Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs and Self actualization

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist that delved into humans’ needs and behaviors on a level that had previously been dismissed or misunderstood. Much of what Maslow revealed is commonly accepted to day in psychiatric circles, and his theories and methods have become widely known.

Maslow was born to Russian/Jewish immigrants in Brooklyn on April Fools Day, 1908. He was expected by his parents to pursue a career in law, but he chose to attend the University of Wisconsin and study psychology instead.

Maslow married his first cousin, Bertha (also against his parent’s wishes) and went on to Columbia University before settling in as a faculty member at Brooklyn College to continue his studies into human needs and behavior.

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Abraham Maslow and His Theory

Maslow did extensive studies of people he admired throughout history (among them Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, and Eleanor Roosevelt) as well as people who knew in his own lifetime whose names he did not disclose but who were believed to include his mentors Ruth Benedict, Max Wertheimer and Alfred Adler (who was among the first serious challengers to Freud).

Abraham Maslow believed that these people had transcended the everyday boundaries of ordinary life and reached a state of acceptance of self and others that was enabling them to reach a higher plane of understanding and creativity. He argued that they had managed to fulfill their own needs to an extent that they could focus their energies and intellect on becoming all they could be, without worries, self doubts or distractions to hold them back.

Maslow was convinced that humans had needs that existed on different levels, and if they were not met, the needs on higher levels were increasingly difficult to fill. He also theorized that if damage was done during the formative years as far as needs not being met, it could cause serious problems later in reaching what he referred to as ‘self actualization’.

This self actualization was a state in which he believed all of the lower levels of needs had generally been met, freeing the individual to experience the journey of reaching their full potential. He acknowledged that there were some cases in which an individual would overcome unmet needs by sheer force of personality or will, but felt that these were few and far between, and that these individuals were often tormented and not as at peace with themselves as the ones who had achieved true transcendence.

Maslow died in 1970, but his work lives on; his now famous theory of the hierarchy of needs can be a powerful tool in recognizing the different levels of human awareness and satisfaction. It is commonly used to help identify unmet needs that can cause problems such as low self-esteem, a poor self image or lack of self respect.

Hierarchy of needs


Maslow's theory of motivation

Return home from Abraham Maslow

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