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
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
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
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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