How does Abraham Maslow' Self-Actualization theory explain the development of pathological behavior?

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M.P. Ossa eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Manslow's own definition of self-actualization

What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization... the tendency for him to become actualized in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.

Self-actualization is one of the main tenets of Manslow's psychological theory of motivation which he called, the Hierarchy of Needs;  the theory was proposed in Manslow's 1943 paper "A Theory of Human Motivation". 

Self-actualization, as explained in the diagram of the Hierarchy itself, is at the very top of the Hierarchical model.  The raw, and most basic human needs appear at the bottom of the hierarchy, and include breathing, food, water, excretion, sex, homeostasis, and sleep.

As the basic needs are met, the individual moves upwards, and his or her needs become more cultivated. There are needs for safety, for belonging, for self-esteem and, finally, for self-actualization. Within the needs of self-actualization we find

  • problem solving
  • creativity
  • morality
  • acceptance
  • spontaneity
  • lack of prejudice

Therefore, pathological behavior would entail the exact opposite of what we find in Manslow's model. In other words, when the basic needs that are so important are not met, particularly those involving early childhood, the individual will continuously struggle to meet those needs as a survival mechanism. As a result, the social, ethical, and moral needs become neglected. Neglecting social, ethical, and moral needs renders the individual uncultivated and such inadequacy of character is often the foundation for pathological behavior. Why? Because pathological behavior entails the execution of dynamics that are considered anti-social, anti-ethical, and immoral when viewed from that specific perspective.