Throughout the human lifespan, our behaviors are constantly motivated by various influences. The psychoanalytic, humanistic, and diversity views offer insight into the different aspects of human personality that motivate our behavior. Michael Jackson was a well-known artist that endured a very difficult childhood which influenced the motivation behind his “news-worthy” behaviors. Michael was known in the media for many of his choices, but we will discuss his decision to keep children in his constant company. This decision caused a great deal of negative publicity for Michael, and no one is completely certain whether the child molestation charges were accurate, though the charges were dropped.
From a psychoanalytic standpoint, we can make a fair assumption that Michael was likely a repressor. According to McAdams (2006), “… repressors … tend to recall their parents as being especially indifferent or neglecting.” Michael Jackson’s life was turned into an autobiographical movie, which revealed the type of childhood he experienced. Michael’s father, Joseph, was harsh and rejecting and he was the epitome of the authoritarian personality; Joseph had little, if any, tolerance for the children when they disobeyed his authority or contradicted the legitimacy of his authority. When any of the children “appeared” to neglect obedience, Joseph made them retrieve a “switch” that he would use to abuse them. Michael likely employed a range of defense mechanisms, “[an] unconscious strategy of the ego that distorts reality in order to lessen anxiety” (McAdams, 2006, p. 261). At age 15, Michael experienced a traumatic incident while shooting a music video when his hair caught fire. While lying in the hospital bed, Michael’s mother says that she is going to tell his brothers and sisters that he is okay; Michael insists that his mother tell his siblings that he said the ambulance ride was wild and he got to listen to the sirens all the way to the hospital. The defense mechanism of regression is implicated, for his behavior in the hospital is not that of a 15-year-old; Michael’s behavior retreats to an earlier stage in order to avoid pain, threat, and anxiety (McAdams, 2006, p. 262). This is evident when Michael starts to become very unhappy with his appearance immediately following the traumatic experience. We will later conclude how, from a psychoanalytic view, these aspects affect Michael’s choice to stay in the company of children, but first let’s look at Michael’s motivation for this decision through the humanistic view.
Within the humanistic perspective is Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that identifies which needs are a priority; the needs for food, water, and sleep are identified as the main priorities of human functioning and following these are the safety needs for structure, security, order, avoidance of pain, and protection (McAdams, 2006, p. 268). I would imagine that Michael’s safety needs were jeopardized due to his abusive childhood; he never felt protected, for the man who was supposed to protect Michael the most was the man Michael feared most. After safety needs, are the belongingness and love needs that bring people to desire acceptance and love that creates affiliate, loving, and intimate relationships (McAdams, 2006, p. 268). Michael was unsatisfied in this particular need; his mother was the only person he intermittently received caring or concern from. Within the diversity view, Henry Murray developed the concept of Maslow’s need hierarchy to include a more complex interaction between needs and environmental influences; Murray termed different environmental coercions and opportunities for need expression as press and when a need continuously interacts with a particular press over a long period of time, he called this interaction a thema (McAdams, 2006, p. 275). Murray understood that all humans must satisfy viscerogenic needs like water, food, air, and sleep. His greatest accomplishment was in the development of 20 basic psychogenic needs, such as autonomy, achievement, affiliation, dominance, play, order, and so on (McAdams, 2006, p. 276). The creation of the 20 psychogenic needs was a major contributor to the understanding of the human personality. According to McAdams (2006), “human behavior may be organized by a number of different viscerogenic and psychogenic needs operating simultaneously.” Our behaviors are composed in an attempt to satisfy various needs and desires. At times, a need may operate in service of another need, a relation termed subsidiation.
So, why did Michael Jackson prefer to stay in the company of children? First, as a child Michael Jackson was unable to play or make any friends, instead he befriended a mouse that his father later killed. From a psychoanalytic standpoint, Michael makes use of the defense mechanism of regression to consistently lessen anxiety, threat, and pain by using childish ways of speaking. Combined with the fact that Michael never learned how to socialize, adults are more easily intimidated and threatened by other adults, therefore influencing Michael’s decision to remain in the company of children. Maslow’s safety needs along with belongingness and love needs were rarely satisfied when Michael was a child. He likely repressed most of the fear and anxiety he experienced from his childhood. Never able to express his repressed psychogenic need for play and affiliation, Michael may have decided to compensate by “acting for ‘fun’ without further purpose” (McAdams, 2006, p. 277). The best way to ensure this compensation was to be in the company of children, because most adults are weighed down from the stresses of life. Affiliation may be a subsidiary need for the young friends Michael missed out on in his childhood. Keeping children in his company was also satisfying the need for harm avoidance, considering that children are more pure of heart and less manipulative. The mouse that Michael considered his only friend was, in his eyes, murdered; Michael’s decision to keep children around may be satisfying his psychogenic need of nurturance. He was unable to help the mouse that he thought of as his only friend during childhood; therefore he may look to gratify the needs of a helpless object, or in Michael’s case children (McAdams, 2006, p. 277).
McAdams, D. (2006). The person: A new introduction to personality psychology. (4th ed.).
Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.