In psychology, self-actualization is achieved when you’re able to reach your full potential. Being truly self-actualized is considered the exception rather than the rule since most people are working to meet more pressing needs.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
Psychologist Abraham Maslow outlines what is known as a hierarchy of needs, representing all the various needs that motivate human behavior. The hierarchy is often displayed as a pyramid, with the lowest levels representing basic needs and more complex needs located at the top of the pyramid.
At the peak of this hierarchy is self-actualization. The hierarchy suggests that when the other needs at the base of the pyramid have been met, you can then focus your attention on this pinnacle need of self-actualization.
Self-Actualized People Have Peak Experiences
One characterization of self-actualization is having frequent peak experiences.
According to Maslow, a peak experience involves
“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.”
In other words, these are moments of transcendence in which a person emerges feeling changed and transformed.
They Possess Self-Acceptance and a Democratic World View
Self-actualized people accept themselves and others as they are. They tend to lack inhibition and are able to enjoy themselves and their lives free of guilt.
Not only do self-actualized people fully accept themselves, they also embrace other people for who they are. Other individuals are treated the same regardless of background, current status, or other socio-economic and cultural factors.
They Are Realistic
Another major characteristic of self-actualized people is a sense of realism. Rather than being fearful of things that are different or unknown, the self-actualized individual is able to view life as it unfolds both logically and rationally.
They Tend to Be Problem-Centered
Self-actualized individuals are often motivated by a strong sense of personal ethics and responsibility. They enjoy applying their problem-solving skills to real-world situations and they like helping other people improve their own lives.
The Self-Actualized Person Is Autonomous
Self-actualized people also tend to be very independent. They don’t conform to other people’s ideas of happiness or contentment. This original perspective allows the individual to live in the moment and appreciate the beauty of each experience.