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Self-actualization is a concept developed by Abraham Maslow and rlates to his hierarchy of needs.

He attributed to Kurt Goldstein, one of his mentors — is the instinctual need of humans to make the most of their abilities and to strive to be the best they can.

In Maslow's scheme, the final stage of psychological development comes when the individual feels assured that his physiological, security, affiliation and affection, self-respect, and recognition needs have been satisfied. As these become dormant, he becomes filled with a desire to realize all of his potential for being an effective, creative, mature human being. "What a man can be, he must be"[1], is the way Maslow expresses it.

Maslow's need hierarchy is set forth as a general proposition and does not imply that everyone's needs follow the same rigid pattern. For some people, self-esteem seems to be a stronger motivation than love. Mussolini, for example, alienated his closest friends by undertaking reckless military adventures to achieve status as a conqueror. (This example can also be used to illustrate the means-to-an-end dilemma of human motivation. That is, Mussolini may have reached for status as a means to gaining the affection of Adolf Hitler. More will be said about this problem later.) For some people, the need to create is often a stronger motivation than the need for food and safety. Thus, the artist living in poverty is a classic example of reversing the standard hierarchy of needs. Similarly, persons who have suffered hunger or some other deprivation for protracted periods may live happily for the rest of their lives if only they can get enough of what they lacked. In this case, the level of aspiration may have become permanently lowered and the higher-order, less prepotent needs may never become active. There are also cases of people's martyring themselves for causes and suffering all kinds of deprivations, particularly in the physiological, safety, and sometimes social categories, to achieve their goals.

Maslow writes the following of self-actualizing people:

  • They embrace the facts and realities of the world (including themselves) rather than denying or avoiding them.
  • They are spontaneous in their ideas and actions.
  • They are creative.
  • They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives.
  • They feel a closeness to other people, and generally appreciate life.
  • They have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority.
  • They have discernment and are able to view all things in an objective manner.

To further confound the problem of understanding motivation, Maslow points out that motives are not always conscious.[1] In the average person, he believes, they are more often unconscious than conscious — showing the influence on his thinking of Freudian psychologists who have long been concerned with the hidden causes of human behavior.

In Maslow's theory, then, human needs are arranged in a hierarchy of importance. Needs emerge only when higher-priority needs have been satisfied. By the same token, satisfied needs no longer influence behavior. This point seems worth stressing to managers and administrators, who often mistakenly assume that money and other tangible incentives are the only cures for morale and productivity problems. It may be, however, that the need to participate, to be recognized, to be creative, and to experience a sense of worth are better motivators in an affluent society, where many have already achieved an acceptable measure of freedom from hunger and threats to security and personal safety, and are now driven by higher-order psychological needs.

In short, self-actualization is reaching one's fullest potential. However, to further clarify “There are certain conditions which are immediate prerequisites for the basic need satisfactions.” “Such conditions as freedom to speak, freedom to do what one wishes so long as no harm is done to others, freedom to express one's self, freedom to investigate and seek for information, freedom to defend one's self, justice, fairness, honesty, orderliness in the group are examples of such preconditions for basic need satisfactions.” [1]

According to Maslow, the tendencies of self-actualizing people are as follows:

1. Awareness

  • efficient perception of reality
  • freshness of appreciation
  • peak experiences
  • ethical awareness

2. Honesty

  • philosophical sense of humour
  • social interest
  • deep interpersonal relationships
  • democratic character structure

3. Freedom

  • need for solitude
  • autonomous, independent
  • creativity, originality
  • spontaneous

4. Trust

  • problem centered
  • acceptance of self, others, nature
  • resistance to enculturation - identity with humanity

Maslow discovered that healthy individuals are motivated toward what he termed self-actualization, and noted that Self-actualizing people had strikingly similar characteristics. He described self-actualization as:

“an episode or spurt in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly and intensely enjoyable way, and in which he is more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more idiosyncratic, more perfectly expressive or spontaneous, or fully functioning, more creative, more humorous more ego-transcending, more independent of his lower needs, etc. He becomes in these episodes more truly himself, more perfectly actualising his potentialities, closer to the core of his being, more fully human. Not only are these his happiest and most thrilling moments, but they are also moments of greatest maturity, individuation, fulfilment - in a word, his healthiest moments.

Self-actualising people, those who have come to a high level of maturation, health and self-fulfilment, have so much to teach us that sometimes they seem almost like a different breed of human beings.”

The following descriptions have been compiled from the writings of Maslow and others.

1. Clearer perception of reality. Self-actualizing people perceive reality more effectively than others and are more comfortable with it. They have an accurate perception of what exists rather than a distortion of perception by one's needs, and possess an ability to be objective about their own strengths, possibilities and limitations. They judge experiences, people and things correctly and efficiently, and have an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest. They are not afraid of the unknown and can tolerate the doubt, uncertainty, and tentativeness accompanying the perception of the new and unfamiliar.

2. Acceptance of self, others, and nature. Self-actualizing persons are not ashamed or guilty about their human nature, with its shortcoming, imperfections, frailties, and weaknesses. They can accept their own human shortcomings, without condemnation. Nor are they critical of these aspects of other people. They respect and esteem themselves and others. Moreover, they are honest, open, genuine, without pose or facade. They are not, however, self-satisfied but are concerned about discrepancies between what is and what might be or should be in themselves, others, and society.

3. Spontaneity. Self-actualizing people are relatively spontaneous in their behaviour, and far more spontaneous than that in their inner life, thoughts and impulses. Self-actualising persons are not hampered by convention, but they do not flout it. They are not conformists, but neither are they anti-conformist for the sake of being so. They might act conventionally, but they seldom allow convention to keep them from doing anything they consider important or basic. They are not externally motivated or even goal-directed; rather their motivation is the internal one of growth and development, the actualization of themselves and their potentialities.

4. Problem-centering. Self-actualizing people have a problem-solving orientation towards life instead of an orientation centered on self. They are interested in solving problems; this often includes the problems of others. Solving these problems is often a key focus in their lives. They commonly have a mission in life, some problem outside themselves that enlists much of their energies. In general this mission is unselfish and is involved with the philosophical and the ethical.

5. Detachment and the need for solitude. Self-actualizing people enjoy solitude and privacy. It is often possible for them to remain above the battle, unruffled and undisturbed by that which upsets others. They may even appear to be asocial. It is perhaps, related to an abiding sense of security and self-sufficiency.

6. Autonomy, independent of culture and environment. Self-actualizing persons are not dependent for their main satisfactions on other people or culture or means-to-ends, or in general, on extrinsic satisfactions. Rather they are dependent for their own development and continued growth upon their own potentialities and latent resources. The meaning of their life is self-decision, self-governing and being an active, responsible, self-disciplined deciding person rather than a pawn or a person helplessly ruled by others.

7. Continued freshness of appreciation. Self-actualizing people have a wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again the basic pleasures of life. They experience awe, pleasure, and wonder in their everyday world, such as nature, children, music and sexual experience. They approach these basic experiences with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy.

8. The mystic experience, the oceanic feeling. Self-actualizing people commonly have mystic or `peak' experiences or times of intense emotions in which they transcend self. During a peak experience, they experience feelings of ecstasy, awe, and wonder with feelings of limitless horizons opening up, feelings of unlimited power and at the same time feelings of being more helpless than ever before. The experience ends with the conviction that something extremely important and valuable has happened so that the person is to some extent transformed and strengthened by the experience that has a carry-over into everyday life.

9. Oneness with humanity. Self-actualizing people have deep feelings of identification, sympathy and affection for other people, and a deep feeling of empathy and compassion for human beings in general. This feeling is, in a sense, unconditional in that it exists along with the recognition of the existence in others of negative qualities that may provoke occasional anger, impatience, and disgust.

10. Deep interpersonal relations. Self-actualizing people have deeper and more profound inter-personal relationships than most adults, but not necessarily deeper than children. They are capable of more closeness, greater love, more perfect identification, more erasing of ego boundaries than other people would consider possible. One consequence is that self-actualised people have especially deep ties with rather few individuals and their circle of friends is small. They tend to be kind or at least patient to almost everyone, yet they do speak realistically and harshly of those whom they feel deserve it — especially the hypocritical, pretentious, pompous, or the self-inflated individual.

11. Democratic character structure. Self-actualizing people are democratic in the deepest possible sense. They are friendly towards everyone regardless of class, education, political beliefs, race, or colour. They believe it is possible to learn something from everyone. They are humble in the sense of being aware of how little they know in comparison with what could be known and what is known by others. They are ready and willing to learn from anyone. They respect everyone as a potential contributor to their knowledge, merely because everyone is a human being.

12. Ethical means towards moral ends. Self-actualizing persons are highly ethical. They clearly distinguish between means and ends and subordinate means to ends. Their notions of right and wrong and of good and evil are often not conventional ones.

13. Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor. Self-actualizing people have a keen, unhostile sense of humour. They don't laugh at jokes that hurt other people or are aimed at others' inferiority. They can make fun of others in general — or of themselves — especially when they are foolish or try to be big when they are small. They are inclined towards thoughtful humour that elicits a smile, is intrinsic to the situation, and spontaneous.

14. Creativity. Self-actualizing people are highly imaginative and creative. The creativity involved here is not special-talent creativity. It is a creativity potentially inherent in everyone but usually suffocated by acculturation. It is a fresh, naive, direct way of looking at things, rather similar to the naive and universal creativity of unspoiled children.

See also

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 A.H. Maslov, A Theory of Human Motivation, Psychological Review 50 (1943):370-96.
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