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. 🙂