The sole purpose of human existence is to kindle a light in the darkness of mere being - Carl Jung

Transpersonal Pioneer Abraham Maslow

Transpersonal Pioneer: Abraham Maslow

Excerpt from Personality and Personal Growth (6th ed.)
Frager, R., & Fadiman, J. (2005). New York: Pearson
Prentice Hall pg.342:

Abraham Maslow is one of the founders of humanistic psychology and transpersonal psychology. He believed that an accurate and viable theory of personality must include not only the depths but also the heights that each individual is capable of attaining. The concepts of both Skinner and Freud, and their followers, have tended to ignore or to explain away the cultural, social, and individual achievements of humanity, including creativity, love, altruism, and mysticism. These were among Maslow's greatest interests.

Abraham Maslow has done more to change our view of human nature and human possibilities than has any other American psychologist of the past fifty years. His influence, both direct and indirect, continues to grow, especially in the fields of health, education, and management theory, and in the personal and social lives of millions of Americans.

Maslow was a pioneer, interested in exploring new issues and new fields. His work is a collection of thoughts, opinions, and hypotheses rather than a fully developed theoretical system. More a theorist than a research scientist, Maslow rarely came up with final answers. His genius was in formulating significant questions that many social scientists today consider critical.

Major Concepts of Abraham Maslow

The most influential part of Maslow's theory was his model of the hierarchy of needs, which includes the full range of human motivations. His most important concept was self-actualization, the highest level of human need. Maslow also investigated peak experiences, special moments in each individual's life. He distinguished between two basic kinds of psychology, deficiency psychology and being psychology, and pioneered in the development of the latter. Maslow was also deeply intersted in the social implications of his theory, especially with eupsychia , his term for a Utopian society, and synnergy, or cooperation within a society.

Maslow and Self-acualization

Maslow loosely defined self-actualization as "the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc. " (1970, p. 150). Self- actualization is not a static state. It is an ongoing process in which one's capacities are fully, creatively, and joyfully utilized. "I think of the self-actualizing man not as an ordinary man with something added, but rather as the ordinary man with nothing taken away. The average man is a full human being with dampened and inhibited powers and capacities" (Maslow in Lowry, 1973b, p. 91).

Most commonly, self-actualizing people see life clearly. They are less emotional and more objective, less likely to allow hopes, fears, or ego defenses to distort their observations. Maslow found that all self-actualizing people are dedicated to a vocation or a cause. Two requirements for growth are commitment to something greater than oneself and success at one's chosen tasks. Major characteristics of self-actualizing people include creativity, spontaneity, courage, and hard work.

Maslow lists the following characteristics of self-actualizers:

1. more efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it

2.  acceptance (self, others, nature)

3.  spontaneity; simplicity; naturalness

4.  problem centering [as opposed to ego-centered]

5.  the quality of detachment; the need for privacy

6. autonomy; independence of culture and environment

7. continued freshness of appreciation

8. mystic and peak experiences

9.  Gemeinschaftsgefiihl [a feeling of kinship with others]

10.  deeper and more profound interpersonal relations

11. the democratic character structure

12.  discrimination between means and ends, between good and evil

13.  philosophical, unhostile sense of humor

14.  self-actualizing creativeness

15.  resistance to enculturation; the transcendence of any particular culture

Self-actualization Theory

In his last book, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature (1971), Maslow describes eight ways in which individuals self-actualize, or eight behaviors leading to self- actualization. It is not a neat, clean, logically tight discussion, but it represents the culmination of Maslow's thinking on self-actualization.

1. Concentration "First, self- actualization means experiencing fully, vividly, selflessly, with full concentration and total absorption" (Maslow, 1971, p. 45). Usually, we are relatively unaware of what is going on within or around us. (Most eyewitnesses recount different versions of the same occurrence, for example.) However, we have all had moments of heightened awareness and intense involvement, moments that Maslow would call self-actualizing.

2. Growth Choices If we think of life as a series of choices, then self actualization is the process of making each decision a choice for growth. We often have to choose between growth and safety, between progressing and regressing. Each choice has its positive and its negative aspects. To choose safety is to remain with the known and the familiar but to risk becoming stultified and state. To choose growth is to open oneself to new and challenging experiences but to risk the unknown and possible failure.

3. Self-awareness In the process of self-actualizing we become more aware of our inner nature and act in accordance with it. This means we decide for ourselves whether we like certain films, books, or ideas, regardless of others' opinions.

4. Honesty Honesty and taking responsibility for one's actions are essential elements in self- actualizing. Rather than pose and give answers that are calculated to please another or to make ourselves look good, we can look within for the answers. Each time we do so, we get in touch with our inner selves.

5. Judgment The first four steps help us develop the capacity for "better life choices." We learn to trust our own judgment and our own inner feelings and to act accordingly. Maslow believes that following our instincts leads to more accurate judgments about what is constitutionally right for each of us-better choices in art, music, and food, as well as in major life decisions, such as marriage and a career.

6. Self-development Self-actualization is also a continual process of developing one's potentialities. It means using one's abilities and intelligence and "working to do well the thing that one wants to do" (Maslow, 1971, p. 48). Great talent or intelligence is not the same as self-actualization; many gifted people fail to use their abilities fully while others, with perhaps only average talents, accomplish a great deal.

7. Self-actualization is not a thing that someone either has or does not have. It is a never-ending process of making real one's potential. It refers to a way of continually living, working, and relating to the world rather than to a single accomplishment.

8. Peak Experiences "Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization" (Maslow, 1971,1). 48). We are more whole, more integrated, more aware of ourselves and of the world during peak moments. At such times we think, act, and feel most clearly and accurately. We are more loving and accepting of others, have less inner conflict and anxiety, and are better able to put our energies to constructive use. Some people enjoy more peak experiences than others, particularly those Maslow called transcending self-actualizers.

9. Lack of Ego Defenses A further step in self-actualization is to recognize our ego defenses and to be able to drop them when appropriate. To do so, we must become more aware of the ways in which we distort our images of ourselves and of the external world-through repression, projection, and other defenses.

Maslow and Peak Experiences

Peak experiences are especially joyous and exciting moments in the life of every individual. Maslow notes that peak experiences are often inspired by intense feelings of love, exposure to great art or music, or the overwhelming beauty of nature. "All peak experiences may be fruitfully understood as completions-of the-act ... or as the Gestalt psychologists' closure, or on the paradigm of the Reichian type of complete orgasm, or as total discharge, catharsis, culmination, climax, consummation, emptying or finishing" (Maslow, 1968, p. I 11).

Virtually everyone has had a number of peak experiences, although we often take them for granted. One's reactions while watching a vivid sunset or listening to a moving piece of music are examples of peak experiences. According to Maslow, peak experiences tend to be triggered by intense, inspiring occurrences: "It looks as if any experience of real excellence, of real perfection ... tends to produce a peak experience" (1971, p. 175). These experiences may also be triggered by tragic events. Recovering from depression or a serious illness, or confronting death, can initiate extreme moments of love and joy. The lives of most people are filled with long periods of relative inattentiveness, lack of involvement, or even boredom. By contrast, peak experiences, understood in the broadest sense, are those moments when we become deeply involved, excited by, and absorbed in the world.

The most powerful peak experiences are relatively rare. For Maslow, the highest peaks include "feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being. Simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placing in time and space" (1970, p. 164). They have been portrayed by poets as moments of ecstasy; by the religious, as deep mystical experiences.

Recent Developments: Maslow's Influence

Although Maslow himself did little in the way of formal research, his work has inspired a number of dedicated investigators. Shostrom (1963) developed the Personal Orientation Inventory (POI) as a measure of self- actualization. A significant body of research has been conducted using this instrument (Gray, 1986; Kelly & Chovan, 1985; Rychman 1985). Maslow's concept of peak experience has also sparked research (Wilson & Spencer, 1990; see Mathes, et al., 1982, for a literature review). Case studies of self-actualizing individuals have confirmed Maslow's theory and also related self-actualization to Dabrowski's (1967) theory of emotional development (Piechowski, 1978, 1990; Piechowski & Tyska, 1982; Brennan & Piechowski, 1991). Content validation has further clarified Maslow's original formulation of self- actualization (Leclerc, et al., 1998).

Maslow's work continues to have an impact on the study of religion (Fuller, 1994), education (Kunc, 1992), and business (Schott, 1992). His long-out-of print classic on business, Eupsychian Management, has been reprinted as Maslow on Management (Maslow, 1999a). Other major works (Maslow, 1994, 1999b) have been reprinted as well. A new biography details Maslow's life and summarizes his thinking (Hoffman 1999).

Abraham Maslow and Transpersonal Psychology

Maslow added transpersonal psychology to the first three forces in Western psychology-behaviorism psychoanalysis, and humanistic psychology. For Maslow, behaviorism and psychoanalysis were too limited in scope to form the basis of a complete psychology of human nature. Psychoanalysis is derived largely from studies of psychopathology. Behaviorism has attempted to reduce the complexities of human nature to simpler principles but has failed to address fully such issues as values, consciousness, and love.

In the early 1960s humanistic psychology emerged from the work of Maslow, Rogers, and other theorists concerned with psychological health and effective functioning. Many humanistic psychologists have used Maslow's theories, especially his work on self-actualization, as the framework for their writing and research.

In 1968 Maslow called attention to the limitations of the humanistic model. In exploring the farthest reaches of human nature, he found that there were possibilites beyond self-actualization When peak experiences are especially powerful, the sense of self dissolves into all awareness of a greater unity. The term self-actualization did not seem to fit these experiences.

Transpersonal psychology contributes to the more traditional concerns of the discipline an acknowledgement of the spiritual aspect of human experience. This level of experience has been described primarily in religious literature, in unscientific and often theologically biased language. A major task of transpersonal psychology is to provide a scientific language and a scientific framework for this material.


Maslow's great strength lies in his concern for the areas of human functioning that most other theorists have almost completely ignored. He is one of the few psychologists who have seriously investigated the positive dimensions of human experience.

His major contributions might be summarized in the following three central ideas:

1. Human beings have an innate tendency to move toward higher levels of health, creativity, insight, and self-fulfillment.

2. Neurosis is basically a blockage of the innate tendency toward self-actualization

3. Business efficiency and personal growth are not incompatible. In fact, the process of self-actualization brings each individual to greater efficiency, creativity, and productivity

The experimental work that Maslow did was mostly inconclusive; exploratory might be a better term to describe it, and he was the first to acknowledge this:

It's just that I haven't got the time to do careful experiments myself. They take too long, in view of the years that I have left and the extent of what I want to do. So I myself do only "quick- and- dirty" little pilot explorations, mostly with a few subjects only, inadequate to publish but enough to convince myself that they are probably true and will be confirmed one day. Quick little commando raids, guerrilla attacks. (Maslow in International Study Project, 1972, pp. 66-67)

Maslow's greatest value is as a psychological theorist who has stressed the positive dimensions of human experience-particularly the tremendous potential that all men and women possess. Maslow has been an inspiration for virtually all humanistic and transpersonal psychologists. In his book on Maslow and modern psychology, Colin Wilson writes:

Maslow was the first person to create a truly comprehensive psychology stretching, so to speak, from the basement to the attic. He accepted Freud's clinical method without accepting his philosophy... The "transcendent" urges-aesthetic, creative, religious-are as basic and permanent a part of human nature as dominance or sexuality. If they are less obviously "universal," this is only because fewer human beings reach the point at which they take over. Maslow's achievement is enormous. Like all original thinkers, he has opened up a new way of seeing the universe. (1972, pp. 181-184)

Maslow has been called "the greatest American psychologist since William James" (journal of Transpersonal Psychology, 1970). Although many might consider this praise somewhat exaggerated, no one can deny Maslow's central importance as an original thinker and a pioneer in human potential psychology.

Major Highlights of Maslow's Theory

For a theory of personality to be considered viable and accurate, the heights as well as the depths that an individual might reach ought to be included. One should investigate the most creative, mature, and well-integrated people to study the upper reaches of psychological health and maturity.

In the hierarchy of needs, physiological urges (hunger, sleep, sex, etc.) must be met before psychological needs. Basic psychological needs are safety (stability, order), love (belonging), esteem (self-respect, recognition), and self-actualization (development of capacities). Needs emerge from and build on the needs before.

The hierarchy of needs model suggests that behaviorism, psychoanalysis, humanistic psychology, and transpersonal psychology each have their place and their relevance; no one approach is better than another.

Deprivation of basic needs (including the need for self- actualization as well as physiological needs) can cause neurosis and maladjustment. The satisfaction of those needs is the only treatment.

People still feel frustrated, even if all their other needs are met, unless they utilize their talents and capacities and experience self- actualization.
Self- actualizing people are dedicated to a cause or a vocation, without exception. Commitment to something greater than oneself and to doing well one's chosen tasks, are two requirements for growth. Major characteristics of self- actualizing people are hard work, courage, creativity, and spontaneity.

Maslow identified eight behaviors that lead to self-actualization: concentration, growth choices, self-awareness, honesty, judgment, self-development peak experiences, and lack of ego defenses.

Being psychology tends to be most applicable to self- actualizers, and peak experiences are generally related to this realm as well. In deficiency cognition, objects are seen only as need fulfillers in being cognition, perceptions are less likely to be distorted by wants or needs.

Until the individual is free of the domination of the lower needs, such as for security and esteem, the pursuit of self-actualization cannot begin. The pursuit of higher needs is itself one index of psychological health.

Growth motivation is less basic than physiological drives or psychological needs for security, esteem, and so forth. Self-actualization may be hindered by negative influences from past experience and resulting poor habits, social pressure and group influence, and inner defenses that keep the individual out of touch with his or her inner self.

Ego defenses are internal obstacles to growth. To become aware of them and to see clearly how they operate is the first step in dealing with them. It is important, as well, to minimize the distortions they create. Maslow has added desacralization and the Jonah complex to the traditional psychoanalytic listing of defenses.

According to Maslow, there are possibilities beyond self-actualization. When peak experiences are especially powerful, the sense of self dissolves into an awareness of a greater unity.


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