Humanistic personality theory relates to human experiences, uniqueness, freedom of choice, and meaning. It claims that human beings have the self-determination, free will, and do not behave in a determined manner all the time. Thus, they are vital agents who carry the ability to determine their own development and have the willingness to become what they want to. That is, human beings are self-reliant and capable of positive self-direction.
Accordingly, the humanistic theory of personality development as opposed to the psychoanalytic or behaviorist view of personality development. It extended its influence during the 1970s and 1980s.
Freudian psychoanalysis claimed that childhood experiences and unconscious drives influenced human personality. However, other psychologists criticized the theory on the grounds that it gives too much importance to the deterministic roles of biology and the unconscious. In other words, it did not consider the influence of the conscious mind on personality development.
Whereas, behaviorism believes that the environment in which human beings grow makes them who they are. Behaviorism is the oldest theory of personality that dismisses the internal workings of human beings. Accordingly, it assumes that human beings are not moral thinking entities and do not have free will.
Humanistic psychology is the ‘Third Force’. This field in Psychology was as an answer to the first two forces of psychoanalysis and behaviorism in psychology. This is because humanistic psychologists like Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow saw some limitations in psychoanalytic and behaviorist psychology.
In this article, we will discuss what is the humanistic theory of personality and what humanistic personality theory has been criticized for.
Humanistic Theory of Personality Definition
Humanistic personality theory states that people have self-motivation to achieve their potentialities and have a free will. Such a theory analyzes an individual as an organized whole having unique potentialities.
Accordingly, humanistic personality theory claims that human personality must be studied from the standpoint of a person’s subjective experience. It assumes that a person’s subjective or individual understanding of the world is more important than his objective reality.
A person’s subjective reality is nothing but his conscious experience, the way he perceives the world and things around him.
In addition to this, the humanistic theory of personality also believes in the existential assumption that humans have free will. That is, they make choices, have varied experiences, and bear their outcomes.
Unlike the pessimistic determinism of psychoanalysis and behaviorism, the humanistic theory of personality is optimistic in its approach. It assumes that human beings are generally good and have the inherent need of making themselves and the world around them better.
This theory concentrates on the creative and agile nature of humans and their ability to deal with challenging times, pain, and hopelessness. Further, the theory assumes that individuals have the motivation to achieve the higher need of self-actualization.
The humanistic psychologists, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers, claimed that humans possess self-motivation. Hence, they can achieve personal growth and fulfillment. In other words, humans seek psychological growth and continuous self-improvement.
However, both Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow gave different ways in which humans seek self-actualization.
Carl Rogers Humanistic Theory of Personality
Carl Rogers was a well-known humanistic psychologist who was part of the humanist movement of the 1960s. Both Rogers and Maslow emphasized on the change and growth potential of healthy human beings.
As humanistic psychologists, both Maslow and Rogers claimed that humans have free will. However, both were critical about biology being deterministic, which was the primary characteristic of both psychoanalysis and behaviorism.
In other words, both focused on humans having free choice and self-determination to become the best individuals they can become.
However, Rogers believed that for a person to grow into a healthy personality, he needs a genuine, accepting, and empathetic environment.
In other words, an open environment can help the individual to self-disclose. Further, such an environment must positively regard the individual, understand him, and hear his side of the story.
In the absence of these things, it is not possible for a person to have a healthy personality and relationships.
He was of the view that people can become whatever they wish to. They can achieve their goals and desires in life. And if they are able to do so, they achieve self-actualization.
This was one of the important contributions that Carl Rogers made. As per his humanistic theory of personality, there are a number of things that one must fulfill to grow into a healthy personality.
Let’s first have a look at the structure of personality in Carl Rogers’s humanistic theory of personality to better understand his theory.
1. Organism or Phenomenal Field
The organism refers to the complete individual considered as an organized whole. Further, Rogers claims that humans are the center of their experiences or subjective reality called the phenomenal field.
The phenomenal field is nothing but the totality of an individual’s experience. These experiences refer to the impact of sensory or physiological events taking place at the moment on the individual.
2. Awareness, Consciousness, or Symbolization
Rogers makes use of the terms awareness, consciousness, and symbolization interchangeably in his theory. Consciousness or awareness symbolically represents a part of the experience.
Perception is a hypothesis for action that comes into his awareness when affected by external stimuli. Accordingly, perception is a narrow term as compared to awareness.
This is because perception focuses on the importance of external stimuli. Whereas, awareness refers solely to the internal stimuli.
Let’s understand what Rogers means by perception as a hypothesis to action. According to him, when a person perceives an object, (say the object here is the individual’s sister), he makes a prediction about that object.
In other words, such a person predicts that the stimuli received from the object would show properties that he has been used to out of his past experience with the object.
In other words, such a stimulus received from the object is characteristic to the object.
Subception denotes discrimination without awareness. In other words, Subception is the limit to which an individual can discriminate on a preconscious level an event or experience as threatening. Further, such discrimination is without the awareness of the threat.
The Self is the central concept of Carl Rogers’s humanistic theory of personality. It is a distinguished part of the complete perceptual field of the individual. Self is the conscious sense of free will, the awareness of one’s being and functioning.
It is an organized whole that is made of perceptions and concepts of characteristics, goals, and potentialities of ‘I’. Further, it also includes the relationship of ‘I’ to various aspects of life and values associated with these perceptions.
Rogers defines Self as only the experience that is available to one’s awareness. However, it may not be necessary in his awareness at the present moment. Basically, Self is what you think about, perceive and analyze yourself.
In other words, the self is the view you have of yourself and the amount of value you place on yourself.
How Does Self Develop?
According to Rogers, the self develops as an outcome of the interaction of a person with the environment.
And it’s not just interaction, but an analytical interaction with those around. For instance, an infant eventually becomes aware of the difference between himself and others.
Likewise, he understands that there are certain things that are individual to him and things that are unique to the environment around him.
Further, such an infant builds relationships with whatever he comes in touch with. Not only that, he is even analyzing these relationships and categorizing them as good or bad.
Rogers further claims that it is critical to understand that only direct experience does not develop values. But, even other people help in learning and understanding values in a distorted way, as if experienced directly.
For example, a child may want to hurt his baby brother. However, on being told by the mother that it is good to like the baby brother, the child may believe that he does not really want to hurt his baby brother. Although, he may have a very strong intent to hurt him.
Therefore, the concept of self develops as a result of these two experiences – direct experiences and the ones introjected.
6. The Ideal Self
The Ideal Self refers to the self-concept that an individual would like to achieve. It is what you would like to become.
According to Rogers, all is well when there is no gap between the concept of self and the ideal self. However, a mismatch between the self and the ideal self impacts how much you value yourself.
Thus, there may be an inconsistency between a person’s ideal self and his actual experiences in life. This is called incongruence.
However, where there is no gap between the concept of self and ideal self, it is called a state of congruence. Congruence is the result of unconditional positive regard.
And for a person to achieve self-actualization, he must be in a state of congruence.
According to Carl Rogers, every individual has the innate desire to achieve his highest possible self (self – actualization), maintain and enhance himself. In other words, every person has positive impulses towards growth and normality.
Thus, humans are generally good and have an individual drive for growth, health, and adjustment. They have the tendency within themselves to self-actualize, expand, develop, and extend their potentialities, become autonomous, and mature.
According to Rogers, the process of self-actualization is a holistic concept. Accordingly, the organism reacts as an organized whole to its experiences. Thus, all the psychological and physiological needs are partial aspects of this fundamental need of self-actualization.
Thus, you cannot understand human activity by simply studying some aspects of his personality. This is because each of these aspects are dependent on each other.
All human behavior, thus, is a goal-directed trial of an individual to fulfill his perceived needs. It seeks to achieve the goal of self-actualization, improvement, and maintenance of the individual.
And if you see it from the psychological point of view, it is not necessarily reality but the perception of reality that is important in determining behavior. That is, each individual resides in his own subjective world. Thus, each individual’s reality comes from his understanding of the world. And, thus, behaves according to his perception.
For example, a son and daughter may have different perceptions of their parents. Thus, each of them may behave differently with their parents in a given situation.
The Importance of the Present
As mentioned above, behavior is directly influenced by one’s perception of things, people, the world around, etc. Therefore, Rogers claims that the present is very important in meeting the needs.
Although one cannot ignore the past and the present since individuals come from the past and aim towards the future. However, one is motivated for action due to a present need.
In this theory of motivation, you must remember that behavior is not caused by something that happened in the past. However, the tension and needs in the present motivate individuals towards action.
The Congruence Between ‘The Self’ and ‘The Ideal Self’
As mentioned earlier, the Self is the perception of an individual about himself. ‘The Ideal Self’ is what he wishes to become. If there is a congruence between the self and the ideal self, it leads to an increased sense of self-worth and healthy life.
However, if there is a gap between the self and the ideal self, the individual attempts to behave in ways that are compatible with the self. This is to avoid threatening the self.
To avoid the threats to the self-structure, an individual builds defenses against these threats. Such defenses may include denying to acknowledge these threats into consciousness.
Accordingly, an individual’s perception or understanding is selective in nature. Its main criteria for selection is whether a particular experience is compatible with the self-structure at present.
Thus, this selective nature of perception decides whether a person will take, ignore, or deny a particular experience.
However, Rogers claims that behavior can be the result of organic experiences and needs which are inconsistent with the self-concept.
Such a behavior that is inconsistent with the self-concept is typically not taken as the one that an individual can showcase. Such incongruence between the actual experience and the denial of such experience to maintain the self-structure results in psychological maladjustment.
Thus, inconsistency between the self and the ‘ideal self’ results in maladjustment.
Why Does Conflict Between The Self and the Actual Experience Occur?
According to Rogers, the main reason behind the conflict between the self and experience is the need for positive regard.
Positive regard denotes attitudes like respect, sympathy, and warmth. And for a healthy personality and less inconsistency between the self and the ideal self, it is important that the person receives unconditional positive regard.
Unconditional Positive Regard
Unconditional Positive Regard means that a person deeply respects and values the innate worth of the other. This is despite a person cannot equally value all the actions of the other.
This is much like a mother loves her child while identifying that some actions of the child are worth more praising than the others.
In other words, one needs to value or prize the other the way he/she is.
People who are brought up in such an environment of unconditional positive regard attain self-actualization.
Thus, under favorable social-environmental conditions, an individual’s self-concept is actualized according to his organismic value process (OVP).
Organismic Value Process (OVP)
OVP means analyzing experiences in a way that is coherent with an individual’s intrinsic needs. Every infant has an innate motivational system. He also has a regulatory system or a valuing process that encourages the organism to meet its motivational needs by its feedback.
Further, Rogers gave the term ‘fully functional person’ as the one who is a model of autonomous psychological functioning. This happens when the self-actualization is coherent with one’s intrinsic needs or is organismically congruent.
Such individuals are able to satisfy their most basic needs, as given by Maslow. Further, they accept and regard others positively, value deep relationships, and are open to experiences.
However, there are people who are subject to conditional positive regard. This is a situation where love and affection are given based on certain conditions. Thus, such individuals have to fulfill those conditions to get the love and positive regard they want.
Therefore, their ideal self is determined by others based on these conditions. Accordingly, they are compelled to grow separate from their true actualizing tendency. This results in incongruence and widens the gap between the self and the ideal self.
8. The Good Life
According to Carl Rogers, a good life will be the one that is fluid and a changing process of becoming. It is a life in which a person is happy to be a process and not a product. That is, he is not disturbed to realize the fact that he is changing continuously in terms of experience.
Thus, a fully functioning person will inch towards increased self-direction, take responsibility, and choose the goals he wants to achieve in life.
According to Rogers, some of the characteristics of fully functioning individuals are as follows:
1. Increasing Self Acceptance or Organismic Trust
This refers to the congruence between the self-concept and the ideal self.
2. Openness to Experience
Here, the individuals move away from defensiveness. That is, these individuals trust their own judgment and their potentiality to choose a behavior that is suitable for a given situation.
3. Accepting About Others’ Experiences
A fully functioning individual is more accepting of other persons. He experiences an increased need for true interpersonal relationships where he can be what he truly is.
4. Live an Existential Lifestyle
Fully functional individuals live the present moment to their best ability in place of altering the moment to fit personality or self-concept.
5. Practice Free Will
These individuals are not constrained by the incongruence between the self-concept and the ideal self. In fact, they make a wide variety of choices smoothly. Further, they are of the view that they have a role to play in determining their behavior. Thus, such individuals take responsibility for their behavior.
6. Highly Creative Individuals
They are highly creative when it comes to adapting to their situation and do not feel the need to seek confirmation.
7. Can Be Trusted to Act Constructively
These individuals can be trusted to act constructively. Needless to say, even the demanding needs would be met by the innate goodness in individuals who experience congruence between self and the ideal self.
8. Experience an Enriching Life
These individuals experience joy and sorrow, courage and fear more deeply.
Client Centered Counseling
Carl Rogers outlined Person-centered theory or Client-centered counseling in one of his important papers. The paper was titled “ A Theory of Therapy, Personality, and Interpersonal Relationships, as Developed in the client-Centered Framework (1959).
Person-centered theory as given by Rogers assumes that humans have an innate tendency towards growth, development, and highest functioning. This assumption, thus, acts as a guiding principle for client-centered counseling.
As per person-centered therapy, human beings have the inherent motivational drive called the actualizing tendency.
According to Rogers, the actualizing tendency is the innate tendency of the living being to enhance its capacities so that these help in maintaining or improving the organism.
Such a tendency includes moving towards autonomy and away from control by outside forces.
Further, Rogers claims that given the favorable social-environmental conditions, an individual is able to become what he truly desires.
Therefore, the aim of client-centered counseling is to create conducive social environmental conditions. This will enable the client to analyze experiences organismically instead of analyzing them according to his or her conditions of worth.
Criticism of Carl Rogers Theory of Humanistic Personality
Carl Rogers’s theory of personality and humanistic psychology has been criticized for the lack of empirical evidence used while researching. The overall view of humanism permits variation to a greater extent. However, it does not recognize sufficient constant variables that could be researched with correctness.
Also, psychologists are also concerned about Roger’s excessive emphasis on the subjective experience of an individual. This is because it does not fully explain society’s influence on personality development.
Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Abraham Maslow is regarded as one of the founding fathers of human psychology. Maslow’s humanistic theory of personality claims that humans achieve their highest potential by moving from fulfilling their basic needs to self-actualization needs.
Abraham Maslow claimed that humans are motivated to achieve certain needs and that some needs are more important than others. Being a leader of humanistic psychology, Maslow studied human personality by concentrating on free will, subjective experiences, and the inherent drive for self-actualization.
He made a significant contribution to humanistic psychology by claiming that human needs change through the life of individuals. Further, these needs contribute to the development of human personality.
In fact, Maslow regarded human psychology as completing what Sigmund Freud initiated. He said, “It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it with the healthy part.”
In the 20th century, psychologists were mainly bothered about the sickness that affected the human mind. However, Maslow felt that psychology isn’t just about relieving people from mental illness. Its aim is also to help people develop and that’s why it is important to understand what contributes to a healthy personality.
Therefore, he developed the humanistic theory of personality called Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In this theory, Maslow ranks human needs in sequence from the most basic needs to the higher needs of self-actualization.
Accordingly, people are driven by five levels of needs which are as follows:
1. Physiological Needs
Physiological needs refer to the basic, biological needs that are necessary for human survival. These include food, drink, shelter, air, clothing, warmth, sex, etc.
It is very important to fulfill these needs for the proper functioning of an individual. According to Maslow, physiological needs are the most important because all the other needs become subsidiary until these basic needs are not fulfilled.
2. Safety or Security Needs
Upon the fulfillment of the basic needs, the next set of needs that become critical to be satisfied are the safety and security needs. These needs deal with protection and safeguarding oneself from social disturbances, crisis, war, conflicts, etc for one’s survival.
This is because Individuals seek order, predictability, and control in life. Accordingly, safety needs can be fulfilled by both family and society.
For example, financial security such as employment, social security like social welfare and stability, law and order, health and wellbeing, etc.
3.Love or Belonging Needs
Once the basic and safety needs are satisfied, the third level includes the needs of belongingness. As people feel safe, they now feel the need to identify and belong to a family, community, and other groups in society.
Love and belongingness relate to the human need for building interpersonal relationships, seek affiliations, association, being included in the group.
Examples of belongingness needs include relationships, love, intimacy, friendship, trust, acceptance, and giving and seeking care.
4. Esteem and Prestige Needs or Ego Needs
The fourth set of needs in Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs are the needs of self-worth, achievement, and respect. Once they identify themselves with and feel safe in a social environment, individuals seek self-respect, recognition, reputation, status, and self-worth.
According to Maslow, esteem needs are further of two types: a) Self-esteem needs b) Respect for others. Further, this is a critical need both for children and adolescents that paves way for self-esteem and respect in the real sense.
5. Self Actualization Needs or Self – Realization Needs
These are the highest order of needs in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. These needs deal with achieving one’s full potential, seeking self-growth and fulfillment, and the highest order of experiences.
According to Maslow, this level refers to a person becoming everything he wants to, thus achieving his highest potential. Individuals specifically focus on realizing these higher-order needs.
For instance, one may have the strong will to achieve financially, while the other may want to become an ideal partner.
Humanistic Existential Theory of Personality
Another important component of humanism was existentialism. Existentialism is a philosophical approach that focuses on the overall view of human beings. Accordingly, it confirms the nature of human thought, choices, and behavior.
It concentrates on the need and the capacity of humans to find their purpose in this complicated world that in itself does not have any meaning.
Therefore, it is in many ways similar to the humanistic approach to psychology which rejects the deterministic approach of psychoanalysis as well as behaviorism.
The way the Existential approach is different from the humanistic approach is its even strong focus on choice, free will, self-determination, and the motivation to find one’s purpose.
Important Concepts of Existential Approach
Anxiety is an important concept covered under existentialism. It says that anxiety is the outcome of a whole lot of responsibility that results from freedom.
When you have free will, you also need to take responsibility for the choices that you make in life for yourself and their outcomes.
Angst, on the other hand, is the acceptance of one’s mortality in the future so as to live a fulfilling life.
This refers to embracing and living to the fullest the life that one chooses for himself
Despair refers to experiencing irritation and feeling disgusted when one is not able to achieve the life he wanted to create. For example, an individual who dreamed of becoming a writer would experience despair if he is not able to become one in life.
Irvin Yalom and Paul Tillich applied the existential approach to psychotherapy. Yalom believed that there exist certain themes that are experienced by all individuals. These include death, isolation, freedom, and emptiness.
Likewise, Tillich proposed that existential psychotherapy concentrated on catering to important issues of life. These included loneliness, suffering, and the meaninglessness of life.
Accordingly, existential therapists do not consider angst, despair, or anxiety as an indication of some mental disorder. However, they consider it as a usual part of the experience when humans face these challenging times in life.
These therapists motivate the clients to use anxiety to make reasonable choices in life by empathizing and supporting them. Further, they ask clients to take responsibility for their life and reason instead of reacting to various situations they go through.
How Does Humanistic Theory Differ from Cognitive Theory of Personality?
Humanistic Theory of Personality
As mentioned above, Humanistic Theory holds a positive view about human beings and their capacity for self-determination. Known as the third force in psychology after psychoanalysis and behaviorism, the humanistic theory is directed by the belief that intent and ethical values determine human behavior.
Humanistic psychologists endeavored to strengthen human qualities of creativity, choice, free will, self-awareness, responsibility, and trustworthiness. The humanistic theory of personality was developed as a reaction to psychoanalysis and behaviorism.
This is because humanistic psychologists rejected behaviorism’s insistence on applying science to human behavior. They believed that behaviorism ignored the subjective experience of human beings. Likewise, according to humanistic psychologists, psychoanalysis’ focus on the unconscious treated the conscious side as insignificant.
Cognitive Theory of Personality
Cognitive Theory relates to the study of mental procedures like learning, memory, perception, attention, problem solving, language, and thinking. The term Cognitive Psychology was first given by Ulric Neisser.
He defined cognitive psychology as all the processes by which the sensory input is transformed, reduced, elaborated, stored, recovered, and used.
A cognitive perspective for the study of personality includes social cognition. Social cognition concentrates on how human beings process, store, and use information about other people and social situations. The social cognitive perspective of personality gives importance to observational learning, cognitive processes, and situational things that influence people.
It involves how people perceive others and the world around them. Further, it includes the study of mental processes that help in processing, perceiving, remembering, dealing with other people.
1. What is the humanistic theory of personality?
The humanistic theory of personality considers an overall view of human beings and the uniqueness of each individual. It emphasizes that human beings are inherently good, self-determining, and have the inherent need for self-actualization.
2. How does humanistic theory view personality development?
The humanistic theory views personality development in terms of the uniqueness of human beings and focusing on concepts like free will, self-efficacy, and self-determination. It is hopeful and positive about human beings and their innate capacity to self-actualize.
This inherent need for self-actualization pushes individuals to grow, improve, and slowly reach their highest potential.
3. How does humanistic personality theory compare to freud?
Freud’s psychoanalytic theory emphasizes the deterministic roles of biology and the unconscious in human personality. According to Freud, human behavior is determined by childhood experiences, which affect an individual’s adulthood through various means.
Thus, Freud’s theory is pessimistic and talks about elements of human personality that can lead to mental disturbances. However, humanistic psychology is hopeful and takes a positive view of human beings.
According to humanistic theory, humans are generally good and have the innate motivational drive to achieve their highest potential. Thus, it endeavors to strengthen human qualities of creativity, choice, free will, self-awareness, responsibility, and trustworthiness
4. What are the personality characteristics of the humanistic theory?
The five core values of the humanistic theory are as follows:
- Human beings supercede sum of their parts
- Each one has a unique existence
- They are conscious beings, that is aware about themselves and others
- Human beings have free will, choice, which brings responsibility
- They are intentional, goal-oriented, and aware that they cause future events. Further, they seek meaning, creativity, and value
5. Why is humanistic theory best for humanistic personality?
Humanistic theory is best for humanistic personality as it claims that objective reality is relatively less important than an individual’s subjective experiences and understanding of the world.
At times, the humanistic approach is also called phenomenological. This is because it studies human personality from the point of view of an individual’s subjective reality.
6. Personality is best described as what in roger and maslow humanistic theory?
Human personality is described as self-determining, one having free will and the innate motivational drive for self-actualization. Maslow claimed that people achieve their highest potential by moving from achieving basic needs towards self-actualization needs.
Carl Rogers too focused on the self-actualizing tendency in shaping human personality. However, he claimed that humans are continuously reacting to stimuli based on their subjective reality which changes constantly. Eventually, people develop a self-concept based on feedback they receive from their subjective reality.
7.Why is Alfred Adler considered the father of the humanistic personality theory?
Alfred Adler is known as the founding father of individual psychology. He was one of the first theorists to claim that birth order influences personality.
Adler came out with the first holistic theory of personality, psychotherapy, and psychopathology. .This theory was associated closely to the humanistic approach of living. He believed that humans have one basic goal, which is to belong and feel significant.
According to Adler, when one feels motivated, he feels capable and hence acts in a cooperative way. However, when one is discouraged, one behaves in detrimental ways. These include giving up, competing, etc.