Abraham Maslow: Toward a Psychology of Being. (1955-1957)

Abraham Maslow has become famous as a psychologist for his “hierarchy of needs.” He focuses more on the healthy personality, rather than on forms of psychopathology. He belongs to the tradition of existential-humanistic thinking in America. These extracts from texts written in the middle of the 20th century have not lost any of their insight and freshness.

Deficiency motivation and growth motivation (1955)

So far as motivational status is concerned, healthy people have sufficiently gratified their basic needs for safety, belongingness, love, respect and self-esteem so that they are motivated primarily by trends to self-actualization (defined as ongoing actualization of potentials, capacities and talents, as fulfillment of mission (or call, fate, destiny, or vocation), as a fuller knowledge of, and acceptance of, the person’s own intrinsic nature, as an unceasing trend toward unity, integration or synergy within the person). These healthy people are there defined by describing their clinically observed characteristics. These are:

  • Superior perception of reality.
  • Increased acceptance of self, of others and of nature.
  • Increased spontaneity.
  • Increase in problem-centering.
  • Increased detachment and desire for privacy.
  • Increased autonomy, and resistance to enculturation.
  • Greater freshness of appreciation, and richness of emotional reaction.
  • Higher frequency of peak experiences.
  • Increased identification with the human species.
  • Changed (the clinician would say, improved) interpersonal relations.
  • More democratic character structure.
  • Greatly increased creativeness.
  • Certain changes in the value system.

If we define growth as the various processes which bring the person toward ultimate self-actualization, then this conforms better with the observed fact that it is going on all the time in the life history. It discourages also the stepwise, all or none, the saltatory conception of motivational progression toward self-actualization in which the basic needs are completely gratified, one by one, before the next higher one emerges into consciousness. Growth is seen then not only as the progressive gratification of basic needs to the point where they “disappear,” but also in the form of specific growth motivations over and above these basic needs, e.g., talents, capacities, creative tendencies, constitutional potentialities. We are thereby helped also to realize that basic needs and self-actualization do not contradict each other any more than do childhood and maturity.

Toward a Psychology of Health (1956)

There is now emerging over the horizon a new conception of human sickness and of human health, a psychology that I find so thrilling and so full of wonderful possibilities that I yield to the temptation to present it publicly even before it is checked and confirmed, and before it can be called reliable scientific knowledge. The basic assumptions of this point of view are:

1. We have, each of us, an essential biologically based inner nature, which is to some degree “natural,” intrinsic, given, and, in a certain limited sense, unchangeable, or, at least, unchanging.

2. Each person’s inner nature is in part unique to himself and in part species-wide.

3. It is possible to study this inner nature scientifically and to discover what it is like – (not invent – discover).

4. This inner nature, as much as we know of it so far, seems not to be intrinsically or primarily or necessarily evil. The basic needs (for life, for safety and security, for belongingness and affection, for respect and self-respect, and for self-actualization), the basic human emotions and the basic human capacities are on their face either neutral, pre-moral or positively “good.” Destructiveness, sadism, cruelty, malice, etc., seem so far to be not intrinsic but rather they seem to be violent reactions against the frustration of our intrinsic needs, emotions and capacities. Anger is in itself not evil, nor is fear, laziness, or even ignorance. Of course, these can and do lead to evil behavior, but they needn’t. This result is not intrinsically necessary. Human nature is not nearly as bad as it has been thought to be. In fact, it can be said that the possibilities of human nature have customarily been sold short.

5. Since this inner nature is good or neutral rather than bad, it is best to bring it out and to encourage it rather than to suppress it. If it is permitted to guide our life, we grow healthy, fruitful, and happy.

6. If this essential core of the person is denied or suppressed, he gets sick sometimes in obvious ways, sometimes in subtle ways, sometimes immediately, sometimes later.

7. This inner nature is not strong and overpowering and unmistakable like the instincts of animals. It is weak and delicate and subtle and easily overcome by habit, cultural pressure, and wrong attitudes toward it.

8. Even though weak, it rarely disappears in the normal person ~ perhaps not even in the sick person. Even though denied, it persists underground forever pressing for actualization.

9. Somehow, these conclusions must all be articulated with the necessity of discipline, deprivation, frustration, pain, and tragedy. To the extent that these experiences reveal and foster and fulfill our inner nature, to that extent they are desirable experiences. It is increasingly clear that these experiences have something to do with a sense of achievement and ego strength and therefore with the sense of healthy self-esteem and self-confidence. The person who hasn’t conquered, withstood and overcome continues to feel doubtful that he could. This is true not only for external dangers; it holds also for the ability to control and to delay one’s own impulses, and therefore to be unafraid of them.

Observe that if these assumptions are proven true, they promise a scientific ethics, a natural value system, a court of ultimate appeal for the determination of good and bad, of right and wrong. The more we learn about man’s natural tendencies, the easier it will be to tell him how to be good, how to be happy, how to be fruitful, how to respect himself, how to love, how to fulfill his highest potentialities. This amounts to an automatic solution of many of the personality problems of the future. The thing to do seems to be to find out what one is really inside deep down, as a member of the human species and as a particular individual.

Basic Needs and their Hierarchical Arrangement (1957)

It has by now been sufficiently demonstrated that the human being has, as part of his intrinsic construction, not only physiological needs but also truly psychological ones. They may be considered as deficiencies which must be optimally fulfilled by the environment in order to avoid sickness and subjective ill-being.
They can be called basic, or biological, and likened to need for salt, or calcium or vitamin D because:

a) The deprived person yearns for their gratification persistently.
b) Their deprivation makes the person sicken and wither.
c) Gratifying them is therapeutic, curing the deficiency-illness.
d) Steady supplies forestall these illnesses.
e) Healthy (gratified) people do not demonstrate these deficiencies.

But these needs or values are related to each other in a hierarchical and developmental way, in an order of strength and of priority. Safety is a more prepotent, or stronger, more pressing, more vital need than love, for instance, and the need for food usually stronger than either. Furthermore, all these basic needs may be considered to be simply steps along the path to general self-actualization, under which all basic needs can be subsumed.
By taking these data into account, we can solve many value problems that philosophers have struggled with ineffectually for centuries. For one thing, it looks as if there were a single ultimate value for mankind, a far goal toward which all men strive. This is called variously by different authors self-actualization, self-realization, integration, psychological health, individuation, autonomy, creativity, productivity, but they all agree that this amounts to realizing the potentialities of the person, that is to say, becoming fully human, everything that the person can become.
But it is also true that the person himself does not know this. We, the psychologists observing and studying, have constructed this concept in order to integrate and explain lots of diverse data. So far as the person himself is concerned, all he knows is that he is desperate for love, and thinks he will be forever happy and content if he gets it. He does not know in advance that he will strive on after this gratification has come, and that gratification of one basic need opens consciousness to domination by another, “higher” need. So far as he is concerned, the absolute, ultimate value, synonymous with life itself, is whichever need in the hierarchy he is dominated by during a particular period. These basic needs or basic values, therefore, be treated both as ends and as steps toward a single end-goal. It is true that there is a single, ultimate value or end of life and also it is just as true that we have a hierarchical and developmental system of values, complexly interrelated.

This also helps to solve the apparent paradox of contrast between Being and Becoming. It is true that human beings strive perpetually toward ultimate humanness, which itself may be anyway a different kind of Becoming and growing. It’s as if we were doomed forever to try to arrive at a state to which we could never attain. Fortunately, we now know this not to be true, or at least it is not the only truth. There is another truth which integrates with it. We are again and again rewarded for good Becoming by transient states of absolute Being, by peak-experiences. Achieving basic-need gratifications gives us many peak-experiences, each of which are absolute delights, perfect in themselves, and needing no more than themselves to validate life. This is like rejecting the notion that a Heaven lies some place beyond the end of the path of life. Heaven, so to speak, lies waiting for us through life, ready to step into for a time and to enjoy before we have to come back to our ordinary life of striving. And once we have been in it, we can remember it forever, and feed ourselves on this memory and be sustained in time of stress.
Not only this, but the process of moment-to-moment growth is itself intrinsically rewarding and delightful in an absolute sense. If they are not mountain peak-experiences, at least they are foothill-experiences, little glimpses of absolute, self-validative delight, little moments of Being. Being and Becoming are not contradictory or mutually exclusive. Approaching and arriving are both in themselves rewarding.