Abraham Maslow – Self-Actualising People: A Study of Psychological Health (‎1950)

Personal Foreword

The study to be reported here is unusual in various ways. It was not planned as an ordinary research; it was not a social venture but a private one, motivated by my own curiosity and pointed toward the solution of various personal moral, ethical, and scientific problems. I sought only to convince and to teach myself (as is quite proper in a personal quest) rather than to prove or to demonstrate to others. For this reason, it has no “design.”

Quite unexpectedly, however, these studies have proved to be so enlightening, and even startling to me (and a few others), that it seems fair that some sort of report should be made to others in spite of this and other shortcomings.

At first I had thought that I could present the lessons I had learned, without reference to their technically questionable source, simply by a series of discrete and independent “theoretical” papers. Some of these have appeared and more will in the future. But even these papers suggested that it would be more honest to indicate the “data” from which they sprang, for in actuality I considered them empirical reports rather than theoretical constructions.

Finally, I consider the problem of psychological health to be so pressing, that any leads, any suggestions, any bits of data, however moot, are endowed with a certain temporary value. This kind of research is in principle so difficult — involving as it does a kind of lifting oneself by one’s axiological bootstraps — that if we were to wait for conventionally reliable data we should have to wait forever. It seems that the only manly thing to do is not to fear mistakes, to plunge in, to do the best that one can, hoping to learn enough from blunders to correct them eventually. At present the only alternative is simply to refuse to work with the problem. Accordingly, for whatever use can be made of it, the following report is presented with due apologies to those who insist upon conventional reliability, validity, sampling, etc.

Subjects and Methods

The subjects were selected from among personal acquaintances and friends, and from among public and historical figures. In addition three thousand college students were screened, but yielded only one immediately usable subject and a dozen or so possible future subjects. It was hoped that figures created by novelists or dramatists could be used for demonstration purposes, but none was found that was usable in our culture and our time (in itself a thought-provoking finding).

The “first clinical definition,” on the basis of which subjects were finally chosen or rejected, had a positive as well as a merely negative side. The negative criterion was an absence of neurosis, psychopathic personality, psychosis, or strong tendencies in these directions. Possibly psychosomatic illness called forth closer scrutiny and screening. Wherever possible Rorschach tests were given, but turned out to be far more useful in revealing concealed psychopathology than in selecting healthy people. The positive criterion for selection was positive evidence of self-actualization (SA), as yet a difficult syndrome to describe accurately. For the purposes of this discussion, it may be loosely described as the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc. Such people seem to be fulfilling themselves and to be doing the best that they are capable of doing. They are people who have developed or are developing to the full stature of which they are capable.

This connotes also either gratification past or present of the basic emotional needs for safety, belongingness love, respect, and self-respect, and of the cognitive needs for knowledge and for understanding or, in a few cases, “conquest” of these needs. This is to say that all subjects felt safe and unanxious, accepted, loved and loving, respectworthy and respected, and that they had worked out their philosophical, religious, or axiological bearings. It is still an open question as to whether this “basic gratification” is a sufficient or only a prerequisite condition of self-actualization. It may be that self-actualization means basic gratification plus at least minimum talent, capacity, or “richness.”

In general, the technique of selection used was that of iteration, previously used in studies of the personality syndromes of self-esteem and of security. This consists briefly in starting with the personal or cultural nontechnical state of belief, collating the various extant usages and definitions of the syndrome and then defining it more carefully, still in terms of actual usage (what might be called the “lexicographical stage”), with, however, the elimination of the logical and factual inconsistencies customarily found in folk definitions.

On the basis of the “corrected folk definition,” the first groups of subjects are selected, a group who are high in the quality and a group who are low in it. These people are studied as carefully as possible in the clinical style, and on the basis of this empirical study the original “corrected folk definition” is further changed and corrected as required by the data now in hand. This gives the “first clinical definition.” On the basis of this new definition, the original group of subjects is reselected, some being retained, some being dropped, and some new ones being added. This second level group of subjects is then, in its turn, clinically and if possible experimentally and statistically studied, which in turn causes modification, correction, and enrichment of the first clinical definition, with which in turn a new group of subjects is selected and so on. In this way an originally vague and unscientific folk-concept can become more and more exact, more and more operational in character, and therefore more scientific.

Of course, external, theoretical, and practical considerations may intrude into this spiral-like process of self-correction. For instance, early in this study, it was found that folk usage was so unrealistically demanding that no living human being could possibly fit the definition. We had to stop excluding a possible subject on the basis of single foibles, mistakes, or foolishness; or to put it in another way, we could not use perfection as a basis for selection since no subject was perfect.

Another such problem was presented by the fact that in all cases it was impossible to get full and satisfactory information of the kind usually demanded in clinical work. Possible subjects, when informed of the purpose of the research, became self-conscious, froze up, laughed off the whole effort, or broke off the relationship. As a result, since this early experience all subjects have been studied indirectly, indeed almost surreptitiously.

Since living people were studied whose names could not be divulged, two desiderata or even requirements of ordinary scientific work became impossible to achieve: namely, repeatability of the investigation and public availability of the data upon which conclusions were made. These difficulties are partly overcome by the inclusion of public and historical figures, and by the supplementary study of young people and children who could conceivably be used publicly.

The subjects have been divided into the following categories:

Cases:

Three fairly sure and one probable contemporary.

Two fairly sure historical figures (Lincoln in his last years and Thomas Jefferson).

Six highly probably public and historical figures (Einstein, Eleanor Roosevelt, Jane Addams, William James, and Spinoza).

Partial Cases:

Five contemporaries who fairly certainly fall short somewhat but who can yet be used for study.

Seven historical figures who probably or certainly fall short, but who can yet be used for study: Walt Whitman, Henry Thoreau, Beethoven, F. D. Roosevelt, Freud.

Potential or Possible Cases:

Sixteen younger people who seem to be developing in the direction of self-actualization, G. W. Carver, Eugene V. Debbs, Albert Schweitzer, Thomas Eakins, Fritz Kreisler, Goethe.

Gathering and Presentation of the Data

“Data” here consist not so much of the usual gathering of specific and discrete facts as in the slow development of a global or holistic impression of the sort that we form of our friends and acquaintances. It was rarely possible to “set up” a situation, to ask pointed questions, or to do any testing with my older subjects (although this was possible and was done with younger subjects). Contacts were fortuitous and of the ordinary social sort. Friends and relations were questioned where this was possible.

Because of this and also because of the small number of subjects as well as the incompleteness of the data for many subjects, any quantitative presentation is impossible: only composite “impressions” can be offered for whatever they may be worth (and of course they are worth much less than controlled objective observation since the investigator is never quite certain about what is description and what is projection).

The holistic analysis of these total impressions yields, as the most important and useful whole-characteristics of self-actualizing people for further clinical and experimental study, the following:

1. More Efficient Perception of Reality and More Comfortable Relations With It

The first form in which this capacity was noticed was as an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality and, in general, to judge people correctly and efficiently. In an informal check experiment with a group of college students, a clear tendency was discerned for the more secure (the more healthy) to judge their professors more accurately than did the less secure students.

As the study progressed, it slowly became apparent that this efficiency extended to many other areas of life — indeed all areas that were tested. In art and music, in things of the intellect, in scientific matters, in politics and public affairs, they seemed as a group to be able to see concealed or confused realities more swiftly and more correctly than others. Thus, an informal experiment indicated that their predictions of the future from whatever facts were in hand at the time seemed to be more often correct, because less based upon wish, desire, anxiety, fear, or upon generalized, character-determined optimism or pessimism.

At first this was phrased as good taste or good judgment, the implication being relative and not absolute. But for many reasons (some to be detailed below), it has become progressively more clear that this had better be called perception (not taste) of something that was absolutely “there” (reality, not a set of opinions). It is hoped that this conclusion — or hypothesis — can soon be put to the experimental test.

If this is so it would be impossible to overstress the importance of the implications of this phenomenon. Recently Money-Kyrle, an English psychoanalyst, has indicated that he believes it possible to call a neurotic person not only relatively but absolutely inefficient, simply because he does not perceive the real world as accurately or as efficiently as does the healthy person. The neurotic is not only emotionally sick — he is cognitively wrong. If health and neurosis are respectively correct and incorrect perceptions of reality, propositions of fact and propositions of value merge in this area, and in principle, value-propositions should then be empirically demonstrable rather than merely matters of taste or exhortation. For those who have wrestled with this problem it will be clear that we may have here a partial basis for a true science of values, and consequently of ethics, social relations, politics, religion, etc.

It is doubtful that maladjustment or even extreme neurosis would disturb perception enough to affect acuity of perception of light or touch or odor. But it is probable that this effect can be demonstrated in spheres of perception removed from the merely physiological, e.g., Einstellung Experiment, etc. It should also follow that the effects of wish, desire, prejudice, upon perception as in many recent experiments should be very much less in healthy people than in sick. A priori considerations encourage the hypothesis that this superiority in the perception of reality eventuates in a superior ability to reason, to perceive the truth, to come to conclusions to be logical and to be cognitively efficient, in general.

One particularly impressive and instructive aspect of this better relationship with reality has been described in another place. It was found that self-actualizing people distinguished far more easily than most the fresh, concrete, and idiosyncratic from the generic, abstract, and “rubricized.” The consequence is that they live more in the “real” world of nature than in the man-made set of concepts, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes which most people confuse with the world. They are therefore far more apt to perceive what is “there” rather than their own wishes, hopes, fears, anxieties, their own theories and beliefs, or those of their cultural group.

The relationship with the unknown seems to be of exceptional promise as another bridge between academic and clinical psychology. Our healthy subjects are uniformly unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown, being therein quite different from average men. They accept it, are comfortable with it, and, often are even more attracted by it than by the known. To use Frenkel-Brunswik’s phrase, they can tolerate the ambiguous.

These latter, it is true, are the intellectuals, the researchers, and the scientists so that perhaps the major determinant here is intellectual power. And yet we all know how many scientists with high IQ, through timidity, conventionality, anxiety, or other character defects, occupy themselves exclusively with what is known, with polishing it, arranging and rearranging it, classifying it, and otherwise puttering with it instead of discovering, as they are supposed to do.

Since for healthy people the unknown is not frightening, they do not have to spend any time laying the ghost, whistling past the cemetery, or otherwise protecting themselves against imagined dangers. They do not neglect the unknown, or deny it, or run away from it, or try to make believe it is really known, nor do they organize, dichotomize, or rubricize it prematurely. They do not cling to the familiar, nor is their quest for truth a catastrophic need for certainty, safety, definiteness, and order, such as we see in an exaggerated form in Goldstein’s brain-injured, or in the compulsive-obsessive neurotic. They can be, when the objective total situation calls for it, comfortably disorderly, anarchic, chaotic, vague, doubtful, uncertain, ambiguous, indefinite, approximate, inexact, or inaccurate (all, at certain moments in science, art, or life in general, quite desirable).

Thus it comes about that doubt, tentativeness, uncertainty with the consequent necessity for abeyance of decision, which is for most a torture, can be for some a pleasantly stimulating challenge, a high spot in life rather than a low.

2. Acceptance (Self, Others, Nature)

A good many personal qualities which can be perceived on the surface and which seem at first to be various and unconnected, may be understood as manifestations or derivatives of a more fundamental single attitude, namely of a relative lack of overriding guilt, of crippling shame, and of extreme or severe anxiety. This is in direct contrast with the neurotic person who in every instance may be described as crippled by guilt and/or shame and/or anxiety. Even the normal member of our culture feels unnecessarily guilty or ashamed about too many things and has anxieties in too many unnecessary situations. Our healthy individuals find it possible to accept themselves and their own nature without chagrin or complaint or, for that matter, even without thinking about the matter very much.

They can accept their own human nature with all its shortcomings, with all its discrepancies from the ideal image, without feeling real concern. It would convey the wrong impression to say that they are self-satisfied. What we must say rather is that they can take the frailties and sins, weaknesses and evils of human nature in the same unquestioning spirit that one takes or accepts the characteristics of nature. One does not complain about water because it is wet, or about rocks because they are hard, or about trees because they are green. As the child looks out upon the world with wide, uncritical, innocent eyes, simply noting and observing what is the case, without either arguing the matter or demanding that it be otherwise, so does the self-actualizing person look upon human nature in himself and in others. This is of course not the same as resignation in the Eastern sense, but resignation too can be observed in our subjects especially in the face of illness and death.

Be it observed that this amounts to saying in another form what we have already described; namely, that the self-actualized person sees reality more clearly: our subjects see human nature as it is and not as they would prefer it to be. Their eyes see what is before them without being strained through spectacles of various sorts to distort or shape or color the reality.

The first and most obvious level of acceptance is at the so-called animal level. These self-actualizing people tend to be good and lusty animals, hearty in their appetites and enjoying themselves mightily without regret or shame or apology. They seem to have a uniformly good appetite for food; they seem to sleep well; they seem to enjoy their sexual lives without unnecessary inhibition and so on for all the relatively physiological impulses. They are able to “accept” themselves not only on these low levels, but at all levels as well; e.g., love, safety, belongingness, honor, self-respect. All of these are accepted without question as worth while simply because they are part of human nature, and because these people are inclined to accept the work of nature rather than to argue with her for not having constructed things to a different pattern. This shows itself in a relative lack of the disgusts and aversions seen in average people and especially in neurotics, e.g., food annoyances, disgust with body products, body odors, and body functions.

Closely related to self-acceptance and to acceptance of others is

(a) their lack of defensiveness, protective coloration, or pose, and

(b) their distaste for such artificialities in others. Cant, guile, hypocrisy “front,” “face,” playing a game, trying to impress in conventional ways: these are all absent in themselves to an unusual degree. Since they can live comfortably even with their own shortcomings, these finally come to be perceived, especially in later life, as not shortcomings at all but simply as neutral personal characteristics.

This is not an absolute lack of guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety, defensiveness; it is a lack of unnecessary (because unrealistic) guilt, etc. The animal processes, e.g., sex, urination, pregnancy, menstruation, growing old, etc., are part of reality and so must be accepted. Thus, no healthy woman feels guilty or defensive about being female or about any of the female processes.

What healthy people do feel guilty about (or ashamed, anxious, sad, or defensive) are (a) improvable shortcomings, e.g., laziness, thoughtlessness, loss of temper, hurting others; (b) stubborn remnants of psychological ill health e.g., prejudice, jealousy, envy; (c) habit, which, though relatively independent of character structure, may yet be very strong, or (d) shortcomings of the species or of the culture or of the group with which they have identified. The general formula seems to be that healthy people will feel bad about discrepancies between what is and what might very well be or ought to be.

3. Spontaneity

Self-actualizing people can all be described as relatively spontaneous in behavior and far more spontaneous than that in their inner life, thoughts, impulses, etc. Their behavior is marked by simplicity and naturalness, and by lack of artificiality or straining for effect. This does not necessarily mean consistently unconventional behavior. If we were to take an actual count of the number of times that the self-actualizing person behaved in an unconventional manner the tally would not be high. His unconventionality is not superficial but essential or internal. It is his impulses, thought, consciousness that are so unusually unconventional, spontaneous, and natural. Apparently recognizing that the world of people in which he lives could not understand or accept this, and since he has no wish to hurt them or to fight with them over every triviality, he will go through the ceremonies and rituals of convention with a good-humored shrug and with the best possible grace. Thus I have seen a man accept an “honor” he laughed at and even despised in private, rather than make an issue of it and hurt the people who thought they were pleasing him.

That this “conventionality” is a cloak which rests very lightly upon his shoulders and is easily cast aside can be seen from the fact that the self-actualizing person practically never allows convention to hamper him or inhibit him from doing anything that he considers very important or basic. It is at such moments that his essential lack of conventionality appears and not as with the average Bohemian or authority-rebel who makes great issues of trivial things and who will fight against some unimportant regulation as if it were a world issue.

This same inner attitude can also be seen in those moments when the person becomes keenly absorbed in something that is close to one of his main interests. He can then be seen quite casually to drop off all sorts of rules of behavior to which at other times he conforms; it is as if he has to make a conscious effort to be conventional; as if he were conventional voluntarily and by design.

Finally this external habit of behavior can be voluntarily dropped in the company of people who do not demand or expect routine behavior. That this relative control of behavior is felt as something of a burden is seen by our subjects’ preference for such company as allows them to be more free, natural, and spontaneous and which relieves them of what they find sometimes to be effortful conduct.

One consequence or correlate of this characteristic is that these people have codes of ethics which are relatively autonomous and individual rather than conventional. The unthinking observer might sometimes believe them to be “unethical” since they can break not only conventions but laws when the situation seems to demand it. But the very opposite is the case. They are the most ethical of people even though their ethics are not necessarily the same as those of the people around them. It is this kind of observation which leads us to understand very assuredly that the ordinary “ethical” behavior of the average person is largely conventional behavior rather than truly ethical behavior, e.g., behavior based on fundamentally accepted principles.

Because of this alienation from ordinary conventions and from the ordinarily accepted hypocrisies, lies, and inconsistencies of social life they sometimes feel like spies or aliens in a foreign land and sometimes behave so.

I should not give the impression that they try to hide what they are like. Sometimes they let themselves go deliberately, out of momentary irritation with customary rigidity or with conventional blindness. They may for instance be trying to teach someone, or they may be trying to protect someone from hurt or injustice, or they may sometimes find emotions bubbling up from within them which are so pleasant or even ecstatic that it seems almost sacrilegious to suppress them. In such instances I have observed that they are not anxious or guilty or ashamed of the impression that they make on the onlooker. It is their claim that they usually behave in a conventional fashion simply because no great issues are involved or because they know people will be hurt or embarrassed by any other kind of behavior.

Their ease of penetration to reality, their closer approach to an animallike or childlike acceptance and spontaneity imply a superior awareness of their own impulses, desires, opinions, and subjective reactions in general. Clinical study of this capacity confirms beyond a doubt the opinion, e.g., of Fromm, that the average “normal,” “well-adjusted” person often hasn’t even the slightest idea of what he is, of what he wants, of what his own opinions are.

It was such findings as these that led ultimately to the discovery of a most profound difference between self-actualizing people and others; namely that the motivational life of self-actualizing people is not only quantitatively different but also qualitatively different from that of ordinary people. It seems probable that we must construct a profoundly different psychology of motivation for self-actualizing people, i.e., expression-or growth-motivation, rather than deficiency-motivation. Indeed, it may turn out to be more fruitful to consider the concept of “motivation” to apply only to non-self-actualizers. Our subjects no longer “strive” in the ordinary sense but rather “develop.” They attempt to grow to perfection and to develop more and more fully in their own style. The motivation of ordinary men is a striving for the basic need gratification which they lack. But self-actualizing people in fact lack none of these gratifications; and yet they have impulses. They work, they try, and they are ambitious even though in an unusual sense. For them motivation is just character-growth, character-expression, maturation, and development; in a word, self-actualization. Could these self-actualizing people be more human, more revealing of the “original nature” of the species, closer to the “species-type” in the taxonomical sense? Ought a biological species to be judged by its crippled, warped, only partially developed specimens, or by examples that have been overdomesticated, caged, and trained?

4. Problem-Centering

Our subjects are in general strongly focussed on problems outside themselves. In current terminology they are problem-centered rather than ego-centered. They generally are not problems for themselves and are not generally much concerned about themselves; i.e., as contrasted with the ordinary introspectiveness that one finds in insecure people. These individuals customarily have some mission in life, some task to fulfill, some problem outside of themselves which enlists much of their energies.

This is not necessarily a task that they would prefer or choose for themselves; it may be a task that they feel is their responsibility, duty, or obligation. This is why we use the phrase “a task that they must do” rather than the phrase “a task that they want to do,” In general these tasks are nonpersonal or “unselfish,” concerned rather with the good of mankind in general, or of a nation in general, or of a few individuals in the subject’s family.

With a few exceptions we can say that our subjects are ordinarily concerned with basic issues and eternal questions of the type that we have learned to call by the names philosophical or ethical. Such people live customarily in the widest possible frame of reference. They seem never to get so close to the trees that they fail to see the forest. They work within a framework of values which are broad and not petty, universal and not local, and in terms of a century rather than the moment. In a word these people are all in one sense or another philosophers, however homely.

Of course, such an attitude carries with it dozens of implications for every area of daily living. For instance, one of the main “presenting symptoms” originally worked with (“bigness” — lack of smallness, triviality, pettiness) can be subsumed under this more general heading. This impression of being above small things, of having a larger horizon, a wider breadth of vision, of living in the widest frame of reference, sub specie aeternitatis, is of the utmost social and interpersonal importance, it seems to impart a certain serenity and lack of worry over immediate concerns which makes life easier not only for themselves but for all who are associated with them.

5. The Quality of Detachment; The Need for Privacy

For all my subjects it is true that they can be solitary, without harm to themselves and without discomfort. Furthermore it is true for almost all of them that they positively like solitude and privacy to a definitely greater degree than the average person. The dichotomy “introvert-extrovert” applies hardly at all to these people and will not be used here. The term that seems to be most useful is “detachment.”

It is often possible for them to remain above the battle, to remain unruffled, undisturbed by that which produces turmoil in others. They find it easy to be aloof, reserved, and also calm and serene; thus it becomes possible for them to take personal misfortunes without reacting violently as the ordinary person does. They seem to be able to retain their dignity even in undignified surroundings and situations. Perhaps this comes in part from their tendency to stick by their own interpretation of a situation rather than to rely upon what other people feel or think about the matter.

This quality of detachment may have some connection with certain other qualities as well. For one thing it is possible to call my subjects more objective (in all senses of that word) than average people. We have seen that they are more problem-centered than ego-centered. This is true even when the problem concerns themselves, their own wishes, motives, hopes, or aspirations. Consequently they have the ability to concentrate to a degree not usual for ordinary men. Intense concentration produces as a by-product such phenomena as “absent-mindedness,” the ability to forget and to be oblivious of other surroundings. An example is the ability to sleep soundly, to have undisturbed appetite, to be able to smile and laugh through a period of problems, worry, and responsibility.

In social relations with most people, detachment creates certain troubles and problems. It is easily interpreted by “normal” people as coldness, snobbishness, lack of affection, unfriendliness, or even hostility. By contrast the ordinary friendship relationship is more clinging, more demanding, more desirous of reassurance, compliment, support, warmth, and exclusiveness. It is true that self-actualizing people do not “need” others in the ordinary sense. But since this being needed or being missed is the usual earnest of friendship, it is evident that detachment will not easily be accepted by average people.

6. Autonomy, Independence of Culture and Environment

One characteristic of self-actualizing people which to a certain extent crosscuts much of what we have already described is their relative independence of the physical and social environment. Since they are propelled by growth motivation rather than deficiency motivation, self-actualizing people are not dependent for their main satisfactions on the real world, or other people or culture or means-to-ends or, in general, on extrinsic satisfactions. Rather they are dependent for their own development and continued growth upon their own potentialities and latent resources. Just as the tree needs sunshine and water and food, so do most people need love, safety, and the other basic need gratifications which can come only from without. But once these external satisfiers are obtained, once these inner deficiencies are satiated by outside satisfiers, the true problem of individual human development begins, i.e., self-actualization.

This independence of environment means a relative stability in the face of hard knocks, blows, deprivations, frustrations, and the like. These people can maintain a relative serenity and happiness in the midst of circumstances that would drive other people to suicide. They have also been described as “self-contained.”

Deficiency-motivated people must have other people available since most of their main need-gratifications (love, safety, respect, prestige, belongingnessj can come only from other human beings. But growth-motivated people may actually be hampered by others. The determinants of satisfaction and of the good life are for them now inner-individual and not social. They have become strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of other people, or even of their affection. The honors, the status, the rewards, the prestige, and the love they can bestow must have become less important than self-development and inner growth. We must remember that the best technique we know even though not the only one, for getting to this point of independence from love and respect, is to have been given plenty of this very same love and respect in the past.

7. Continued Freshness of Appreciation

Self-actualized people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life — with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others. Thus, for such people every sunset is as beautiful as the first one, any flower may be of breathtaking loveliness even after he has seen a million flowers. The thousandth baby he sees is just as miraculous a product as the first one he saw. He remains as convinced of his luck in marriage thirty years after his marriage and is as surprised by his wife’s beauty when she is sixty as he was forty years before. For such people even the casual workaday, moment-to-moment business of living can be thrilling, exciting, and ecstatic. These intense feelings do not come all the time; they come occasionally rather than usually, but at the most unexpected moments. The person may cross the river on the ferry ten times and at the eleventh crossing have a strong recurrence of the same feelings, the same reaction of beauty and excitement, as when he crossed the ferry for the first time.

There are some differences in choice of beautiful objects. Some subjects go primarily to nature. For others it is primarily children, and for a few subjects it has been primarily great music; but it may certainly be said that they derive ecstasy, inspiration, and strength from the basic experiences of life. No one of them, for instance, will get this same sort of reaction from going to a night club or getting a lot of money or having a good time at a party.

Perhaps one special experience may be added. For several of my subjects the sexual pleasures and particularly the orgasm provided not passing pleasure alone, but some kind of basic strengthening and revivifying that some people derive from music or nature. I shall say more about this in the section on the mystic experience.

It is probable that this acute richness of subjective experience is an aspect of closeness of relationship to the concrete and fresh, per se reality discussed above. Perhaps what we call staleness in experience is a consequence of ticketing off a rich perception into one or another category or rubric as it proves to be no longer advantageous or useful, or threatening or otherwise ego-involved.

8. The “Mystic Experience,” the “Oceanic Feeling”

Those subjective expressions which have been called the mystic experience and described so well by William James are a fairly common experience for our subjects. The strong emotions described in the previous section sometimes get strong enough, chaotic and widespread enough, to be called mystic experiences. My interest and attention in this subject was first enlisted by several of my subjects who described their sexual orgasms in vaguely familiar terms which later I remembered had been used by various writers to describe what they called the mystic experience. There were the same feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, of the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placing in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened so that the subject is to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences.

It is quite important to dissociate this experience from any theological or supernatural reference even though for thousands of years they have been linked. None of our subjects spontaneously made any such tieup, although in later conversations some semireligious conclusions were drawn by a few, e.g., “life must have a meaning,” etc. Because this experience is a natural experience, well within the jurisdiction of science, it is probably better to use Freud’s term for it, i.e., the oceanic feeling.

We may also learn from our subjects that such experiences can occur in a lesser degree of intensity. The theological literature had generally assumed an absolute, qualitative difference between the mystic experience and all others. As soon as it is divorced from supernatural reference and studied as a natural phenomenon, it becomes possible to place the mystic experience on a quantitative continuum from intense to mild. We discover then that the mild mystic experience occurs in many, perhaps even most, individuals, and that in the favored individual it occurs dozens of times a day.

Apparently the acute mystic experience is a tremendous intensification of any of the experiences in which there is loss of self or transcendence of it, e.g., problem-centering, intense concentration, “muga” behavior, as described by Benedict, intense sensuous experience, self-forgetful and intense enjoyment of music or art.

9. Gemeinschaftsgefühl

This word, invented by Alfred Adler, is the only one available which describes well the “flavor” of the feelings for mankind expressed by self-actualizing subjects. They have for human beings in general a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection, in spite of the occasional anger, impatience, or disgust described below. Because of this they have a genuine desire to help the human race. It is as if they were all members of a single family. One’s feelings toward his brothers would be on the whole affectionate even if these brothers were foolish, weak or even if they were sometimes nasty. They would still be more easily forgiven than strangers.

If one’s view is not general enough and if it is not spread over a long enough period of time, then one may not see this feeling of identification with mankind. The self-actualizing person is after all very different from other people in thought, impulse, behavior, emotion. When it comes down to it, in certain basic ways he is like an alien in a strange land. Very few really understand him, however much they may like him. He is often saddened, exasperated, and even enraged by the shortcomings of the average person, and, while they are to him ordinarily no more than a nuisance, they sometimes become bitter tragedy. However far apart he is from them at times he nevertheless feels a basic underlying kinship with these creatures whom he must regard with, if not condescension, at least the knowledge that he can do many things better than they can, that he can see things that they cannot see, that the truth which is so clear to him is for most people veiled and hidden. This is what Adler called the “older-brotherly” attitude.

10. Interpersonal Relations — SA

Self-actualizing people have deeper and more profound interpersonal relations than any other adults (although not necessarily deeper than those of children). They are capable of more fusion, greater love, more perfect identification, more obliteration of the ego boundaries than other people would consider possible. There are however certain special characteristics of these relationships. In the first place it is my observation that the opposite members in these relationships are ordinarily (in about two-thirds of the cases) also self-actualizing persons. There is high selectiveness here, considering the small proportion of such people in the general population.

One consequence of this phenomenon and of certain others as well is that self-actualizing people have these especially deep ties with rather few individuals. Their circle of friends is rather small. The ones they love profoundly are few in number. Partly this is for the reason that being very close to someone in this self-actualizing style seems to require a good deal of time. Devotion is not a matter of a moment. One subject expressed it so: “I haven’t got time for many friends. Nobody has, that is, if they are to be real friends.” The only possible exception in my group was one woman who seemed to be especially equipped socially. It was almost as if her appointed task in life was to have close and warm and beautiful relations with all the members of her family and their families as well as all her friends and theirs. Perhaps this was because she was an uneducated woman who had no formal “task” or “career.” This exclusiveness of devotion can and does exist side by side with a wide-spreading gemeinschaftsgefühl, benevolence, affection, and friendliness (as qualified above). These people tend to be kind or at least patient to almost everyone. They have an especially tender love for children and are easily touched by them. In a very real even though special sense, they love, or rather, have compassion for all mankind.

This “love” does not imply lack of discrimination. The fact is that they can speak realistically and harshly of those who deserve it, and especially of the hypocritical, the pretentious, the pompous, or the self-inflated. But the face-to-face relationship even with these people does not show signs of realistically low evaluations. One explanatory statement was about as follows: “Most people after all do not amount to much but they could have. They make all sorts of foolish mistakes and wind up being miserable and not knowing how they got that way when their intentions were good. Those who are not nice are usually paying for it in deep unhappiness. They should be pitied rather than attacked.”

Perhaps the briefest possible description is to say that their hostile reactions to others are (a) deserved, (b) for the good of the person attacked or for someone else’s good. This is to say, with Fromm, that their hostility is not character-based but is reactive or situational.

All the subjects for whom I have data show in common another characteristic which is appropriate to mention here, namely, that they attract at least some admirers, “friends,” or even disciples or worshippers. The relation between the individual and his train of admirers is apt to be rather one-sided. The admirers are apt to demand more than our individual is willing to give. And furthermore these devotions are apt to be rather embarrassing, distressing, and even distasteful to the self-actualizing person, since they often go beyond ordinary bounds. The usual picture reveals our subject being kind and pleasant when forced into these relationships but ordinarily trying to avoid them as gracefully as possible.

11. The Democratic Character Structure

All my subjects without exception may be said to be democratic people in the deepest possible sense. I say this on the basis of a previous analysis of authoritarian and democratic character structures which is too elaborate to present here; it is possible only to describe some aspects of this behavior in short space. These people have all the obvious or superficial democratic characteristics. They can be and are friendly with anyone of suitable character regardless of class, education, political belief, race, or color. As a matter of fact it often seems as if they are not even aware of these differences which are for the average person so obvious and so important.

They have not only this most obvious quality but their democratic feeling goes deeper as well. For instance they find it possible to learn from anybody who has something to teach them — no matter what other characteristics he may have. In such a learning relationship they do not try to maintain any outward “dignity” or to maintain status or age prestige or the like. It should even be said that my subjects share a quality that could be called “humility” of a certain type. They are all quite well aware of their own worth, so that there is no humbleness of the cringing or of the designing and calculating type. They are equally aware of how little they know in comparison with what could be known and what is known by others. Because of this it is possible for them without pose to be honestly respectful and even humble before people who can teach them something which they do not know or who have a skill they do not possess. They give this honest respect to a carpenter who is a good carpenter; or for that matter to anybody who is a master of his own tools or his own craft.

The careful distinction must be made between this democratic feeling and a lack of discrimination in taste, of an undiscriminating equality of any one human being with any other. These individuals, themselves elite, select for their friends elite, but this is an elite of character, capacity, and talent, rather than of birth, race, blood, name, family, age, youth, fame, or power.

Most profound but also most vague is the hard-to-get-at tendency to give a certain quantum of respect to any human being just because he is a human individual; our subjects seem not to wish to go beyond a certain minimum point, even with scoundrels, of demeaning, of derogating, of robbing of dignity.

12. Means and Ends

I have found none of my subjects to be chronically unsure about the difference between right and wrong in his actual living. Whether or not they could verbalize the matter they rarely showed in their day-to-day living the chaos, the confusion, the inconsistency, or the conflict that is so common in the average person’s ethical dealings. This may be phrased also in such terms as: these individuals are strongly ethical, they have definite moral standards, they do right and do not do wrong. Needless to say, their notions of right and wrong are often not the conventional ones.

One way of expressing the quality I am trying to describe was suggested by Dr. David Levy who pointed out that a few centuries ago these would all have been described as “men who walk in the path of God” or as the “Godly man.” So far as religion is concerned, none of my subjects are orthodoxly religious, but on the other hand I know of only one who describes himself as an atheist (as against four of the total group studied). All the others for whom I have information hesitate to call themselves atheists. They say that they believe in a God but describe this God more as a metaphysical concept than as a personal figure. Whether or not they could be called religious people as a group must then depend entirely on the concept or definition of religion that we choose to use. If religion is defined only in social-behavioral terms, then these are all “religious” people, the atheists included. But if more conservatively we use the term religion so as to include and stress the supernatural element (certainly the more common usage) then our answer must be quite different, for then almost none of them are religious.

Self-actualizing people most of the time behave as though, for them, means and ends are clearly distinguishable. In general, they are fixed on ends rather than on means, and means are quite definitely subordinated to these ends. This however is an over-simple statement. Our subjects make the situation more complex by often regarding as ends-in-themselves many experiences and activities which are, for other people, only means-to-ends. Our subjects are somewhat more likely to appreciate for its own sake, and in an absolute way, the “doing itself”; they can often enjoy for its own sake the getting-to-someplace as well as the arriving. It is occasionally possible for them to make out of the most trivial and routine activity an intrinsically enjoyable game or dance or play. Wertheimer pointed out that some children are so creative that they can transform hackneyed routine, mechanical, and rote experiences — e.g., as in one of his experiments, transporting books from one set of shelves to another — into a structured and amusing game of a sort by doing this according to a certain system or with a certain rhythm.

13. Philosophical, Unhostile Sense of Humor

One very early finding that was quite easy to make, because it was common to all my subjects, was that their sense of humor is not of the ordinary type. They do not consider funny what the average man considers to be funny. Thus they do not laugh at hostile humor (making people laugh by hurting someone) or superiority humor (laughing at someone else’s inferiority) or authority-rebellion humor (the unfunny smutty joke). Characteristically what they consider humor is more closely allied to philosophy than to anything else. It may also be called the humor of the real because it consists in large part in poking fun at human beings in general when they are foolish, or forget their place in the universe, or try to be big when they are actually small. This can take the form of poking fun at themselves but this is not done in any masochistic or clown-like way. Lincoln’s humor can serve as a suitable example. Probably Lincoln never made a joke which hurt anybody else; it is also likely that many or even most of his jokes had something to say, had a function beyond just producing a laugh. They often seemed to be education in a more palatable form, akin to parables or fables. On a simple quantitative basis, our subjects may be said to be humorous less often than the average of the population. Punning, joking, witty remarks, gay repartee, persiflage of the ordinary sort is much less often seen than the rather thoughtful, philosophical humor which elicits a smile more usually than a laugh, which is intrinsic to the situation rather than added to it, which is spontaneous rather than planned, and which very often can never be repeated. It should not be surprising that the average man, accustomed as he is to joke books and belly laughs, considers our subjects to be rather on the sober and serious side.

14. Creativeness — SA

This is a universal characteristic of all the people studied or observed. There is no exception. Each one shows in one way or another a special kind of creativeness or originality or inventiveness which has certain peculiar characteristics. These special characteristics can be understood more fully in the light of discussion later in this paper. For one thing, it is different from “special-talent creativeness” of the Mozart type. We may as well face the fact that the so-called “geniuses” display ability which we do not understand. All we can say of them is that they seem to be specially endowed with a drive and a capacity which may have rather little relationship to the rest of the personality and with which, from all evidence, the individuals seem to be born. Such talent we have no concern with here since it does not rest upon psychic health or basic satisfaction. The creativeness of the self-actualized man seems rather to be kin to the naive and universal creativeness of unspoiled children. It seems to be more a fundamental characteristic of common human nature — a potentiality given to all human beings at birth. Most human beings lose this as they become acculturated, but some few individuals seem either to retain this fresh and naive direct way of looking at life, or else, if they have lost it as most people do, then they later in life recover it.

This creativeness appears in some of our subjects not in the usual forms of writing books, composing music, or producing artistic objects, but rather may be much more humble. It is as if this special type of creativeness, being an expression of healthy personality, is projected out upon the world or touches whatever activity the person is engaged in. In this sense there can be creative shoemakers or carpenters or clerks. Whatever one does can be done with a certain attitude, a certain spirit which arises out of the nature of the character of the person performing the act. One can even see creatively as the child does.

This quality is differentiated here for the sake of discussion, as if it were something separate from the characteristics which precede it and follow it; but this is not actually the case. Perhaps when we speak of creativeness here we are simply describing from another point of view, namely, from the point of view of consequences, what we have described above as a greater freshness, penetration, and efficiency of perception. These people seem to see the true and the real more easily. It is because of this that they seem to other more limited men creative.

Furthermore, as we have seen, these individuals are less inhibited, less constricted, less bound — in a word, less acculturated. In more positive terms, they are more spontaneous, more natural, “more human.” This too would have as one of its consequences what would seem to other people to be creativeness. If we assume, as we may from our study of children, that all people were once spontaneous and perhaps in their deepest roots still are, but that these people have in addition to their deep spontaneity a superficial but powerful set of inhibitions, then this spontaneity must be checked so as not to appear very often. If there were no choking-off forces, then we might expect that every human being would show this special type of creativeness.

The Imperfections of Self-Actualizing People

The ordinary mistake that is made by novelists, poets, and essayists about the good human being is to make him so good that he is a caricature, so that nobody would like to be like him. The individual’s own wishes for perfection and his guilt and shame about shortcomings are projected upon various kinds of people from whom the average man demands much more than he himself gives. Thus teachers and ministers are ordinarily conceived to be rather joyless people who have no mundane desires and who have no weaknesses. It is my belief that most of the novelists who have attempted to portray good (healthy) people did this sort of thing, making them into stuffed shirts or marionettes or unreal projections of unreal ideals, rather than into the robust, hearty, lusty individuals they really are. Our subjects show many of the lesser human failings — if they are in fact failings. They too are equipped with silly, wasteful, or thoughtless habits. They can be boring, stubborn, irritating. They are by no means free from a rather superficial vanity, pride, partiality to their own productions, family, friends, and children.

Our subjects are occasionally capable of an extraordinary and unexpected ruthlessness. It must be remembered that they are very strong people. This makes it possible for them to display a surgical coldness when this is called for, beyond the power of the average man. The man who found that a long-trusted acquaintance was dishonest cut himself off from this friendship sharply and abruptly and without any pangs whatsoever. Another woman who was married to someone she did not love, when she decided on divorce, did it with a decisiveness that looked almost like ruthlessness. Some of them recover so quickly from the death of people close to them as to seem heartless.

Not only are these people strong but also they are independent of the opinions of other people. One woman, extremely irritated by the stuffy conventionalism of some individuals she was introduced to at a gathering, went far out of her way to shock these people by her language and behavior. One might say that it was all right for her to react to irritation in this way, but another result was that these people were completely hostile not only to the woman but to the friends in whose home this meeting took place. While our subject wanted to alienate these people, the host and hostess did not.

We may mention one more example which arises primarily from the absorption of our subjects in an impersonal world. In their concentration, in their fascinated interest, in their intense concentration on some phenomenon or question, they may become absent-minded or humorless and forget their ordinary social politeness. In such circumstances, they are apt to show themselves more clearly as essentially not interested in chatting, gay conversation, party-going or the like, they may use language or behavior which may be distressing, shocking, insulting, or hurtful to others. Other undesirable (at least from the point of view of others) consequences of detachment have been listed above.

Even their kindness can lead them into mistakes, e.g., marrying out of pity, getting too closely involved with neurotics, bores, unhappy people, and then being sorry for it, allowing scoundrels to impose on them for a while, giving more than they demand so that occasionally they encourage parasites and psychopaths, etc.

Finally, it has already been pointed out that these people are not free of guilt, anxiety, sadness, self-castigation, internal strife, and conflict. The fact that these arise out of nonneurotic sources is of little consequence to most people today (even to most psychologists) who are therefore apt to think them unhealthy for this reason.

The Values of Self-Actualization

A firm foundation for a value-system is automatically furnished to the self-actualizer by his philosophic acceptance of the nature of his self, of human nature, of much of social life, and of nature and physical reality. These “acceptance-values” account for a high percentage of the total of his individual value-judgments from day to day. What he approves of, disapproves of, is loyal to, opposes, or proposes, what pleases him or displeases him can often be understood as surface derivations of this source trait of acceptance.

Not only is this foundation automatically (and universally) supplied to all SA’s by their intrinsic dynamics (so that in at least this respect fully developed human nature may be universal and cross-cultural); other determiners are supplied as well by these same dynamics. Among these are (a) his peculiarly comfortable relationships with reality, (b) his Gemeinschaftsgefühl, (c) his basically satisfied condition from which flow, as epiphenomena, various consequences of surplus, of wealth, of overflowing abundance, (d) his characteristic relations to means and ends, etc. (see above).

One most important consequence of this attitude toward the world — as well as a validation of it — is the fact that conflict and struggle, ambivalence and uncertainty over choices lessen or disappear in many areas of life. Apparently morality is largely an epiphenomenon of nonacceptance or dissatisfaction. Many “problems” are seen to be gratuitous and fade out of existence in the atmosphere of pagan acceptance. It is not so much that the problem is solved as that it becomes clearly seen that it never was an intrinsic problem in the first place, but only a sick-man-created one, e.g., card-playing, dancing, wearing short dresses, exposing the head (in some churches) or not exposing the head (in others), drinking wine, or eating some meats and not others, or eating them on some days but not on others. Not only are such trivialities deflated; the process also goes on at a more important level, e.g., the relations between the sexes, attitudes toward the structure of the body and toward its functioning, and toward death itself.

The pursuit of this finding to more profound levels has suggested to the writer that much else of what passes for morals, ethics, and values may be the gratuitous epiphenomena of the pervasive psychopathology of the “average.” Many conflicts, frustrations, and threats (which force the kind of choice in which value is expressed) evaporate or resolve for the self-actualizing person in the same way as do, let us say, conflicts over dancing. For him the seemingly irreconcilable battle of the sexes becomes no conflict at all but rather a dehghtful collaboration. The “antagonistic” interests of adults and children turn out to be not so antagonistic after all. Just as with sex and age differences, so also is it with natural differences, class and caste differences, political differences, role differences, religious differences, etc. As we know, these are each fertile breeding grounds for anxiety, fear, hostility, aggression, defensiveness, and jealousy. But it begins to appear that they need not be, for our subject’s reaction to differences is much less often of this undesirable type.

To take the teacher-student relationship as a specific paradigm, our teacher-subjects behaved in a very unneurotic way simply by interpreting the whole situation differently, i.e., as a pleasant collaboration rather than as a clash of wills, of authority, of dignity, etc. the replacement of artificial dignity — which is easily and inevitably threatened — with the natural simplicity which is not easily threatened; the giving up of the attempt to be omniscient and omnipotent; the absence of student-threatening authoritarianism; the refusal to regard the students as competing with each other or with the teacher; the refusal to assume the “professor” stereotype and the insistence on remaining as realistically human as, say, a plumber or a carpenter; all of these created a classroom atmosphere in which suspicion, wariness, defensiveness, hostility, and anxiety disappeared. So also do similar threat-responses tend to disappear in marriages, in families, and in other interpersonal situations when threat itself is reduced.

It is possible to generalize even further for it seems possible that most or perhaps even all value dichotomies or polarities tend to disappear or resolve in self-actualizing people. These people are neither selfish nor unselfish in the ordinary sense; they are both (or neither).

They are neither rationalists nor intuitionalists, neither classical nor romantic, neither self-interested nor other-interested, neither introverts nor extroverts, etc. Rather they are both. Or to be accurate, in them these dichotomies simply do not apply.

The principles and the values of the desperate man and of the psychologically healthy man must be different in at least some ways. They have profoundly different perceptions (interpretations) of the physical world, the social world, and the private psychological world, whose organization and economy is in part the responsibility of the person’s value system. For the basically deprived man the world is a dangerous place, a jungle, and enemy territory populated by (a) those whom he can dominate and (b) those who can dominate him. His value system is of necessity, like that of any jungle denizen, dominated and organized by the “lower” needs, especially the creature needs and the safety needs. The basically satisfied person is in a different case. He can afford out of his abundance to take these needs and their satisfaction for granted and can devote himself to higher gratifications. This is to say that their value systems are different, in fact, must be different.

The topmost portion of the value system of the SA person is entirely unique and idiosyncratic-character-structure-expressive. This must be true by definition, for self-actualization is actualization of a self, and no two selves are altogether alike. There is only one Renoir, one Brahms, one Spinoza. Our subjects had very much in common, as we have seen, and yet at the same time were more completely individualized, more unmistakably themselves, less easily confounded with others than any average control group could possibly be. That is to say, they are simultaneously very much like and very much unlike each other. They are more completely “individual” than any group that has ever been described and yet are also more completely socialized, more identified with humanity, than any other group yet described.

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