social icons graphic

Rollo May Part 1

Rollo May Part 1

The work of Rollo May respects the contributions of noted European existentialist thinkers, such as Binswanger and Boss. He is generally credited with importing and integrating such philosophical issues into American psychology. May maintains the fundamental existentialist proposition that human beings can develop in three domains or modes.

• Umwelt or, literally, the “world around”: our inner physiological and outer physical environment. As objective, many aspects of Umwelt are not within our locus of control, a scenario to which the existentialist terms facticity or thrownness typically refer.
• Mitwelt or, literally, the “with world”: the social milieu, comprising our interpersonal relationships. Ideally, social relationships should be developed for their own sake, rather than as a Freudian means for sublimating an instinctual drive. Isolation, furthermore, does not achieve a meaningful existence, according to May. The core of Mitwelt interrelationships is that “in the encounter both persons are changed” (May, Angel & Ellenberger, 1958: 63).
• Eigenwelt or, literally, the “own world”: the subjective psychological realm of both our relationship with ourselves and our reactions to Umwelt and Mitwelt. Self-awareness is considered to be an almost uniquely human trait. Feelings of emptiness and self-estrangement reflect disruptions of Eigenwelt. May states that optimal human development must address all three, interrelated,

Another key existentialist concept integrated into May’s work is Dasein, usually translated as “being-in-the-world” and also conveying notions of life-force and self-responsibility. In similar vein to the Rogerian actualising tendency, it is thought to circumscribe, if not subjugate, all other drives, including sexuality and aggression. May considered Dasein to be a highly subjective and personal matter: no credible objective adjudications can exist concerning how or what a person is to be-in-the-world. Existentialists further contend that there is no “why” – that we are thrust into an essentially meaningless world – and each person must discover his own potential and values, in the process developing both a conscious and unconscious sense of self as a discrete and autonomous entity. Dynamism is also intrinsic to Dasein: the notion of the person becoming something not yet realised. May adopts these ideas to extend standard psychoanalytic formulations.

The “unconscious”, then, is not to be thought of as a reservoir of impulses, thoughts, wishes which are culturally unacceptable; I define it rather as those potentialities for knowing and experiencing which the individual cannot or will not actualise. (May, 1983: 17)

Recent Posts