In this article we will discuss about:- 1. Introduction to Humanistic Theories of Personality 2. Rogers’s Self Theory- Becoming a Fully Functioning Person 3. Maslow and the Study of Self-Actualizing People 4. Research Related to Humanistic Theories- Studying the Self-Concept 5. Humanistic Theories- An Evaluation.
- Introduction to Humanistic Theories of Personality
- Rogers’s Self Theory- Becoming a Fully Functioning Person
- Maslow and the Study of Self-Actualizing People
- Research Related to Humanistic Theories- Studying the Self-Concept
- Humanistic Theories- An Evaluation
1. Introduction to Humanistic Theories of Personality:
Id versus ego, Jekyll versus Hyde on the whole, psychoanalytic theories of personality take a dim view of human nature, contending that we must struggle constantly to control our bestial impulses if we are to function as healthy, rational adults. Is this view accurate? Many psychologists doubt it.
They believe that human strivings for growth, dignity, and self-determination are just as important, if not more important, in the development of personality than the primitive motives Freud emphasized. Because of their more optimistic ideas about human nature, such views are known as humanistic theories.
These theories differ widely in the concepts on which they focus, but they share the following characteristics:
First, humanistic theories emphasize personal responsibility. Each of us, these theories contend, is largely responsible for what happens to us. Our fate is mostly in our own hands; we are not merely chips driven here and there by dark forces within our personalities.
Second, while these theories don’t deny the importance of past experience, they generally focus on the present. True, we may be influenced by traumatic events early in life. Yet these do not have to shape our entire adult lives, and the capacity to overcome them and to go on is both real and powerful.
Third, humanistic theories stress the importance of personal growth. People are not content with merely meeting their current needs. They wish to progress toward “bigger” goals such as becoming the best they can be. Only when obstacles interfere with such growth is the process interrupted.
A key goal of therapy, therefore, should be the removal of obstacles that prevent natural growth processes from proceeding. As examples of humanistic theories, we’ll now consider the views proposed by Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow.
2. Rogers’s Self Theory- Becoming a Fully Functioning Person:
Carl Rogers planned to become a minister, but after taking several courses in psychology, he changed his mind and decided instead to focus on human personality. The theory Rogers formulated played an important role in the emergence of humanistic psychology and remains influential even today.
One central assumption of Rogers’s theory was this- Left to their own devices, human beings show many positive characteristics and move, over the course of their lives, toward becoming fully functioning persons. What are such persons like? Rogers suggested that they are people who strive to experience life to the fullest, who live in the here and now, and who trust their own feelings.
They are sensitive to the needs and rights of others, but they do not allow society’s standards to shape their feelings or actions to an excessive degree. Fully functioning people aren’t saints; they can and do act in ways they later regret. But throughout life, their actions are dominated by constructive impulses. They are in close touch with their own values and feelings and experience life more deeply than most other persons.
If all human beings possess the capacity to become fully functioning persons, why don’t they all succeed? Why aren’t we surrounded by models of health and happy adjustment? The answer, Rogers contends, lies in the anxiety generated when life experiences are inconsistent with our ideas about ourselves in short, when a gap develops between our self-concept (our beliefs and knowledge about ourselves) and reality or our perceptions of it.
For example, imagine a young girl who is quite independent and self-reliant, and who thinks of herself in this way. After her older sibling dies in an accident, however, her parents begin to baby her and to convey the message, over and over again, that she is vulnerable and must be sheltered from the outside world. This treatment is highly inconsistent with her self-concept.
As a result, she experiences anxiety and adopts one or more psychological defenses to reduce it. The most common of these defenses is distortion changing our perceptions of reality so that they are consistent with our self-concept. For example, the girl may come to believe that her parents aren’t being overprotective; they are just showing normal concern for her safety. Another defense process is denial; she may refuse to admit to herself that as a result of being babied, she is indeed losing her independence.
In the short run, such tactics can be successful; they help reduce anxiety. Ultimately, however, they produce sizable gaps between an individual’s self- concept and reality. For instance, the girl may cling to the belief that she is independent when in fact, as a result of her parents’ treatment, she is becoming increasingly helpless. The larger such gaps, Rogers contends, the greater an individual’s maladjustment and personal unhappiness.
Rogers suggested that distortions in the self-concept are common, because most people grow up in an atmosphere of conditional positive regard. That is, they learn that others, such as their parents, will approve of them only when they behave in certain ways and express certain feelings. As a result, many people are forced to deny the existence of various impulses and feelings, and their self-concepts become badly distorted.
How can such distorted self-concepts be repaired so that healthy development can continue? Rogers suggests that therapists can help accomplish this goal by placing individuals in an atmosphere of unconditional positive regard; a setting in which they will be accepted by the therapist no matter what they say or do. Such conditions are provided by client-centered therapy.
3. Maslow and the Study of Self-Actualizing People:
Another influential humanistic theory of personality was proposed by Abraham Maslow (1970). This concept suggests that human needs exist in a hierarchy, ranging from physiological needs, on the bottom, through safety needs, social needs, esteem needs, and finally self-actualization needs at the top.
According to Maslow, lower-order needs must be satisfied before we can turn to more complex, higher-order needs. Presumably, higher-order needs can’t serve as motives until lower-level needs have been satisfied. Thus, a hungry person won’t be very interested in self-actualizing; and one whose safety is threatened won’t focus on gaining others approval unless, of course, this helps to meet her or his more basic safety needs.
The needs hierarchy, however, is only part of Maslow’s theory of personality. Maslow has also devoted much attention to the study of people who, in his terms, are psychologically healthy. These are individuals who have attained high levels of self-actualization; a state in which they have reached their fullest true potential. What are such people like? In essence, much like the fully functioning persons described by Rogers.
Self-actualized people accept themselves for what they are; they recognize their shortcomings as well as their strengths. Being in touch with their own personalities, they are less inhibited and less likely to conform than most of us. Self-actualized people are well aware of the rules imposed by society, but feel greater freedom to ignore them than most persons. Unlike most of us, they seem to retain their childhood wonder and amazement with the world. For them, life continues to be an exciting adventure rather than a boring routine.
Finally, self-actualized persons sometimes have what Maslow describes as peak experiences; instances in which they have powerful feelings of unity with the universe and feel tremendous waves of power and wonder. Such experiences appear to be linked to personal growth, for after them individuals report feeling more spontaneous, more appreciative of life, and less concerned with the problems of everyday life. Examples of people Maslow describes as fully self-actualized are Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, and George Washington Carver.
At first glance it might seem that humanistic theories, like psychoanalytic ones, would not be readily open to scientific test. In fact, however, the opposite is true. Humanistic theories were proposed by psychologists, and a commitment to empirical research is one of the true hallmarks of modern psychology.
For this reason, several concepts that play a key role in humanistic theories have been studied quite extensively. Among these, the one that has probably received most attention is the idea of the self-concept, which is so central to Rogers’s theory.
Research on the self-concept has addressed may different issues for instance, how our self-concept is formed, how it influences the way we think, and what information it contains.
Together, such research suggests that the self-concept is complex and consists of many different parts, including knowledge of our own traits and beliefs, understanding of how we are perceived by and relate to others, and knowledge of how we are similar to and different from others. One of the most interesting lines of research on the self, however, has focused on cultural influences the question of whether our self-concept is shaped, in part, by the culture to which we belong.
Such research indicates that part of our self-concept does indeed reflect our culture. For instance, in Western cultures, which are often described as individualistic because they place great emphasis on individuality (e.g., individual accomplishments and self-expression), people often express unrealistically optimistic self-evaluations. They think (or at least report) that they are better than they actually are.
To demonstrate this for yourself, ask ten of your friends to rate their own intelligence, leadership ability, and social skills on the following scale- 1 = poor; 2 = below average; 3 = average; 4 = above average; 5 = excellent. Almost all of them will rate themselves as average or above on all these dimensions.
Needless to say, we can’t all be above average on everything! In contrast, in Eastern cultures, which are often described as collectivistic, greater emphasis is placed on cooperation and maintaining social harmony. The result? Persons from such cultures do not express overoptimistic self-evaluations.
Together, these and other findings indicate that Rogers and other humanistic theorists were correct in assigning the self-concept an important role in personality, and their interest in this topic helped to call it to the attention of other psychologists, too.
The comments above suggest that humanistic theories have had a lasting impact on psychology, and this is definitely so. Several of the ideas first proposed by Rogers, Maslow, and other humanistic theorists have entered into the mainstream of psychology. But humanistic theories have also been subject to strong criticism. Many psychologists are uncomfortable with the strong emphasis, in these theories, on personal responsibility or free will.
Humanistic theories propose that individuals are responsible for their own actions and can change these if they wish to do so. To an extent, this is certainly true. Yet it conflicts with determinism, the idea that behavior is determined by numerous factors and can be predicted from them. Such determinism is a basic assumption of all science, so questioning it makes many psychologists uneasy.
Second, many key concepts of humanistic theories are loosely defined. What, precisely, is self-actualization? A peak experience? A fully functioning person? Until such terms are clearly defined, it is difficult to conduct systematic research on them. Despite such criticisms, the impact of humanistic theories has persisted, and does indeed constitute a lasting contribution to our understanding of human personality.