A Cultural Critique of Maslow’s Theory of Self – Actualization

by: Nigel O. Rogel

       Perhaps, or should I say, undeniably, most of us are familiar with Maslow’s theory of self-actualization.  I say “theory because we have never been able to identify (even Maslow himself) people who are already self-actualized individuals.  Subjectively speaking, we can say that one is self-actualizing but, more than that, things are still debatable.  However, whether one is self-actualizing or not is not the primary concern of this paper.  What we are addressing instead, is the very “danger” of embracing an ideology which seems to be logical, true, and acceptable.

We oftentimes de-contextualize things for the sake of, for instance, picking a particular concept and fitting it in our (scholarly) works.  We are most of the time unaware of a concept’s practical (and even philosophical) implications.  Sometimes we are applying what we really do not know; hence, we become victims practicing “veneration without understanding” as Renato Constantino puts it.

Let us then take a closer look at our subject, Theory of Self-Actualization and later on decide whether we should patronizing or idolizing such concept without taking a look at its presuppositions and possible implications.

Maslow’s concept of self-actualization is consistent with methodological individualism such that the individual is brought into light, defying collectivism; deducing him from the general and taking him out of the very context of collectivity (see Steven Lukes’ Methodological Individualism Reconsidered).

In the field of Psychology, we have always been familiarized with the concept, “personality”, which according to Virgilio Enriquez (1992) can be traced back to the very concept of “persona” – “a mask that can be observed from the outside” “by an outsider, or alternatively by an objective insider” (57).  Furthermore, he emphasized that due to the domination of Western (psychological) theories, models, and paradigms, we tend to neglect and even put into oblivion our own means and ways of understanding the Filipino psyche. That, in the advent of Western domination (say for example in the academe), we are now dealing with persona or personality instead of “pagkatao” or “personhood” which is more appropriate if we will only take time to reflect.  Enriquez argues that pagkataong Pilipino or Filipino personhood “asserts the shared humanity and the kapwa psychology of the Filipino” (1992; 57).

Clearly, personality fails to express the (“lalim”) depth of our indigenous and cultural concepts; that is basically the reason why Enriquez encourages us to be more critical, discriminating, and less dependent on Western knowledge.

Moreover, another concept that we are bringing in for the purpose of conditioning our minds about the West’s chain of thought is “impression management” which is closely related to persona, the social mask.  Impression management is found in Erving Goffman’s “dramaturgical model” which tells us that social life is like a play; it involves certain actors displaying different actions depending on the roles they are playing in a given time.  And, due to this context, people tend to become “sensitive to how they are seen by others, and use many forms of impression management to ensure that others react to them in the ways they wish” (for better understanding see Social Interaction and Everyday Life, 103).

In impression management, we somehow see a glimpse of the chain of thought that the West is trying to inculcate in our minds, foreseeing that we would somehow imbibe them at the very least, and eventually, perpetuate.  The rise of individualism is indeed reflected in most of the knowledge we consume.  We have forgotten our own – kapwa psychology; we have equated kapwa with other.

Kapwa refers to the “shared inner self”; the “union of the self and others.”  It is also the “awareness of a shared identity”.  To identify one’s own “self” with the “other” is to have the concept of kapwa (Enriquez: 1992, 43).  If kapwa is the recognition that the other “resides” inside one’s own self, therefore, we can say that it cannot, and should never be equated with the concept of other which only accounts for the other as a separate entity from the kapwa.  Furthermore, becoming aware of the “shared inner self” (kapwa) and to recognize its existence is to have the concept of pakikipagkapwa; the unique art of interacting with the Filipino kapwa.

In addition, “pakikipagkapwa is much deeper and profound in its implications. It also means accepting and dealing with the other person as an equal” (Enriquez: 1992, 45).  For Enriquez, it (pakikipagkapwa) is both a “value” and a “conviction” (Psychological Association of the Philippines: 1979, 27) and it operates through certain principles with emphasis on the kapwa as having dignity (dangal) or is ought to be dignified if we are to practice pakikipagkapwa.  As Filipinos, why do we tend to think that way?  This is primarily due to the collective-orientation of Filipinos; Enriquez tells us that, “A kapwa psychology does not put too much emphasis on individuation even if it can see value in one who is marunong magsarili [‘can stand on his own foot’] but not one who is makasarili [‘self-oriented’ / ‘selfish’]” (emphasis mine, Enriquez: 1994, 51-52).

Another concept in Sikolohiyang Pilipino that is also worth including here is “pakikiramdam”.  Pakikiramdam is “the pivotal value of shared inner perception.  It refers to heightened awareness and sensitivity” (Enriquez: 1992, 61). So, if we are dealing with the concepts kapwa and pakikipagkapwa, we cannot but also consider pakikiramdam for without it, though we argue that we are aware of our kapwa, we will never be able to execute pakikipagkapwa.  Pakikiramdam lets us “feel” the people around us, and therefore moves us to deal with the kapwa more effectively or even more humanely; it enables us to transcend beyond the ordinary, daily interaction with people.

So, after discussing some of the concepts in Sikolohiyang Pilipino (Filipino Psychology) that reflects the Filipino psyche in the ideal sense, or at the very least, the Filipino way of thinking – it is now time to come face-to-face with a more radical question: Are we still thinking that way?

We tend to think in terms of the kapwa as integrated in our culture, and as imbedded in our language (at least in the Tagalog language) but, with the rise of individualism (which could be attributed to globalization in the broadest sense and to modernization in lower and more specific terms), the kapwa psychology is of course, challenged and shaken or even worst, be possibly eradicated. This “danger” of being immersed and eventually, being drowned in the societal promotion of individualism is what we have been pointing out since the beginning of the paper.

It is now time to move onto our main topic, Theory of Self-Actualization.  First of all, it should be put to mind that there are five basic assumptions (pertaining to “motivation”) underlying Maslow’s concept of self-actualization: a) that the whole person, not any single part or function, is motivated; b) that motivation is usually complex; c) that people are continually motivated by one need or another; d) that people everywhere are motivated by the same basic needs; and e) that needs can be arranged on a hierarchy (as cited by Feist and Feist, 2006; 277-278).

One can argue against each and every assumption but, for the purpose of this critique, we will just focus on the fifth one. To put it in simple terms, “Maslow believed that all of us can be self-actualizing; our human nature carries with it a tremendous potential for being a Good Human Being” (Feist and Feist, 2006; 302).  So, in order for every person to realize this (self-) actualization that the psychologist is referring to, based on his fifth assumption, he devised the concept of hierarchy of needs which goes from the lower level needs to the higher level ones.  Arranged from lowest level of need to highest, or from first step to the last step in the staircase, these needs are: 1) physiological, 2) safety, 3) love and belongingness, 4) esteem, and 5) self-actualization. In such an arrangement or ordering, it is assumed that lower level needs “must be satisfied or mostly satisfied first before higher level needs become activated”. It is therefore implied that an individual must reach self-actualization one step at a time (Feist and Feist, 2006; 278).

Maslow considered the level of self-actualization as the highest form of human development. And, by Maslow’s extensive search for the self-actualizing people, he eventually developed the criteria for self-actualization and indicated that self-actualizing people: are free from psychopathology, had progressed from the hierarchy of needs, embrace the “Being” values or B-values (truth, beauty, justice and order, simplicity, goodness, wholeness or the transcendence of dichotomies, aliveness or spontaneity, uniqueness, perfection, completion, simplicity, richness or totality, effortlessness, playfulness or humor, and self-efficiency or autonomy), and finally, exhibit “full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc.” (Feist and Feist, 2006; 286-288).

Basically, we have tackled much about self-actualization theory and I believe that the above discussion is already sufficient enough in such a way that we will now be able to press So, after having been able to draw the very foundation of the orientation of this paper in the beginning, and having been generously provided the basic concepts and assumptions beneath Maslow’s theory of self-actualization, it is now time to subject our topic under a critique.

First and foremost, generally speaking, Maslow’s self-actualization theory is can be considered as very “ideal”; we are not saying that it is impossible and therefore nobody can actually achieve it but, ideal in the sense that it claims cross-cultural validity; as we can recall, based on one of its assumptions – the same basic needs motivate people from every place. It can also be labeled as ideology-based; it is of course, like any other conceptions or forms knowledge, value-laden.  If we cannot be sure that something is valid universally or that it applies to all cultures (like the assertion that the same basic needs identified by Maslow motivate people everywhere) - how ironic is it that a particular culture follow a prescription that actions, behaviors, and thought should follow a foreign-generated concept?  In short, is self-actualization a good, beneficial, and neutral concept considering the fact that it may not be applicable at all in particular settings such as the Philippines’ and others as well?  Or, is it simply an indirect imposition that people from every culture must follow the “ideal” and therefore self-actualize so that certain interests would be promoted and protected?

The concept of self-actualization is reflected much in various countries in the world in terms of creating individual opportunities in order to rise above the non-self-actualizers, and have more alternatives in furthering individualistic, economic gains.

As cited in Social Problems, a study done by Hadley Cantril across fourteen countries wherein he asked people from these various places about their hopes, aspirations, and sources of happiness found that economic concerns were rated higher than all others like social, political, and international matters, leaving family and health concerns moderately-ranked. But, what was more surprising in this finding is that these similar ratings made by people were evident even in very divergent countries such as Brazil, Egypt, India, Israel, United States, and Yugoslavia. Moreover, in the same book, we find other studies that somehow mirror individualism in terms of happiness and position in social strata; that, factors such as income and education, together with the satisfaction of all other lower and higher needs would mean “more” happiness. But, of course, the satisfaction of these lower and higher needs would depend on the availability of opportunitiesthat an individual possess. Unfortunately, these opportunities that are correlated with happiness tend to be higher in higher positions in the social structure (Etzioni, 1976; 41). Let us all have self-actualizing people and what kind of society shall we have?  Let one self-actualize and he will become close to an individual acting in a calculating manner.  Goffman once said, “…the individual is likely to present himself in a light that is favorable to him…” (Goffman, 1959; 6-7); thus, focusing on the impression that he is trying to manage.  I believe self-actualization theory can justify individualism especially in terms of the creation of individual opportunities in order to further egoistic interests.

Furthermore, it could be said that Maslow is also pro-elite for he somehow tried to protect elitist values by actually discriminating the poor.  Though he said that each one of us has the capability to self-actualize, we have found out that the creation of opportunities in order to have a higher position in the social structure is also a major issue which most of us, Filipinos will have a hard time to resolve.  Of course, as we have mentioned earlier, education is also another big issue that most of us should deal with; if it can be used to self-actualize in the broadest sense, then, how about those who cannot afford to send their children to school?  How about those who were not able to enter school at all?  Would it follow that they can never self-actualize because they lack a very necessary tool in order to rise above poverty and hence climb the socio-economic ladder?

With all the above dilemmas, there are yet other issues that we should face: who is the self-actualized person?  What do we mean when we say self-actualization in the first place?  What could be its implications upon our own selves, others, and the whole of society itself?  If we will adopt this particular worldview, would it be consistent with the Philippine context which basically portrays collectivism and does not put too much emphasis on individualistic goals?  What would be its effects on Filipino psychology in general and specifically on “kapwa psychology”?

As a conclusion, self-actualization theory is not bad at all.  It is actually a very good moral and ethical guideline but, like what I have stressed earlier, what we are addressing here is the very danger of misappropriation of concepts.  That, though it is true that we humans should exhibit “full use and exploitation of talents, capacities, potentialities, etc.” and that we “should fulfill the needs to grow, to develop, and to increasingly become what we are capable of becoming”, the need for recognizing contextuality (which Maslow somehow failed to do so) is but a necessary activity in the evaluation of models, theories, worldviews, and many others as well. No matter how ideal a thing might be, we need to remember that we are bounded by constraining factors like socio-economic status, poverty, culture, etc.

Self-actualizing people according to Maslow’s second criteria for self-actualization “had progressed through the hierarchy of needs and therefore lived above the subsistence level of existence and had no ever-present threat to their safety” (Feist and Feist, 2006; 287). This is one of the very debatable aspects of the theory because it just makes us realize that not every one of us (unlike what it claims) can self-actualize because the criterion is just “too perfect” and therefore rejects itself. Every one of us is never sure of the future; there will always be threats at one point or another in our lives. And more so, not every one of us are living above the subsistence level of existence because if we try to think of the poverty in this world, the theory is indeed impossible. It is once again in this sense, pro-elite such that in order for one to self-actualize would mean increasing one’s own opportunities and resources so that meeting physiological and safety needs would be smooth; socio-economic status should be high enough so that threats are more likely avoidable.  Would we agree with Enriquez that, “kapwa-oriented worldview was displaced by an imported ideology in the guise of humanism thus quelling the resistance against the existing socio-economic structure”? (Enriquez, 1986; 4)

Also, Maslow’s theory is obviously evolutionary because he emphasizes the process of becoming more and more fully human (Feist and Feist, 2006; 303). After all, he is an atheist; maybe it was due to his belief that man alone can achieve his own perfection. We will never know but, at least we are aware of the possible implications of such knowledge. It also reflects determinism in the sense that a disruption in the satisfaction of lower level needs would prohibit one to proceed up the staircase; thus, self-actualization will not be realized.

And, finally, as we have seen all throughout the paper, Maslow’s theory of self-actualization is but one of the many Western theories that most of us become mesmerized with; unaware of its implications in our intrapersonal and interpersonal dispositions, attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. So, what does self-actualization say about the kapwa?  Or, more appropriately, by subjecting the foreign concept to the indigenous, what can our very own, kapwa psychology say about self-actualization? That is the challenging question that we have to consider.


Enriquez, V. 1992. From Colonial to Liberation Psychology: The Philippine Experience. Diliman, Quezon City. University of the Philippines Press.

1994. Pagbabangong – Dangal: Indigenous Psychology and Cultural Empowerment. Diliman, Quezon City. PUGAD LAWIN Press.

1986. Philippine World-View. Pasir Panjang, Singapore. Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.

1979. Annual Convention of the Psychological Association of the Philippines (16th) edited by Alma S. de la Cruz.

 Feist, Jess and Gregory J. Feist. 2006. Theories of Personality, (6th ed.) N.Y., McGraw-Hill International.

Goffman, Erving. 1959. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. N.Y., Doubleday

Etzioni, Amitai. 1976. Social Problems. New Jersey. Prentice-Hall, Inc.


*readings/hand-outs (Social Science-197):

- Steven Lukes’ Methodological Individualism Reconsidered in Alan Ryan         (ed). The Philosophy of Social Explanation

- Anthony Giddens’ Social Interaction and Everyday Life

A Cultural Critique on Western Psychology: Sigmund Freud and the Feminine Soul

by: Jamie Tomboc

  "The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?'"
--Freud, 1953[1]

       Psychology is a very broad field, not to mention a very westernized body of knowledge, which deals with the studies of human being and their behavior. It is referred to as both an applied and academic field. “Research in psychology seeks to understand and explain thought, emotion, and behavior. Applications of psychology include mental health treatment, performance enhancement, self-help, ergonomics, and many other areas affecting health and daily life.”[2] Why do we call it Western Psychology in the very beginning? As it is known in the history, the field of Psychology originated from the West. Wilhelm Wundt, a German doctor, was the proponent of this new knowledge and together with his colleague William James, made the first ever fundamental steps in understanding the human mind, the consciousness that lies within, the behavior that acts it out and everything that concerns a long line of cognitive and behavioral processes. In fact, Wilhelm Wundt is made known to be one of the founding fathers in the field of Psychology.

        Psychology was then developed by many people who made remarkable breakthroughs and discoveries upon this body of knowledge - mostly, western people. Who would contradict this fact that the advocates of this field came from the west part of the globe? Although there have been developing studies in Psychology in many other parts of the world, the reality that the west was given the credit of initiating it is undeniable. If ever there have been accounts that it was already introduced in the world by other race even before Wundt announced his achievement, they were obviously taken for granted now. The prevalence of western theories in Psychology is unquestionable. These theories penetrate the minds of the people who come across with them.

Here in the Philippines, penetration of our minds by other ideologies and practices - whether applicable or not, biased or not – is part of our daily lives… to us, it is normal. Is there a Psychology in the Philippines even before 1856? There has been no account anywhere, the earliest is at 1926. I wonder where do we got the idea… and I was not surprised anymore that we have gotten it from the west.

One of the mind blowing parts of the field is psychoanalysis, the one which is never quite understood by many. “Psychoanalysis designates concomitantly three things: A method of mind investigation. And especially of the unconscious mind; a therapy of neurosis inspired from the above method; a new stand alone discipline who is based on the knowledge acquired from applying the investigation method and clinical experiences.”[3] Psychoanalysis is where I met Sigmund Freud, the great thinker of what lies beneath the term psychoanalysis itself.

Sigmund Freud
He is known by almost all students of psychology, professional psychologists even use the techniques that he developed; even some who are not related in psychology are interested in his works. Sigmund Freud is one of the remarkable men in his time and his works containing his ideas were still used today for their undying relevance in theory as well as in therapy. Have you ever heard of id, ego, and super ego? How about Oedipus complex or defense mechanisms; have you also heard about instincts of life and death? If yes, you have met Freud. He coined these terms and many others in his theories – some are too controversial and some are in the brink of becoming.

Like many other theorists who could personally relate to the theories that they create, they say that much of his theories or discoveries about the wonders of psychoanalysis were based on his personal experiences. He could relate and was willing to prove them for they personally passed through his own hands. Many controversial theories of Freud like the Oedipus complex, stuffs about sexuality as the strongest driving force, and many others that I might not talk about,  raised many eyebrows of people questioning their truth and applicability…including Freud’s capability and reliability as a theory maker and a psychological therapist. The reaction is normal for not everyone can grasp his ideas…

As I was browsing and looking for a so called universal thought, I came across his works and found an article which is entitled “Freud and Women”[4] and have read it for a time. His theories or perspectives regarding women, as was mentioned earlier, were based on his own experiences at home. Let us look at his family condition: He is concluded to be the favorite son of his mother for he was the eldest. In fact, he commented once as indicated by Grubin in his film, Young Dr. Freud:[5]

        "I have found that people who know that they are preferred or favored by their
 mothers give evidence in their lives of a peculiar self-reliance and an unshakable
optimism which often bring actual success to their possessors,"[6]

         This statement by Freud indicates that he has experienced being favored. His wife was said to have a traditional relationship with him and in his time it was very patriarchal - so the authority in the house was given to him. Accounts also indicate that she has little interest in his works. She lived with several sisters as a young boy and when he got married to Martha was blessed with three daughters and three sons. Obviously, he was exposed to women during his early age until he was old already. How did Feud view these women in his life? Are they his loved ones or he loves to observe them for the sake of his dearly loved works? The answer is not known but his theories about women are widespread.

Sigmund Freud and the Feminine Soul    
A theory that really struck me is the one called “Penis Envy.” According to him, little girls during a stage in their life as they grow up become distant to their mothers. Why is this so? Freud also added that during this time, girls turn to their fathers and love them more than they would than their mothers. He said that this happens because of one thing, girls who will soon be women, realize that they have no penis at all and this brings them into the feeling of envy. That’s why it was called penis envy. On 1933, he concluded that the reason why girls turn away from their mothers is that they blame them for not having a penis.[7] In short, the mother is the guilty one if they become a girl and therefore having no penis in possession.

       This is where another theory arose - the Oedipus and Electra complex. This happens when there is too much attachment between the parent and the child with the opposite sex. Many speculations were laid about this theory, for his daughter Anna Freud was dearly attached to him. He even imparted his desire for psychoanalysis to this daughter who eventually followed his footsteps. His encounter with women also helped him coin the term ‘hysteria’ which for him is a result of sexual desires.

        Of course some women psychologists opposed his views, but Freud always has something to counter their arguments. What could be the factors that led Freud into writing these ideas? Some say that his views were culture based and are affected by his society during his time. Women back then were given lesser importance and were discriminated for being such.[8] “He was firmly convinced that woman is a castrated male who is cognizant of her castration and of her inferiority to man, and that her rebelling against “this unpleasant condition’ causes the conflict between the sexes.”[9]

       As I digest them all, they all boil down to one thing – women are inferior to men. His perspectives about women in the society cannot hold on up to this day, I suppose. The fact that after thirty long years of study, he still questions the wants of a woman is an indicator that he is not at all well knowledgeable about them.

Why “Castrated Males” do not exist anymore
       We all live in the modern times. Discrimination between genders have become more subtle not as quite obvious as the society would impose on its people. Yes, men still have the authority at home but when they make decisions the opinion of the women were taken into consideration. Would not his theories worsen the discrimination all the more? Working on the context of the Philippines, where do Freud’s theories lie? I can see hardly any place. We are eastern and these view points come from the west – a very big loophole to say that the theories of Feud about women are not all the way applicable to us. Culture by culture people differ. The culture imposed on the west cannot be said to be appropriate for the people on the east. We do have our own. Although one might argue with me that we are also patriarchal, I will say that we are also over the totally patriarchal society. Women here in our country are given the same importance as it was given to men. And even in the age of patriarchy, women in the Philippines are not thought of having envious feelings towards men because they have penis.

        We are more gender sensitive than we were before. Men and Women are having equal opportunities at work, at school… one class were not treated lower than the other. Although still in reality, discrimination comes in a subtle way, things have changed compared to decades back when women cannot vote and do not play a significant role in the society more than children bearers and the house keepers. Nowadays, gays and lesbians were also accepted. They also have their own share of participation in the ever changing society that we are living in. I wondered what Freud would write about them. What kind of envy will it be called; or what type of complex will he devise once again; or maybe there will be another form of hysteria for gays and lesbians too. The theories of Freud on other things such as dreams and defense mechanisms can be true – for nothing can attest to these aside from the subconscious mind. But the theories about the “Castrated Male” have been disproved by the society itself. Societies change, and so do the people who make them up.      

       One thing that I certainly know now is that Sigmund Freud’s theories are not at all universal… not at all true for everybody… and not at all significant for a society whose culture does not run in the same way. As I see it, it is one of the knowledge which is being imposed to a country like us. Yes, neither psychology nor psychoanalysis originated from our lands but they are never enough reasons for others to inject in our minds that their theories are true and is based on objective analysis for we can create our own theory more applicable and more significant to our people no matter if it is about the subconscious or the ego or the super ego… we can build our own theories like building our own dreams for the future…. Our own means that no one can dictate us what we will and no one has imposed what we shall follow. Sigmund Freud’s ideas which I tried to refute using my own context – my own Filipino context – are just one of the prevailing knowledge of the west which was being imposed on our country in a very subtle way – in the form of education. It is part of the curriculum so what can we do about it? Abide – this is all that we can. There is nothing wrong in the study of psychoanalysis or any other body of knowledge but we should be careful on the things that we feed on our minds. Sometimes we let our minds overeat those which are foreign, food that are not suitable for the digestion of our thinking, so as a result our minds will either end up bloated, constipated, indigested or merely having pains for having eaten too much of what they offer to feed us.

       The stains of colonialism are the ones we are carrying in front of our shirts which can be seen every time, the burden of being mentally captivated has always been laid upon our shoulders, it runs inside of us just as customary as our blood would. Physically, we were captives before – no freedom to do things at our own will, no freedom to govern our own land… no freedom at all. But where are we right now? No, we are not captives anymore. The colonizers of our past have been long gone… but are they really gone? One may really say that we are not captivated by anybody right now. Yes, in the most obvious sense that we are no longer prisoners in our own lands. But one truth remains, those who held us physically are still taking hold of us in a more subtle way – mental captivity. No longer do we live in their hands, but we think in the same manner that they would.

Botto[1] Kendra Van Wagner, Sigmund Freud Quotes. Website: http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologyquotes
[2] Kendra Van Wagner, What is Psychology? Website:http://psychology.about.com/od/psychology101/f/psychfaq.htm
[3] AROPA, What is Psychoanalysis? Website: http://www.freudfile.org/psychoanalysis/definition.html. 2008.
[4] Kendra Van Wagner, Freud and Women. Website:http://psychology.about.com/od/
[5] David Grubin, Young Doctor Freud. Website: http://www.pbs.org/youngdrfreud/pages/perspectives_women.htm
[6] Kendra Van Wagner, Freud and Women. Website:http://psychology.about.com/od/
[7] Kendra Van Wagner, Freud and Women. Website:http://psychology.about.com/od/
[8] David Grubin, Young Doctor Freud. Website: http://www.pbs.org/youngdrfreud/pages/perspectives_women.htm
[9] New Foundations, Freud on “woman”. Website: http://www.newfoundations.com/WOMAN/Freud.html

Freud in Barong (A Cultural Critique on the Universality of Western Psychology in Psych 101)

by: Grace Adalla

       Psychology is a field of knowledge that helps people understand the human mind and its underlying processes. It can offer explanations, justifications or just mere understanding of people’s behavior. And these sorts of information could serve as advantages of a society to know its people’s strengths and weaknesses.

But psychology is a discipline that is not indigenous to us Filipinos. It is just one of the many fields that the formal education brought about by the Americans, introduce to us. And of course it was a packaged deal; everything about psychology was given and passed on to us (without us asking for it). The theories, concepts, ideas and everything were laid down for us to pick. With no hesitations at all early Filipino scholars swallowed gratefully everything spoon-fed by this academic imposition. But who’s to blame? If early Filipinos were made to believe that we are tabularasa people and we need their knowledge to be literate people. This kind of thinking was further strengthened by them by making us feel inferior to what we indigenously have and look up to what they offer us.

The history of psychology in the academe is more dramatic. For how many years of being purely a westernized discipline, efforts began to show up to counter this prevailing discipline like the ones headed by Virgilio Enriquez.

Proponents of Sikolohiyang Pilipino like Enriquez noticed that the psychology that the Americans had brought to us is entirely a misfit if applied to Filipinos. There is a huge difference because the context to which these prevailing theories were developed differs from our own context. Western psychology as we all know is a product of 1st world, individualistic societies and we couldn’t be, in any ways, categorized this way.

The threat of using Western’s psychology to explain our behavior has been elaborated by many Filipino psychologists. The danger of misinterpretations or misattributions explains why we should be cautious about this. If we use foreign frameworks and fit them into our context, we might miss important things that might be more relevant to us simply because we focused on the framework itself and what fits in to it.

We are always thought not to stop with just knowing something. What’s more important is applying that knowledge. If we all know about this, why can’t we pursue for a change then?

The birth of Psychology happened within our university. It was also here that early students learn a lot about western concepts and tradition in psychology. But what’s interesting is that it is also inside this institution that efforts in pursuing the Sikolohiyang Pilipino, a more indigenous approach, are rooted. Efforts of Virgilio Enriquez, Sonia Margallo, Rogelia Pe, Carmen Santiago, Maria Carmen Jimenez and many more Filipino psychologists on pursuing a psychology that is not borrowed nor copied but a real Filipino methods, concepts and theories that are embedded within the heart of our own context-the Filipino context. And I see this as a remarkable move of trying to breach from the highly dominating “mainstream” psychology.

I still consider it as trying or an attempt until now because based on what I see in the academe, despite of having a concept of Sikolohiyang Pilipino, what is being taught in universities is still the psychology of the West.

Continuing on the history of psychology in the academe, what happened next to the efforts on Sikolohiyang Pilipino, I cannot say. Even though it was an effort born within the University of the Philippines still, here in Baguio we devote our entire stay studying the Western concepts. How could we promote a change if even us people who cradled an important knowledge shared by our own geniuses, wouldn’t support it on the first place?

A large role is being played by universities and colleges in educating and spreading of knowledge to students. And people must grab this opportunity of teaching young people the “real” kind of education relevant to us Filipinos, the things that the Filipinos were deprived of for how many years. But what is happening right now is of no significant difference to what has happened before. We still are very much western oriented in the academe. And I guess it is more frustrating nowadays because we now have a choice and yet we still cling to what has been a tradition in teaching psychology.

Here in UPB psychology minors must take up Psych 101 (general psychology or the Introduction of psychology), Psych 140 (Learning), Psych 150 (personality), Psych 180 (social psychology) and many other. Nothing’s wrong with these subjects in fact they are very much interesting and exciting but the question now is whose psychology is to be introduced? Whose personality? Learning and social theories of whom?

I am not entirely against the teaching of these “mainstream” topics in psychology. But what is happening is just perpetuation of Western Psychology that tends to appear to be universal thus implying that it is true to all cultures like ours. But we have proven this wrong as early as 1960s when efforts of indigenization of psychology started and yet what is being taught in schools (like ours) is still the foreign one which we students take as the psychology of the entire earth!

It was not until I was able to take Sociology 198 as an elective subject that I was introduced to the beauty of Sikolohiyang Pilipino. The course was about psychology and culture and was very much informative and enlightening but sadly these elective subjects change topic every semester and I am just one of the lucky people who was able to spend an entire semester studying our “genuinely” own psychology.

Going into a more specific topic, I would like to take the Psychology 101 as an example. It is described as the introduction to psychology or the general psychology and just by saying so you are actually limiting the field into what you are going to teach or discuss in that particular subject. It is synonymous by saying “this is psychology” and thus giving students the idea that it is universally taught because whatever concepts or theories it carries with it can be true to all people regardless of their culture. And of course the psychology this subject is talking about is the Western psychology or the so called mainstream.

Psychology 101 presents first the biological aspect of psychology like the human brain, the structure and processes, development and everything about it. These are facts, Objective facts that every one must deal with. We could not question these things because they are in line with natural science, where things are fixed. But this kind of psychology is more relevant to individualistic countries who tend to separate the self as an independent entity from the world. But to us Filipinos, we are more of collective type and we tend to see things always in relation to others and to the context to which we belong. We do not attribute everything to our biological make up and processes because in this kind of society where we belong there is more important force that influence our behavior other than the activities of neurons or whatever and that is society itself. Thus this sort of perplexingly detailed discussions of the human brain would be less relevant to people like us who are more communal people, looking at the whole picture to describe an event other than focusing on the individual alone.

Also adolescence and adulthood are included in Psychology 101 and of course the orientation is western. It talks about stages of development, concrete stages that everyone goes through. But these theories like Piaget’s and Kohlberg’s are too defined and concrete to explain the Filipinos kind of development. Children here are different from the children they observed to come up with such theories. Some children here at an early age developed and got matured because of the need to help and work for the family. What happened then to the stages? Does this mean that they are as well being deprived of being fully developed individuals just because the stages were not followed or completed? This is not the way we measure development.

These are just some of the kind of psychology introduced in psychology 101. The concepts are not free of any biases. Knowing that they came from the western perspective connotes that it is their psychology and that concepts included in it are true to their society. A society that differs from what we actually have. And of course what this sort of propagation of “universal” knowledge is geared towards the elevation of the values of the culture that gave life to it. It has been scattered so as to be dominant to all “other” cultures.

What do we have other than the western psychology? There is a lot alternative perspectives actually. Psychology is said to be an explanation to behaviors and so there is a need to have such an explanation that is not rooted somewhere else other than the “own” context.

Indigenous psychologies are somewhat moving on not just here in the Philippines but also to some other countries aiming not to elevate their own selves but to represent properly their identities that might be misinterpreted when viewed by other people. The same reasons, I suppose, for the Sikolohiyang Pilipino.

We have been captivated by the west physically and mentally and it has persisted ever since. But this doesn’t mean that we can be comfortable with this situation. We are losing a lot of “being a Filipino” in this kind of set-up. We were made to believe in their superiority and universality and we consciously or unconsciously start losing ourselves, our identity with such trend in thinking.

We have concepts like kapwa, kamalayan, ulirat, diwa (Enriquez) that couldn’t be found in the “mainstream.”  In terms of methodology we have iskala ng mananaliksik, iskala ng patutunguhan and more that we Filipinos could be more comfortable and adaptive to when it comes to research. We have these sorts of stuffs that would define how our psychology as a discipline would work.

What is sad about what is happening right now is that we really still are a bunch of people that couldn’t get over being dependent to the west academically speaking. And what makes it worse is the fact that there is a sikolohiyang Pilipino and yet what we present in school as the psychology is the western. Since they started it all, there is nothing wrong with having a glimpse of their psychology. But let us not set aside our own psychology. We just have to be specific and cautious in labeling whose psychology we are talking about when teaching the field. Let us not give the students the limitation by mislabeling things. As of now I think there is still no universal psychology for the western psychology is not and will never be applicable to all. It is just one of the indigenous psychologies.

University of the Philippines is one of the institutions that people look up to and we must not waste this and start spreading knowledge such as that of the Sikolohiyang Pilipino. UPB must help empower the teachings of this important perspective in psychology and not just focusing to the mainstream which appears to b universal even though it isn’t.

We really can’t move on if we would not take the step right now.

A Cultural Critique of Maslow’s Self- Actualization Theory of Personality

by: Rosel Ariane M. Dela Cruz

       Self- Actualization theory is based on the humanistic perspective of personality. It illustrates the themes and assumptions that characterize the humanistic perspective. According to this paradigm, it is human nature to move consistently towards personal growth, creativity and self- sufficiency. It assumed that people are largely conscious and rational being who are not dominated by unconscious needs and conflicts. It also suggested that people are intrinsically good, active shapers of their own lives, free to choose among the possibilities and develop a life- style limited only by physical and social constraints. We are also expected to actualize and to meet our full potential as a human being. The ontological presupposition of the self- actualization theory is that human life will never be understood unless their highest aspirations are taken into account. Human beings exist because they have to achieve their purpose which is the attainment of the realization and full potential of the self.

Moreover, the concepts crafted by humanistic psychology have deep roots in the history of Western philosophical thinking. It is heavily influenced by the existential philosophy. Existentialists propose that ultimately each of us is responsible for who we are and what we become. Each of us is also challenged to make something meaningful out of our lives in a world that appears incongruous (Hjelle, p 441).

In this paper, I would like to critique several features of the self- actualization theory of personality of Abraham Maslow. He perceived that growth, self- actualization, striving for health, search for identity and autonomy, yearning for excellence must be now accepted as a widespread and universal tendency.

Let me begin the theory with the illustration of Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs. In order of their priority or prepotency, his hierarchy of human needs is: 1.) Physiological needs which involves the basic needs of individuals to survive such as food and water ; 2.) safety and security needs for long-term survival and stability 3.) belongingness and love needs which involves the affiliation and acceptance of others  4.) self- esteem needs for recognition and achievement of the self; and 5.) self-actualization needs that deals with the realization of potential. Maslow proposed that all human needs are innate or instinctoid and these are systematically arranged in an ascending hierarchy of priority or urgency. In this sense, the lower-level need must be satisfied well before another need becomes salient. This means that the higher a person reaches, the more s/he demonstrates individuality, humanness and psychological health.

The idea of moving towards perfection is the fist assumption I would like to point out I believed that this assumption will not hold for those individuals who have strong death-wishes. They will never reach their full potential therefore, they can’t move toward self- actualization. The whole theory will only true for those people who wishes to live. How about the people who only obey the authority and their duty are to commit lives of people?

Secondly, it immensely requires a pluralism of individual differences. This requires that we accept hereditary, constitutional and temperamental differences. It assumes that people accept as what and who they are at their intrinsic core. We, as human try to actualize ourselves for a good person rather than to evolve and to modify. We can not be evolved but only to enhance the self into someone who is good person. We are as if born to be what we are now. As Hoffman put it this way, “like a rose which we try to make it a good rose rather than seek to change those roses into a lilies (Hoffman, 1996 p 27).”

This theory incorporates Christian values in evaluating the emotional health of individuals. Maslow as the proponent of this theory is a Jewish. He lives with a Christian life and studied the lives of the saints which help him doing this theory. Although humanistic psychology rooted from existentialism philosophy, it is also based on religious practices and beliefs. Thus, this theory can not be accepted as a universal knowledge because it will be unfair to other religions existing across the world. To be accepted as universal, it must be culture-free and neutral. Therefore, projecting the own values of non-Christians will mean that they are not moving towards self- actualization.

Another assumption is that this theory emphasizes the psychological health rather than psychopathological health.

Ordinary neurosis and even the value pathologies like delinquency may consequently be viewed as efforts toward the gratification of basic needs and metaneeds but under the conditions of anxiety, fear and lack of courage (Hoffman, 1996).

Neurotic needs are also important in our realization of the self.  For instance, you will never know how to be happy unless you have felt being sad. You can not appreciate happiness if there is no sadness, distress, depression or anxiety.

        The theory also emphasizes greatly on freedom of choice. This theory presupposed that we are given all the choices. We can not be determined by our society, culture, organization or any authority accept for ourselves. But come to think of it, if have all the choices that life can bring, we tend to be confused and with some extent, we tend to escape from this freedom. We are always situated to lots of choices that sometimes we wish to have just rule to be followed. At the end, too much freedom is not a good thing in reaching our potential.

The idea of self- centeredness which I think is an underlying dark side of this theory. As we are reaching towards self- actualization, we have our tendency to become self- centered. The needs for ourselves must be met without so much importance to the needs of others. Our world becomes smaller and smaller because we are only focus on ourselves. The only thing we see, think, hear and feel are ourselves as we strive for that excellence and growth.

Lastly, the assumption that people must have a choice of values and that if they do they have to choose the Being-values over neurotic values (Hoffman,1996 p29). As I have understood it, a person should not feel to be sad, angry, depress, anxious. We should only have good conditions. Does it says that we have to say only the good things and hide the bad ones? For instance, in a state of the nation address, a president may only report his/her good governance and hide the bad ones. Useful information must not be hidden which means that it is necessity for a full access of information and to the truth.

These are some thoughts that can be questioned in the theory of self-actualization. These are tacit assumptions that we openly raise questions to fully analyze the underlying concepts of the humanistic perspective of the self-actualization theory.


Hjelle, Larry A. and Danielle Ziegler. Persoanlity Theories: Basic Assumptions, Research and Application. 1995.

Hoffman, Edward. Future Visions: The Unpublished Papers of Abraham Maslow. U.S: Sage Publications. 1996.