SelfActualisation also known as Self Realisation is the quest to become the best you can be by deciding what you want from life and then doing what is necessary to get it. Self Realisation is the full realisation of one’s potential.
Where does Maslow fit into this? He was the psychologist to first theorise and expand on this idea. Maslow believed that man has a natural drive to healthiness, or self actualization. He believed that man has basic, (biological and psychological) needs that have to be fulfilled in order to be free enough to feel the desire for the higher levels of realization. He also believed that the organism has the natural, unconscious and innate capacity to seek its needs.

“Self Actualization is the intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately, of what the organism is.”
Abraham Maslow 

There are five different levels in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs:

  1. Physiological Needs These include the most basic needs that are vital to survival, such as the need for water, air, food and sleep. Maslow believed that these needs are the most basic and instinctive needs in the hierarchy because all needs become secondary until these physiological needs are met.
  2. Security Needs These include needs for safety and security. Security needs are important for survival, but they are not as demanding as the physiological needs. Examples of security needs include a desire for steady employment, health insurance, safe neighborhoods and shelter from the environment.
  3. Social Needs These include needs for belonging, love and affection. Maslow considered these needs to be less basic than physiological and security needs. Relationships such as friendships, romantic attachments and families help fulfill this need for companionship and acceptance, as does involvement in social, community or religious groups.
  4. Esteem Needs After the first three needs have been satisfied, esteem needs becomes increasingly important. These include the need for things that reflect on self-esteem, personal worth, social recognition and accomplishment.
  5. Self-actualizing Needs This is the highest level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Self-actualizing people are self-aware, concerned with personal growth, less concerned with the opinions of others and interested fulfilling their potential.

Maslow also outlines specific characteristics of Self Realising people:

Realistic – Realistically oriented, SA persons have a more efficient perception of reality, they have comfortable relations with it. This is extended to all areas of life. SA persons are unthreatened, unfrightened by the unknown. they have a superior ability to reason, to see the truth. They are logical and efficient.

Acceptance – Accept themselves, others and the natural world the way they are. Sees human nature as is, have a lack of crippling guilt or shame, enjoy themselves without regret or apology, they have no unnecessary inhibitions.

Spontaneity, Simplicity, Naturalness – Spontaneous in their inner life, thoughts and impulses, they are unhampered by convention. Their ethics is autonomous, they are individuals, and are motivated to continual growth.

Problem Centering – Focus on problems outside themselves, other centered. They have a mission in life requiring much energy, their mission is their reason for existence. They are serene, characterized by a lack of worry, and are devoted to duty.

Detachment: The Need for Privacy – Alone but not lonely, unflappable, retain dignity amid confusion and personal misfortunes, objective. They are self starters, responsible for themselves, own their behavior.

Autonomy: Independent of Culture and Environment – SA’s rely on inner self for satisfaction. Stable in the face of hard knocks, they are self contained, independent from love and respect.

Continued Freshness of Appreciation – Have a fresh rather than stereotyped appreciation of people and things. Appreciation of the basic good in life, moment to moment living is thrilling, transcending and spiritual. They live the present moment to the fullest.

Peak experiences

“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 ecstacy 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.” Abraham Maslow

Maslow asked his subjects to think of the most wonderful experience or experiences of their lives–the happiest moments, extatic moments, moments of rapture, perhaps from being in live, or from listening to music or suddenly “being hit” by a book or a painting or from some great creative moment. He found that people undergoing peak experiences felt more integrated, more at one with the world, more in command of their own lives, more spontaneous, less aware of space and time, more perceptive, more self determined, more playful.

Effects of peak experiences include:

  • The removal of neurotic symptoms
  • A tendency to view oneself in a more healthy way
  • Change in one’s view of other people and of one’s relations with them
  • Change in one’s view of the world
  • The release of creativity, spontaneity and expressiveness
  • A tendency to remember the experience and to try to duplicate it
  • A tendency to view life in general as more worthwhile.

Sense of community – Identification, sympathy, and affection for mankind, kinship with the good, the bad and the ugly, older-brother attitude. Truth is clear to him, can see things others cannot see.

Interpersonal relationships – Profound, intimate relationships with few. Capable of greater love than others consider possible. Benevolence, affection and friendliness shown to everyone.

Democratic values and attitudes – Able to learn from anyone, humble. Friendly with anyone regardless of class, education, political belief, race or color.

Discrimination: means and ends, Good and Evil – Do not confuse between means and ends. They do no do wrong. Enjoy the here and now, getting to goal–not just the result. They make the most tedious task an enjoyable game. They have their own inner moral standards (appearing amoral to others).

Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor – Jokes are teaching metaphors, intrinsic to the situation, spontaneous, can laugh at themselves, never make jokes that hurt others.

Creativity – Inborn uniqueness that carries over into everything they do, see the real and true more easily, original, inventive and less inhibited.

Resistance to enculturation: Transcendence of any particular culture – Inner detachment from culture, folkways are used but of no consequence, calm long term culture improvement, indignation with injustice, inner autonomy and outer acceptance. Transcend the environment rather than just cope.

Imperfections – Painfully aware of own imperfections, joyfully aware of own growth process. Impatient with self when stuck, real life pain, not imagined.

Values – Philosophical acceptance of the nature of his self, human nature, social life, nature, physical reality, remains realistically human.

Resolution of dichotomies – Polar opposites merge into a third, higher phenomenon, as though the two have united, work becomes play, most childlike person is most wise, opposite forces no longer felt as a conflict. Desires are in excellent accord with reason.

Maslow says there are two processes necessary for self-actualization: self exploration and action. The deeper the self exploration, the closer one comes to self-actualization.


  1. Experience things fully, vividly, selflessly. Throw yourself into the experiencing of something: concentrate on it fully, let it totally absorb you.
  2. Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth): Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.
  3. Let the self emerge. Try to shut out the external clues as to what you should think, feel, say, and so on, and let your experience enable you to say what you truly feel.
  4. When in doubt, be honest. If you look into yourself and are honest, you will also take responsibility. Taking responsibility is self-actualizing.
  5. Listen to your own tastes. Be prepared to be unpopular.
  6. Use your intelligence, work to do well the things you want to do, no matter how insignificant they seem to be.
  7. Make peak experiencing more likely: get rid of illusions and false notions. Learn what you are good at and what your potentialities are not.
  8. Find out who you are, what you are, what you like and don’t like, what is good and what is bad for you, where you are going, what your mission is. Opening yourself up to yourself in this way means identifying defenses–and then finding the courage to give them up.

Image source. Credits: 1 + 2.

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