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Compare and Contrast Maslow's and Roger's Theories of Self Actualization

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Psychology
Wordcount: 4945 words Published: 10th Aug 2021

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Self actualisation a concept derived from the humanistic tradition approach to motivation. The humanistic domain of psychology focuses on the individuals’ potential and stresses the importance of growth and self-actualization. The general belief is that all individuals are innately good; mental and social problems are the result of deviations from this natural tendency, (http://psychology.about.com/od/historyofpsychology/a/hist_humanistic.htm). This essay will compare and contrast two personality theories of self actualization, the first being Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the second Rogers’ contribution around the concept of the fully functioning person. Before looking at this, it is first necessary to define the term ‘self-actualization’. Larsen and Buss defined self actualization as a ‘growth based motive, a motive to develop, to flourish, and to become more and more what one is destined to become. Maslow (1968) defined self actualization as ‘the process of becoming more and more what one idiosyncratically is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming’. Self Actualization is the individuals’ ability to recognize and reach all of their potentials, to reach the ultimate limit of themselves. Maslow suggested that unless an individual is doing what they were made to do, they cannot feel completely fulfilled, which will result in the individual feeling a state of restlessness or an expectance of feeling unachieved in the future. Both Maslow and Rogers agreed that all people are basically good and are able to self actualize.

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Maslow was the first psychologist to initiate theory and research in the area of the motive to self actualize. His theory of self actualization stemmed around the concept of ‘need’, believing that needs are hierarchically organized. More basic needs are found at bottom of pyramid and the self actualization need is at the top. Lower level needs at the bottom of the hierarchy are more important in terms of survival than higher level needs. Maslow’s hierarchy of needs has five levels. At the bottom is physiological needs, these ensure the immediate survival of an individual and include sleep, water, food air and reproduction. The next level within the hierarchy is safety needs, this includes an individuals needs for shelter; somewhere to live and security; feeling safe from the threat of danger. Leading a life which has routine by being predictable and structured also comes under expressing safety needs. The third level is the belongingness need; this is the need for an individual to be a part of a group such as a family or a peer group. If this need is not fulfilled the individual may feel lonely or isolated from their own social group. The feeling or need of being accepted by others within a group reflects an individuals needs on more of a psychological level which is different to the physiological needs shown in the two bottom tiers of the hierarchy. The fourth level up contains an individuals esteem needs. Maslow believed individuals needed to satisfy two types; esteem from others and self esteem; the level of esteem from others generally influences an individuals’ self esteem. Individuals want others to perceive them as being successful, competent and to feel recognition for their achievements and abilities. When individuals gain this esteem from others it is translated into self esteem; where an individual perceives themselves as being good, worthwhile and valuable. At the top of the hierarchy is the self actualization need, an individual needs to develop their full potential and to become everything they were meant to be. Self actualizers know who they are or what they want to be and have few doubts when making decisions about the direction their life should take.

Maslow claimed that the lower level needs within the hierarchy typically need to be satisfied first before beginning to satisfy the higher ones. This is because the lower level needs are more powerful and urgent when not satisfied due to them being relevant in terms of survival. The needs are arranged in this specific order showing that an individual generally has to have enough food and feel safe before attempting to earn esteem. Even though there are exceptions Maslow suggested that this theory was designed to reflect the average individual and most individuals do start at satisfying the lower level needs and work their way up. The need hierarchy emerges during human development, satisfying lower level needs is most important early on in life and gradually as the individual develops and satisfies these, the higher level needs become satisfied. Maslow theorized that when individuals attempt to satisfy their higher needs, motivation is weak and easily disrupted. ‘This inner tendency toward self actualization 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 pressures and wrong attitudes toward it,’ (Maslow (1968) in Larsen and Buss).

Maslow’s work had little empirical evidence it was based on his own personal thoughts about motivation towards self actualization. Rogers’s contrasted in that he focused more on the obstacles in the way preventing self actualization so he conducted many therapeutic sessions and techniques to look at these issues, supporting his theory. However, other researchers have tested Maslow’s theory and have found supporting results. Wicker et al (1993) conducted a study to test the theory that the lower level needs in the hierarchy are more problematic when not fulfilled compared to the higher level ones. The researcher asked participants questions about their feeling towards attaining or not attaining goals within different levels in the hierarchy such as having enough food and being part of a group. The findings showed that participants displayed more negative reactions if they were unable to attain the lower level needs. However, when looking at attaining the goals, more positive reactions were found towards achieving the higher level needs rather than the lower ones. This therefore supports Maslow’s ideas that lower level needs are more important in terms of survival and are therefore more important than higher level ones when not fulfilled.

An alternative explanation was developed by Rogers (1902-1987), this theory looked at self actualization in terms of what he called the fully functioning person. His theory suggests that the natural human instinct is to become fully functioning; this is when an individual already is or is on their way to becoming self actualized. Rogers’ defined self actualization as a tendency towards growth, the need to maintain and enhance life, which he suggested was in all humans. The goal of existence is to satisfy this need, (http://wilderdom.com/personality/L10-2Humanistic.html#Rogers). He theorised that individuals need to maintain and enhance themselves both physically and psychologically. Physical in terms of survival from food, warmth and avoiding physical danger. Psychological is on a higher level in terms of beginning to achieve self actualization by fulfilling potential from experiencing and learning new things for example. Rogers created the term of the ‘fully functioning person’ to describe individuals who are beginning to or have achieved self actualization.

Rogers suggested there are several characteristics or traits that describe a fully functioning individual, these include; being open to new experiences, centred in the present without dwelling on the past or thinking too much about the future. The individual trusts their own feelings and judgements without looking to others for guidance when making decisions; they are often unconventional and enjoy diversity within their daily life. Rogers’ theory of development shows there is one main motive in life, the motive to self actualize, for the individual to develop the self they were meant to be. He believed that all infants have an in-born need for the desire of positive self regard, a need to be loved and accepted by their parents and others. He suggested parents often make their positive regard contingent on conditions. For example by giving a child praise and encouragement for being involved in a football team, the child may continue to play football not because they enjoy it but to feel accepted and to earn the positive regard of their parents. These conditions to earn positive self regard are called conditions of worth. In this situation children can behave in certain ways to earn positive regard by attempting to live up to these conditions rather than doing what they actually want. If positive regard has to be earned by meeting particular conditions it is called conditional positive regard. If an individual attempts to please others by becoming what others want to them to become rather than considering their own desires and wants within life they are moving away from the ideals of the fully functioning person and therefore are no longer progressing to become self actualized. As these individuals progress into adulthood the focus is still on gaining the approval of others; always looking for conditions which must be satisfied to gain positive regard. These individuals attempt to make everyone happy other than themselves and often deny their weaknesses and faults. Eventually, a gap opens between the individuals’ actions and their true self. The individual attempts to cover the gap with perceptual distortions, denying the conflict between their true self and reality. Rogers claimed that these distortions can become so severe that it can result in the breakdown of the individuals’ personality. However, if positive regard from parents and others is given freely without conditions or contingencies this outcome can be avoided as the child feels accepted and loved exactly how they are, no matter what. This is called unconditional positive regard. When a child experiences unconditional positive regard they can accept themselves for who they are and experience new things without feeling a need to change themselves or their behaviour to fit in. these individuals are then able to trust themselves and to rely on their own feelings and interests. By taking on these characteristics the individual is fully functioning and therefore can begin to become self actualized and reach their full potential. This is where Rogers and Maslow’s theories contrast, Rogers believed that early childhood experiences are extremely influential in terms of achieving self actualization, whereas Maslow placed a lot less emphasis on this, focusing primarily on achieving needs within the hierarchy.

Rogers believed that the concept of the ‘self’ doesn’t exist at birth. Infants gradually differentiate self from non-self, the environment influences development, the nurture side of the nature/nurture debate.  This is the idea of self congruence, the self is constantly evolving. He suggested individuals have an ‘actual self’ and an ‘ideal self’. The actual self is what an individual currently is or that individual perceives themselves to be, the ideal self is the person or self the individual would like to be. Within a self actualized individual the gap between these two selves is small, there is congruence between the real and ideal self. Rogers also suggested a congruence between the actual self and experience. Experiences individuals come across should reflect the type of person they think they are. For example if an individual perceived themselves as being clever at maths and then fails a maths test there will be incongruence. Incongruence leads to a breakdown in how the individual perceives themselves to be, causing anxiety. However, Rogers believed individuals have mechanisms to defend themselves against incongruence; there are two types of defences. A fully functioning individual would attempt to change their self concept to allow it to fit with new experiences. However, another less functional mechanism is distortion, this is when the individual modifies the actual experience rather than their self concept; for example an individual telling themselves they failed an exam because the teacher didn’t teach them the right material not because they are not clever. Another less functional defence mechanism is the prevention of threatening experiences from reaching conscious awareness, in other words; denial. For example the individual may decide only to take simpler classes so they continue to receive high grades even though they are taking subjects that do not reflect their own desires, therefore they are no longer moving towards self actualization.

A first major point to consider where the two theories compare is in terms of the similar paths they theorize individuals to follow on their way to achieving self actualization. Both theories suggest that the more basic physiological needs, in terms of survival, have to be satisfied before an individual can begin to achieve their full potential.

Maslow and Rogers’ theories are similar in that they both believe that the need for acceptance can be more influential than the need for self-actualization. Maslow’s self esteem need can be compared to Rogers’ idea of conditions of worth. However, even though these theories of needs were similar, the two theories differed in what they considered to be the role of the need. Maslow suggested that esteem needs are a part of being human, they are not as important as achieving the need of self actualization. Rogers on the other hand believed that giving into conditions of worth was bad and actually has an influence in impeding the achievement of self actualization.

The two theories contrast in what they focus on after defining self actualization. Whereas Maslow focused on understanding the characteristics of self actualizing individuals Rogers not only looked at the characteristics but also considered the ways to attain self actualization as well as developing a therapy to overcome barriers restricted an individual from moving towards achieving their full potential. Maslow suggested that once an individual fulfils the basic needs within the hierarchy, they can begin to achieve self-actualization; this involves the individual experiencing feelings of self-acceptance, self-awareness, and unconditional positive regard. Maslow supported his theory by studying some people he felt had achieved their full potential, therefore were ‘self-actualized’, some of these individuals were people he knew and others were from the biographies of famous historical figures such as Albert Einstein and Thomas Jefferson. After looking at these individuals, Maslow found self actualized people appeared to share particular characteristics or personality traits. For example being creative and spontaneous, interested in solving problems, having an objective perspective and having focused energy on one particular task; their calling in life, (http://psychology.suite101.com/article.cfm/fulfill_your_potential).

Mathes (1978) showed that both Rogers and Maslow’s theories compared in that they can be both studied empirically due to their values having an organismic or biological basis. Whereas Rogers conducted research studies to support his theory, Maslow contrasted in that his research methods were few, therefore this study aimed to replicate his work to see if similar results were produced. In his previous research, Maslow asked participants what they valued; he found that self actualizing individuals valued a set of qualities that he called these metavalues. Some of these included uniqueness, perfection, justice and love. This study therefore involved participants’ scores on a measure of self actualization and a metavalues questionnaire being correlated. A positive, significant result was found supporting Maslow’s initial conclusions.

Like Rogers in his theory of self actualization, Maslow also considered the characteristics self actualized individuals seem to possess. These included the individual being realistic and accepting when perceiving themselves, others and the environment around them. These individuals are also spontaneous in their internal thoughts and external behaviour. Like Rogers, Maslow agreed self actualized individuals although generally conform to rules and social expectations they can also act in unconventional ways. Maslow suggested self actualized individuals are motivated by a sense of personal responsibility and are therefore able to solve problems within the external world and to help others. These individuals have a need for some independence and privacy to focus on developing their potential and they view the world and personal experiences with a sense of appreciation. The most important or famous characteristic that Maslow suggested within the self actualizing individual is the idea of peak experiences, an intense moment of self actualization. He defined this as a moment of intense joy, wonder, awe and ecstasy, after experiencing this powerful effect the individual feels inspired and that they have been given an idea of their higher self in a more clearly perceived reality, (Kastenbaum 1993).

Rogers on the other hand theorised that individuals needed to experience three particular conditions to promote growth, which leads to a person becoming self actualised; unconditional positive regard, empathetic understanding and acceptance. Rogers developed what he called ‘client centred therapy’ to help individuals when they are no longer moving towards self actualization. He suggested by removing the conditions of worth it solves the individuals’ problems. Treatment is primarily focused on the individual themselves; the therapist uses genuine acceptance towards the individual, empathetic understanding and unconditional positive self regard. The therapists aim is to allow the individual to perceive their own view of reality as having value; this allows them to accept themselves for who they are. This is done by the therapist repeating back to the individual what they say they are feeling in a form of empathetic understanding, the therapist never attempts to interpret the individuals’ problems. This allows the individual to see and understand their own thoughts and feelings without any distortion and in full as what they are saying is being directly reflected back from the therapist. The individual themselves therefore overcomes their problems own their own to begin to start moving towards self actualization again, the therapist just helps initiate the process.

Wickman and Campbell (2003) analysed the interaction between Rogers and Gloria, as well as looking at the three approaches to psychotherapy in one of Rogers’ famous client centred therapy sessions. They focused on Rogers’s conversational style when enacting his necessary conditions of empathy, genuineness and unconditional positive self regard to ensure therapeutic change. Gloria was a divorced woman with the problem of her daughters’ reactions to her seeing new people. Wickman and Campbell found that Rogers demonstrated his conditions in subtle ways, showing that he didn’t just listen to the client and decide this was a the right time to show empathy he had ‘automatized the conditions into his natural communication style’. The findings showed that his conversational style was congruent with his initial theory and proved to be effective supporting his theory into getting back on track to move towards self actualization. Rogers also explicitly demonstrated in the session that he did not have the answers for Gloria he was merely helping her back on her way towards growth and self actualization.

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Both Rogers and Maslow believed psychology should take an optimistic view of human behaviour instead of only considering the causes of psychological disorders. They both agreed all humans have an innate drive towards growth, evolving to a higher state of being, achieving self actualization, (Weiten 2003). Both theories suggest that the aim for an individual to reach their full potential and to become a more complete person is often blocked and leads to a sense of feeling frustrated, (Kastenbaum 1993). Both Rogers and Maslow held similar ideas when emphasizing the importance of self actualization; they both suggested it is a process of growing and developing as a person to achieve individual potential, (http://psychology.about.com/od/theoriesofpersonality/tp/self-actualized-characteristic.htm). Rogers’ theory considers the development of an individual towards self actualization across their lifespan, he looked at the importance of early experiences in receiving unconditional positive regard as well as defining processes that facilitate and disrupt development towards achieving self actualization. This idea can be compared to Maslow’s theory who also theorized that development towards self actualization is a gradual growth process developing throughout life, beginning with fulfilling the more basic needs before progressing to the individual reaching their full potential.

Walsh (1982) looked at the experiences and conclusions of participants who met Maslow’s criteria of self actualization. These individuals were all found to have a high level of psychological or consciousness discipline. It was found that participants reported that their experiences had a significant role in development towards personal and professional growth. These findings therefore provide support for both Maslow and Rogers’s theories, where they both suggested that moving towards self actualization occurs across an individual’s life span and is a process of growth to reach ones full potential.

Maslow’s theory is often criticized in how he defined the concept of self actualization; he never created a way to measure this concept, which is difficult to test scientifically. His research into self actualization was mainly based on his own thoughts and ideas only supported by a small sample of individuals of people he knew and from the biographies of individuals he perceived to be self actualized such as Einstein. Ginsburg (1984) criticized the concept of self actualization as defined by both Maslow and Rogers. He believed the two definitions of the concept from both theorists lacked theoretical and empirical evidence. He suggested that using the term ‘self’ when describing an individuals potential was somatic and that linear thought was ‘inappropriate to understanding concepts such as self and autonomy as well as any living system’. This therefore shows that both theories compare in terms of there criticisms towards the actual definition of self actualization.

Even though the two theories were criticised in terms of their limited scientific explanation of the term self actualization, it demonstrated a change in thoughts within psychology. Rather than just considering abnormal behaviour, Maslow’s version of humanistic psychology looked at the development of healthy individuals. Rogers’s theory, although similar when suggesting the healthy individuals’ development towards self actualization, generally focused on what occurs when an individual is no longer moving towards self actualization. This shows a contrast between the two theories in that Rogers’ focus was based more on the client therapy treatment in overcoming issues which caused individuals to be blocked in developing growth towards achieving self actualization.

Geller (1982) argued that both Rogers and Maslow’s theories into self actualization were incorrect. He criticized them in that he claimed their conception of self actualization cannot be transferred to real life, stating they are ‘unworkable in practice’. Maslow’s theory in particular, he argued, is reductionist when explain the self and human needs. Geller also suggested that both theories gave little in helping to understand or improve humankind within today’s society.

Research conducted by Chang and Page (1991) disagreed with Geller (1882) showing that whilst Rogers and Maslow’s theories compare in that they are both incomplete theories, they have also both been very influential within the humanistic psychology movement in the USA. The two theories suggest that the aim of psychotherapy is to help individuals develop their own potential towards self actualization. Chang and Page conducted a cross cultural comparison into the theories of fully developing human potential, it was found people appear to have a common view of humanity and towards self actualization suggesting a universality of human experience. This again shows the two theories are not only similar but also provides support for both when explaining human development towards achieving their full potential. Chang and Page suggest the two theories are similar and provide support for each others ideas based on similar findings from research conducted on Maslow’s and Rogers’s theories. From studies and observations both Maslow and Rogers defined similar characteristics and traits self actualizing individuals appear to possess. Both theories suggest that the self actualizing individual is free to make choices and uses not only the physical and social environment but also personal resources to ensure growth towards reaching their potential. Rogers and Maslow compare in that they both believe the self actualizing individual to be resilient when coping with new circumstances and hold an acceptance of reality, they have realistic perceptions and do not need to distort experiences. The two theories have real world application in that the goal towards self actualization is a major focus counsellors rely on when attempting to create positive changes within their clients.

Leclerc et al (1998) showed that the two theories of self actualization developed by Rogers and Maslow compared in that they are still both very influential today, holding significant implications for psychology in terms of the conception of humans. Both theories have been subject to heavy criticism; however the concept of self actualization is still widely used today and initiates a substantial amount of research. Both Rogers and Maslow are similar in that they have both been criticised in their vagueness of defining what self actualisation actually means.

Maslow estimated that approximately only one percent of individuals are motivated towards growth and becoming self actualized (Larsen and Buss 2008). Most individuals live between the belongingness need and self esteem needs, for example by focusing on maintaining relationships. He suggested this is because self actualization is the weakest of needs and easily impeded. However, Rogers in contrast believed all individuals are capable of becoming self actualized; he saw it as a natural, innate state of human growth. The only thing that prevents an individual from reaching their full potential is due to being fixated on conditions of worth which he attempted to remove by the use of his client centred therapy to allow the individual to continue towards self actualization.

Research conducted by Miller (2004) demonstrated that the two theories initiated by Rogers and Maslow compared in that they both considered the process towards self actualization to be ‘multi-dimensional’. This means that they both felt that all aspects of the human experience are needed as a whole to become self actualized. Each new experience an individual has brings with them all of their experiences up until that point in time, the whole of the person is needed to allow the individual to reach their full potential. The two theories differed in that Rogers believed all people were capable of and should move towards self actualization as a innate form of development, Maslow on the other hand suggested only a few individuals actually were able to attempt to achieve their full potential. Miller agreed with Maslow and from her research suggested most individuals were ‘asleep’ whilst few were fully experiencing the completeness of a ‘liberated soul’ and achieving self actualization.

Overall, after comparing and contrasting the two theories of self actualization developed by Rogers and Maslow the evidence appears to show that the theories contrast in that Rogers believed all people were capable of and aimed to become self actualized. Maslow on the other hand felt that only a very small minority strived towards self actualization. Rogers primarily focused on therapy techniques to help individuals overcome barriers preventing them from reaching their full potential; Maslow conducted few research studies to support his ideas. Previous research conducted generally suggests that the two theories are very similar in their general description and definition of self actualization; they both suggest similar characteristics and traits of a self actualizing individual. Research findings generally have not suggested that one theory is more valid or representative than the other, Rogers and Maslow appear to have a similar theoretical basis towards self actualization, although it may be suggested Rogers’ ideas are more valid due to his extensive supporting research in his development of client centred therapy.


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