The Path To Self-Actualization

Why do we do the things we do? What drives people to act? According to Abraham Maslow, an American psychologist, our actions are based on our motivation to attain a goal. He was interested in normal human behavior and specialized in humanistic psychology that is centered around human motivation and sources of personal fulfillment.

In 1954, Maslow introduced a hierarchy of five needs that all humans share. The bottom four needs of the pyramid, basic and psychological needs, are deficiency needs; they arise from deprivation and this deprivation itself will motivate us to act in order to meet our need. The top and ultimate need is called the growth need because it allows people become the best versions of themselves. In order to become self-actualized people, we need to fulfill the deficiency needs first.

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A Flexible Hierarchy of Needs

Maslow continued to adjust his theory over time. At first, it seemed to be a rigid theory that focused on the orderly manner of meeting the needs. He asserted that the source of human motivation relies in trying to meet the needs in order. Once we achieve one need, we move on to the next. It’s a progression of needs; that is, it’s not possible that we strive for love and belonging if we had not met the need for physiological needs yet. Once we have a full belly and a safe home and secure job, we have the motivation to look for an intimate partner or a friend.

However, he later clarified that it’s not so rigid. The order of needs might be tailored to individual differences or external circumstances. For instance, the need doesn’t necessarily need to be met entirely, as it depends on the individual. At some point, the need will become salient and the individual’s attention would shift to the next need. Also, some people may prefer love and belonging over self-esteem. Thus, the need for belonging is above the need for self-esteem.

Maslow also noted that because behavior can be motivated by many things, our behavior is motivated by various needs at the same time. That is, in looking for a job, we’re not only motivated by our need for safety or security, but also by our need for basic needs.


The Self-Actualized

According to Maslow, self-actualized people are free, autonomous people who are able to make correct judgements and see reality as it is. They tend to be true to themselves and are self-sufficient enough to be self-reliant. Moreover, such people tend to have a good sense of self and value solitude. Although they enjoy spending time alone, they also have profound interpersonal relationships that involve deep connection with others. However, they tend to have a small circle of friends.

Maslow emphasizes that self-actualizers have peak experiences, which are temporary moments of self-actualization. Such experiences are met with feelings of harmony and deep meaning. Not only that, but self-actualizers also have a continued freshness of appreciation and a sense of oneness with all humanity.

Man’s Search For Meaning

In Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, self-actualization is not motivated by deprivation. Rather, it is the desire to grow, achieve one’s full potential, and become more what one is, that actually drives a human’s intent to become self-fulfilled. Maslow points out that the process of becoming a self-actualized person is an ongoing one, it is not a state of mind that one reaches. It is the time when a person contemplates the meaning of life.

In the process of contemplating the purpose of your existence, you begin with questioning what you do and why you do them. But this thought experiment can evoke feelings of confusion and distress. Many people choose to avoid reflecting upon the norms and values they so blindly follow because it can be too overwhelming and unbearable. Instead, they prefer to stick to their constructed reality that is based on traditional moral codes, customs, and habits. Such people don’t really care about the authenticity of their being and their freedom to choose how they want to live their lives.

Jean-Paul Sartre, an existentialist philosopher, would condemn this conformity. As thoroughly discussed in a previous post, Sartre believes that freedom often puts us in a state of anguish, where we are constantly in a state of having to take decisions. To avoid this anguish, we conform to the societal norms and decide to live an inauthentic life. We start to act in bad faith; in other words, inhabit a role that the society has assigned for us. We lose our ability to choose.

Sartre views that the underlying motivation for action is to be found in the nature of consciousness, which is a desire for being. It is up to every individual to practice his freedom in such a way that he does not lose sight of his existence as a facticity, as well as a free human being. In so doing, he will come to understand more about the original choice which his whole life represents, and thus about the values that are thereby projected. 

In order to live an authentic life, we should posses the ability to think for ourselves. We must refuse to let others do our thinking and talking for us. We must refuse a life of passive drifting and dispersal of energies. We must question our thoughts, actions, and behavior. We should be able to choose how we live our lives. Previously, I mentioned that our capacity to choose a way of life should respected and recognized.

The power of choice is one thing a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, Viktor E. Frankl, highlighted in his book Man’s Search For Meaning:

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” 
― Viktor E. Frankl

The foundation of Frankl’s theory, known as logotherapy, is that human behavior is driven by the discovery and quest for meaning. It’s not pleasure that we’re after, but meaning. Frankl asserts that suffering is out of our hands; it’s inevitable and unavoidable. However, what is in our hands is our ability to choose how we cope with the horrible reality and to find meaning in the suffering we are enduring. With this new meaning, we are able to move on with our lives. According to Frankl, meaning can come from three possible sources: purposeful work, love, and courage in the face of difficulty.

Rising Above Our Needs

In the journey to self-actualization, the belief system of Stoicism, a philosophical school of thought, is centered around a completely different route. The Stoics believe that in order to reach tranquility, enlightenment, and self-actualization, one must not necessarily “meet” a need. According to them, self-actualization is a product of rising above our needs and being indifferent to unmet needs. The person who is able to learn to be untroubled by unmet needs will enjoy a more tranquil life than the one who is struggling for the next big promotion.

11 Comments Add yours

  1. I will forever condemn, as I wish to erase them, any “philosophy” that arose at the turn of the current era, after the ending to WWII.

    I despise each “philosophy” that implores others to “see within”, because one can get stuck inside themselves, not wanting to come out to see another person.

    Did this “Maslow” character comprehend that when people “see inside themselves” to discover “who they are” and “what their potential is”, that everything ugly about themselves, forces itself to the surface? That is, all things we deny that are problems, suddenly becomes achievements. There is a difference in seeing the silver lining within a problem, to see what could be made good from it, and then to see that sometimes a bug needs to be squashed.

    Everything that we hate about ourselves, will be forced to the surface, because when we delve into that realm of “inward exploration”, we begin to show to the world what those ugly aspects are, and thus, demand acceptance for them.

    There are many things every person does not like about themselves, and those things become buried. Those things become “turned inside-out”, so to speak, when we begin to unearth them. From this, we transform. From this, we change into something terrible.

    It’s like any old story about a group of explorers, wandering through a cave out of the sheer desire and curiosity to “explore”, to only find something that ends up creating their doom. Thus, such an unpleasant finding is awakened from its sleep, or even revived after being thought to be long forgotten, and goes to wreak havoc upon the world.

    We have such an example, made as reality in today’s time, when we wish all others to “understand” our ugly selves, despite that “ugly self” being an actual monster.

    The “monster mentality” is a mentality that demands acceptance, but what is actually needed, is adaption. It is because for a human, and to something unknown, the “fight or flight” response kicks in against that unknown, so that survival can become more-so the attachment, than a need to love the monster.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. carlaakil says:

      Your response is very thought-provoking. Thank you for sharing, really. I can imagine that sometimes in the process of inward exploration, we are faced with a very dark side of us that can be overwhelming. Sometimes, we don’t see anything worth “accepting”.

      But I’d like to point out that there’s a difference between problems becoming achievements, and overcoming problems that become achievements. It is usually when we face our problems, we can overcome them. Burying them deep inside might result in future manifestations.

      The point of inward exploration is growth. If you delve and find problems that are potentially dangerous, then you should put effort in trying to ameliorate those problems. Not every ugly aspect must be accepted, but it can always be acknowledged and understood in order to know how to adapt.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. “Acceptance” is actually very different from “adaption”. With acceptance, we love. With adaption, we survive.

        Take a Transgender, for instance, who “demands acceptance” from the General Public. It won’t come to the Transgender, this acceptance, because he or she has introduced as a lot like a new technology. That is, he or she has introduced something to “get used to”. We cannot love a Transgender, unless we are forcing or willing ourselves to, because we cannot understand the Transgender. We cannot understand them, because we cannot feel their pain. Something who is not a Transgender, will not understand someone who is a Transgender. Therefore, “acceptance” cannot be between those two, who are not alike.

        However, for that Transgender, there can only be adaption. It’s like adapting to an alien race having been dropped upon this Earth from another planet. We adapt to such an occurrence, and must survive its ordeal.

        It is because there are two primary emotions: love and fear. Fear is very primal and instinctual, while love is the highest form of literal humanity. When the Transgender introduces themselves, they are actually asking all people that surround them to simply mind their presence, but they’ll receive no love, because empathy cannot be placed upon them by someone who isn’t a Transgender. Someone can surely feel sorry for them, but they’ll never understand them, and thus, never empathize with them.

        “Inward exploration” can only reach so far, until we find something we never understood about ourselves, and thus, force everyone around us to treat us like we are a monster. By a “monster”, I mean, as someone who simply no one has seen, before, ever to exist.

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      2. carlaakil says:

        I beg to differ on the idea of acceptance. Just because you’re willing to tolerate something enough to understand it doesn’t mean you’re supposed to love it. I can accept people’s decisions regarding their own sexuality, but it doesn’t mean I endorse it or I “love” it.

        I do agree that acceptance and adaptation are two distinct things, but they don’t have to be opposites.

        There are a lot of people who do love transgenders and are in a relationship with someone who is a transgender, and they are compassionate enough to feel-or almost- feel their pain. We all feel and experience things differently, yet we empathize with one another.

        Personally speaking, I would be intrigued to meet someone who simply no one has seen before to exist. I think the word monster is too aggressive for such a being.

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      3. Can you say that you immediately understood the position of a Transgender? That, you understood their pain? That, you understood what makes them feel alienated? If you say you could not, then you cannot empathize with them, simply because you have not been in their shoes.

        Love is an instant of recognition. We recognize the human before us, like we recognize our child before us. To recognize the human, or to recognize our child, or our mother, or any other loved one, is termed as “immediate recognition”. That is, we “immediately recognize” what we’ve always been familiar to.

        And… about “adaption” and “acceptance”, they are objective opposites. If you say they are not, then you will also admit to saying that love and fear are things we feel at the same exact moment. And, you will also admit to believing that love is a Hellish emotion, while fear is something we should praise and promote. And, you will also admit to believing that those who commit suicide are brave, while those who face their problems are cowards. You will admit to all of this, if you say that “adaption” and “acceptance” are not polar opposites.

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      4. Those people who are in a relationship with a Transgender, and are not Transgenders themselves, will never understand the pain of their partner, and thus, never complete their union. Their acceptance is forced, and in being forced, they have more-so adapted to this person, rather than accepted them. They may love them as a human for having a beating heart, but they will never comprehend their ways as a Transgender.

        And, when I refer to these people as “monsters”, I do not mean it as an insult. In fact, I am attempting to comprehend their own pain, at least on an objective level.

        I have related a Transgender, more than once, to the tale of Frankenstein by Mary Shelly. That story told of a creature, created by a scientist, who wanted acceptance from society. When society would not give it, the creature swore vengeance against Victor Frankenstein.

        To make it objective on why I relate a Transgender to a “monster”, if the creature created by Victor Frankenstein swore to kill its own creator, then who, in the same sense, do Transgenders swear to kill?

        They kill themselves.

        They are very much known to be suicidal, having created themselves. Thus, they swear vengeance on themselves.

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      5. “Love” is not a forced emotion, when it comes to acceptance.

        However, “fear” is a forced emotion. It is like a rapist forcing fear, or rather, forcing themselves, upon their victim.

        Now… if you are going to wrongly say to me that “adaption”, which relates to fear, is not polar opposite from “acceptance”, which relates to love, then you will probably say that a rapist can make a woman willingly submit to his force, which doesn’t make sense. You will, as well, believe that “consent” has little purpose in any future court hearings and testimonies for that rapist and their victim. That is, if the woman consented, and wasn’t forced to have sex, then she wasn’t raped.

        This is what I mean by the polar opposites of “adaption” and “acceptance”. The rape victim will now have to adapt to the mental trauma, not accept it. The acceptance of its presence was immediate, with such “immediate recognition” as I’ve already described, and then the adaption takes time. Perhaps it could even be said that “acceptance” is unneeded of the trauma’s presence, so therefore, the only thing needed is adaption.

        The fear of it ever happening again… the fear to open up to a more sincere sexual partner, etc.

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      6. Wow. My response was full of typos…

        I need to get into the habit of proofreading what I write. Lol.

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      7. carlaakil says:

        Haha no worries.

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  2. I have read before about Maslow’s peak experiences and am lucky to have experienced them myself on occasion.

    So many contrary ideas, so many thousands of written words describing ever decreasing and complex circles of the mind.

    For my taste I will choose Stoicism or Buddhism every time. Simple, beautiful and ascetic. But then I have always been somewhat monastic and ascetically inclined. I find great beauty also in the taoist mentality – leaving the world to go its own way and leading a life of simplicity and acceptance.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. The post was interesting to read. The back and forth debate equally so. For what it’s worth I believe things differently. I think here are three root states of mind that cause suffering, attachment, ignorance and aversion. There hasn’t been a single thing I’ve experienced with my unenlightend mind and poor learning that I can find having being rooted from those three mental states.

    Now when looking inward. Yes this can be scary. I’ll agree with a commenter on this thread in that regard. Especially for those of us with traumas we bury in the farthest corners of our mind. However I believe that meditating, getting to know ones mind, shifting the focus to observing the mind and it’s thoughts as they form and arise, mindfully can create the causes and conditions for a stable mind and tranquil peace. I’m not an accomplished meditator or philosopher but I’ve seen, felt and recognize the benefits of looking within and being present to observe without attachment, ignorance or aversion what arises in the mind while remaining in a somewhat tranquil state rooted in the present. So I guess in brief this post can be perceived so many ways and I appreciate thought provoking posts. So thank you for sharing. May you experience happiness and it’s causes

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