing a cause greater and beyond the self, experiencing a drastic shift in perspective, beyond the confines of the self through the highest level of experience.
Self-transcenders have a completely selfless value system and are leaning towards serving humanity, with an eventual goal of transcending their ego.
Self-esteem is the subjective evaluation of your own worth. There are two sources to fulfill this need:
Self-actualization is the realization of one's uniquely creative, intellectual, or social potential. It is a very personal experience.
When their need for self-esteem is fulfilled, where they have accepted themselves for the good and the bad, people move on to self-actualization.