Saturday, April 3, 2010

Abraham Maslow

Abraham Masolow is perhaps most famous for his Hierarchy of Needs, but he seems to have talked much more about the qualities of a "self actualizing" person (see personality psychology).  In the second edition of his book Motivation and Personality he describes about fifteen different characteristics.  While I cannot weigh the relative importance of each, the characteristic of "problem centering" (pg. 159-160) caught my attention.  Recently I was concerned with how I can help others, convinced that compassion and the work of assisting others is a worthy "higher calling" to which I find myself repeatedly drawn, and in the service of which I continue to struggle.  So this passage held a lot of meaning for me:
Our subjects are in general strongly focused 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.
Focus on problems outside yourself.  It's just one characteristic of leading a wonderful life.  That's hard medicine to swallow for introspective people like myself.  For this to be effective one must ask of any particular problem whether it concerns oneself or whether it really concerns others.  In other passages, it is suggested that the within/without dichotomy in relation to the self can disappear, which implies that problem centering in these cases would be a highly relative distinction.  If focusing on the outside is the same as focusing on the inside, then of course the dichotomy vanishes.  Address the problems inside yourself by focusing on the problems outside yourself.  This is related to the "helper effect" (in the process of helping others we are able to feel better and do more work ourselves), but it is also a broad generality that is not applicable in every situation.  Closely related to self-actualization is Maslow's concept of the "peak experience".  On pg. 165 of the same book he noted:
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.
In another of his books, The Farther Reaches of Human Nature, Maslow provides the background from which his interest in self-actualizing people originated (p40)  Maslow also liked existentialism, as he expressed in Toward a Psychology of Being, and had great hopes for its influence in psychology, but noted that too often the theory did not account for "joy, ecstasy, or normal happiness" in addition to tragedy, or rather, anxiety, with which the authentic life in existentialism is popularly associated.


What problem outside myself can I focus on?

About a week ago I was looking at "The Foundation Beyond Belief" and saw that one of the charities it sponsored was "SMART Recovery".  As a chemical dependency counselor, I took an interest in using this with my clients.  It was nice to teach an approach to recovery that I agreed with more than 12 step programs.  I liked promoting a more reasoned approach not just to maintaining a drug free life, but for all areas of life. 

Putting research into practice – realizing potential. (But why say with six words what can be better said with 715 words?)  I can focus on the problem of not having the best solutions put into practice.  There are a lot of things that we know about drug abuse, or healthy lifestyles, or you name it, and we don't do it.  That can be very frustrating.  I put research into practice when it comes to my job of turning bad habits around, and educating the youth at my work and the youth in my home. Which is to say, I center on this problem: Current research is not implemented in child and adolescent residential programs.   Which is not to say it is all bad, but it could be improved a good deal. And I do a very good job of working toward greater implementation of research!  This is important to remember- actual effectiveness can be directly affected by one's perception of his/her own self-efficacy.

A three step model:
A characteristic of self-actualization:
“Focus on problems outside yourself.”
The problem I center on:
“Current research is not implemented in child and adolescent residential programs.”
Affirming self-efficacy:
“I do a very good job of working toward greater implementation of research!”

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