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Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Maslow’

QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Healthful Dispositions of Personality

In psychology, Quran, Ramadaan on September 17, 2009 at 4:19 am

19 Ramadaan, 1430:

الَّذينَ يُنفِقونَ فِى السَّرّاءِ وَالضَّرّاءِ وَالكٰظِمينَ الغَيظَ وَالعافينَ عَنِ النّاسِ ۗ وَاللَّهُ يُحِبُّ المُحسِنينَ ﴿١٣٤﴾

(134) Those who spend in prosperity and in adversity, for those who curb their anger and those who forgive people. And Allah loves the charitable

This is one of the oft-quoted verses of the Quran in Sura Al-i-Imran. In this ayah and the next, Allah Subhanahu Ta’ala describes the characteristics of those individuals for whom Paradise has been created; and there are two descriptors of this highlighted group used here and elsewhere: Muttaqeen (ayah 133) and Mohsineen (referred above). 

Three prominent characteristics have been selected here which share the common threads of mature self-control and a basic love and trust for people. Both psychological theory and individual and social psychological researches include these among the most healthful behaviors associated with the highest forms of mental functioning and optimal physical health. My wish here is to explore the psychological aspects of these traits.

Prosocial behavior, forgiveness, and anger control

Prosocial behavior may be defined as “caring about the welfare and rights of others, feeling concern and empathy for them, and acting in a way that benefits others” [wikipedia]. In Islam prosocial behavior is valid only if it is fueled by pure unselfish interest in others, here represented by one of it’s noblest forms: helping others monetarily.

Forgiveness occurs when we cease to be indignated or angry with someone perceived as having offended in some way. Legally, this involves taking back the criminal charges or forgiving punishment or restitution. Psychosocially, the forgiveness should be internal – from the heart – with restoration of normal relations if it were an acquaintance. It is often accompanied by ‘forgetting’ the past offensiveness of the transgressor.

Anger is that “predominant feeling behaviorally, cognitively, and physiologically when a person makes the conscious choice to take action to immediately stop the threatening behavior of another outside force” (DiGiueseppe & Tafrate, 2006). This definition may be modified to count situations when we decide that the other has behaved unjustly towards us or some other object we love, although we may not necessarily plan to take action.

The three traits are inter-related. Forgiveness involves eliminating anger and the more we nurture anger in us the less prosocial we will be.

Self-actualizers and Fully-functioning individuals

 

Self-actualization is a concept that was popularized by Abraham Maslow‘s theory of hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizers represent the epitome of psychological functioning and mental health and reach this high stage after having come to terms with all their lower level needs (such as basic needs for physical and emotional survival). Defining self-actualizing as “the desire for self-fulfillment”, “the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming” he identified several characteristics of self-actualizing individuals. Here is a list:

  • An accurate perception of reality. Healthy persons see the world as it is, rather than as distorted by their needs and beliefs. Maslow writes, “The neurotic is not emotionally sick; he is cognitively wrong.” Unhealthy persons fit the world to fit the shapes of their fear, needs, and values.

  • A general aceptance of nature, others, and oneself.
  • Acceptance of both one’s shortcomings and strengths, but without a lot of worry about them.
  • Spontaneity, simplicity, and naturalness. Not pretentious, display their emotions honestly. But are also thoughtful and considerate of others. Can play the required social games when necessary to avoid hurting someone’s feelings, but don’t do so otherwise.
  • A focus on problems outside themselves. Commitment to their work. Dedication to work, absorption in it, satisfaction from it.
  • A need for privacy and independence. Neurotics, by contrast, are usually highly emotionally dependent on others.
  • Autonomous functioning. Able to be relatively independent of their social and physical environments.
  • “Freshness of appreciation.” Ability to appreciate experiences as if they wwere new. They tend to continue to be greatful for what they possess and can experience.
  • Some self-actualizers have many peak experiences.
  • Social interest (Alfred Adler‘s term.) Deep feelings of empathy and affection for all human being. Feeling of kinship with all people, even with other living beings.
  • Ability to maintain strong, rich relationships.
  • A democratic character structure. Self-actualizers are not authoritarian, do not want “power over” others or to be subjegated by others. Acceptance of all people regardless of class, education, ethnic differences, etc.. They don’t act superior toward anyone, but are ready wo learn from anyone. Distinguish clearly between means and ends, and also beween right and wrong. They have a clear sense of ethics, rather than being governed by expediency.
  • Have an unhostile sense of humor.
  • Creativeness. Original, inventive, and innovative in whatever their realm of life may be. Creativeness is more an attitude, an expression of psychological health, and is concerned with how we perceive and react to the world
  • Self-sufficiency and autonomy. Resistant to social pressures about how to think or act. Maintain an inner detachment, guided by themselves. But not rebellious for the sake of rebellion.
  • Apart from the secure self-reliant individuality, another prominent overarching trait evident here is a base of strong positive emotions for others in general. And it is this dimension of self-actualization, which operationally does encompass the specific emotional competencies we are discussing. 

     Carl Rogers gave a related concept of full-functioning individuals. He believes that “the core of man’s nature is essentially positive” (1961). Fully-functioning individuals represent mental health and maturity because they are open to new experiences, accept their weaknesses, trust themselves and others and are able to live authentically – that is, close to their truest basically good and creative natures. Rogers strongly believed that such kind of maturity can be achieved only in a psychologically healthy atmosphere of trust and dignity.

    In today’s culture of self-promotion, blind individualism, and exploitation, it is the noble traits of loving and forgiving others and going out of one’s way to bring a positive difference to others’ lives which can nurture such full-functioning responsible and mature citizens of the world.

    The above conclusions are indeed supported by decades of research in individual and social psychologies. I quote below some of the more recent research findings linking these traits with both psychosocial and physical health benefits.

    Prosocial behavior research

    Prosocial behavior leads to higher positive effect (Piliavin et al., 1981) and can relieve bad moods (Cialdini and Kenrick, 1976). People learn to associate such behavior to social rewards (Kenrick et al., 1979). Overtime, they are linking helping others to positive outcomes whether or not rewards were actually provided. It seems prosocial behavior can become internally rewarding. Prosocial behavior can convey a sense of personal control (Willigen, 1998) and is positively related to self-esteem (Yogev and Ronen, 1982), personal efficacy and confidence (Yates and Youniss, 1996).  Those who provide active support to their acquaintances have demonstrably higher longevity, even after taking into account other determiners of mortality rates such as demographic, personal and health characteristics (Brown et al., 2003). Brown et al. suggested that giving support enhances recovery of the cardiovascular system in negative emotions, thus affecting mortality. More socially isolated people benefit most from these effects of prosocial activity, suggesting that the effect is channelized through their increased social integration and interaction. Youth volunteers show lesser risk of drug intake, poor academic performance, or legal entanglements in later life (in Barling and Cooper, 2008  SAGE handbook of OB).

    Forgiveness research

    Lawler et al. (2004) found that both current and general levels of forgiveness were related to various health indicators including physical symptoms, medication usage, sleep quality, fatique and somatic complaints. These health benefits could be explained through spirituality, social skills, and reductions in negative affect and stress. Authors concluded that both current and general levels of forgiveness influenced health most strongly by lowering the degree of negative affects experienced.

    Positive effects of forgiveness can be explained through elimination of the hazards of unforgiveness. When we don’t forgive others we experience a horde of negative emotions such as resentment, bitterness, hatred, hostility, residual anger, and fear (Worthington et al., 2001). These emotions have strong potential to disturb both mental and physical health. Forgiveness replaces such negative affect with positive love-based emotions. Ultimately, the health effects are channelled through physiological changes.

    Forgiveness can modulate our mental health indirectly as well, through its effect on social support, interpersonal functioning, and health behaviors (Temoshok & Chandra, 2000; Worthington et al., 2001).

    Anger Control Research

    Anger is the root cause of many social problems such as crime, abuse, divorce, as well as myriad of physical and emotional health conditions. The physical and social health of the affected is itself disturbed (Graham-Bermann & Seng, 2005). A survey of around 6,ooo British families (Flouri, E., 2005) found that angry yound adults had more health problems and remained angry and dissatisfied with their life in their adulthood as well. Friedman (1991) had reported that hostile college age students had overweight, high blood pressure and high cholesterol problems, had smoked cigarettes and drank coffee and alcohol compared with the comparison group.

    On the other hand, controlling our angry feelings helps us in remaining healthy by engendering in us a sense of being in control. It encourages the positive love-based emotions of trust, acceptance, with a direct reduction in the negative and stress-causing appraisals that others are mean, selfish and exploitative (Tucker-Ladd, 2005). Instead of letting loose in anger, we learn healthier, assertive ways of expressing our negative emotions, increasing our satisfaction with self, life and the world.

    May Allah enable us to meaninfully benefit from his guidelines in the remaining Ramadaan and afterwards. Ameen

    Note: Primary Sources

    Barling, J. & Cooper, C. L. 2008. The SAGE Handbook of Organizational Behavior: Volume 1: Micro Approaches. Sage Publications. Google Books.

    Tucker-Ladd, C. E. 2006. Psychological Self-Help. The Self-Help Foundation. http://www.psychologicalselfhelp.org/

    Worthington, E. L. 2005. Handbook of Forgiveness. Brunner-Routledge. Google Books.

    Other references have been cross-taken from these primary sources.

    QURAN IN RAMADAAN: Eternity or Transience?

    In Quran, Ramadaan on September 4, 2009 at 4:36 am

    1430, 07 Ramadaan:

    زُيِّنَ لِلنّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوٰتِ مِنَ النِّساءِ وَالبَنينَ وَالقَنٰطيرِ المُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالفِضَّةِ وَالخَيلِ المُسَوَّمَةِ وَالأَنعٰمِ وَالحَرثِ ۗ ذٰلِكَ مَتٰعُ الحَيوٰةِ الدُّنيا ۖ وَاللَّهُ عِندَهُ حُسنُ المَـٔابِ

      Translation: ALLURING unto man is the enjoyment of worldly desires through women, and children, and heaped-up treasures of gold and silver, and horses of high mark, and cattle, and sown fields. All this may be enjoyed in the life of this world – but the most beauteous of all returns is with God.

    This is ayah no. 14, Sura Aal-Imran in the 3rd juz and summarizes one of the most basic psychological needs of any human being. It is also one of those acoustically, and literarily satisfying verses of Quran that quotes lists as several examples of a certain concept. In Arabic, the items of a list follow each other with the conjunction letter وَ between them, and it’s a pleasure to read these lists in the true Arabic accent as per the rules of tajweed. 

    Sources of psychological motivation

     I will use terms from Henry Murray‘s concepts in his theory of psychogenic needs to discuss the list of needs indicated here, that he describes in detail in his classic book Explorations in Personality. Apart from the psychological needs described below, the list also refers to certain basic bodily needs in the terms ‘women’ and ‘cattle and sown fields’, which will not be focused upon.

    Note: The small n is used to refer to the word ‘need’ following Murray.

    Love needs

    The first two terms of the list – women and children – represents a group of needs with the commonality of affection between them. Murray included 5 different needs in this category of which three are relevant here.

    Affiliation – Our need to relate to a person or a social group. “The aim of the need Affiliation is to form a synergy: a mutually enjoyed, enduring, harmoniously co-operating and reciprocating relation with another person” (p. 174). It is this need which generates in us the positive sentiments of trust, good-will, love, and a sympathetic empathy. It is this need that makes us seek out acquaintances, to do things that please those we love, to wish to stay with and among people, to discuss, share and exchange information, opinions, personal troubles and gifts with people. It is the basis for our moral tendencies of cooperation and loyalty.

    Taking the idea of women and children together, Murray’s concept of the complementary need pair of nurturance and succorance immediately springs to mind. Nurturance refers to the need to take care of and/or attend to (whether socially or materially) another person in need. Succorance is the complementary need to feel supported, and to have one’s needs (psychological or basic) gratified by another. Both, of course, are fused with Affiliation: the element of relating to another is essentially present.

    The need for nurturance is what makes us listen with sympathy to someone in trouble, to feel moved at the sight of distress or maltreatment, to actually offer our support by sharing our time, effort, resources and ideas with those we love or are in need. It makes us enjoy the company of children, to be lenient and forgiving to our juniors, and to refrain from bothering or annoying someone we care for. Succorance, on the other hand, is the receiving end of nurturance. It makes us crave the care of our parents, and to seek for help, advice, sympathy, consolation, and forgiveness from friends, family, experts, and other superiors. 

    Materialistic needs

    Gathered treasures of silver and gold…. In a few words, the spirit of the need for Acquisition is captured with the whole range of its varieties implied. Murray’s concept of n Acquisition describes the desire for material possessions and acts designed to satisfy this desire. In the most ordinary sense, this need is expressed when we work for money or food. However, the lust of this need does not stick to our basic physical requirements. It soon blossoms into behaviors such as bargaining, purchasing, collecting, storing, and hording. In Murray’s terms, the n for Retention (keeping, collecting) is often fused with it. The actual examples used (ornamental metals) are those that typify the ‘greed for more’ underlying these behaviors; the mutually reinforcing words وَالقَنٰطيرِ المُقَنطَرَةِ so aptly reflect our urge to keep and hold on to these objects forever. A whole range of objects and a variety of stores fall in the range implied: stores of food, brimming deep freezers, filled up wardrobes, diverse collections of jewelry, shoes, handbags, ties, watches, utensils and crockery, bank balance, shares, interest, property, saving or lottery certificates… the list continues.  

    Power needs

    The next term of the list “horses branded (for excellence)” could be taken as another item in the implied treasures, but in the Arab culture horses stood for much more than riches. Horses were the primary means of travel and communication in those times as well as a major war resource along with weaponry. They meant speedy connection across settlements and easy manoeuvering and execution in battle fights. Thus they were an essential part of the assemblage of any emperor or sultan who meant to keep or extend his power over the lands. When Quran warns muslims to keep prepared against any possibility of encounters with enemy, horses are mentioned as representative of military power. [Sura Al-Anfal, 60].

                Murray’s theory of psychogenic needs includes several needs with the common feature of power; the most relevant of which is Dominance. n Dominance is the need for control of one’s environment. This need is what moves people to take up influential, leading, persuasive, supervising, organizing, judging, law-making, or ruling positions and professions. The most penultimate manifestation of the need for Dominance is the emperor with perfect control over the masses, resources and institutions of a country with added opportunity to extend the range of his dominance by taking over surrounding countries. The phrase وَالخَيلِ المُسَوَّمَةِ  could be taken as a symbol for such thorough need for dominance.

                The n Aggression is commonly fused with Dominance – the need to forcefully overcome opposition and hindrances in one’s way. Again military power – implied in the Quranic phrase – is a joint vehicle of force and control.

    Needs associated with cultural activities

    The last terms of the list are cattle and sown fields. These two concepts do not just reflect the primary need for food, nor do they merely imply property. Rather, they are symbols for agriculture, which in itself is tied with the idea of culture and civilization. As such they subsume several psychogenic needs that are manifested through such cultural activities.

    When managing our basic needs and comforts in settlements and communities, we seek to explore and discover (n Cognizance) creative and economic ways of ensuring adequate and constant supplies and storage in a neat and organized fashion (n Order). There’s the need to design, combine and create tools, technologies, systems and institions to help in the many practical stages of management (n Construction). Finally, the pool of knowledge and skills needs to be communicated to the next generation by providing information, explaining and demonstrating (n Exposition) in order to ensure the continuity of the system in the future generations.

    Finally, there is an urge in all of us to utilize our efforts, skills and resources accomplish our tasks in the optimal fashion. This is that famous need for achievement that Murray described as our need for mastery and to perform at a high standard autonomously,  and that McClelland focused on in his landmark research.

    Common qualities of the psychogenic needs

    One of the foremost qualities of these needs is that their objects are alluring, beguiling and enticing. In addition to impinging upon the above discussed psychological motivations, they entice our senses  and satisfy our sense of beauty. In fact Allah Subhanahu Ta’aala Himself identifies their allure as a significant factor as to why people pursue these needs. With the use of the word زُيِّنَ, He clearly associates this particular dimension of human motivation that is referred to as n Sentience by Murray.  

    Another common feature is the transient nature of the gratification of these needs. All human process take place in a cyclic fashion – so with these needs. We experience love for people, but do not feel it on the uppermost levels of our mind all the time; we forget, turn indifferent, or are distracted by other needs. This doesn’t stop us, however, from feeling needy after a time lapse or given some trigger. Same with all of them, inclusive of course, of the more basic level needs such as hunger and thirst. There is no satisfying us for good. Like that hapless dog whose tongue falls out as soon as his stomach is empty again.

    A final and  common feature of all these needs is that their objects are all limited to this world [ذٰلِكَ مَتٰعُ الحَيوٰةِ الدُّنيا]. These needs cannot answer us in the post-death scenario where existence continues on a different plane. More important, these needs are often not enough to fully realize our humanity and yet have the potential to engross us too much in themselves so that we forget there are sides to us still undeveloped.

    This higher-level need – the need to experience something bigger and higher than ourselves – has been called as the spiritual need and, from the psychological perspective, can best be summarized by referring to Abraham Maslow:

    He rejects the idea of limiting the experience of the holy to only one day of the week, when everything is miraculous. He argues that the sacred is in the ordinary, in people, in one’s own backyard (Maslow, 1970b). Looking for miracles is a display of ignorance that everything is miraculous. All kinds of serious people are found to be capable of discovering the sacred anywhere and everywhere in life (Maslow, 1970b). He comments that when the organised religion splits off the sacred from the profane, the sacred, no longer belonging to everyone, becomes the property of a certain few—an elite cadre, select guardians of a private “hotline” to heaven, “the elect”  (Maslow, 1970b). Maslow comments that when the holy is confined to one day of the week, people may feel free from the necessity of religious experi­ence at any other time. [Source: Mario Fernando]

    How God promises to fulfill our spiritual sides

    وَلَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسٰنَ وَنَعلَمُ ما تُوَسوِسُ بِهِ نَفسُهُ ۖ وَنَحنُ أَقرَبُ إِلَيهِ مِن حَبلِ الوَريدِ

    NOW, VERILY, it is We who have created man, and We know what his innermost self whispers within him: for We are closer to him than his neck-vein. [Sura Qaf, 16]

     
     

     

    وَإِذا سَأَلَكَ عِبادى عَنّى فَإِنّى قَريبٌ ۖ أُجيبُ دَعوَةَ الدّاعِ إِذا دَعانِ ۖ فَليَستَجيبوا لى وَليُؤمِنوا بى لَعَلَّهُم يَرشُدونَ
     
     (Al-Baqarah, 186) AND IF My servants ask thee about Me – behold, I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me: let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way.
     

    God promises us His attentions to us on a one to one basis and at a close, private, intimate, highly interpersonal level. The exquisite experience of relating to the Creator of this universe in such a manner is by itself extremely gratifying and uplifting and an immense source of strength and support in times of stress. This is the core experience of spirituality which is available to all of us, regardless of our external differences, as clear from these two ayahs.

    Another way, our spirituality is gratified in this world is by encouraging in us those character qualities which all religions and even the contemporary literature on spirituality identifies as universally desirable and as in the upper echelons of psychological development.  Since the major take in this article is psychological, I once again refer to Maslow’s list of B-values (the values deemed desirable by those striving to fulfil their being – that is, higher level – needs) and select those that correspond with the concept of Ehsan in Islam [Source: George Norwood].

    • Wholeness/Unity/Oneness
    • Perfection/Just-so-ness
    • Completion/Finality/Ending
    • Justice/Fairness
    • Aliveness/Full-Functioning
    • Simplicity/Essential/Honesty
    • Goodness/Oughtness
    • Truth/Reality/Beauty/Pure
    • Self-Sufficiency/Independence

    There is another and certainly the Perfect and the Absolute way that God promises to cater to our needs which will still be alive and impinging in the Afterlife. Among all the various rewards of the Afterlife mentioned throughout the Qur’an, objects catering to one or another of the various psychological needs can be identified. The rewards presented as the most valuable are, again of the highest kind: meeting Him directly and earning His praises.

    Thus God is the ultimate means of the fulfillment of our needs in both the worlds. While the fulfillment of the earthier needs in this world is open to all within physical and curcumstantial constraints of the world, none of the needs can be fulfilled in the Afterlife until we first earn this status through our actions in this world.

    Ameen.