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The personality theory of Abraham Maslow

The personality theory of Abraham Maslow

November 17, 2022

Throughout the history of psychology, many psychologists have formulated theories of personality. One of the acquaintances is Abraham Maslow, along with Carl Rogers, for being maximum exponents of what is known as the third force of psychology, humanism. This current emerged in opposition to Psychoanalysis and Behaviorism.

Unlike these schools, humanism sees the person from a holistic and positive vision, where the focus is on the subject's subjective experience. People are active beings that have the capacity to develop, and their basic instinct and dignity reside in the confidence they have in themselves.

  • Related article: "60 phrases of Abraham Maslow (and human needs)"

Who was Abraham Maslow

Abraham Maslow was an American psychologist who was born in Brooklyn (New York) on April 1, 1908. His parents were non-Orthodox Jews from Russia who came to the land of opportunity in the hope of achieving a better future for their children. Abraham Maslow was never a very sociable guy, and as a child, took refuge in books.


Before becoming interested in psychology, he first studied law at the City College of New York (CCNY). After marrying Berta Goodman, her older cousin, she moved to Wisconsin to attend the university in that city. It was here that he began to study psychology. He worked with Harry Harlow, famous for his experiments with monkey pups and attachment behavior. After graduating and a doctorate in this discipline, he returned to New York to work with E.L. Thorndike at Columbia University, where he became interested in the investigation of human sexuality. In this period of his life, he began teaching at Brooklyn College and came into contact with many European psychologists who came to the United States, for example, Adler or Fromm.


The humanist theory of Rogers

Humanistic psychology is, without a doubt, one of the most important currents of thought in psychology. But to know what it is about, it is necessary to know the work of another great figure of this school. It is difficult to understand humanism without Rogers and Maslow. For that reason, before delving into Maslow's theoretical proposals, we are going to delve into Rogers' theory.

If Freudian psychoanalysis saw the person from their problematic behaviors and behaviorism visualized people as passive beings, that is, they did not have too many options to influence the environment. The vision of Carl Rogers and humanism, on the other hand, was totally different, because the human being is seen as an active individual and owner of his own realization. For Rogers, a person who pays attention to the process of organic valuation is a fully functional or self-realized person.


Rogers emphasizes the freedom of individuals when taking the course of their lives . According to this, the personality of people can be analyzed according to how they approach or move away from what they consider a highly functional individual.

The person who is fully functional, that is, more healthy, when he has a series of characteristics. They are the following:

  • Existential life : People with an openness to experience are more likely to live fully.
  • Organic trust : These people rely on their inner experience to guide the behavior.
  • Experience of freedom : The person has freedom to choose.
  • Creativity : The person is creative and always finds new alternatives to live. They are mentally inflexible.
You can go deeper into Rogers' ideas in this article: "The Theory of Personality proposed by Carl Rogers"

Maslow's personality theory

Maslow adds to Rogers' theory his concept of needs. This psychologist's theory revolves around two fundamental aspects: our needs and our experiences . In other words, what motivates us and what we seek throughout life and what is happening to us on this path, what we are experiencing. This is where our personality is formed. In fact, Maslow is considered one of the great theorists of motivation.

Maslow's personality theory has two levels. One biological, the needs we all have and another more personal, which are those needs that they have that are the result of our desires and the experiences we are living.

Definitely, Maslow is associated with the concept of self-realization , because in his theory he talks about the needs that people have to develop, to seek our maximum potential.And, according to this one, people have an innate desire to self-fulfill, to be what they want to be, and they have the ability to pursue their goals autonomously and freely.

In a certain way, the way in which an individual focuses his self-realization will correspond to the type of personality he manifests in his day-to-day life. That implies that for Maslow the personality is related to the motivational aspects that have to do with the objectives and situations that each human being lives; it is not something static that remains inside the heads of people and manifests unidirectionally, from the inside out, as it could be criticized by some reductionist and deterministic conceptions of this psychological phenomenon.

The implications of this are clear: to study personality we must also know the context in which people live and the way in which it responds to the motivational needs of individuals. Focus simply on administering several tests to obtain a score does not give us an accurate view on this, since it is based on a bias when considering that personality is what can be captured by these data collection tests. This is a view similar to that applied to the field of mental abilities psychologists such as Howard Gardner and Robert J. Sternberg, critics of the psychometric conception of intelligence.

The self-realized personality

Maslow thinks that reaching the needs of self-realization is in the hands of everyone, however, there are few who achieve it. The people who manage to satisfy their needs of self-realization are self-realized people . However, Maslow states that less than 1% of the population belong to this class of individuals.

Self-realized people are characterized by:

  • They show a high level of acceptance of themselves
  • They perceive reality more clearly and objectively
  • They are more spontaneous
  • They think that the causes of the problems are external
  • Enjoy the loneliness
  • They have a curious and creative mentality
  • Enjoy summit experiences
  • Generate genuine ideas
  • They have a great sense of humor
  • They have a great critical spirit and are governed by ethical values
  • They are respectful and humble
  • They are tolerant, have no prejudices and enjoy the presence of others

If you want to know more about this type of people, you can read our article:

  • "13 characteristics of the self-realized people according to Abraham Maslow"

The theory of the pyramid of human needs

Maslow is famous for his theory of the Needs Pyramid because, according to him, needs follow a hierarchy, from more basic to more complex, and its pyramid is built on five levels .

In the base of this figure are the first and in the highest part the second. From bottom to top these are the different levels of needs:

  • Physiological needs : eat, breathe, drink ...
  • Security needs : physical security, employment, income ...
  • Need of affiliation : get married, be a member of a community ...
  • Recognition needs : respect for others, status, reputation ...
  • Self-realization needs : moral, spiritual development, search for a goal in life ...

The needs have to be covered to be able to aspire to the higher level. For example, if we do not have the physiological needs covered we can not aspire to the needs of affiliation. At the higher level are the needs for self-realization. It is this hierarchy that according to Maslow marked the way in which the personality adapts to the circumstances, depending on each lived situation. It is, in short, a conception of personality that encompasses very extensive psychological aspects and that goes beyond the psychometric approach that dominated in his time.

  • You can learn more about the theory of human needs in our post: "Maslow's Pyramid: the hierarchy of human needs"

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs | Episode 21 (November 2022).


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