What Are the Characteristics of a Healthy Person

Long before Abraham Maslow (see Chapter 10) made the concept of self-actualization popular, Gordon Allport (1937) hypothesized in depth about the attributes of the mature personality. Allport's interest in the psychologically healthy person goes back to 1922, the year he finished his PhD. Not having any particular skills in mathematics, biology, medicine, or laboratory manipulations, Allport (1967) was forced to "find [his] own way in the humanistic pastures of psychology" (p. 8). Such pastures led to a study of the psychologically mature personality.

A few general assumptions are required to understand Allport's conception of the mature personality. First, psychologically mature people are characterized by proactive behavior; that is, they not only react to external stimuli, but they are capable of consciously acting on their environment in new and innovative ways and causing their environment to react to them. Proactive behavior is not merely directed at reducing tensions but also at establishing new ones.

In addition, mature personalities are more likely than disturbed ones to be motivated by conscious processes, which allow them to be more flexible and autonomous than unhealthy people who remain dominated by unconscious motives that spring from childhood experiences.

Healthy people ordinarily have experienced a relatively trauma-free childhood, even though then later years may be tempered by conflict and suffering. Psychologically healthy individuals are not without the foibles and idiosyncrasies that make them unique. Also, age is not a requisite for maturity, although healthy persons seem to become more mature as they get older.

What, then, are the more specific requirements for psychological health? All-port (1961) identified six criteria for the mature personality.

The first is an extension of the sense of self Mature people continually seek to identify with and participate in events outside themselves. They are not self-centered but are able to become involved in problems and activities that are not centered on themselves. They develop an unselfish interest in work, play, and recreation. Social mterest (Gemeinschaftsgefühl), family, and spiritual life are important to them. Eventually, these outside activities become part of ones being. Allport (1961) summed up this first criterion by saying: "Everyone has self-love, but only self-extension is the earmark of maturity" (p. 285).

Second, mature personalities are characterized by a 'warm relating of self to others" (Allport, 1961, p. 285). They have the capacity to love others in an intimate and compassionate maimer. Warm relating, of course, is dependent on people s ability to extend their sense of self. Only by looking beyond themselves can mature people love others nonpossessively and unselfishly. Psychologically healthy individuals treat other people with respect, and they realize that the needs, desires, and hopes of others are not completely foreign to then own. In addition, they have a healthy sexual attitude and do not exploit others for personal gratification.

A third criterion is emotional security or self-acceptance. Mature individuals accept themselves for what they are, and they possess what Allport (1961) called emotional poise. These psychologically healthy people are not overly upset when things do not go as planned or when they are simply "having a bad day." They do not dwell on minor irritations, and they recognize that frustrations and inconveniences are a part of living.

Fourth, psychologically healthy people also possess a realistic perception of then environment. They do not live in a fantasy world or bend reality to fit their own wishes. They are problem oriented rather than self-centered, and they are hi touch with the world as most others see it.

A fifth criterion is insight and humor. Mature people know themselves and, therefore, have no need to attribute their own mistakes and weaknesses to others. They also have a nonhostile sense of humor, which gives them the capacity to laugh at themselves rather than relying on sexual or aggressive themes to elicit laughter from others. Allport (1961) believed that insight and humor are closely related and may be aspects of the same tiling, namely self-objectification. Healthy individuals see themselves objectively. They are able to perceive the incongruities and absurdities in life and have no need to pretend or to put on airs.

The final criterion of maturity is a unifying philosophy of life. Healthy people have a clear view of the purpose of life. Without this view, their insight would be empty and barren, and then humor would be trivial and cynical. The unifying philosophy of life may or may not be religious, but Allport (1954, 1963), on a personal

Chapter 13 Allport: Psychology of the Individual 377

level, seemed to have felt that a mature religious orientation is a crucial ingredient in the lives of most mature individuals. Although many churchgoing people have an immature religious philosophy and narrow racial and ethnic prejudices, deeply religious people are relatively free of these prejudices. The person with a mature religious attitude and a unifying philosophy of life has a well-developed conscience and quite likely, a strong desire to serve others.

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