Throughout the history of psychology, many psychologists have formulated personality theories. One of them is Abraham Maslow, together with Carl Rogers, for being the greatest exponents of what is known as the third force of psychology, humanism. This current arose in opposition to Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism.

Unlike these schools, humanism sees the person from a holistic and positive vision, where the center of attention is the subjective experience of the subject. People are active beings who have the capacity to develop, and their basic instinct and dignity reside in the confidence they have in themselves.

Who was Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was born in Brooklyn (New York) on April 1, 1908 . His parents were non-Orthodox Jews from Russia who came to the land of opportunity in the hope of achieving a better future for their children. Abraham Maslow was never a very social guy, and as a child, he took refuge in books.

Before becoming interested in psychology, he first studied law at the City College of New York (CCNY). After marrying Berta Goodman, his older cousin, he moved to Wisconsin to attend university there. It was here that he began studying psychology. He worked with Harry Harlow, famous for his experiments with baby monkeys and attachment behavior. After graduating and earning a doctorate in this discipline, he returned to New York to work with E.L. Thorndike at Columbia University, where he became interested in researching human sexuality. During this period of his life, he began teaching at Brooklyn College and came into contact with many European psychologists coming to the United States, for example, Adler or Fromm.

The Humanist Theory of Carl Rogers

Humanistic psychology is, without doubt, one of the most important currents of thought in psychology. But to know what it is about, it is necessary to know the work of another great figure of this school. It is difficult to understand humanism without Rogers and Maslow. That is why, before going deeper into Maslow’s theoretical proposals, let’s go into Carl Rogers’ theory.

If Freudian psychoanalysis saw the person from his problematic behaviors and behaviorism visualized people as passive beings, that is, they did not have much of a chance to influence the environment. The vision of Carl Rogers and humanism, on the other hand, was totally different, because the human being is seen as an active individual and master of his own realization. For Rogers, a person who pays attention to the process of organic assessment is a fully functional or self-realized person.

Rogers emphasizes the freedom of individuals to take the direction of their lives . According to him, people’s personalities can be analysed according to how they approach or move away from what he considers a highly functional individual.

The person who is fully functional, that is, healthier, when he or she possesses a number of characteristics. They are as follows:

  • Existential experience : People with an openness to experience have more possibilities to live fully.
  • Organic trust : These people rely on their inner experience to guide their behaviour.
  • Experience of freedom : The person is free to choose.
  • Creativity : The person is creative and always finds new alternatives for living. They are mentally inflexible.

You can deepen in Rogers’ ideas in this article: “The Personality Theory proposed by Carl Rogers”

Maslow’s Personality Theory

Maslow adds to Rogers’ theory his concept of needs. This psychologist’s theory revolves around two fundamental aspects: our needs and our experiences . In other words, what motivates us and what we look for throughout our lives and what happens to us on this path, what we go through. It is here that our personality is formed. In fact, Maslow is considered one of the great theoreticians of motivation.

Maslow’s theory of personality has two levels. One biological, the needs that we all have and another more personal, which are those needs that have that are the fruit of our desires and the experiences that we are living.

Without a doubt, Maslow is associated with the concept of self-realization , because in his theory he talks about the needs that we have as people to develop ourselves, to seek our maximum potential. According to this theory, people have an innate desire to self-realise, to be what they want to be, and they have the capacity to pursue their goals autonomously and freely.

In a way, the way in which an individual approaches his self-realization will correspond to the type of personality he manifests in his day-to-day life. This implies that for Maslow the personality is related to the motivational aspects that have to do with the objectives and situations that each human being lives; it is not something static that remains inside the head of people and is manifested unidirectionally, from the inside out, as it could be criticized from some reductionist and deterministic conceptions of this psychological phenomenon.

The implications of this are clear: to study personality one must also know the context in which people live and the way in which this responds to the motivational needs of individuals. Focusing simply on administering several tests to obtain a score does not give us an accurate view of this, since we start from a bias when considering that personality is what can be captured by these data collection tests. This is a point of view similar to that applied to the field of mental abilities by psychologists such as Howard Gardner and Robert J. Sternberg, who are critical of the psychometric conception of intelligence.

The self-realized personality

Maslow believes that achieving the needs of self-realization is in the hands of everyone, yet few succeed. People who manage to satisfy their needs of self-realization are self-fulfilling people . However, Maslow states that less than 1% of the population belongs to this class of individuals.

Self-realized people are characterized because:

  • Show a high level of self-acceptance
  • They perceive reality more clearly and objectively
  • Are more spontaneous
  • They think the causes of the problems are external
  • They enjoy solitude
  • They have a curious and creative mentality
  • They enjoy peak experiences
  • They generate genuine ideas
  • They have a great sense of humor
  • They have a great critical spirit and are governed by ethical values
  • They are respectful and humble
  • They are tolerant, non-judgmental and enjoy the presence of others

If you want to know more about this kind of people, you can read our article:

  • “13 characteristics of self-realized people according to Abraham Maslow”

The Pyramid of Human Needs Theory

Maslow is famous for his Pyramid of Needs theory because, according to him, needs follow a hierarchy, from more basic to more complex, and his pyramid is built by five levels .

At the base of this figure are the former and at the top are the latter. From bottom to top these are the different levels of needs:

  • Physiological needs : eating, breathing, drinking…
  • Security needs : physical security, employment, income
  • Need for membership : to get married, to be a member of a community…
  • Recognition needs : respect for others, status, reputation…
  • Needs of self-realization : moral, spiritual development, search for a goal in life…

The needs have to be met in order to aspire to the higher level. For example, if we do not have the physiological needs covered we cannot aspire to the needs of membership. At the higher level are the needs for self-realization. It is this hierarchy that, according to Maslow, marks the way in which the personality adapts to the circumstances, depending on each lived situation. It is, in short, a conception of personality that encompasses very extensive psychological aspects and that goes beyond the psychometric approach that dominated in his time.

  • You can learn more about the theory of human needs in our post: “Maslow’s Pyramid: the hierarchy of human needs”

Bibliographic references:

  • Maslow, Abraham. (1964). Ohio State University Press, ed. Religions, Values, and Peak Experiences.
  • Städler, Thomas. (1998). Lexikon der Psychologie, Stuttgart: Kröner.