As the name of the site softly implies, self actualization is a topic I plan to cover quite a bit going forward. As a first step, this post will explain what self actualization means, and what people are striving for when they talk about being on such a journey.
Subsequent posts will focus more on personal stories, breakthroughs, and advice by experts in the mental health field.
Here we go.
The term “self actualization” comes from a psychological theory created by Abraham Maslow. According to him, this represents a person’s striving toward their highest self (by finding purpose in and true acceptance of their life).
You may be familiar with a better known creation of Maslow’s: the Hierarchy of Needs. The two are related because the highest level on the hierarchy are “being values,” or meaning. A sense of purpose.
As a brief aside, here’s an overview of the Hierarchy of Needs:
- Physiological needs, such as food, water, and sleep. These are the most basic because without them we cannot continue, and being without them brings about our end faster than anything else.
- Safety — Do you feel protected and comfortable? Are you at risk of running out of the things in #1, or are these in order?
- Belonging and love — Do you have meaningful connections to other humans through friendship, unselfish love, or a sense of community?
- Self esteem and respect — Positive, healthy feelings about yourself and your place in the world. This can come from admiration and acceptance of others in #3. Note that this means genuine self respect and not hubris.
- Being and meaning — Inner growth, a sense of fulfillment in one’s daily activities, and finding meaning in life and acceptance of one’s place in it.
For simplicity, you could say that self actualization is another way of expressing #5. The idea of the whole hierarchy is that most of us have at least part of this list down in our lives.
If you live in a developed country, your basic physiological needs are probably met each day and feel like a given. But all this does is keep you alive. It doesn’t bring you happiness or fulfillment.
It’s impossible to find real joy if you’re living in fear each day, whether it’s fear of violence, fear of running out of food, or fear of abandonment. Before one can go any further on the actualization hierarchy, one must be in a situation where these kinds of fears are dealt with.
We all feel fear about things in life, and it’s not to say anyone expects you to be fearless. But the degree of fear, and how often you feel it, matters.
Ok, so you’re well-fed and safe. But if you don’t build meaningful relationships with others, you’ll have a hard time growing as an individual and finding a place in the world. Close friendships and love from family or romantic partners factor in significantly here. The depth and solidarity of these relationships play a big role in your overall happiness.
In order to maintain these relationships we need to develop a healthy balance of self respect and confidence. Too much and we’ll blind ourselves to reality, too little and we’ll fall back into a fear mindset that is dependent on constant reinforcement from others.
Being a seeker
Thinking of yourself as a seeker is a succinct way to describe the aim of self actualization.
You’re seeking your purpose through self discovery. Being your highest self means several things:
- You are familiar with and accept your natural talents and inclinations, and are passionate about using them in a meaningful way.
- Your life feels like it’s headed in a definitive and meaningful direction, and your goals each day align with that vision.
- You derive happiness and a sense of wellbeing from your place in the world.
- You’ve reached your full potential in life and are not being held back by doubts, insecurities, or not fully realizing your abilities.
According to Maslow, a self-actualized person has peak experiences, described as the following:
“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 ecstasy 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.”
It may sound a bit fantastical, but these moments of transcendence are what truly changes people.
Leo Gura, founder of Actualized.org, calls this self-mastery. He’s a very sharp guy who has given away a ton of great information on Youtube, and I highly recommend that anyone interested in learning more about this follows him.
He’s helped me a lot in my own journey as a virtual mentor, and digs deep into practical exploration of building better habits, finding purpose, and developing your emotional awareness.
Anyway, that’s all I have for an introduction to self actualization. Like I said in the beginning, there will be further content going much deeper into all this, so stay tuned.
As a P.S., I’m not a life coach, nor am I trying to posture myself as an expert on telling other people how to life. I’m just a guy who’s done a lot of introspection over the years, dealt with a lot of head trash, and has seen the improvement its made in my own life. Always learning, and if I can help anyone else by sharing my own experiences, great.