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Related: Psychedelics and Self-Actualization / Consciousness Expansion / Philosophy / Research

Characteristics of Self-Actualizing People

Maslow, on the basis of a study of persons (living and dead) selected as being self-actualizing persons on the basis of a general definition, described the self-actualizing person as follows, as compared to ordinary or average people (Maslow, 1956):

1. More efficient perception of reality and more comfortable relations with it. This characteristic includes the detection of the phoney and dishonest person and the accurate perception of what exists rather than a distortion of perception by one's needs. Self-actualizing people are more aware of their environment, both human and nonhuman. They are not afraid of the unknown and can tolerate the doubt, uncertainty, and tentativeness accompanying the perception of the new and unfamiliar. This is clearly the characteristic described by Combs and Snygg and Rogers as awareness of perceptions or openness to experience.

2. Acceptance of self, others, and nature. Self-actualizing persons are not ashamed or guilty about their human nature, with its shortcoming, imperfections, frailties, and weaknesses. Nor are they critical of these aspects of other people. They respect and esteem themselves and others. Moreover, they are honest, open, genuine, without pose or facade. They are not, however, self-satisfied but are concerned about discrepancies between what is and what might be or should be in themselves, others, and society. Again, these characteristics are those which Kelly, Rogers, and Combs and Snygg include in their descriptions.

3. Spontaneity. Self-actualizing persons are not hampered by convention, but they do not flout it. They are not conformists, but neither are they anti-conformist for the sake of being so. They are not externally motivated or even goal-directed- rather their motivation is the internal one of growth and development, the actualization of themselves and their potentialities. Rogers and Kelly both speak of growth, development and maturation, change and fluidity.

4. Problem-centering. Self-actualizing persons are not ego-centered but focus on problems outside themselves. They are mission-oriented, often on the basis of a sense of responsibility, duty, or obligation rather than personal choice. This characteristic would appear to be related to the security and lack of defensiveness leading to compassionateness emphasized by Combs and Snygg.

5. The quality of detachment; the need for privacy. The self-actualizing person enjoys solitude and privacy. It is possible for him to remain unruffled and undisturbed by what upsets others. He may even appear to be asocial. This is a characteristic that does not appear in other descriptions. It is perhaps related to a sense of security and self-sufficiency.

6. Autonomy, independence of culture and environment. Self-actualizing persons, though dependent on others for the satisfaction of the basic needs of love, safety, respect and belongingness, "are not dependent for their main satisfactions on the real world, or other people or culture or means-to-ends, or in general, on extrinsic satisfactions. Rather they are dependent for their own development and continued growth upon their own potentialities and latent resources." Combs and Snygg and Rogers include independence in their descriptions, and Rogers also speaks of an internal locus of control.

7. Continued freshness of appreciation. Self-actualizing persons repeatedly, though not continuously, experience awe, pleasure, and wonder in their everyday world.

8. The mystic experience, the oceanic feeling. In varying degrees and with varying frequencies, self-actualizing persons have experiences of ecstasy, awe, and wonder with feelings of limitless horizons opening up, followed by the conviction that the experience was important and had a carry-over into everyday life. This and the preceding characteristic appear to be related and to add something not in other descriptions, except perhaps as it may be included in the existential living of Rogers. Maslow further elaborates: "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 val- uable had happened, so that the subject was to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences."

9. Gemeinschaftsgefuhl. Self-actualizing persons have a deep feeling of empathy, sympathy, or compassion for human beings in general. This feeling is, in a sense, unconditional in that it exists along with the recognition of the existence in others of negative qualities that provoke occasional anger, impatience, and disgust. Although empathy is not specifically listed by others (Combs and Snygg include compassion), it would seem to be implicit in other descriptions including acceptance and respect.

10. Interpersonal relations. Self-actualizing people deep interpersonal relations with others. They are selective, however, and their circle of friends may be small, usually consisting of other self-actualizing persons, but the capacity is there. They attract others to them as admirers or disciples. This characteristic, again, is at least implicit in the formulations of others.

11. The democratic character structure. The self-actualizing person does not discriminate on the basis of class, education, race, or color. He is humble in his recognition of what he knows in comparison with what could be known, and he is ready and willing to learn from anyone. He respects everyone as potential contributors to his knowledge, merely because they are human beings.

12. Means and ends. Self-actualizing persons are highly ethical. They clearly distinguish between means and ends and subordinate means to ends.

13. Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor. Although the self-actualizing persons studied by Maslow had a sense of humor, it was not of the ordinary type. Their sense of humor was the spontaneous, thoughtful type, intrinsic to the situation. Their humor did not involve hostility, superiority, or sarcasm. Many have noted that a sense of humor characterizes people who could be described as self-actualizing persons, though it is not mentioned by those cited here.

14. Creativeness. All of Maslow's subjects were judged to be creative, each in his own way. The creativity involved here is not special-talent creativeness. It is a creativeness potentially inherent in everyone but usually suffocated by acculturation. It is a fresh, naive, direct way of looking at things. Creativeness is a characteristic most would agree to as characterizing self-actualizing persons.

15. Polar opposites merge into a third, higher phenomenon as though the two have united; therefore, opposite forces are no longer felt as conflict. To the self-actualized person work becomes play and desires are in excellent accord with reason. The self-actualized person retains his childlike qualities yet is very wise.

Processes of Self-Actualizing People

According to Maslow, there are two processes necessary for self-actualization: self exploration and action. The deeper the self exploration, the closer one comes to self-actualization.

Episodic Nature of Self-Actualization

Later in life, realizing the episodic nature of self-realization, Maslow redefined Self-Actualization in terms of frequency of peak experiences.

"In other words, any person in any of the peak experiences takes on temporarily many of the characteristics which I found in self-actualizing individuals. That is, for the time they become self-actualizers. We may think of it as a passing characterological change if we wish, and not just as an emotional-cognitive-expressive state. Not only are these his happiest and most thrilling moments, but they are also moments of greatest maturity, individuation, fulfilment - in a word, his healthiest moments.

This makes it possible for us to redefine self-actualization in such a way as to purge it of its static and typological shortcomings, and to make it less a kind of all-or-none pantheon into which some rare people enter at the age of 60. We may define it as an episode, or a spurt in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly efficient and intensely enjoyable way, and in which he is more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more idiosyncratic, more perfectly expressive or spontaneous, or fully functioning, more creative, more humorous, more ego-transcending, more independent of his lower needs, etc. He becomes in these episodes more truly himself, more perfectly actualizing his potentialities, closer to the core of his Being, more fully human.

Such states or episodes can, in theory, come at any time in life to any person. What seems to distinguish those individuals I have called self-actualizing people, is that in them these episodes seem to come far more frequently, and intensely and perfectly than in average people. This makes self-actualization a matter of degree and of frequency rather than an all-or-none affair, and thereby makes it more amenable to available research procedures. We need no longer be limited to searching for those rare subjects who may be said to be fulfilling themselves most of the time. In theory at least we may also search any life history for episodes of self-actualization, especially those of artists, intellectuals and other especially creative people, of profoundly religious people, and of people experiencing great insights in psychotherapy, or in other important growth experiences."

Miscellaneous Thoughts on Self-Actualization

Personally, I don't regard Self-Actualization as the 'healthiest' or 'highest state', though it is a necessary 'intermediate state' onto even higher states; there are states well beyond Self-Actualization that psychologists have neither identified, nor experienced, yet, In general, I think Self-Actualization is a term that's plagued with ambiguity because people understand different things by the term, partly due to the fact that one's understanding of the term is crucially dependent on one's own experiences. Do you think someone who knows nothing about the experience of Self-Actualization is going to understand anything by mere verbal definitions of the term? The point I'm trying to make is that a person's understanding of the term 'Self-Actualization' is crucially dependent on that person's own Self-Actualization-like experiences. If someone hasn't experienced Self-Actualization, that person will never understand what it's all about.

Now, let's talk about polar opposites in an individual, without resorting to dry or ambiguous statements. Consider the following polar opposites: 1) regarding everything as infinitely meaningful vs regarding everything as completely meaningless or absurd, 2) having a deadly serious temperament vs having a playful, joking temperament, 3) the experience of Being vs the experience of Nothingness or Non-Being, 4) Identifying oneself with everything vs nothing, 5) the experience of freely-willed actions vs the experience of actions beyond one's will, 6) the experience of being passionate and attached vs the experience of detachment.....the list goes on, but let me stop here. The point is that the self-actualized individual will have or experience many of these polar opposites, at different times, but more importantly, simultaneously. I don't doubt that experiencing polar opposites simultaneously can be a disturbing thing for some, but the reconciliation of these opposites is one of the keys, I think, to Self-Actualization because it allows one to go beyond opposites and contradictions. One is no longer trapped within one or another 'perspective', but instead realizes all of them simultaneously.

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