Self-Actualization and Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs

ImageChances are, sometime in your educational history, you learned about Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. I remember quite clearly learning about it for the first time in 7th grade. I don’t remember the class but I do remember the teacher, and most clearly I recall him more or less saying that none of us would ever achieve the coveted “self-actualization” at the top of the pyramid. That place was only reserved for the highest of high achievers, and according to Mr. Black, we were all doomed to be a bunch of mouth breathers unlikely to hit this mark.

Being an impressionable 13-year-old, I didn’t yet understand the idea of people projecting their insecurities onto others, and geez, I can’t imagine a junior high teacher feeling the slightest bit frustrated by their job or their students (sarcasm intentional). In my adult life, I feel like I really am touching that top part of the triangle at times. But I also know a lot of people who haven’t quite made it into the level below, of just having good self-esteem and confidence.

Reviewing the hierarchy again from my current perspective, I think it’s useful, but I’m not sure it’s everything. It mentions nothing of spirituality (though Cloninger’s Temperament and Character Inventory does take it another step further to include self-transcendence – the spiritual dimension), and it places somewhat high importance on being liked by others – as much, really, as being liked by yourself.

Nonetheless, reading through the list of characteristics of those who are self-actualized, there were a few that stood out to me as part of my own goals:

Comfortable acceptance of self, others, and nature: I’m learning to accept myself, and accept other people, though at times it’s not always comfortable. It’s a skill I’m growing.

Continued freshness of appreciation: These are simple things like enjoying a stunning sunset, or someone’s beautiful singing, but appreciating it as thought it was the first time you’ve experienced it. A spirit of gratitude gets me closer to this kind of experience.

Profound interpersonal relationships: I have deeper, richer friendships than ever before, and true appreciation for the good of humanity. Someday I hope to add a romantic love relationship that will be centered on deep bonds and true intimacy.

Peak experiences: This is described as feeling at one with the universe, strong and calm, with deep purpose. I have had some sincere moments like this, and I am grateful for them.

It turns out this belief that I’d never achieve self-actualization was only a self-limiting myth. I’m grateful to be dispelling it, for myself.


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