Humanistic Approaches to Positive Growth and Self-Acceptance



Humanistic Biology and Self-Actualization

Self-actualization: process whereby the healthy development of people’s abilities enables them to fulfill their own true natures

Humanistic biology: the basic nature of human beings is potentially good and capable of pushing people in the direction of self-realization if the right social conditions prevail

Hierarchy of Human Needs

Humans have two basic sets of needs that are rooted in their biology:

Deficiency needs (basic needs): lower needs that must be gratified before it becomes possible to move into the growth area

Growth  needs (meta needs): higher needs that may emerge once the basic needs have been satisfied

Basic needs:

Physiological: needs for food, water, sex, air, sleep

Safety: needs for feeling safe, protection, structure, freedom within limits

Belongingness and love: needs to feel that we have a place and that we are loved

  • D-love: selfish love in which the individual is more concerned with receiving love and gratifying his or her needs than with giving love to another; also known as deficiency-love
  • B-love: mature form of love in which the person is more concerned with giving love to benefit others than in receiving love from others to gratify his or her needs; also known as being-love

Esteem: needs for respect and recognition

  • Self-esteem: respect based on our own competence, independence, and achievements
  • Esteem from others: respect and recognition accorded us by others

Meta needs:

Once the basic needs have been sufficiently gratified, the needs for self-actualization and cognitive understanding become salient

  • Jonah complex: fear that exercising our abilities to the maximum will bring with it responsibilities and duties that we will be unable to handle; an unwillingness to sacrifice current safety and security for the unknown
  • Desacralizing attitude: tendency to be disrespectful, cynical, and mistrustful; it causes the perceiver to overlook the virtues and strengths of the perceived
  • Authoritative parenting: disciplinary style in which children are consulted by parents in the establishment of disciplinary rules
  • Permissive parenting: disciplinary style in which parents make few demands on their children and use little punishment; “dopey parents”
  • Authoritarian parenting: disciplinary style in which parents discourage verbal give-and-take with their children and instead, expect unquestioning obedience to their judgments

Cognition and Actualization:

B-cognition: state of experiencing that is nonjudgmental and self-validating

D-cognition: state of experiencing that involves judgments of approval and disapproval

Peak experience: intense, mystical experience in which an individual exists in a temporary state of joy and wonderment

Characteristics of Self-Actualizing People:

Self-actualizers: individuals who have gratified their basic needs and developed their potentialities to the point that they can be considered healthy, more fully functioning human beings

Characteristics of self-actualizers:

  • Problem-centered
  • Democratic character
  • Not prejudiced
  • Cosmopolitan in outlook
  • Socially responsible
  • Resist enculturation, where appropriate
  • Capable of unselfish love
  • Fresh appreciation of events

Personality Development:

Stage-emergent theory of development in which the person must satisfy the lower needs before higher ones can become operative

  • As the higher needs emerge, people become less dependent on the environment and on rewards or approval from others

Assessment Techniques:

  • Personal Orientation Inventory (POI): measure of self-actualization

Theory’s Implications for Therapy:

Neurotics are those who have been unable to satisfy their basic needs and thus have been precluded from moving toward the ultimate goal of self-actualization.  Therapy must be interpersonal in nature.

Evaluative Comments:

  • Comprehensiveness: not quite as comprehensive as it first appears
  • Precision and testability: not very precise and somewhat difficult to test adequately
  • Parsimony: fails to meet the parsimony criterion; too simplistic
  • Empirical validity: empirical support is not consistent
  • Heuristic value: theory has been very stimulating to researchers in a large number of disciplines; strong heuristic value
  • Applied value: strong applied value in pastoral and educational counseling and in the business world



Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.

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