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April 21, 1909|
Ada, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||October 22, 1994
Tiburon, California, U.S.
|Known for||Love and Will (1969)|
Rollo Reese May (April 21, 1909 - October 22, 1994) was an American existential psychologist and author of the influential book Love and Will (1969). He is often associated with humanistic psychology, existentialist philosophy and, alongside Viktor Frankl, was a major proponent of existential psychotherapy. The philosopher and theologian Paul Tillich was a close friend who had a significant influence on his work.
As well as Love and Will, May's works also include The Meaning of Anxiety (1950, revised 1977) and, titled in honor of Tillich's The Courage to Be, The Courage to Create (1975).
May was born in Ada, Ohio, on April 21, 1909. He experienced a difficult childhood when his parents divorced and his sister was diagnosed with schizophrenia. He was the first son of a family with six children. His mother often left the children to care for themselves, and with his sister suffering from schizophrenia, he bore a great deal of responsibility. His educational career took him to Michigan State University, where he pursued a major in English, but he was expelled due to his involvement in a radical student magazine. After being asked to leave, he attended Oberlin College and received a bachelor's degree in English. He later spent three years teaching in Greece at Anatolia College. During this time, he studied with doctor and psychotherapist Alfred Adler, with whom his later work also shares theoretical similarities. He became ordained as a minister shortly after coming back to the United States, but left the ministry after several years to pursue a degree in psychology. He was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1942 and spent 18 months in a sanatorium. He later attended Union Theological Seminary for a BD during 1938, and finally to Teachers College, Columbia University for a PhD in clinical psychology in 1949. May was a founder and faculty member of Saybrook Graduate School and Research Center in San Francisco.
He spent the final years of his life in Tiburon on San Francisco Bay. A victim of declining health, May died due to congestive heart failure at the age of 85. He was attended in the end by his wife, Georgia, and friends.
May's first book, was used by May to talk about his experience of counselling. Some of the topics he looks at are empathy, religion, personality problems and mental health. May also gives his perspective on these and also discusses how to handle those particular types of issues should a counsellor encounter them (May, 1965).
Here May presents a personality theory influenced by critiquing the work of others, including Freud and Adler, claiming that personality is deeper than they presented it as. This is also where May introduces his own meaning for different terms such as libido from Freudian Psychology. May then goes on to talk about the theoretical such as god and humanity (May, 1940).
This book explores anxiety and how it can affect mental health. May also discusses how he believes that experiencing anxiety can aid development and how dealing with it appropriately can lead to having a healthy personality.
In this book May talks about his experience with his patients and the reoccurring problems they had in common such as loneliness and emptiness. May looks deeper into this and discusses how humans have an innate need for a sense of value and also how life can often present an overwhelming sense of anxiety. As the cover suggests, May also gives signposts on how to act during these periods. (May, 1953)
Not entirely written by May but his part of this book examines where the roots of Existential Psychology may have begun and why Existential Psychology is important in understanding a gap that lies in human beings. He also talks about the Existential Psychotherapy and the contributions it has made. (May, Ernest, Ellenberger & Aronson, 1958)
May uses this book to reflect on a lot of both his ideas so far and those of other thinkers and also mentions some contemporary ideas despite the book's publication date. May also expands on some of his previous perspectives such as anxiety and people's feelings of insignificance (May, 1967).
One of May's most influential books. He talks about his perspective on love and the Daimonic; how it is part of nature and not the superego. May also discusses how love and sex are in conflict with each other and how they are two different things. May also discusses depression and creativity towards the end. Some of the views in this book are the ones that May is best known for (May, 1967). Love and will are most of that focus about sex.
May uses this book to start some new ideas and also define words according to his way of thinking; such as power and physical courage and how power holds the potential for both human goodness and human evil. Another idea May explores is civilisation stemming out of rebellion (May, 1972).
May identified Paul Tillich as one of his biggest influences and in this book May episodically recalls Tillich's life trying to focus just on the key moments over the eight chapters, taking a psychoanalytic approach to the tale (May, 1973)
Listening to our ideas and helping form the structure of our world is what our creative courage can come from; this is the main direction of May in this book. May encourages that people break the pattern in their life and face their fears to reach their full potential (May, 1975).
As the title suggests, May focuses on the area of Freedom and Destiny in this book. He examines what freedom might offer and also, comparatively, how destiny is imposing limitations on us, but also how the two have an interdependence. May draws on artists and poets and others to invoke what he is saying (May, 1981).
May draws on others perspectives, including Freud's, to go into more detail on existential psychotherapy. Another topic May examines is how Psychoanalyses and Existentialism may have come from similar areas of thinking. There is attention paid to searching for stability with strong feelings of anxiety (May, 1983).
Serving as a type of memoir, May discusses his own opinions the power of beauty. He also states his belief that beauty must be both understood and also valued in the world (May, 1985).
Argued in this book is May's belief that humans can use myths to help them make sense of their lives, based on cases studies May uses from his patients. May discusses how this could be particularly useful to those who need direction in a confusing world (May, 1991).
Two days before May's death he edited an advanced copy of this book. It was co-authored by Kirk Schneider and was intended to bring some life back into Existential Psychology. Like some previous books this talks of existential psychotherapy and targets scholars (May & Schneider, 1995).
May was influenced by North American humanism, and interested in reconciling existential psychology with other philosophies, especially Freud's.
May considered Otto Rank (1884-1939) to be the most important precursor of existential therapy. Shortly before his death, May wrote the foreword to Robert Kramer's edited collection of Rank's American lectures. "I have long considered Otto Rank to be the great unacknowledged genius in Freud's circle", wrote May.
May is often grouped with humanists, for example Abraham Maslow, who provided a good base for May's studies and theories as an existentialist. May delves further into the awareness of the serious dimensions of a human's life than Maslow did.
Erich Fromm had many ideas with which May agreed relating to May's existential ideals. Fromm studied the ways people avoid anxiety by conforming to societal norms rather than doing what they please. Fromm also focused on self-expression and free will, on all of which May based many of his studies.
Like Freud, May defined certain "stages" of development. These stages are not as strict as Freud's psychosexual stages, rather they signify a sequence of major issues in each individual's life:
The stages of development that Rollo May set out are not stages in the conventional sense (not in the strict Freudian sense) i.e. a child may be innocent, ordinary or creative at any given time. An adult can also be rebellious as the expression "mid-life crisis" suggests (Ellis & Abrams,2009).
Anxiety is a major focus of Rollo May and is the subject of his work "The Meaning of Anxiety". He defines it as "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". May's interest in isolation and anxiety developed strongly after his time in the sanatorium when he had tuberculosis. His own feelings of depersonalization and isolation as well as watching others deal with fear and anxiety gave him important insight into the subject. He concluded that anxiety is essential to an individual's growth and in fact contributes to what it means to be human. This is a way that humans enact their freedom to live a life of dignity. He is adamant in the importance of anxiety and feelings of threat and powerlessness because it gives humans the freedom to act courageously as opposed to conforming to be comfortable ((8)). This struggle gives humans the opportunity to live life to the fullest (Friedman). One way in which Rollo proposes to fight anxiety is by displacing anxiety to fear as he believes that "anxiety seeks to become fear". He claims that by shifting anxiety to a fear, one can therefore discover incentives to either avoid the feared object or find the means to remove this fear of it.
May's thoughts on love are documented mainly by Love and Will, which focuses on love and sex in human behavior and in which he specifies five particular types of love. He believes that they should not be separate, but that society has separated love and sex into two different ideologies.
May particularly investigated and criticized the "Sexual Revolution" in the 1960s, in which many individuals were exploring their sexuality. "Free sex" was replacing the ideology of free love. May explains that love is intentionally willed by an individual, whereas sexual desire is the complete opposite. Love is real human instinct reflected upon deliberation and consideration,which is part of his construct and system for motivation which he called the Daimonic.[clarification needed] May then shows that to give in to these impulses does not actually make one free, but to resist these impulses is the meaning of being free. May perceived the Hippie subculture and sexual mores of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as commercialization of sex and pornography, as having influenced society such that people believed that love and sex are no longer associated directly. According to May, emotion has become separated from reason, making it acceptable socially to seek sexual relationships and avoid the natural drive to relate to another person and create new life. May believed that sexual freedom can cause modern society to neglect more important psychological developments. May suggests that the only way to remedy the cynical ideas that characterize our times is to rediscover the importance of caring for another, which May describes as the opposite of apathy.
According to May, Guilt occurs when people deny their potentialities, fail to perceive the needs of others or are unaware of their dependency on the world. Both anxiety and guilt include issues dealing with one's existence in the world. May mentioned they were ontological, meaning that they both refer to the nature of being and not to the feelings coming from situations. (Feist & Feist, 2008)
Feist and Feist (2008) outline May's three forms of ontological guilt. Each form relates to one of the three modes of being, which are Unwelt, Mitwelt and Eigenwelt. Unwelt's form of guilt comes from a lack of awareness of one's existence in the world, which May believed to take place when the world becomes more technologically advanced, and people are less concerned about nature and become removed from nature.
Mitwelt's form of guilt comes from failure to see things from other's point of view. Because we cannot understand the need of others accurately, we feel inadequate in our relations with them.
Eigenwelt's form of guilt is connected with the denial of our own potentialities or failure to fulfil them. This guilt is based in our relationship with the self. This form of guilt is universal because no one can completely fulfil their potentialities.
May believed that psychotherapists towards the end of the 20th century had fractured away from the Jungian, Freudian and other influencing psychoanalytic thought and started creating their own 'gimmicks' causing a crisis within the world of psychotherapy. These gimmicks were said to put too much stock into the self where the real focus needed to be looking at 'man in the world'. To accomplish this, May pushed for the use of existential therapy over individually created techniques for psychotherapy.
|1940||The Springs of Creative Living||Whitmore & Stone||unknown|
|1950a||The Meaning of Anxiety||W W Norton (1996 revised edition)||0-393-31456-1|
|1953||Man's Search for Himself||Delta (1973 reprint)||0-385-28617-1|
|1956||Existence||Jason Aronson (1994 reprint)||1-56821-271-2|
|1965||The Art of Counseling||Gardner Press (1989 revised edition)||0-89876-156-5|
|1967||Psychology and the Human Dilemma||W W Norton (1996 reprint)||0-393-31455-3|
|1969||Love and Will|
|1972||Power and Innocence: A Search for the Sources of Violence||W W Norton (1998 reprint)||0-393-31703-X|
|1973||Paulus: A personal portrait of Paul Tillich||Harper & Row||0-00-211689-8|
|1975||The Courage to Create||W W Norton (1994 reprint)||0-393-31106-6|
|1981||Freedom and Destiny||W W Norton (1999 edition)||0-393-31842-7|
|1983||The Discovery of Being: Writings in Existential Psychology||W W Norton (1994 reprint)||0-393-31240-2|
|1985||My Quest for Beauty||Saybrook Publishing||0-933071-01-9|
|1991||The Cry for Myth||Delta (1992 reprint)||0-385-30685-7|
|1995||The Psychology of Existenceb||McGraw-Hill||0-07-041017-8|
a revised 1977.
b with Kirk Schneider.
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