There are several personality theories from different scholars. They take a variety of approaches and dwell on different aspects of personality. The Humanists and Existentialists put more emphasis on understanding, rather than predicting and controlling. They believe that humans are too complex and are steeped in history and culture; this is what makes them hard to predict and control. The Behaviorists and Freudians, on the other hand, tend to focus on prediction and control. They believe that understanding an idea is secondary, as long as it is useful and can work. A person’s individuality refers to what makes that person different, even unique, from other people. Psychologist Abraham Maslow came up with the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ to explain the personality traits in people.
Maslow formulated the ‘Hierarchy of Needs’ after the observations he made at the beginning of his career while working with monkeys. He observed that certain needs have preference over others. Since humans have many different needs, they will take care of the most important, or most urgent in any situation. For instance, when one is starving and is desirous, he will seek water first before seeking food. In this case, thirst is a stronger ‘need’ than hunger. After all, one can do without eating much longer than without drinking liquid. Maslow went on to create five broad categories of needs in order of importance and grouped all the individual needs in the relevant categories. These categories were in the following order: the needs connected to human physiology, the needs for security and safety, the needs to have relationships and love, the need for appreciation and the need for self-actualization.
The needs connected to human physiology include oxygen, water and nourishment. They cover all the normal physiological processes of the body, the need to avert pain and the need of having sex. Maslow says that all these needs are personal, and lack of any of them will cause craving for the things that earlier supplied that very need. Once the physiological needs have been met, the needs for safety and security come into play. People start looking for stability, protection, safe situations. At this stage, a person becomes less concerned about needs for eating and drinking, and focuses on worries and concerns. This is what drives people to seek things like job security, a secure neighborhood, insurance and a retirement plan.
The third layer of needs is for the needs to have relationships and love. At this stage, a person acquires crave to have friends, a spouse, children and loving affair. There is a need to be a component of a social grouping or community. At this stage, a person is fearful of loneliness and susceptible to other social anxieties. Once a person has taken care of these needs, he or she will move onto the appreciation needs. These include the need to have fame, recognition, glory, status, dignity and dominance. The person will also be keen on achievement, freedom and liberty. The negative aspects of these craves are low self-confidence and deficiency complexes. In fact, Maslow pointed out that they are the reasons of most psychological problems. Most people in a normal setting usually get the first three layers of needs, but stage four starts becoming very difficult. Achieving stage five of self-actualization is the most difficult, and according to Maslow, very few people manage to reach there. The self-actualization need involve a continuous desire to fulfill potentials. A person can only achieve this once he or she has taken care of all the other layers of needs.
Maslow’s work was a refreshing addition to personality theories, which had come to be dominated by the behaviorists and physiological psychologists. In many cases, he is considered the father of humanism as a personality theory. He started his psychological work as a behaviorist with a strong physiological leaning, but went on to expand his scope and came up with a humanist approach. This is mirrored in his life. Being one of the seven children to uneducated immigrant parents, Maslow was a lonely kid who took refuge in books and worked hard academically with the hope of getting his parents out of their poverty one day. His life seemed to follow the ‘hierarchy of needs’ that he formulated; it is a theory that resonates with most people today.