What is Self Actualization?

What is Self Actualization?

I write a lot on this blog about self actualization and I want to define it. I chose it as one of the themes of my writing because I have come to realize it’s the ultimate message in every single self help, personal development, professional guidance book/seminar/podcast/TED talk I’ve stumbled upon. There are so many different paths towards self actualization, but what’s the point if we can’t establish a baseline definition.

Self actualization is derived from Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, which is a basic tenant taught in education, psychology, marketing, and Human Resources. The Hierarchy is the concept that there is a pyramid of needs that must be met before someone can move onto the next stage of personal development.

The first and basic level is physiological. Humans need to be fed, sheltered, etc. before they advance to needing to feel safe. Once they feel safe they can advance towards fulfilling their social needs. Humans are very social animals of course. Isolation and loneliness are powerful detriments to the human spirit. You can see how Jesus’ command to care for the sick, visit those in prison, and welcome the stranger is such a powerful message.

Maslows Hierarchy of Needs

Once a person has met these needs they begin to develop self esteem. This is a very important leap here. People with low self esteem have a host of issues ranging from an inability to learn to depression. There’s a cultural joke about self esteem and safe spaces and participation trophies etc., but if you understand these concepts you can see they come from a good place.

As self esteem becomes established we finally move into self actualization. Self actualization deals solely with reaching one’s full potential. There are no right or wrong answers here. Although there is a list of characteristics that self actualized people have, such as being able to think objectively, dealing well with uncertainty, or establishing strong connections with others, there is not a set template for what a fully actualized person can be.

Important considerations here include the belief that a person can fall down the scale if their needs aren’t being met. If someone has a strong self esteem but suddenly loses shelter they can regress back. It’s also important to note that this is not scientifically proven and is based on a study of people’s lives and is therefore highly subjective. But given its larger acceptance in the academic community as being valid it is something nonetheless that we can use.