Self Actualization

Self Actualization

Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow

About 70 years ago, Abraham Maslow proposed a theory of self-actualization and helped found a new branch of psychology. He suggested that if you meet more basic needs like physical and safety, you can address higher relational and esteem needs. Once you meet most of your needs, you reach a place of self-actualization – of self-acceptance, freshness, equanimity, authenticity, and so forth. Later in life, Maslow saw self-transcendence as a possibility post-self-actualization. Self-transcendence is the primary topic of this website.

You’ve probably seen images of his Hierarchy of Needs. Maslow apparently didn’t use his model in this way.

Recently, I ran into an article on new research on Maslow’s work. Scott Barry Kaufman, a psychologist at Columbia University, surveyed online participants for “the 17 characteristics that Maslow believed were shared by self-actualised people, but he found 7 of these were redundant or irrelevant and did not correlate with others, leaving 10 key characteristics of self-actualisation.”

From there, Kaufman developed a more modern test for those 10 characteristics. You can take it free online here.

There is a further article in Scientific American announcing the research. “Maslow increasingly became convinced that self-actualization is healthy self-realization on the path to self-transcendence.”
“The goal of identity (self-actualization…) seems to be simultaneously an end-goal in itself, and also a transitional goal, a rite of passage, a step along the path to the transcendence of identity. This is like saying its function is to erase itself. Put the other way around, if our goal is the Eastern one of ego-transcendence and obliteration, of leaving behind self-consciousness and self-observation… then it looks as if the best path to this goal for most people is via achieving identity, a strong real self, and via basic-need-gratification.” Then you have a stable platform for building self-transcendence on.

There is still a major lack of understanding of post-personal development in modern psychology. The later branch of transpersonal psychology points in this direction. Yet many of the proponents don’t understand the difference between experiences and shifts in being. That has lead some to chase experiences and encourage techniques that can be detrimental for self-transcendence.

Also, there is an emphasis on renunciate ideas like ego-obliteration when it’s just the identification and incorrect ideas that are destroyed. We still need a default person to function in a body.

The opening article mentions “Identify your patterns and make a concerted effort to change. I do think it’s possible with conscientiousness and willpower.” Does he really think Equanimity or Acceptance comes from willpower?

Ken Wilber pointed out another context Maslow didn’t recognize. There is a difference between Waking up, Growing up, and Cleaning up. I have seen people waking up (self-transcendence) who still had life issues that would suggest they’re not self-actualized. Certainly the personality needs to be stable enough to support a shift, but it requires no perfection. This means your test score above is not a marker for spiritual progress. It may suggest Growing up.  🙂

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  1. Jim

    Ironically, the tests for measuring self-actualization are not actualized on the links that point to them. Kind of says it all, without meaning to. 🙂

    The links each return this message:
    “This page is not set up to run this program.

    If you are the program author, go here, click “Embed”, and follow the instructions to fix this.”

  2. Works fine here. The page does use a bunch of JavaScript and Ajax though so if you have those blocked, it may give an error like that. Not sure exactly.

    Not that it matters. Do you have any doubts about being self-actualized. 😉

  3. Jim

    A-ha, my attempt at testing my self-actualizing ability would not actualize…

    So, this seems to illustrate that the peak of self-actualization has a great deal in common with the utter lack of self-actualization. Both do nothing! 🙂

    Of course, the small matter of Infinity separates the two…

  4. Pete

    I have recently come across the shadow work method encouraged in the Integral Life Practice book from Integral theory. Very simple and practical and has been allowing me to start re-integrating and re owning large repressed energies I have been only slightly aware of before. A lot of insights and shifts all taking place on the personal side which has maybe been lagging with my large focus on Being and transcendence. Such a powerful feeling to welcome repressed aspects home. Surely self transcendence and actualization rely on one another!

    1. Hi Pete
      Yes, it can be very useful to find a way in and become conscious and resolve some of our contractions.

      Resolving those contractions increases clarity which allows deeper transcendence. Deeper transcendence creates deeper rest which allows purification of contractions.

      I would agree. Self transcendence is founded on a stable sense of self. In my SAND 2015 talk on stages of enlightenment, i spoke of how the stages build on the stages of personal development from psychology via transcendence or samadhi.

      One final note – while it’s a good idea to follow the instructions for correct meditation, your healing techniques should be allowed to evolve. Once you get the hang of it, other things will become conscious requiring a bit of variation in approach. Allow discoveries to lead you.

      1. Pete

        Thanks I’ll check that out, healing has always been a focus for me and is really what led me in to the spiritual path with a focus on bodywork. It seems that this approach to “the shadow” aspects of the (emotional body)? Was really ripe for me, possibly because my awareness has become less identified/ more able to objectively view previously very charged material. It’s really working to illustrate that nothing is separate from me, nothing can be blamed outside of myself although I still experience myself as something separate from the world for the most part.
        Thanks again 🙂

  5. Jim

    Yep. Also an active life helps surface blocks which can then be resolved. beyond the prescribed behaviors by this path or that, just plain old life, perfecting how to say hello to strangers for example, or setting “impossible” objectives in life and achieving them, is also a great teaching tool. no time to waste. 🙂

    Also the shadows are nothing special, though can appear so because they have been hidden and so can pick up attributes like shame resentment anger ego whatever. As you said, stuff to transcend.

    Just like Davidya says. 🙂

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