What is Self Actualisation?

What human beings can be, they must be.”

Abraham Maslow in Motivation and Personality

In the early-20th century, psychologists were primarily concerned with the illnesses that afflicted the human mind. An American Psychologist, Abraham Maslow, disagreed with this one-sided approach. He believed that the goal of psychology was not just to rid us of illnesses, but to help us flourish.

“…Freud supplied us the sick half of psychology and now we must lay out the healthy half.”

Abraham Maslow in Toward a Psychology of Being

Maslow’s research led him to conclude that self-actualisation demarcates the psychologically flourishing from the sick and mediocre. 

Maslow claimed that humans are driven to satisfy what he called the “hierarchy of needs”.

Self-actualization was the high point of this hierarchy. Therefore he hypothesised that we cannot self-actualize until we have satisfied our more basic needs.

These “basic needs” include the things necessary for

  • our survival, such as food, water, and shelter, as well as
  • the things required for our psychological health, such as safety, love, status, belongingness, and self-esteem.

Only after these basic needs are satisfied can we engage in self-actualisation.

The aim of self-actualisation is to become “everything one is capable of becoming”.

When we begin the process of self-actualization, mastery of self becomes our way of life. We view our mind as a vast unexplored terrain, and are motivated to gain a greater knowledge of its depths. Rather than being driven solely by wealth or status, we choose a meaningful life. As we strive to achieve self-actualisation goals, we devote our energies to mastering the necessary skills, and in the process, we actualise our unused potential. 

“Musicians must make music, artists must paint, poets must write if they are to be ultimately at peace with themselves. What human beings can be, they must be. They must be true to their own nature. This need we may call self-actualisation.

Abraham Maslow in Motivation and Personality

As our life becomes increasingly structured around the path of self-actualisation, we become more susceptible to “peak experiences”.

Peak experiences are those moments, lasting from seconds to minutes, during which we feel the highest levels of happiness, harmony and possibility.

Peak experiences are therapeutic and can permanently transform our lives. While they cannot be voluntarily stimulated, they arise spontaneously in self-actualisers more frequently than in the majority of the population. This implies that peak experiences are a by-product of the personal growth that self-actualisers experience.

“Self-actualising people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naively, the basic goods of life, with awe, pleasure, wonder and even ecstasy, however stale these experiences may have become to others.” 

Abraham Maslow in Motivation and Personality

Another trait shared by self-actualisers is the tendency to be free from the need for social acceptance. Rather than looking to others or “authorities” for approval, these individuals depend on their own judgement and intuition.

“Self-actualizers have become strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of other people, or even their affection. The honours, the status, the rewards, the popularity, the prestige, and the love that others bestow must have become less important than self-development and inner growth.”

Abraham Maslow in Motivation and Personality

As we being to understand self-actualisation, we are left with an important question. If all of us can self-actualize, why do so few of us do so? Why do so many of us become complacent, conformist, bitter and neurotic as we age, rather than more individualised, joyous, creative, and productive? 

Just like the desire to self-actualise encourages growth and development, Maslow suggested that there exists regressive forces in the psyche which inhibit growth. 

While most of us claim that we want to actualise our highest potentials – in reality we are often far more attracted to the easy path of safety and comfort. We therefore avoid challenges which could lead to personal growth. We refuse to face up to our fears and prefer to hold on to habits that inhibit our capacity to self-actualise. 

These regressive forces don’t just inhibit growth. If we allow them to remain active – they could lead to emotional trauma and mental instability. Anxiety, guilt, shame, and self-hate are some of the symptoms of these regressive forces. However the presence of these negative emotions does not mean that self-actualisation is impossible.

Maslow suggested and I concur. If we learned to view these negative emotions not as a sign of illness but rather as a signal from your inner being – telling you that change is needed in your life. And if you looked for methods to change your life then these negative emotions become a catalyst for the process of self-actualisation.

“He who belies his talent, the born painter who sells stockings instead, the intelligent man who lives a stupid life, the man who sees the truth and keeps his mouth shut, the coward who gives up his manliness, all these people perceive in a deep way that they have done wrong to themselves and despise themselves for it. Out of this self-punishment may come neurosis, but there may equally come renewed courage, righteous indignation, increased self-respect, because of thereafter doing the right thing; in a word, growth and improvement can come through pain and conflict.”

Abraham Maslow in Towards a Psychology of Being

Dr Nitasha Buldeo is an Integrated Medical Practitioner, Entrepreneur, Scientist and Yogi. She created  I-Yoga & Organic Apoteke and is Director of the Centre for Exceptional Human Performance. She researches human potential and delivers programs that encourage you to live exceptionally. Nitasha believes that every one of us is striving to be the best we can. Her passion is bringing you experiences that inspire you. Her intention is for you to unlock your genius.

To begin to heal yourself and begin your path of self-actualisation – you may download my book The Body Heals Itself.

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