Home PsychologyLegendary Psychologists Legendary Psychologists: Abraham Maslow

Legendary Psychologists: Abraham Maslow

There have been few individuals who have impacted the field of psychology like the immortalized humanist Abraham Maslow. While the negatively assuming therapeutic approach of psychoanalysis that was popularized by Sigmund Freud was most prevalent during the mid 1900s, Maslow offered the world a fresh new perspective that focused on the positive aspects of human beings. Throughout his storied career, Maslow gained worldwide acclaim for his theories on human needs, peak experiences and cognitive biases, all of which helped pave the way for the field of positive psychology to emerge.


Abraham Maslow Profile:

A headshot of Abraham Maslow shows the iconic psychologist happily smiling.Birth: April 1st, 1908

Death: June 8th, 1970 (aged 62)

Occupation: Psychologist & Author

Areas of Focus: Humanistic Psychology & Self-Actualization

The Life Of Abraham Maslow:

Throughout modern history, there have been a seemingly endless number of iconic thinkers who’ve told us that without darkness there can be no light. As in the case of Abraham Maslow, it was the disheartening years of his youth that gave rise to a modest yet brilliant man. After being born in 1908 to Russian Jewish parents who’d immigrated to Brooklyn fearing Czarist persecution, Maslow was continually subjected to anti-Semitic racism, coming from other children and even his teachers, throughout the younger years of his life. Yet still, what made matters even worse for the young boy who was diagnosed by a psychologist as being ‘mentally unstable’ is that he didn’t have a supportive environment at home and rarely got along with his mother. While no decent person would wish such an upbringing on another individual, it was precisely because of these undesirable circumstances that Abraham Maslow grew up in libraries developing a deep passion for learning and eventually showing how light does in fact emerge from the darkness.

After honing his intellectual prowess at one of the most prestigious high schools in Brooklyn at the time, Boys High School, Maslow initially struggled to find a university that fit his needs and an academic discipline he was truly passionate about. This, however, all changed in 1928 when he transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Madison and began pursuing a degree in psychology. It was here where Maslow would obtain his Bachelors, Masters and Doctorate degrees in psychology over a brief four year period.

Upon completing his studies at Wisconsin-Madison, where he focused on experimental-behaviorist psychology, Abraham Maslow would spend the next two decades of his life writing, researching, and teaching at a number of different universities in the United States. Starting in 1935, Maslow spent 18 months as a Carnegie fellow at Columbia University studying female sexuality, his primary interest at the time, and working with influential figures such as Edward Thorndike and Alfred Adler. From 1937 to 1951, the now iconic psychologist worked as a faculty member at Brooklyn College and began conceptualizing the theories that would eventually make him famous.

An image shows Abraham Maslow standing with two other eminent psychologists of his generation James Olds and David McClelland.

Maslow (left) alongside other eminent psychologists James Olds and David McClelland.

It was during and after the Second World War when Abraham Maslow began questioning the ways in which psychologists were coming to their conclusions about the mind and human behavior. Instead of looking at the reprehensible events of WWII with a pessimistic outlook, like most people at the time, Maslow actually credited history’s greatest tragedy as the inspiration that led him to researching the positive aspects of humans and studying his two mentors, anthropologist Ruth Benedict and Gestalt psychologist Max Wertheimer, both of whom he saw as archetypes of self-actualized individuals. As his interest in looking at psychology from a optimistic lens continued to grow, Maslow would eventually break away from the negatively focused psychoanalysis approach popularized by Sigmund Freud and instead spend all of his time focusing on topics such as human potential, motivation and peak experiences. Of making the switch, Maslow said:

It is as if Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and we must now fill it out with the healthy half.”

It was in the 1950s and 60s, while working at Brandeis University, when Abraham Maslow gained global recognition for leading the Humanistic Psychology movement which was built upon the premise that humans ultimately desire to reach a state of self-actualization by realizing their fullest potential. In addition to developing his still celebrated Hierarchy Of Needs theory and popularizing the idea of self-actualization, Maslow also gained international acclaim for shedding light on other important concepts such as motivation, peak experiences and cognitive biases. Despite the fact that he had opportunities to become the President of the Association for Humanistic Psychology in 1963 and the American Psychological Association in 1966, the immortalized psychologist rejected both nominations hoping the organizations would develop an intellectual movement without a single leading voice.

Due to his deteriorating health, Abraham Maslow would retire from teaching in 1968 and take on the role as a fellow at The Saga Administrative Corporation. Then in 1970, at only the age of 62, the iconic psychologist suffered a fatal heart attach while jogging in Menlo Park, California. Although he was undoubtedly taken away from the psychology community too soon, he’ll forever live on as one of the field’s most influential thinkers. Throughout his storied career, Abraham Maslow published eight books including two psychology classics, Hierarch of Needs: A Theory of Human Motivation and Toward a Psychology of Being, and impacted the world like few psychologist ever have.

3 Of His Most Important Teachings:

When examining the wide variety of contributions Abraham Maslow made to the field of psychology, it becomes clear to see how iconically influential he really was. In addition to leading the humanistic movement of the 60s, he also conceptualized a range of important theories and brought to life a new optimistic understanding of human beings. While the following three teachings certainly don’t illuminate his full body of work, they are undeniably some of his most important:

The Ultimate Aim Must Be Self-Actualization:

An image show Abraham Maslow's iconic diagram of humans hierarchy of needs with the self-fulling need for self-actualization being the highest aim.When humanistic pioneers Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers were laying the ground work for their positively-focused psychological approach, they did so with the understanding that what humans most deeply desire is to reach their full potential as individuals. It was in 1943 when Maslow developed his still globally recognized Hierarchy Of Needs theory which illuminates this truth and tells us that the only way to get the most out of life and be completely happy with ourselves is to achieve the ultimate aim of self-actualization. “What a man can be, he must be. This need we call self-actualization,” the celebrated psychologist told us.

Of course this is only possible by first meeting a variety of prerequisite needs, such as having food to eat, safety, loving relationships and self-esteem, but it’s vitally important to understand that the only was to find the lasting fulfillment we seek at the core of our beings is to move ourselves upwards until we reach the summit of self-actualization. Maslow tells us, “If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”

The Importance Of Living In The Present:

By researching and studying highly accomplished individuals who felt as though they were living up to their fullest potential, Abraham Maslow was able to develop a self-actualization archetype. While the iconic psychologist outlined 12 characteristics of such individuals, many of the traits relate to one’s ability to live freely and happily in the present-moment. In addition to being able to tolerate uncertainty, think and act spontaneously, and enjoy profoundly moving peak experiences, self-actualized individuals also maintain a sense of deep appreciation for life’s more ordinary occurrences. “The great lesson is that the sacred is in the ordinary, that it is to be found in one’s daily life, in one’s neighbors, friends, and family, in one’s backyard,” Maslow told us.

Additionally, because our only opportunity to ignites positive personal change is with present-moment action, it’s vital that we take steps to move ourselves closer towards the ultimate aim of self-actualization from wherever we currently find ourselves. Maslow says, “I can feel guilty about the past, Apprehensive about the future, but only in the present can I act. The ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”

Skillfully Using Tools Besides A Hammer:

An image shows Abraham Maslow sitting at his desk with a variety of papers and books scattered on the desk's surface. This photo is courtesy of the Corbis Corporation.For many individuals who aim to maximize their potential by living fully in the present moment, an inability to approach life with understanding that their worldwide and life skills are limited in nature prohibits them from achieving their most important goals. In the world of psychology, this over-reliance on looking at things from a single perspective or trying to accomplish a diverse set of tasks with a single approach was brought to light by Abraham Maslow and is coined as Maslow’s Hammer or the law of the instrument. The iconic psychologist told us, “If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”

What this ultimately means is that if we are to get the most out of life and achieve our most heartfelt dreams, we’ll have to develop an understanding of our own conditioned cognitive biases, be willing to approach life with an unwavering sense of openness and commit ourselves to continue learning and growing as individuals. The only way to do this, according to Maslow, is to cultivate and improve our self-awareness. “What is necessary to change a person is to change his awareness of himself,” he told us.

Inspirational Quotes:

“The fact is that people are good. Give people affection and security, and they will give affection and be secure in their feelings and their behavior.”

“One’s only rival is one’s own potentialities. One’s only failure is failing to live up to one’s own possibilities. In this sense, every man can be a king, and must, therefore, be treated like a king.”

“A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself.”

3 comments

mlord102014 October 5, 2017 - 8:05 am

Maslow has always been the highest inspiration during my years as a nurse therapist. He is a genius and the goal of self realisation is at the heart of what i do. He is very close to the lines from Shakespeare that is my mantra:

THIS ABOVE ALL OTHER, TO THINE OWN SELF BE TRUE,

THEN IT SHALL FOLLOW AS THE NIGHT THE DAY,
THOU CANST NOT BE FALSE TO ANY MAN.’W. Shakespeare.

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[…] life circumstances to inspire others and bring positive change to the world. As was the case with Abraham Maslow (April 1, 1908 – June 8, 1970), it was the disheartening years of his youth, and later the […]

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