For Alfred Adler, second in importance only to striving for perfection is the idea of social interest or social feeling (originally called Gemeinschaftsgefuhl or "community feeling"). In keeping with his holism, it is easy to see that anyone "striving for perfection" can hardly do so without considering his or her social environment. As social animals, we simply don't exist, much less thrive, without others, and even the most resolute people-hater forms that hatred in a social context!
Adler felt that social concern was not simply inborn, nor just learned, but a combination of both: It is based on an innate disposition, but it has to be nurtured to survive. That it is to some extent innate is shown by the way babies and small children often show sympathy for others without having been taught to do so. Notice how, when one baby in a nursery begins to cry, they all begin to cry. Or how, when we walk into a room where people are laughing, we ourselves begin to smile.
And yet, right along with the examples of how generous little children can be to others, we have examples of how selfish and cruel they can be. Although we instinctively seem to know that what hurts him can hurt me, and vice versa, we also instinctively seem to know that, if we have to choose between it hurting him and it hurting me, we'll take "hurting him" every time! So the tendency to empathize must be supported by parents and the culture at large. Even if we disregard the possibilities of conflict between my needs and yours, empathy involves feeling the pain of others, and in a hard world, that can quickly become overwhelming. Much easier to just "toughen up" and ignore that unpleasant empathy -- unless society steps in on empathy's behalf!
One misunderstanding Adler wanted to avoid was the idea that social interest was somehow another version of extraversion. Americans in particular tend to see social concern as a matter of being open and friendly and slapping people on the back and calling them by their first names. Some people may indeed express their social concern this way. But other people just use that kind of behavior to further their own ends. Adler meant social concern or feeling not in terms of particular social behaviors, but in the much broader sense of caring for family, for community, for society, for humanity, even for life. Social concern is a matter of being useful to others.Gordon Allport
Dissatisfied with both Freudian psychology and behavioral
introduced an idea
that was very controversial in
its time, called functional autonomy.
The idea here is that the
way you behave today may have had its origins in your past, but it has
in all likelihood become independent of these origins. For
example, I developed a nasty addiction to cigarettes when I was 17
because I wanted to fit in with my older co-workers. But ten
years later, few of my colleagues smoked and, by then a bit more
didn't feel a need to fit in in that way anyway. But I still
smoked! The reasons for smoking when I was 27 (or 37) had nothing
to do with the origin of the habit, and revisiting my past would serve
no purpose in helping me get over my habit.
What Allport called propriate functional autonomy involves the self a bit more than habits do. Values are the usual example. Perhaps you were punished for being selfish when you were a child. That doesn’t in any way detract from your well-known generosity today - it has become a value you hold dear!
The idea of propriate functional autonomy - values - led Allport and his associates Vernon and Lindzey to develop a respected categorization of values (in a book called A Study of Values, 1960) and a test of values.
1. the theoretical - a scientist,
for example, values
2. the economic - a businessperson may value usefulness.
3. the aesthetic - an artist naturally values beauty.
4. the social - a nurse may have a strong love of people.
5. the political - a politician may value power.
6. the religious - a monk or nun probably values unity.
Most of us, of course, have several of these values at more moderate levels, plus we may value one or two of these quite negatively. There are modern tests used for helping kids find their careers that have very similar dimensions.
As you acquire positive values and develop your personality, you may eventually attain psychological maturity, Allport’s term for mental health. He lists seven characteristics:
1. Specific, enduring extensions of
2. Dependable techniques for warm relating to others (e.g. trust, empathy, genuineness, tolerance...).
3. Emotional security and self-acceptance.
4. Habits of realistic perception (as opposed to defensiveness).
5. Problem-centeredness, and the development of problem-solving skills.
6. Self-objectification - insight into one’s own behavior, the ability to laugh at oneself, etc.
7. A unifying philosophy of life, including a particular value orientation, differentiated religious sentiment, and a personalized conscience.
Maslow is probably best known
for his biographical studies
of a number of famous people (Abraham Lincoln and Eleanor Roosevelt
come to mind) who he felt had the
qualities he associated with what he called the self-actualizating
person. Given to making lists, he mentions these qualities:
1. Reality centered -
self-actualizers are in touch with
reality, are sensitive to the truth, and are not given to denial.
2. Problem centered - they see difficulties as problems for which a solution is needed, rather than as things to avoid, postpone, or pass on to others to solve.
3. Different perception of means and ends - they recognize that ends do not justify means, and that means are in themselves ends as well.
4. Autonomy from physical and social needs - they are capable of rising above their immediate needs, whether they are the demands of the body or the desires we all have to gain the acceptance of others.
5. Resist enculturation - they are not victims of their society and its culture.
6. Enjoy solitude - they are not dependent upon the presence of others around them for their satisfaction.
7. Preference for deeper personal relations - rather than having "thousands" of friends, they prefer a few more profound relationships.
8. Unhostile sense of humor - they would never joke about others, but instead see humor in themselves or in the human condition.
9. Acceptance of self and others - they realize that they must accept others as they are, and extend that acceptance to their own limitations.
10. Spontaneity and simplicity - they are quite capable of being spontaneous and they prefer simplicity over ostentation.
11. Humility and respect - they don't have grandiose ideas about themselves, yet show respect to even the lowliest of others.
12. Human kinship - they have a strong sense that all men and women are brothers and sisters.
13. Strong ethics - they have a solid sense of what is right and wrong and adhere to an ethical life-style.
14. Freshness of appreciation - they are capable of seeing even routine experiences as if they were brand new.
15. Creative - they are able to approach things from new directions, and generally have an interest in creative activities.
16. Peak experiences - they are far more likely to have experiences of self-transcendence.
Maslow also suggests that self-actualizing people have certain
metaneeds which they need like we all need certain vitamins and
minerals. For example, they need...
If they do not get these spiritual "vitamins," they may develop
metapathologies such as alienation, depression, and cynicism.
Being self-actualizing is not the same thing as happiness, according to
Maslow, and I would certainly agree.
Carl Rogers, like Maslow, is just as interested in describing the healthy person as he is in describing the unhealthy. His term is fully-functioning, and involves the following qualities:
1. Openness to experience. This is the opposite of defensiveness. It is the accurate perception of one's experiences in the world, including one's feelings. It also means being able to accept reality, again including one's feelings. Feelings are such an important part of openness because they convey organismic valuing. If you cannot be open to your feelings, you cannot be open to acualization. The hard part, of course, is distinguishing real feelings from the anxieties brought on by conditions of worth.
2. Existential living. This is living in the here-and-now. Rogers, as a part of getting in touch with reality, insists that we not live in the past or the future -- the one is gone, and the other isn't anything at all, yet! The present is the only reality we have. Mind you, that doesn't mean we shouldn't remember and learn from our past. Neither does it mean we shouldn't plan or even day-dream about the future. Just recognize these things for what they are: memories and dreams, which we are experiencing here in the present.
3. Organismic trusting. We should allow ourselves to be guided by the organismic valuing process. We should trust ourselves, do what feels right, what comes natural. This, as I'm sure you realize, has become a major sticking point in Rogers' theory. People say, sure, do what comes natural -- if you are a sadist, hurt people; if you are a masochist, hurt yourself; if the drugs or alcohol make you happy, go for it; if you are depressed, kill yourself.... This certainly doesn't sound like great advice. In fact, many of the excesses of the sixties and seventies were blamed on this attitude. But keep in mind that Rogers meant trust your real self, and you can only know what your real self has to say if you are open to experience and living existentially! In other words, organismic trusting assumes you are in contact with the acutalizing tendency.
4. Experiential freedom. Rogers felt that it was irrelevant whether or not people really had free will. We feel very much as if we do. This is not to say, of course, that we are free to do anything at all: We are surrounded by a deterministic universe, so that, flap my arms as much as I like, I will not fly like Superman. It means that we feel free when choices are available to us. Rogers says that the fully-functioning person acknowledges that feeling of freedom, and takes responsibility for his choices.
5. Creativity. If you feel free and responsible, you will act accordingly, and participate in the world. A fully-functioning person, in touch with acualization, will feel obliged by their nature to contribute to the actualization of others, even life itself. This can be through creativity in the arts or sciences, through social concern and parental love, or simply by doing one's best at one's job. Creativity as Rogers uses it is very close to Erikson's generativity.
Existentialists are a tough bunch. They fully acknowledge the
hardship of life and to some extent even celebrate it.
First, you are "thrown" into the world, a world not of your
choosing. As the teenager might say "I didn't ask to be born!" We don't choose
our genetics, the historical time period of our life, the location of
our birth, the nature of our parents. Neither do we choose many things
that happen later in life, from the surprise inheritance from a rich
uncle to the agony of cancer. Nevertheless, you must "play the
hand you are dealt." They call this thrownness.
Second, you are totally enveloped in a social world from the moment
you arrive. And although the rules of society are not quite as powerful
as the laws of nature, it can be painfully difficult for us to rise
above them. They call this fallenness.
Third, you can not avoid anxiety.
We are a forward-looking creature that is obliged to make choices
throughout our lives. However, we are not endowed with the ability to
see which decision will result in the best ends. Since life is one
decision after another, and every decision involves anxiety, anxiety is
an inevitable part of life. As the old blues song says, if you ain't
scared, you ain't right.
Fourth, you cannot avoid guilt.
Because you are not omniscient, some of your choices will be bad ones.
The German word that existentialists use is Schuld, which means not only guilt
but debt. If you choose the easy way out of situations, you will be
left with a debt to yourself as a human being.
And fifth, you know what is expected of us as human beings - a
knowledge existentialists call understanding.
If all this isn't enough, we are perhaps the only creatures on this planet that are aware of our own impending death. Existentialists are sometimes criticized for being preoccupied with death, and they do, in fact, discuss it in greater depth than do most theorists. But it is hardly a morbid interest. It is in facing death that we are most likely to come to an understanding of life. When we become aware of our mortality, we may at first shrink from it and try to forget its reality by getting "busy" in the day-to-day activities of the social world. But this will not do. Avoiding death is avoiding life.I once found myself holding one of my infant daughters while at the same time thinking about death -- a strange thing perhaps, but thinking about these things is my life's work! When I glanced down at her sleeping face, I thought about how soon she and I would die. At that moment, I was overwhelmed by my love for her. It is the very fact that she and I have only a very short time together that makes love more than just a familial arrangement. When you fully realize that you are going to die, every moment you waste is wasted forever.
Unlike most other personality theorists, the existentialists make no effort to avoid value judgments. Phenomenologically, good and bad are as "real" as solid waste and burnt toast. So they are quite clear that there are better and worse ways of living life. The better ways they call authentic.
To live authentically means to be aware of yourself, of your circumstances (thrownness), of your social world (fallenness), of your duty to create yourself (understanding), of the inevitability of anxiety, of guilt, and of death. It means further to accept these things in an act of self-affirmation. It means involvement, compassion, and commitment.
Notice that the ideal of mental health is not pleasure or even
although existentialists have nothing particularly against those
The goal is to do your best.
The existential psychologist Viktor Frankl’s theory and therapy grew out of his experiences in Nazi death camps. Watching who did and did not survive (given an opportunity to survive!), he concluded that the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche had it right: “He who has a why to live for can bear with almost any how. " (Friedrich Nietzsche, quoted in 1963, p. 121) He saw that people who had hopes of being reunited with loved ones, or who had projects they felt a need to complete, or who had great faith, tended to have better chances than those who had lost all hope.
He called his form of therapy logotherapy, from the Greek
which can mean study, word, spirit, God, or meaning. It is this
sense Frankl focusses on, although the other meanings are never far
Comparing himself with those other great Viennese psychiatrists, Freud
and Adler, he suggested that Freud essentially postulated a will to
as the root of all human motivation, and Adler a will to power.
postulates a will to meaning.
One of Viktor Frankl's major concepts is conscience. He sees conscience as a sort of unconscious spirituality, different from the instinctual unconscious that Freud and others emphasize. The conscience is not just one factor among many; it is the core of our being and the source of our personal integrity.
He puts it in no uncertain terms: "... (B)eing human is being responsible - existentially responsible, responsible for one's own existence." (1975, p. 26) Conscience is intuitive and highly personalized. It refers to a real person in a real situation, and cannot be reduced to simple "universal laws." It must be lived.
He refers to conscience as a "pre-reflective ontological self-understanding" or "the wisdom of the heart," "more sensitive than reason can ever be sensible." (1975, p. 39) It is conscience that "sniffs out" that which gives our lives meaning.
Like Erich Fromm, Frankl notes that animals have instincts to guide them. In traditional societies, we have done well-enough replacing instincts with our social traditions. Today, we hardly even have that. Most attempt to find guidance in conformity and conventionality, but it becomes increasingly difficult to avoid facing the fact that we now have the freedom and the responsibility to make our own choices in life, to find our own meaning.
But "...meaning must be found and cannot be given." (1975, p. 112) Meaning is like laughter, he says: You cannot force someone to laugh, you must tell him a joke! The same applies to faith, hope, and love - they cannot be be brought forth by an act of will, our own or someone else's.
"...(M)eaning is something to discover rather than to invent." (1975, p. 113) It has a reality of its own, independent of our minds. Like an embedded figure or a "magic eye" picture, it is there to be seen, not something created by our imagination. We may not always be able to bring the image - or the meaning - forth, but it is there. It is, he says, "...primarily a perceptual phenomenon. " (1975, p. 115)
Tradition and traditional values are quickly disappearing from many people's lives. But, while that is difficult for us, it need not lead us into despair: Meaning is not tied to society's values. Certainly, each society attempts to summarize meaningfulness in its codes of conduct, but ultimately, meanings are unique to each individual.
"...(M)an must be equipped with the capacity to listen to and obey the ten thousand demands and commandments hidden in the ten thousand situations with which life is confronting him." (1975, p. 120) And it is our job as physicians, therapists, and educators to assist people in developing their individual consciences and finding and fulfilling their unique meanings.
So how do we find meaning? Frankl discusses three broad approaches. The first is through experiential values, that is, by experiencing something - or someone - we value. This can include Maslow’s peak experiences and esthetic experiences such as viewing great art or natural wonders.
The most important example of experiential values is the love we feel towards another. Through our love, we can enable our beloved to develop meaning, and by doing so, we develop meaning ourselves! Love, he says, "is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire." (1963, pp. 58-59)
Frankl points out that, in modern society, many confuse sex with love. Without love, he says, sex is nothing more than masturbation, and the other is nothing more than a tool to be used, a means to an end. Sex can only be fully enjoyed as the physical expression of love.
Love is the recognition of the uniqueness of the other as an individual, with an intuitive understanding of their full potential as human beings. Frankl believes this is only possible within monogamous relationships. As long as partners are interchangeable, they remain objects.
A second means of discovering meaning is through creative values, by “doing a deed,” as he puts it. This is the traditional existential idea of providing oneself with meaning by becoming involved in one’s projects, or, better, in the project of one’s own life. It includes the creativity involved in art, music, writing, invention, and so on.
Frankl views creativity (as well as love) as a function of the spiritual unconscious, that is, the conscience. The irrationality of artistic production is the same as the intuition that allows us to recognize the good. He provides us with an interesting example:
We know a case in which a violinist always tried to play as consciously as possible. From putting his violin in place on his shoulder to the most trifling technical detail, he wanted to do everything consciously, to perform in full self-reflection. This led to a complete artistic breakdown.... Treatment had to give back to the patient his trust in the unconscious, by having him realize how much more musical his unconscious was than his conscious. (1975, p. 38)The third means of finding meaning is one few people besides Frankl talk about: attitudinal values. Attitudinal values include such virtues as compassion, bravery, a good sense of humor, and so on. But Frankl's most famous example is achieving meaning by way of suffering.
He gives an example concerning one of his clients: A doctor whose wife had died mourned her terribly. Frankl asked him, “if you had died first, what would it have been like for her?” The doctor answered that it would have been incredibly difficult for her. Frankl then pointed out that, by her dying first, she had been spared that suffering, but that now he had to pay the price by surviving and mourning her. In other words, grief is the price we pay for love. For the doctor, this thought gave his wife's death and his own pain meaning, which in turn allowed him to deal with it. His suffering becomes something more: With meaning, suffering can be endured with dignity.
Frankl also notes that seriously ill people are not often given an opportunity to suffer bravely, and thereby retain some dignity. Cheer up! we say. Be optimistic! Often, they are made to feel ashamed of their pain and unhappiness.In Man's Search for Meaning, he says this: "...everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way." (1963, p. 104)
Where do values come from? They come from our nature as anticipatory creatures.
Human beings are forward-looking by nature. We "look forward" to continued and enhanced existence. In day-to-day life, we can see that our activity is directed towards ends, goals, purposes. When we pause in our activity, we can see the nature of our motivation in the anticipatory image - something not present that we wish, want, or strive for. But because most motivation is anticipatory and not causal, it is not necessary, and "stimulus-response" only applies to a small part of our lives!
Preserving our bodily existence means that we seek food and water, rest and exercise, and escape from pain and irritation. And, through a subterfuge as old as life, we seek sex. Mostly, these too are anticipatory and do not bear the weight of necessity - urgency, yes, but necessity, no. But, since the body is “out there” as well as “in here,” there are things that inevitably overpower us. When we try to hold our breath too long, for example, we eventually faint and breathe.
Actualizing the mind or understanding means that we seek meaningfulness and avoid confusion, and seek to test and improve our understanding through an assertive attitude - unless life has worn down our assertiveness and made passivity the way of survival.
We also seek support for and improvement of understanding through others. They are sources of experience that relieve us of the need to have all experiences first-hand, and they validate or correct our understanding. With them, we build a social reality which, though again lacking necessity, bolsters our potential for actualization.
Note that this social reality - though it exists as a means toward individual maintenance and enhancement - may become so salient and so powerful that the individual - willingly or not - may be sacrificed to the maintenance or enhancement of the social reality!
Because our actualization is anticipatory, we can be confronted by
conflicting purpose at a time, no one of which is necessary. We
We are not free in the radical sense of getting whatever we want (e.g., to fly). We are only free to choose what we want (to try to fly, or not). We choose the meanings we place on things. We choose our attitude towards things. We can will to do what we wish.
Once we have willed an act, it passes beyond our will and becomes subject to the same laws of nature and chance as anything else. Our freedom is embedded in determinism. So we are severely limited in power.
We make our choices on the basis of our understanding (of the situation, the world in general, our selves, and the nature of actualization). Unfortunately, that understanding is always incomplete. And so we are severely limited in understanding.
And yet we must act and so choose. Not choosing or not acting are themselves choices and acts. So we must choose and act despite our powerlessness and ignorance. But the distress of conflicting choices - the difficulty of freedom - may lead us to avoid choosing as much as possible by embedding ourselves more deeply in authoritarian social structures, mass culture, or compulsive personality structures (which we will discuss later).
Further examples of conflicts are endless: What is good for me now may not be good for me in the long run; what is good for me in one way of understanding it may not be good for me in another way; what is good for me biologically may not be good for me psychologically, and vice versa; what is good for me may not be good for you, and therefore not good for me; what is good for you (and therefore good for me) may be bad for him (and therefore bad for me); and so on.
We may even find ourselves confronted with a choice between allowing
the anticipated degeneration of self (body or mind) due to sickness and
voluntarily ending our lives. We may come to understand
our lives as a closer approximation to actualization than continued
Finally, although my particular desires all ultimately serve the desire to maintain and enhance myself, I live knowing that, for all my efforts, I die in the end. My very existence is severely limited!
In a negative sense, I am motivated to avoid things that focus my attention on this ultimate barrier to actualization, e.g. others' deaths, my own and others' diseases and suffering, physical, social, and mental disorder, even dirt and decay and things that merely symbolize degeneration. The distress of these things may be intensified by an awareness of my own mortality.
In a positive sense, I am motivated to seek a way of transcending death (as I am motivated to seek ways of transcending all my various limitations), through raising and educating of children, through love of others and identification with a community of beings, through art, invention, and creativity in general, and through philosophy.
By changing our understanding of self, we change the relevance of
to self. Here's what Mozart said about death in a letter to his
Here is a
simple list of the general values I believe we hold. Most of us,
I believe, seek several of these. A few of us focus on only a
There are times when we are, for a moment, "transported outside ourselves," or, to put it another way, when we feel an identity with something greater than ourselves. Many people experience these moments when they stand at the rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time, or walk into one of the great cathedrals of Europe for the first time. The ocean, the acropolis, sequoias, hummingbirds, music, even a great book or movie can do this as well. We could call it a peak, spiritual, or mystical experience, or just call it awe.
This kind of thing also happens with certain behaviors. Mountain
climbers talk about the "flow experience" (named by the psychologist
Mihalyi Czentimihalyi), when
their minds are
fully occupied with the task at hand and they become "one with the
Dancers, actors, musicians, and athletes mention similar experiences of
involvement. Tai chi is one of the purest forms of flow.
The pleasure of self-transcendence is similar in some ways to
pleasure: Just like physical pleasure, self-transcendence is a
withdrawal from consciousness. If you recall the "loop" of anticipation
which is the root of consciousness, self-transcendence occurs when that
loop approaches perfect anticipation, with no adaptation required.
Since any extraneous problems would automatically attract our
attention, the loop must also be all-consuming, totally involving.
This, of course, is what happens when we contemplate beauty or become
fully occupied by some activity.
On a more complex level, there are actions such as bravery: If
you rush into a burning
save a baby - that's brave! But if you did so because someone
you a million dollars as a reward - that's just greedy. It's
bravery if you don't do it as a means to an end. Neither is it
bravery if you act
in order to win approval or to go to heaven. Neither is it
if you aren't aware of the danger, or if you're hypnotized or
You must choose to do it knowing the risks.
A brave person is one who does it because he feels it is the right thing to do. He may come by this feeling through intuition, or social learning, or moral reasoning, but as long as he sees it as the right thing to do, and nothing more, it's bravery. Another way to look at it is that a person behaves bravely because it is a part of who he is. It is a part of his integrity. He wouldn't feel right if he didn't. He couldn't live with himself.
Or take generosity: If you give unselfishly, you are
If you give in order to ingratiate yourself to someone, or to get
from someone - that's just manipulation. It's only generosity if
you have no ulterior motives. The same goes for honesty: Is
it still honesty
if it serves an ulterior motive? And then,
there is love. Is it still love if
you have conditions on it?
Human happiness seems to be strongly tied to having close and satisfying relationships with friends, family, and, of course, a partner. The desire for a partner is so powerful in human beings that one writer suggested the basic unit of human life is not the individual, but the couple. Love is basically a matter of caring about someone else's well-being as much or more than you care about your own. If they feel pain or sadness, you suffer with them. If they find happiness, you feel happy for them. Strong love even involves sacrificing your own happiness - and even sometimes your own life - for the other person.
The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. (Frankl, 1963, p. 59)Once again, the good life is not only the maintenance and enhancement of self but also the transcendence of self, a loss of self that paradoxically leads to an expansion of self.