What Does It Mean to Be Self-Actualized?

Reviewed on 2/26/2021

Being self actualized

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

  1. Basic physiological needs include food, shelter, and sleep.
  2. Safety needs include security, stability, and order.
  3. Social needs include love, belonging, and friendship.
  4. Esteem needs include acceptance by others, a sense of achievement, and independence.
  5. Cognitive needs include intellectual fulfillment and knowledge.
  6. Aesthetic needs include harmony, balance, and beauty.
  7. 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. 

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