I studied psychology in the 1950’s. It was one of my majors for my BA degree. Today I was reminded on two discrete occasions about concepts I had studied six decades ago, which had not been part of my consciousness for many years.
Two Different Reminders
The first idea was mentioned in conversation by my croquet colleague who brought up the topic of lobotomy as a cure for depression. Later, I received in my email an article from Big Think Edge on self-actualization.
My Gut Reaction
I was aware of my gut reaction when I became cognisant of these two diverse topics. I remembered that lobotomy had become grossly discredited, while self-actualization evoked feelings of positivity. I needed to follow up to verify my unconscious reaction to being reminded of these two concepts.
It is for good reason that the brain operation known as lobotomy would evoke a feeling of disgust. This intrusive brain surgery, performed under local anaesthetic, involved making two incisions into the skull, just behind the eyes, so that nerves of the frontal lobes could be severed.
The aim of this procedure was to relieve symptoms of distress displayed by mental illness. It became thoroughly discredited only after many thousands of operations in both the UK and America during the 1940’s and the 1950’s.
How Effective was this Operation?
There was no cure in those days for people who were consigned to a mental asylum. Once a patient entered the ward of such an institution, it became a virtual life sentence. Following this procedure, it was found that 1/3 patients improved, 1/3 became worse, and 1/3 remained the same. No research was ever conducted, and there was no follow up to this radical and irreversible surgical procedure.
Looking back, it is incredible that the medical profession sanctioned this irreversible operation. The neurosurgeon would cut into a healthy brain to perform this procedure which today is considered an aberration.
What will our Grandchildren think about Today’s Medicine?
It makes one stop to ask, “I wonder if we are today performing medical procedure which may be considered horrific by our grandchildren!” Maybe we are. It could be that chemotherapy will, in the future, be regarded as unnecessarily invasive. While this cancer treatment targets the fast growing cells of the tumour, it also destructs some healthy cells such as the hair follicles. Maybe in 50 years’ time, this cure may be judged in the same way as we judge lobotomy today!
How well I remember being introduced to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, which culminated in the need for self-actualization. I was excited when I first heard of this concept, and this feeling was re-evoked today.
As this diagram illustrates, it is postulated that man needs to satisfy his basic needs for food, water, and sleep at the most basic level. When these life maintaining needs have been adequately gratified, then the next levels for safety, health and employment require sustenance. Subsequently, we have to cater to our social needs for friends and family. Having this level dealt with successfully, we proceed to achieve friendships and acquire the respect of our peer group. Finally, we have this ultimate need for self-actualization; to achieve contentment and a feeling of fulfilment.
Latest Research on Self-Actualisation
When I received today’s email from Big Think, I was amazed to discover a report of new research performed in the past few years updating and reinforcing the merit of Maslow’s top postulated human need.
Now the psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, from Columbia University, has published a study that updates Maslow’s work. Modern statistical methods have identified ten specific characteristics that are shared by self-actualized people.
Kaufman utilized surveys of over 500 subjects and identified ten characteristics that each make a distinct contribution towards self-actualization. They are:
Continued Freshness of Appreciation
Efficient Perception of Reality
Good Moral Intuition
What is particularly interesting about these qualities is that they tie in so well with the newest research into today’s favoured field of Humanistic Psychology. In addition, these are the qualities cherished by those of us who practice Mindfulness! Those who search for Happiness!
In Kaufmann’s words
“A good way to start is by first identifying where you stand on those characteristics and assessing your weakest links. Capitalize on your highest characteristics but also don’t forget to intentionally be mindful about what might be blocking your self-actualization. Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. ”
It is very satisfying to have the opportunity to review the manner in which the concept of self-actualization has re-emerged so many decades later. Unlike lobotomy this concept has stood the test of time.
Enriching my Understanding
In fact, it has given me an insight into my understanding of myself. Those of you who have been reading my blogs for the past few months may recall my ponderings regarding my competitiveness. I have often wondered why it is that at my advanced stage of life, I still need to enter competitions to demonstrate my prowess at the game of croquet. Now I have some insight. Of course, it is all about self-actualization!