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Although he is often associated with humanistic psychology, he differs from other humanistic psychologists such as Maslow or Rogers in showing a sharper awareness of the tragic dimensions of human existence. May was a close friend of the U.S. German-born theologian Paul Tillich. His works include "Love and Will" and "The Courage to Create", the latter title being based on the title of Tillich's "The Courage to Be".
May experienced a difficult childhood, with his parents divorcing and his sister suffering a mental breakdown. His educational odyssey took him to Michigan State University and Oberlin College for a bachelor's degree, teaching for a time in Greece, to Union Theological Seminary for a Bachelor of Divinity in 1938, and finally to Columbia University for a PhD in clinical psychology in 1949.
He spent the closing years of his life in Tiburon on the San Francisco Bay, where he died in October of 1994.
May uses some traditional existential terms in a slightly different fashion than others, and he invents new words for traditional existentialist concepts. Destiny, for example, could be "thrownness" combined with "fallenness"— the part of our lives that is determined for us, for the purpose of creating our lives. He also used the word "courage" to signify authenticity in facing one’s anxiety and rising above it.
He saw certain "stages" of development:
- Innocence – the pre-egoic, pre-self-conscious stage of the infant. The innocent is only doing what he or she must do. However, an innocent does have a degree of will in the sense of a drive to fulfill needs.
- Rebellion – the rebellious person wants freedom, but has as yet no full understanding of the responsibility that goes with it.
- Ordinary – the normal adult ego learned responsibility, but finds it too demanding, and so seeks refuge in conformity and traditional values.
- Creative – the authentic adult, the existential stage, beyond ego and self-actualizing. This is the person who, accepting destiny, faces anxiety with courage.
These are not stages in the traditional sense. A child may certainly be innocent, ordinary or creative at times; an adult may be rebellious. The only attachment to certain ages is in terms of salience: rebelliousness stands out in the two year old and the teenager.
His first book, The Meaning of Anxiety, was based on his doctoral dissertation, which in turn was based on his reading of the 19th century philosopher Søren Kierkegaard. His definition of anxiety is "the apprehension cued off by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as a self" (1967, p. 72.) He also quotes Kierkegaard: "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom". In 1956, he edited the book Existence with Ernest Angel and Henri Ellenberger. Existence helped introduce existential psychology to the US.
Quotes by Rollo May
"Hate is not the opposite of love. Apathy is."
"If we admit our depression openly and freely, those around us get from it an experience of freedom rather than the depression itself."
"Care is a state in which something does matter; it is the source of human tenderness."
"Creativity is not merely the innocent spontaneity of our youth and childhood; it must also be married to the passion of the adult human being, which is a passion to live beyond one's death."
"Depression is the inability to construct a future."
"Freedom is man's capacity to take a hand in his own development. It is our capacity to mold ourselves."
"If you do not express your own original ideas, if you do not listen to your own being, you will have betrayed yourself."
"It is an ironic habit of human beings to run faster when we have lost our way."
"It requires greater courage to preserve inner freedom, to move on in one's inward journey into new realms, than to stand defiantly for outer freedom. It is often easier to play the martyr, as it is to be rash in battle."
"Joy, rather than happiness, is the goal of life, for joy is the emotion which accompanies our fulfilling our natures as human beings. It is based on the experience of one's identity as a being of worth and dignity."
"Life comes from physical survival; but the good life comes from what we care about."
"The relationship between commitment and doubt is by no means an antagonistic one. Commitment is healthiest when it's not without doubt but in spite of doubt."
Taken from www.brainyquote.com.
- The Meaning of Anxiety (1950), W W Norton 1996 revised edition: ISBN 0393314561
- Man’s Search for Himself (1953), Delta 1973 reprint: ISBN 0385286171
- Existence (1956) , Jason Aronson 1994 reprint: ISBN 1568212712
- The Art of Counseling (1965), Gardner Press 1989 rev. edition: ISBN 0898761565
- Psychology and the Human Dilemma (1967), W W Norton 1996 reprint: ISBN 0393314553
- Love and Will (1969), W W Norton ISBN 0393010805, Delta 1989 reprint: ISBN 0385285906
- Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence (1972), W W Norton 1998 reprint ISBN 039331703X
- The Courage to Create (1975), W W Norton 1994 reprint: ISBN 0393311066
- Freedom and Destiny (1981), W W Norton 1999 edition: ISBN 0393318427
- The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology (1983), W W Norton 1994 reprint: ISBN 0393312402
- My Quest for Beauty (1985), Saybrook Publishing ISBN 0933071019
- The Cry for Myth (1991), Delta 1992 reprint: ISBN 0385306857
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