Rollo May Theory of Personality – Analysis

Rollo Reese May was born on April 21, 1909, in Ada Ohio to Earl Tittle and Matie Boughton, he was the first son and the second child of six children. Both of his parents were not well educated and there was very intellectual motivation in the household. May’s parents didn’t get along and ended up getting a divorce. (Dr. C. George Boeree, 1998, 2006, p. 1)

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May older sister was diagnosis with schizophrenic and the father blame the illness on too much education. Growing up May was not close to his parents and really disliked his mother, he considered his mom as a “bitch-kitty on wheels”. He believed that his mother’s behavior and his older sister schizophrenia caused him to have two failed marriages. (Rabinowitz, Good, & Cozad, 1989).

May’s was married three times and had two failed marriages, from his first wife he had three children a son and two daughters, he stood marry for 30 years in his first marriage due to the children, but then realized the marriage wasn’t going to get better and end up divorcing his first wife, his second marriage was also unsuccessful. The last woman that he married was name Georgia Miller Johnson and was a Jungian analyst and that marriage lasted from 1988 until he died of tuberculosis, his son Robert Rollo was a director of counseling at Amherst College and his twin sister Carolyn Jane was a social worker and artist and the third child was Allegra Anne who was a documentary film writer and a single mother of two adopted multiracial children. (Bugental, 1996, p. 418).

May attend college at Michigan State University and major in English and was asked to leave because he became an editor of a radical student magazine, he then transferred to Oberlin College where he received his BA in the year of 1930. After graduating, he pursued in art and was traveling through Europe with a group of artist. He stood in Europe from 1930 until 1933 and addition to his study of art, he taught at an American College in Greece where he took summer seminars that was taught by Alfred Adler in Vienna.

In his second year while being in Europe, he began to question the meaning of his life when he came down with tuberculosis, While being in an sanatorium, he was faced with the possibility of death, he had a lot of time to read many literatures, he came across a literatures that was on the writer named Soren Kierkegaard, who was a Danish religious writer, a person that was inspired of existential movement. May became inspired of Soren Kierkegaard words of wisdom that it gave May the inspiration of coming up with his own theory. (Dr. C. George Boeree, 1998, 2006)

Rollo Reese May was best known as an American existential psychologist and he was referred as the father of existential psychotherapy. May was associated with the humanistic psychology; he had a different way of thinking on the Human existence, then other psychologist, his human existence was sharper on the tragic dimension.

According to Dr. C. George Boeree, (1998, 2006) on May’s personality Theories, stated that Rollo Reese May, used different terms and invented new words from some of existentialism old ideas, for example the word destiny is the same as thrownness and it is combined with the word fallenness, which mean that part of people’s lives that is determine for them, he also gave another example of the word courage, which was used more often than the traditional term authenticity, which meant facing one’s anxiety and then raise above it. (Dr. C. George Boeree, 1998, 2006).

According to Serlin, llene, Mays work was maintained by the balance between darkness and light, between the experiential and the intellectual. May considered the fundamental questions of human existence as the nature of evil, love and will and the meaning of anxiety and the important of myth. May inspired many people and it came from his ability to name the void of create in its face, to name evil but worked toward the good, to see meaningless, but to discover meaning and to face death, but create life. May was in the antiwar movement and many other social causes, he taught and mentored countless students and called himself a “gentle rebel” (Serlin, llene A. Tikkun, January 1995. pg. 65), in the face of an increasing dehumanized world.

Rollo Reese May Theories of Personalities

While being under influenced of Freud, Kierkegaard and Tillich, May developed a theory of personality that was based on existential philosophy and from that, he accepted the following terms:

Dasein means a particular person in a world that is particular time and existing is under a particular set of circumstances.

May’s Three Modes of Existence:

Umwelt is the interaction with the physical world, Mitwelt, is the interaction with other humans and the Eigenwelt is the interaction with oneself.

Alienation is when a person is estranged of aspect of the nature, which results of feeling lonely, emptiness and despair this happens because the three modes of existence is alienated from nature and from other people.

Mays describe freedom, which a person can be free to choose the meaning of their own existence. Since a person is free to choose what type a person they become, they have to be responsible for what they become, another person circumstance of their fate can be praise or blamed for the nature of their existence, because we are responsible for ourselves. Ontology is the study of being. Within existentialism, ontological analysis is directed at understanding the essence of humans in general and of individual in particular. Phenomenology is the study of conscious experience as it exists for the person without any attempts to reduce, divide or compartmentalize it in anyway. Authenticity, if people live their lives in accordance with values that are freely chosen, they are living authentic lives, if however if people conform to values established by others, they have not exercised their personal freedom and are therefore living inauthentic lives, inauthentic is causally related to neurotic anxiety and guilt and the feeling of loneliness, ineffectiveness, self alienation and despair. Death because humans are mortal and because death is the ultimate state of nonbeing, awareness of one’s inevitable death can cause anxiety. The source of anxiety is part of human existence and cannot be voided. The awareness of death, however, can add vitality to life by motivating a person as much out of life as possible in the limited time available. Thrownness is the circumstanced of a person’s lives which it can’t be control. Other existentialist referred this as thrownness and May refers it as destiny.

May was the only existential psychologist that discusses certain stages, not as strict as the Freudian development.

May’s Stages:

Innocence is the pre self conscious stage of an infant, it is the innocent of premoral that is neither bad or good, the description that was given is like a wild animal who kills to eat and since the animal has to eat, he or she has to do what is must. Rebellion stage, the childhood and adolescent is when the ego or self-consciousness of the contrast with an adult from the no of a two years old to the no way of a teenager, which mean the rebellious person wants their freedom and does not yet understand of the responsibility that goes along with it. A teenager would like to use their allowance money on what ever they want, but still what the parent to provide the money and still complain about the parent not being fair. Ordinary stage is when the normal adult ego, conventional and a little boring, perhaps they have learned that the responsibility, but find it too demanding, and so seek refuge in conformity and traditional values. Creative is an authentic adult, the existential stage, beyond ego and self-actualizing. This is the person who, accepting destiny, faces anxiety with courage.

Human Dilemma

According to May (1967), the human dilemma is when people can view themselves as both the subject and the object at the same time. May’s description of the object-subject dichotomy is done in various ways, which is not always consistence. People are capable of seeing themselves as an object to things that happens to them, which are influenced by their destiny. Objectives are events of variables that are caused through stress that can cause a persons behavior, which is the stimulation that happens in certain ways and the way people respond to that certain way. Subjective is when the person is aware of the fact is happening to them and acts on the information, which gives them the determination of experience that are valuable and which one are not valuable to them and then act according to the personal formulations. (May, 1977, pp.198-201)

May description of self-relatedness is distinguished of a human that rest from nature. It is “man’s capacity to stand outside himself, to know he is the subject as well as the object of experience, to see himself as the entity who is acting in the world of objects” (May, 1967, p. 75).

Humans can view the world and we can also view ourselves viewing and the self-relatedness or consciousness of our self allows the humans to escape the determinism and personal influence what we do. Humans consciousness of one’s self can give us the power to stand outside of the rigid chain of stimulus and response to pause and by that pause can throw some weight on either side that can cast some decision and what the response will be, (May, 1953, p. 161).

According to May feeling on these two psychologists, Skinner and Rogers, he felt that they had emphasized one side of the dilemma but was at the expense of others. Skinner had avoided the subjective of experience, May felt that people don’t react to their inner experience of their environment, but they do see their environment in terms of their past experience and they do interpret the terms of their own symbols of hope and fear,(May, 1967, p. 15).

May’s description of intentionality meant all mental acts are purely subjective of the way it is intended or that relates to the events that are from the outside of themselves. The example that was given, love is a subjective experience but one must love someone of something. Perception is a subject experience but one must perceive something. (May, 1969, pp. 224-225)

Importance of Myth

May believed that myth is the way of making sense in a senseless world, and is a narrative pattern that gives the significance to the society of existence (1991, p. 15), the problem in the society as cults, drug addiction, suicide and depression are traced of the lack of myths that can provide the individuals with a sense of their inner security.

Anxiety and Guilt

May was really interested in the human anxiety and guilt; he rejected Freud’s interpretation of anxiety as the result from conflict that is between a person’s biological needs and the demands of society. May felt that Freud’s analyzed was too biological and compartmentalized and Freud’s anxiety viewed his results from the conflict of the id, ego, and superego, but May approved on Kierkegaard’s existential definition instead because Kierkegaard theory of human freedom and anxiety went hand and hand.

Normal anxiety is when a person experience the attempt to expand one’s conscious or when the new values is displaced with the old ones due to changes in the person circumstances and it is an integral of a healthy growth, May’s theory consists that all growth of anxiety is the creation of surrender past values (May, 1967, p. 80).

Neurotic anxiety is when a person hasn’t met their normal anxiety on the time of the actual crisis in their growth and the threat to their values, which the neurotic anxiety ends in the result of the previous unmet normal anxiety (May, 1967, p. 80). In my understanding of May’s theory on normal anxiety and neurotic anxiety, one is when the person is having a problem, but not major and the problem can be solve. Example, when it is time to write a paper my normal anxiety kicks in and I start feeling shortness of breathe and then I can’t concentrate on what I am doing and then I have to walk away for a little while to relax. Neurotic anxiety is when a person have problems and can’t control their feeling and start to think that life is not going to get better for them, they start to become depress, feeling lonely and don’t what to do anything with their lives, but it all depends on the circumstances the person is going through.

May had four description of love and they are Sex, Eros, Philia and agape:

Sex is the biological drives that can be satisfy by engaging in sexual intercourse, the same way eating a meal that can satisfy the hunger drive, which both can be triggered by the need and the availability of an object that will satisfy the need, (May, 1969, p.73).

May one important wad daimons was the eros which to him was love not sex and in the Greek mythology was the minor god pictured as a young man and later the eros had transferred into an annoying little cupid, he understood that love was the need that people have to become as one with another person and was referred of an ancient Greek story that was by Aristophanes, that people was originally a four legged, four armed and a two headed creature and people became to prideful that the gods spilt the people into two, male and female and had cursed us with the never ending desire to recover the people missing in half, according to May, like any daimon, eros it is a good thing until it takes over the personality and the people would become obsessed with it. May also believe that the theory of will is another important concept and it was the ability for a person to organize their lives in order to achieve in their goals and that will is also a daimon that can have potential to take over a person. Another definition of will is the ability to make a wish to come true. (Boeree, C. George, 1998, 2006)

Philia is the third of love which is a friendship or a brotherly love. According to May, Eros cannot last for long without Philia because the tension of continuous attraction and passion would be too great (May, 1969). Philia is the relaxation in the presence of the beloved with accepts the other’s being as being; it is simply liking to be with the other, liking to rest with the other, liking the rhythm of the walk, the voice, the whole being of the other.

Agape is the fourth type of loving, which May, 1969, p. 310), is the unselfishness of concern for one’s partner and the aspect of love that is unconditional.

New Science of Human:

According to May an approach of the study on human nature, should not reduce the collection of habits, brain functions, genetically determined traits, early experiences or environmental events, all that is needed for science of humans are based on the ontological characteristic of humans and that science should take into consideration of human freedom and the importance of their phenomenological experience, the use of symbols and myths and the ability of the past, present and future in making decisions should value the process.

Empirical Research are done by most existential theorists that are unconcern with the empirical validation of their concepts and believe that the place to validate their concepts is when the arena of everyday life, or in the therapeutic situation and not with a systematic laboratory or field of investigations. According to Van Kaam, (1966), an existential psychologist summarized the viewpoint: “Experience such as responsibility, dread, anxiety, despair, freedom, love, wonder or decision cannot be measured or experimented with, they are simply there and can only be explicated in their givenness” (Van Kaam, 1966, p. 187).

May did not rejected the idea of the objective study of humans, but felt that the traditional scientific methodology was not appropriate, but he felt, what was needed was an approach of the studies of humans as whole, unique, complex beings. Many sciences welcomed Mays idea of developing of science more appropriate to the study of humans and not based on the assumptions and techniques of the natural science (Hergenhanh & Olson, 2007, p. 32).


Rollo Reese May theories of Personality was inspiring, because as a psychologist, he consider the people as human beings, not just an experimental objective. His theories explain of different type of anxiety and what they meant in the human nature, he also explains the difference of love and the will to achieve in a goal. I felt that May Reese Rollo, really care for the people and once he became sick of Tuberculosis, he needed to let people know the understanding and the meaning of death and that people shouldn’t be afraid of it, because one day we are going to leave the earth and we shouldn’t be afraid of the word death. I remember telling my mom that I was scared of getting old and scare of dying and I didn’t understand why I felt this way, but as I got older and realized that one day, we would have to leave this earth and we should enjoy the rest of our lives and shouldn’t worry about dying and God would know when it is time for us to go.