Abraham Maslow on Self-Actualization
The following article is part of a term paper I did in university. It is filled with great information on how we become self-actualized and what qualities and values are perceived in them. The writing format is a bit formal, but the information is excellent. Self-actualization is the pinnacle of Abraham Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs. It is the pursuit of reaching one's complete potential as a person. Unlike lower level needs, this need is never fully satisfied; as one grows psychologically there are always new opportunities to continue to grow. Abraham Maslow (1970, p 150) loosely defined Self-Actualization as "the full use and exploitation of talents, capacities and potentialities, etc.”
Self Actualization is the highest level on Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. In order to reach self actualization, one must first move through the lower stages. Abraham Maslow (1971) established that all human behavior is derived from specific needs. Abraham Maslow said that all humans have five levels of needs that guide their behaviors.
The first need, the very basic human need is physiological needs. Physiological needs refer to actions humans participate in for their basic survival. The most obvious examples of these needs are food, water, air, sleep, sex, etc. Everybody must do or have these things in order to live. According to Maslow (1970), a person without one of these items within this need category will have all their behaviors focused on trying to obtain this item. A person will not move to the next level until and only until they have satisfied the need they are currently working towards. For example, if a person is hungry, thirsty, or tired, their only motivation will be to satisfy this need. Once the need for physical survival has been satisfied, a person will move on to the next need in Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy.
The next need a person tries to satisfy is the need for physical safety. Abraham Maslow (1970) indicates that physical safety is described as security; stability; dependency; protection; freedom from fear, anxiety and chaos; need for structure, order, law, limits; strength in the protector. This means that a person will work on feeling physically safe in their environment. If a person has their physiological needs met but feels unsafe in their environment, the person’s behavior will be focused on achieving physical safety.
Both Physiological and Safety needs are lower-level needs. Once these two needs are met, people move onto satisfying their upper level needs. The first upper level need is belonging and love needs. Abraham Maslow states (Goble, the Third Force 1970, p 39) “Now the person…. will hunger for affectionate relations with people in general, namely, for a place in his group, and will strive to attain such a place more than anything else in the world and maybe even forget that once, he was hungry, he sneered at love as unreal or unnecessary or unimportant.” The love needs involve both giving and also receiving love.
The next need is esteem needs. There are two parts to this need. The first part is esteem from within a person. This is mostly referred to as self-esteem. High self-esteem is associated with feelings of ability, competence and independence. The second part of esteem needs is the need for recognition and respect from others. One way people try to earn esteem from others is to buy expensive, flashy items. Money in our society is associated with working hard and achieving great things. The more money you have, the more you have achieved and the more esteem you believe that you will get from others. Abraham Maslow (1970, p 46) states that “Even if all these needs are satisfied, we may still often (if not always) expect that a new discontent and restlessness will soon develop, unless the individual is doing what he, individually, is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately at peace with himself. What a man can be he must be. He must be true to his own nature. This need we may call Self-Actualization”.
In order to understand more fully the level of Self-Actualization, it is helpful to understand the values that motivate a self actualized person. Maslow (The Third Force, 1970 p 90) identified fourteen B-values which he heard again and again from self actualizing people and from other people as a result of their peak experiences. The B-values are truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, aliveness or spontaneity, uniqueness, perfection, completion, justice and order, simplicity, richness or totality, effortlessness, playfulness or humor, and self-sufficiency or autonomy.
Maslow identified fifteen characteristics in self actualized people. These characteristics are for the most part, what I would consider, positive or beneficial. Maslow discovered these qualities by studying what he believed to be self-actualized people.
Maslow (1970, p 154) found that self actualized people had a more efficient perception of reality. They were more easily able to discover the fake and the dishonest in personality. Self actualizing people distinguish far more easily than most the fresh, concrete, and ideographic from the generic, abstract, and rubricized. They are more apt to be comfortable in the real world of nature than in the beliefs and dogmas held by society. They are unlike average men in that they are more at ease with the unfamiliar.
Self actualized individuals were found to have acceptance of self, others, and nature. These individuals accept themselves without embarrassment or complaint, and with really no thought about the issue. They are also able to accept others in the same without trying to control them or perfect them in any way. They are comforted and accept their human nature. They can see human nature as it is, not what they wish it to be.
The next characteristic Maslow found was that self actualized people are spontaneous, simple, and natural. In other words, this kind of person is not concerned with being as others think they should be. They are individuals who are able to do what feels good and natural, simply because that is how they feel. They do not try to hurt others, but they have respect for what is good for them. They are not afraid to express their joy, wonder, anger or other strong emotions.
Problem centering is the next characteristic of self actualized individuals. The self-actualizing person is someone who is generally strongly focused on problems outside of themselves. They are concerned with the problems of others and the problems of society, and are willing to work to try to alleviate those difficulties. They consider solving societal problems as a life mission or a calling.
Self actualizing people are able to be alone with the emotions of being alone. The self-actualizing person has a need to be by himself and a need for solitude. They positively like solitude and privacy to a definitely greater degree than the average person.(Maslow 1970). Self-actualizers enjoy time for quiet reflection and do not always have a need for people around them. They are able to be near someone and have no need to communicate with them. Their presence is sufficient in and of itself.
The self-actualizing person is autonomous meaning they are capable of doing things for themselves and making decisions on their own. They believe in who and what they are. They are strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of others (Maslow 1970).
Self actualizing individuals have a continued freshness and appreciation for life. They are able to appreciate over and over, the beauty of life and experiences. The self-actualizing being experiences a delight in the simple and the natural. Sunsets are forever beautiful in the eyes of the self actualized. He can still enjoy the sunsets in the same fashion day after day.
Self-actualizing people usually have experiences in which they literally sense they are transcending or what Maslow calls Peak Experiences. They feel very much in harmony or at one with the world around them, and almost feel as if they are, for a momentary period in time, part of a different reality. Peak experiences are not a matter of pure luck or grace; they are governed by definite laws. They are intentional. The best way to achieve a peak experience is by putting yourself into an active, purposive frame of mind (1972, p 193). Maslow believed that the peak experience has a lasting effect on the person’s life.
Maslow(1971) described two different types of peak experiences; one being the cosmic consciousness in which the whole of the cosmos is perceived and everything in it is seen in relationship with everything else, including the perceiver. The second aspect of peak experience is where there is a narrowing of consciousness down to the particular percept in which the rest of the world and ego is totally forgotten.
Self actualized individuals have feelings of gemeinschaftsgefuhl, which is a sense of oneness with humanity. They have deep feelings of identification, sympathy, and affection in spite of the occasional anger, impatience, or disgust (Maslow 1970). Self-actualizing people have a caring feeling for all of mankind. Although they can become frustrated with people’s shortcomings, they remain sensitive and understanding.
Profound interpersonal relationships are another aspect of the self actualized person. Self-actualizing people have deeper and more profound interpersonal relations than other adults. These relationships are more likely to be with others who are also self-actualized. They generally tend to have relatively few friends, but those relationships are deep and very meaningful. It is also found that self-actualizers often have followers or worshippers. The relationship is often one-sided, where the followers wish to have more than the self-actualized individual is willing to give (Maslow, 1970).
Self-actualized people are said to be democratic. They are able to be friendly with anyone no matter what their background or beliefs are. They are humble and are able to learn from anybody. They recognize that they do not know all the answers or have all the skills and they are willing to learn these from others. Because of democratic attitude they are often known to become more defensive against evil and evil behavior.
Self-actualizers have discrimination between means and ends. They are able to differentiate between right and wrong, good and evil. Self-actualizers are able to experience joy in the means of doing something and not just in terms of the end. They are sometimes viewed as a child would be; that is making something mundane seem enjoyable.
Another aspect or characteristic of Self-actualizers are their philosophical sense of humor. Self-actualizing people tend to take pleasure in humor. They enjoy laughing and like to joke, but not at the expense of others. They do not appreciate humor in putting down others. They are able to poke fun at themselves, but not in a negative way. Their humor is used to inform, teach, and point out ambiguities. It is often difficult to retell the joke of self-actualized person; one must be there to grasp the implication.
Creativeness is another aspect that Maslow points out that every self-actualized person possess. Maslow has said “that a first-rate cook is better than a second-rate painter” (Maslow 1968, p 136). Creativeness can be expressed in many ways. Maslow (1970) believed all people are creative but that self-actualized individuals are rather kin to the naïve and universal creativeness of unspoiled children. It is a potential given to all beings at birth. These people, being less enculturated, are able to possess more spontaneity, and a more child like creativity.
The final beneficial characteristic of Maslow’s Self-actualized individual is their resistance to enculturation. Self-actualizing individuals live according to their own standards and do not accept the rules of others. These people according to Maslow (1968); are less enculturated, less flattened out, less molded.
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