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What Does It Mean to Be Self-Actualized?

Being self actualized

Different people and cultures may differ in their definition of self-actualization.

The concept of “self-actualization” was popularized in the 20th century by the famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow. According to Maslow, self-actualization is the state where a person can take full advantage of their talents while they are also mindful of their limitations. Different people and cultures may differ in their definition of self-actualization. Maslow recognized self-actualization as the final stage in his theory of the hierarchy of needs. This theory proposes that there are seven stages in the hierarchy of needs:

  • Basic physiological needs include food, shelter, and sleep.
  • Safety needs include security, stability, and order.
  • Social needs include love, belonging, and friendship.
  • Esteem needs include acceptance by others, a sense of achievement, and independence.
  • Cognitive needs include intellectual fulfillment and knowledge.
  • Aesthetic needs include harmony, balance, and beauty.
  • Self-actualization is the goal of human development and occurs when a person meets his or her full potential. 
  • Maslow coined the term “meta motivation” for self-actualized people. Self-actualized people strive beyond the scope of their basic needs to unleash their full potential. Such people are joyful, empathetic, giving, and fulfilled. Self-actualization is achieved when the person attains maturity to accept themselves happily, just the way they are. They assess themselves in a positive and realistic way and move toward the achievement of their goals. According to some experts, being self-actualized has more to do with how open a person is to growth and health rather than about achieving ideals such as success, happiness, or perfection.

    Self-actualization can be a long and continuous process. To be self-actualized, a person needs to

    • Accept the facts or realities.
    • Be spontaneous.
    • Give up prejudice or bias.
    • Be able to solve problems.
    • Have a sense of morality.
    • Be creative.

    These needs are pre-requisites for attaining self-actualization. Once a person achieves self-actualization, they will be able to achieve everything possible within their abilities. 

    Self-actualization can be achieved after the basic needs, such as food and shelter, are met. Self-actualized people can come from different backgrounds. They, however, share certain characteristics. The qualities of self-actualized people include:

    • Ability to accept oneself and others
    • Maintaining a cordial and meaningful relationship with people
    • Ability to exist autonomously
    • Having a “creative spirit” (a well-developed sense of creativity)
    • Having a sense of purpose supported by regular performance of tasks toward the purpose
    • Ability to accurately perceive reality, related to self as well as others
    • Presence and display of compassion and empathy toward others
    • Having a sense of humor with the ability to find humor in one’s own mistakes
    • Having a “childlike wonder” (an ongoing appreciation of beauty and goodness of life)
    • Experiencing frequent moments of profound happiness (called “peak experiences” by Maslow)

    Thus, self-actualization makes a person be at absolute calm and satisfied with whatever they have along with realistic efforts to achieve everything they can. Self-actualized people are not ashamed of their limitations. They own up their mistakes and take their failures light-heartedly. A self-actualized person lives and enjoys the present moment. They neither linger on the past nor feel burdened with worries of the future. 

    Medically Reviewed on 2/26/2021


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