We have often heard the term self-actualization used by persons who are in pursuit of a purposeful life. One where they feel self-assured, self-validated; a life where they achieve a level of authenticity and can own and process their life experience in a manner which affords them holistic growth and freedom. While this appears to be the targeted end goal for many, it remains an elusive need/ desire for a host of other persons. The question has been repeatedly asked, is self actualization possible?
According to Psychologist Kendra Cherry, “self-actualization is achieved when you’re able to reach your full potential. Being truly self-actualized is considered the exception rather than the rule since most people are working to meet more pressing needs.”
What is self actualization?
The concept of self actualization was coined by Psychologist Abraham Maslow, who outlined what is known as a hierarchy of needs, representing all the various needs that motivate human behaviour. The hierarchy is often displayed as a pyramid, with the lowest levels representing basic needs and more complex needs located at the top of the pyramid. At the peak of this hierarchy is self-actualization.
The hierarchy suggests that when the other needs at the base of the pyramid have been met, you can then focus your attention on this pinnacle need of self-actualization.
The following are characteristics of being self actualized:
1) Self-actualized people embrace the unknown and the ambiguous. They are not threatened or afraid of it; instead, they accept it, are comfortable with it and are often attracted by it.
They do not cling to the familiar. Maslow quotes Einstein:
The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious.
2) They accept themselves, together with all their flaws. The actualized person perceives themselves as they are, and not as they would prefer themselves to be. With a high level of self-acceptance, they lack defensiveness, pose or artificiality. Eventually, shortcomings come to be seen not as shortcomings at all, but simply as neutral personal characteristics.
3) Self-Actualized People Have Peak Experiences. According to Maslow, a peak experience involves: Feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placement in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened, so that the subject was to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences. In other words, these are moments of transcendence in which a person emerges feeling changed and transformed.
4) They Tend to Be Problem-Centered. Self-actualized individuals are often motivated by a strong sense of personal ethics and responsibility. They enjoy applying their problem-solving skills to real-world situations and they like helping other people improve their own lives.
5) They are motivated by growth, not by the satisfaction of needs. While most people are still struggling in the lower aspects of the Hierarchy of Needs such as the satisfaction of basic needs and interpersonal relationships, the self-actualized person is focused on personal growth.
6) They are not troubled by the small things. Instead, they focus on the bigger picture.
7) Self-actualized people are grateful. They do not take their blessings for granted, and by doing so, maintain a fresh sense of wonder towards the universe.
Self-actualizing people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naïvely, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder, and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others […] Thus for such a person, any sunset may be as beautiful as the first one, any flower may be of breath-taking loveliness, even after he has seen a million flowers. […] For such people, even the casual workday, moment-to-moment business of living can be thrilling.
8) They share deep relationships with a few, but also feel identification and affection towards the entire human race.
Self-actualizing people have deeper and more profound interpersonal relations than any other adults […] They are capable of more fusion, greater love, more perfect identification, more obliteration of the ego boundaries than other people would consider possible. They are capable of deep benevolence, affection, and friendliness. These people tend to be kind to almost everyone regardless of class, education, political belief, race, or colour.
9) Self-actualized people are humble.
They are well aware of how little they know in comparison with what could be known and what is known by others. Because of this it is possible for them without pose to be honestly respectful and even humble before people who can teach them something.
10) Self-actualized people resist enculturation. They do not allow themselves to be passively molded by culture — they deliberate and make their own decisions, selecting
what they see as good, and rejecting what they see as bad. They neither accept all, like a sheep, nor reject all, like the average rebel. Self-actualized people: Make up their own minds, come to their own decisions, are self-starters, are responsible for themselves and their own destinies. […] too many people do not make up their own minds, but have their minds made up for them by political and spiritual influencers, advertisers, parents, propagandists, TV, newspapers and so on.
Because of their self-decision, self-actualized people have codes of ethics that are individualized and autonomous rather than being dictated by society.
They are the most ethical of people even though their ethics are not necessarily the same as those of the people around them […because] the ordinary ethical behaviour of the average person is largely conventional behaviour rather than truly ethical behaviour. Again, are you a self-actualized person?