If You Think You Can, You Can: A Humanistic Approach

The third wave of thought explaining our personality development is the humanistic or cognitive model. We do what we do, not because of an unresolved conflict when we were toilet training or because our friends think we’re cool, but because of how we perceive our world around us. No two individual’s perception of any event or anything in our environment is the same. For instance, you and I may look at the same green apple and come up with two completely different thoughts about it. I may be hungry and think it looks delicious, but you may notice a small brown worm hole and say, “Yuck!”

Each one of us is born with a desire to grow and be more. It is this drive towards self-actualization that motivates our behavior. Few of us, however, according to Abraham Maslow, ever will realize our potential. Most of us are held back by unmet lower level needs. Maslow organized our human needs into a hierarchy with self-actualization at the peak and basic physiological needs such as hunger, thirst, and sex at the bottom. Safety needs such as security, protection, and structure come after physiological. For instance, your child may feel his security is being threatened if you don’t set limits or say it’s okay to do something one day, but not the other. Next to safety needs are belongingness and love. The last need which must be fulfilled before self-actualization can occur is esteem. Maslow points out that most people are struggling to meet needs such as security, love, and self-esteem, which can cause problems in their everyday living. The few people who do transcend these basic needs are free to focus on what they can be, rather than on what they aren’t or don’t have.

Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

How can you help your children onto the road of self-actualization?

(1) Let your children say what they want to say and do what they want to do–so long they’re not harming anyone else. This does not mean a free-for-all. Your children also need you to set limits, discipline them, and at times deliberately frustrate them.

(2) Give your children lots of breathing room to be curious, explore and find things out for themselves.

(3) Be fair and honest with your children, and give them a right to express their anger when they don’t like what’s happening to them.

(4) Show respect towards your children and trust them to set their own goals and make their own decisions.

The biggest determinant of how far children get in satisfying their basic needs is the home or classroom environment you provide. It is only as your children become less dependent on their environment and on rewards and approval from others that they can begin to learn more about themselves and life.

Another important person, whose name is almost synonymous with humanistic psychology, is Carl Rogers. His theory focuses on what people think about themselves. Rogers noted that most of our self-concept hinges upon the opinions of others’ rather than what we think about ourselves. We have a strong need for approval from others, and this may stand before our own feelings. For instance, Jaimey may hold back his tears while grandma is leaving on the plane, because he knows his dad thinks crying is only for sissies. If he does what he really wants to, cry, he risks losing his dad’s approval. By letting others tell us how to feel, we risk losing touch with our true feelings and who we are. If you’d like to know more about building a healthy self-concept in your child, have a look at Part IV in this book.