Puzzles, Pyramids and The Theories of Personality

They will learn about Abraham Maslow They will learn about his pyramid of needs They will learn about what motivates people

?There are many theories of personality in psychology and I will visit some of them from time to time as the moderator of the psychology channel. Right now I want to revisit the work of Abraham Maslow and put forth my own theory of personality for my readers to ponder

Let is start with the work of Abraham Maslow

Abraham Harold Maslow was one of the most famous American psychologists who made wonderful contributions to the field of psychology. He was born in 1908 and passed on in 1970. His legacy to the world is the foundation of the branch of psychology called humanistic psychology.

Maslow was born Brooklyn, New York. His parents were Russian immigrants. He grew up lonely being the only Jewish kid in the neighbourhood. Since he really had no friends he spent most of his time reading books in the library. He received his psychology undergraduate degree at Cornell University. However, he transferred to the University of Wisconsin for his graduate degree.

At first his interests were in primate behavior and sexuality, until he met Alfred Adler, who had been instructed by none other than Sigmund Freud himself. From 1937 to 1951 while teaching at Brooklyn, College he was greatly influenced by the work of the renown anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, and psychologist, Max Wertheimer, who was one of the founders of Gestalt psychology. Both these great scientists allowed Maslow to study them in regards to human behavior and its potential for growth and mental health. This study would become his life work.

Psychology had already advanced from Freudian thinking which, was known as the first wave of psychology and then behaviorism, the second wave to what later would be called the third wave of psychology or the humanistic branch of psychology. Maslow was to effectively put his spin on psychology and human behavior.

Instead of treating people as sick, or just a biological organism running on habit or instinct, Maslow chose to view humans as thinking human creatures with needs and wants.

Like many of the great psychologists, his theory of human personality and growth potential was based on his own experiences. He drew upon his own Jewish background growing up isolated and how he moved forward from that experience.

Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

This theory was first presented in 1954 and revised in 1970. The hierarchy of needs is also called the Pyramid of Needs because Maslow formulated a system of human needs in a series of levels, which he illustrated in the form of a pyramid. The levels of the pyramid reflect the frequency of the needs and wants of people. The bottom level is the broad base where everyone’s needs must first be met. As these needs are fulfilled, the individual advances to the next level, which gets narrower like a pyramid. Very few people get to the top level, which Maslow coined as self-actualization.

Five different levels of the hierarchy

1. Deficiency needs

These first needs are common to everyone, people need food, shelter, water, and so on and these basic needs are the driving force behind human survival. Humans must first satisfy these needs before looking for anything else in life. Think about it, if you do not have a home to live in or food to eat, you ’re not about to go looking into a graduate program at university or join a bowling team as you want to find a place to live and food for your belly.

2. Once these basic needs are met, the need for structure and security become evident. If we look at the evolution of humankind we can see this through the development of neighbourhoods, communities and society. Humans have a need to feel safe and secure. They must know that they are safe in their environment. Thus, we have the development of the police force, the military, home security systems and neighbourhood watch, to name of few ways of feeling safe and secure.

3. Up until now, according to Maslow’s theory, humans are basing their needs on things that benefit them as a person, meaning satisfying their hunger and making sure they are secure and not harmed. These are the most basic needs for survival. Now we focus on humans reaching out to others to form social bonds. Here the individual will want to have friends, get married, join social organizations etc. Remember this is a progression and humans will not look to join a bowling league if they are almost starving to death.

4. This level involves esteem issues. People have a need to be recognized, accepted, and have a sense of status within their society or social group. Parents want to be recognized as good parents, teachers as good instructors, sportspeople as excellent athletes in their field, writers as good writers, or the president as a good president and so on. When these needs are not met, humans can feel discouraged or inferior.

5. The top of the pyramid is very narrow and closes because this is the highest level of human functioning according to Maslow. This level of functioning is called self-actualization, where an individual has achieved his or her full potential. Maslow maintained that very few people reach this level in life. He had prepared a list of individuals who had attained self-actualization essentially meaning the best that they could be and among that list was Abraham Lincoln.

Maslow did however state that these levels were not edged in stone and people would move up and down all through their lives as situations and circumstances changed. For example a wealthy businessman looses everything on the stock market and must start off again from scratch.

Critics have maintained that no such level boundaries exist in real life.

I agree with the critics.

A baby needs to eat and be changed, but he or she also needs to be loved and the toddler still dependant on basic needs also needs to be encouraged and praised.

Long before I ever heard of Maslow in university, I had a theory of my own.

My theory of personality reflected a puzzle, and each human life is a puzzle with pieces missing. Through life we constantly attempt to put the pieces of the puzzle together. If we manage to fit in those pieces nicely we are happy, if some of the pieces are missing we are either unhappy or we continue to search for happiness and for answers to life’s most complicated circumstances.

Each piece of the puzzle would be a different shape and size depending on how important it is to the individual. Each piece is unique. To a starving person food is the biggest piece of the puzzle, but to a wealthy person it would be rather small because that need has been fulfilled and in place.

What would be included in a person’s puzzle would be the things that are most important to them. For me it would be spirituality, finance, family and friends, and writing. My needs have changed over the years and so has my puzzle. The same will be for everyone else as well.

The biggest piece of the puzzle would always be the most needed need and then there are smaller ones. The smallest ones may even disappear over time if they were not that needed in the first place. I once wanted my own home. I never got one. Now in this stage of my life I no longer want it.

Others may actually grow in size. I liked writing when I was younger but limited my writing schoolwork, now writing has become a part of me, I write for a living and I write because I have a passion for it.

Sometimes we might think we want something badly, but we are not socially or mentally ready for it. When this situation occurs the once big piece of the puzzle will then decrease or even fade away. An example of this happening would be a person who has just come out of a relationship and wants to jump into another relationship immediately, this puzzle piece might be their biggest piece, yet they soon find that it would be best to stay alone and heal before moving on. That puzzle piece has disappeared at this particular point in their lives. Of course it could always resurface at a later date.

Some pieces of the puzzle will not fit because they were never meant to in the first place. An example would be a young man who badly wants to become a professional ball player, yet he was never good enough. It does not mean that the piece of the puzzle has to be thrown out only to leave a big hole in his life, the puzzle piece could be modified to a smaller piece that includes an element of the bigger piece, such as coaching ball and so on.

Sometimes puzzle pieces don’t fit because there are sharp edges that don’t fit with other pieces. An example of this situation would be conflicting values. A person may feel he/she wants a committed relationship and then this becomes a puzzle piece, however, at the same time the person really values his/her independence and this is another big puzzle piece in this individual’s life. In this situation, the person would have to modify these pieces to fit together. It might mean that he/she must be less independent, or may have to drop one of the pieces altogether; such as deciding independence is much more important to than a full-fledged commitment.

Everyone’s puzzle will be different and each person’s puzzle will change as his or her needs change.

Unlike Maslow’s pyramid, the life puzzle will change and we will need several pieces to be filled at the same time. There are no boundaries in the life puzzle; pieces can fit badly like independence and commitment or they can fit well like love and marriage.

Those of us who feel their puzzle is complete will have self-actualized. They are happy and fulfilled. The rest of us will continue to search for, revise and fine-tune our pieces of life.

Is your life puzzle complete or are you still searching?




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