Personality Theories 4

This is the fourth part of the personality theories series. When I started writing this, I wanted to cover theories by Abraham Maslow as well As Carl Rogers. However as I continued writing, I realized that the article is growing much longer than what I had anticipated. So this part only discusses Maslow’s theory and the next (and hopefully last) part will discuss Carl Roger’s theory.

This part covers what is known as the third wave of psychology: Humanistic Psychology. The first two being Psychodynamism (Freud et al.) and Behaviourism (Pavlov,  Skinner, Bandura etc).  Humanistic Psychology includes two of my favourite psychologists – Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Humanistic psychology believes in the innate goodness of every individual and asserts that each individual has capacity for growth. It recognizes that self-actualization, a need for love and belonging, and self-esteem are highly important for human beings. It emphasizes the inherent human drive towards self-actualization, to realize one’s own potential.

The humanistic approach later gave rise to the fourth wave of psychology: Positive Psychology. The prominent pioneers of positive psychology include Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi et al. It was Maslow who coined the term positive psychology in his book: Motivation and Personality. I won’t be delving into positive psychology in this series.

Abraham Maslow – Hierarchy Of Needs

Abraham Maslow (Credit: Wikipedia)
Abraham Maslow (Courtesy: Wikipedia)

Abraham Maslow (1908-1970) was an American psychologist best known for his hierarchy of needs. Maslow was the oldest of seven children and interestingly he was labelled as ‘mentally unstable’ by a psychologist. As he grew up and became one of the most important psychologists of his time, he stressed the importance of focusing on the positive qualities in people, as opposed to treating them as a ‘bag of symptoms.’

After his PhD in psychology, Maslow started his career teaching at Brooklyn College. There he came in contact with people like Adler, Fromm, Horney, as well as several Gestalt and Freudian psychologists. He also met Kurt Goldstein at Brooklyn, who had originated the idea of self-actualization in his book, The Organism (1934).  Maslow began his work for humanistic psychology here and continued to contribute to it in the later years.

Maslow: Hierarchy Of Needs (Courtsey: Wikipedia, User:Factoryjoe)
Maslow: Hierarchy Of Needs (Courtesy: Wikipedia, User:Factoryjoe)

In his original hierarchy of needs model,  he broadly categorized five needs into two categories: Deficit Needs (D-Needs) and Being Needs (B-Needs).  The first four needs are deficit needs and the last one, self-actualization is a being need.  These needs are discussed below –

  1. Physiological Needs – These are the most basic human needs. These needs include food, water, air, sleep and homeostasis – i.e. the tendency of biological systems to maintain relatively constant conditions in the internal environment while continuously interacting with and adjusting to changes originating within or outside the system. One cannot think of other needs unless these needs are met.
  2. Safety or Security Needs – These needs are second in hierarchy. These needs refer to having a stable job or income, physical and emotional security. We need safe environment – a home or some kind of a shelter once the primary physiological needs are met. These can manifest further into job stability, safer home, retirements funds and so on.
  3. Love & Belonging Needs – These needs form the third layer of needs. These needs show up when first two needs, physiological and safety needs are taken care of.  Need for friendship, need for companionship and intimate relationship or need for belonging to a group of peers or community can be termed as belonging needs. When one looks for sense of belonging, he/she is trying to fulfil this need.
  4. Esteem Needs – Once first three needs are more or less taken care of, the esteem needs become important. Maslow further distinguished these needs into lower esteem needs and higher esteem needs. The lower ones refer to the respect of others, the need for status, fame, recognition, attention, reputation, appreciation etc. Whereas higher ones refer to the need for self-respect, confidence, competence, achievement, mastery, independence and freedom. The higher needs are more about self, whereas the lower needs are primarily validations for others.  On the negative side, one may suffer low self-esteem and inferiority complex. These four types of needs are called Deficit Needs or D-Needs because if they are not met, one feels the deficit, one feels that need. However if they are adequately met, one doesn’t feel anything, one doesn’t feel that need.  Put simply, they cease to be motivating if they are taken care of.
  5. Self-Actualization – This is the topmost in this hierarchy of needs that Maslow initially proposed. Maslow has also referred to this need as Growth Motivation (as compared to deficit motivation) and Being Needs (or B-Needs). These needs are different from the deficit needs, they are needs of an individual. Unlike deficit needs, they get stronger as we fulfil them. In a nutshell, self-actualization is the perpetual desire to fulfill potentials, to be all that one can be. They are more about becoming the most complete, the fullest, self  that one is capable of being – hence the term, self-actualization. According to Maslow, if one has to be truly self-actualizing, his/her lower needs (i.e. first four deficit needs) should be taken care of, at least to a considerable extent. This is understandable, when one is hungry or has no shelter, he/she cannot think of fulfilling his/her potential but must meet those needs first. Thus, according to Maslow, when lower needs are unmet, one cannot think of fulfilling his/her potentials. However, there are several examples when individuals have created their art, work despite hunger or threatening, unsafe environment (Rembrandt, Van Gogh or Viktor Frankl for example) – and this is not explained by Maslow’s theory about hierarchy of needs.


According to Maslow, only about 2% of people actually self-actualize. He has described several characteristics of a self-actualized person based on his own biographical analysis of highly regarded self-actualized individuals such as Abraham Lincon, Albert Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Thomas Jefferson, Albert Schweitzer and few more. This is a small excerpt about self-actualized individuals

These (self-actualized) people were reality-centered, which means they could differentiate what is fake and dishonest from what is real and genuine. They were problem-centered, meaning they treated life’s difficulties as problems demanding solutions, not as personal troubles to be railed at or surrendered to. And they had a different perception of means and ends. They felt that the ends don’t necessarily justify the means, that the means could be ends themselves, and that the means – the journey – was often more important than the ends.

The self-actualizers also had a different way of relating to others. First, they enjoyed solitude, and were comfortable being alone. And they enjoyed deeper personal relations with a few close friends and family members, rather than more shallow relationships with many people.

They enjoyed autonomy, a relative independence from physical and social needs. And they resisted enculturation, that is, they were not susceptible to social pressure to be “well adjusted” or to “fit in” – they were, in fact, nonconformists in the best sense.

~ Excerpt from Personality Theories by Dr. C. George Boeree [1]

Maslow also discussed some of the flaws of self-actualizers. You can read more about this from any reputed book that discusses Maslow’s theory in details.

Expanded Hierarchy Of Needs

Maslow expanded his original five-stage model of hierarchy of needs to include Cognitive Needs and Aesthetic Needs and later added Transcendence Need to make it 7-stage and 8-stage model of hierarchy of needs. These 3 needs added later are classified under growth needs. The revised 8 stages are explained below –

  1. Physiological Needs – As explained above.
  2. Safety or Security Needs – As explained above.
  3. Love & Belonging Needs – As explained above.
  4. Esteem Needs – As explained above.
  5. Cognitive Needs – These needs include need for knowledge and understanding. They are fuelled by curiosity and exploration. These needs also include need for meaning, self-awareness and predictability.
  6. Aesthetic Needs –  These needs include appreciation and search for beauty, balance order and form.
  7. Self-Actualization – As explained above.
  8. Transcendence Need – This need is characterized by helping others to achieve self actualization and realize their potential. This is the topmost need that was added in 1970 by Maslow.

You can find detailed explanation of Maslow’s original 5-stage hierarchy and expanded hierarchy in the video included below.

Maslow was one of the most important psychologists in the recent times. He was one of the pioneers of the third wave (also called the third force) in psychology: Humanistic Psychology, and at the end of his life he became instrumental in starting the fourth wave: Trans-personal Psychology or Positive Psychology as it commonly called. His hierarchy of needs is one of the most referred theories in understanding human motivation and it is often used in psychology, management, organizational development and talent management.

Perhaps the most noteworthy criticism about Maslow is about his theory of self-actualization: Maslow’s self-actualization characteristics and conclusions are based on his readings and discussions with small number of people that he himself found as self-actualizers do not have reliable scientific ground. Moreover, Maslow suggested that only about 2% of human population can achieve self-actualization, whereas psychologist Carl Rogers and Kurt Goldstein felt that babies were the best examples of human self- actualization, quickly growing from their physiological needs to those higher needs.

Nevertheless, Maslow’s contribution is crucial as the founder of humanistic approach,  directing to more meaningful living and as a harbinger of positive psychology. I am closing this article by one of his insightful quotes –

Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves.  What humans can be, they must be.  They must be true to their own nature.  This need we may call self-actualization.

~ Abraham Maslow


  1. Personality Theories by Dr. C. George Boeree – Useful e-book for important personality theories
  2. Theories Of Personality by Schultz and Schultz
  3. Abraham Maslow on Wikipedia
  4. Simply Psychology for all miscellaneous references

About the featured image:

The featured image for this article is a free wallpaper from QuoteFancy and it features quote by Abraham Maslow. I am using this free wallpaper here with gratitude.

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