Abraham Maslow
Abraham Maslow

THE ROAD TO SELF-ACTUALIZATION

By Peter Shepherd
One of the foundations of transformational psychology is American psychologist and philosopher Abraham H. Maslow's theory of human needs. Maslow (1908-1970) believed that people are not merely controlled by mechanical forces (the stimuli and reinforcement of behaviorism) or the unconscious instinctual impulses that psychoanalysis emphasizes. Following the lead of Adler, who recognized that individuals possess a unifying directional tendency toward self-mastery, Maslow preferred to focus on human potential, believing that humans strive to express their capabilities fully, and that this is the basis for happiness.

People who seek the frontiers of creativity and strive to reach higher levels of consciousness and wisdom, were described by Maslow as 'self-actualizing' individuals. Transformational psychology is not therapy, it is information and techniques to enable healthy persons to make their lives even better, to fulfill their potential - it is for you.

Maslow set up a hierarchical theory of needs in which the basic survival needs are the first priority, and the needs concerned with man's highest potential follow on when other needs have been met.

  1. Physiological Needs
    The needs for oxygen, food, water and a relatively constant body temperature. These needs are the strongest because if deprived, the person would die.

  2. Safety Needs
    Children often display signs of insecurity and their need to be safe. Adults, too, need the security of a home and means of income, and often have an underlying fear that these may be lost, e.g. in war or times of social unrest, or due to misfortune. Fear is the opposite flow to need. Accompanying any need for something is an equivalent fear of losing or not obtaining it.

  3. Social Needs
    This includes the need for mastery to be able to get one's own way, to establish some control over one's situation and environment, to express some degree of personal power, to be able to communicate and obtain objectives. And the need for love, affection and belonging. People need to escape feelings of loneliness and alienation and to give (and receive) love and affection, and to have a sense of belonging with high quality communication (with understanding and empathy).

  4. Esteem Needs
    People need to feel good about themselves, to feel that they have earned the respect of others, in order to feel satisfied, self confident and valuable. If these needs are not met, the person feels inferior, weak, helpless and worthless.

  5. Self-Actualization Needs
    Maslow describes self-actualization as a person's need to be and do that for which the person has a vocation. It is his 'calling', a full expression of his or her creative potential. It is to be autonomous and fully-functioning. If these needs are not met, the person feels restless and frustrated, even if successful in other respects.

Maslow's Hiararchy of Needs

Characteristics of Self-Actualizing Persons
Central to the lives of self-actualized people is a set of values that Maslow called the Being-Values, or B-Values. These characteristics apply equally to both men and women, of course.

  • They are realistically oriented and not threatened by the unknown. They have a superior ability to reason and to see the truth.
  • They perceive and understand human nature. They accept themselves, other people, circumstances and the natural world for what they are. They able to learn from anyone and are friendly with anyone, with no regard to stereotypes.
  • They are emotionally intelligent and feel no need for crippling guilt or shame. They tend to be serene, characterized by a lack of worry. They are self starters, are responsible for themselves, and own their behavior. Work becomes play and desires are in excellent accord with reason.
  • They are unflappable and retain dignity amid confusion and personal misfortune, all the while remaining objective.
  • They have a great deal of spontaneity and have no unnecessary inhibitions.
  • The self-actualized person can be alone and not be lonely.
  • They are honest and seek justice for all.
  • They are autonomous and independent. Thoughts and impulses are unhampered by convention. Their ethics are autonomous and they determine their own inner moral standards.
  • They have a fresh rather than stereotyped appreciation of people and appreciate the best aspects in all things. However they resist conformity to the culture. They determine their own behavior and have their own views on people and events.
  • Moment to moment living for them is exciting and often exhilarating as they live their life to the full. Vibrant moments are frequent and peak experiences not unusual. Peak experiences are moments when one sees clearly what before was hidden or obscured.
  • They seek wholeness; they are able to merge opposing views into a third, higher synthesis, as though the two have united; therefore, opposite forces are no longer felt as conflict. Self-actualizing people retain their childlike qualities and yet have a far-seeing wisdom.
  • Their intimate relationships with specially loved people tend to be profound, sincere and long-lasting, rather than superficial.
  • Their sense of humor is philosophical rather than hostile. They can laugh at themselves but never make jokes that hurt others.
  • Self-actualizing people enjoy an inborn uniqueness that carries over into everything they do. Their creativity is original, inventive, uninhibited and - since they see the real and true more easily - valuable.
  • Self-actualizing individuals are motivated to continual growth. They are also aware of their primary goals in life and are devoted to fulfilling them, both for their own benefit and as service to others.

Maslow's writings tell us much about the nature of wisdom. The self-actualizing people that Maslow describes focus on concerns outside of themselves; they like solitude and privacy more than the average person, and they tend to be more detached than usual from the dictates and expectations of their culture. They are inner-directed people. They appreciate the world around them with a sense of awe and wonder. In love relationships they respect the other's individuality and feel joy at the another's success. They give more love than most people, and need less. Because they take an independent view, they can see situations and problems more objectively and consequently they tend to be creative and make valuable contributions to society.

One reason that a person does not move through the needs to self-actualization is because of the hindrances placed in their way by society. For example, education can act to inhibit a person's potential (though also of course it can promote personal growth). So can other aspects of the family and culture act to condition and funnel an individual into a role that is not fulfilling. To escape this conditioning, a person has to awaken to their situation, to realize that their life could be different, that there are changes that can be made in the direction of self-actualization.

To promote our personal growth, we can learn to be authentic, to be aware of our inner selves and to hear our inner feelings and needs. We can begin to transcend our own cultural conditioning and become world citizens. We can help our children discover their talents and creative skills, to find the appropriate career and complementary partner. We can demonstrate that life is precious, that there is joy to be experienced in life, and that if one is open to seeing the good - and humorous - in all kinds of situations, this makes life worth living.

There is one further need that stands at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs. This is...

  • Transpersonal Needs
    This is the need for a higher truth; to make contact with the creative force that is beyond the human personality; to make sense of all the suffering and injustices of the survival struggle on earth. This need has been evident in all cultures, expressed by all religions, and is the spiritual path towards enlightenment, towards discovering the truth of All That Is.

It is only by having at least a glimmer of this spirituality that we each are part of, that we can aspire to the highest potential of being human. To be able to genuinely love and to forgive unconditionally, we need to see in all others - even our enemies - the same essential quality that we ourselves are part of. Spirituality is a transpersonal quality, it is beyond the Ego and obsession with the self. It is the maturity of intuition.

Peak Experiences
Abraham Maslow defines a peak experience as having some (but usually not all) of the following characteristics: "an almost overwhelming sense of pleasure, euphoria or joy, a deep sense of wonder or awe, feeling in harmony or at one with the universe, altered percepts of time and/or space, a deep feeling of love, greater awareness of beauty or appreciation, and a sense that it would be difficult or impossible to describe adequately in words."

Maslow coined this term to describe quasi-mystical experiences, not necessarily of a religious nature. Peak experiences are sudden feelings of intense happiness and well-being, and possibly the awareness of new insights that were previously obscured. Accompanying these experiences is a heightened sense of control over the body and emotions, and a wider sense of awareness, as though one was standing upon a mountaintop. The experience fills the individual with wonder and awe. He feels at one with the world and is pleased with it; he or she has seen something of the essence of all things.

Maslow described peak experiences as powerful moments with their own intrinsic value and accompanied by a loss of fear, anxiety, doubts, and inhibitions. Peak experiences follow a period of struggle and resistance to self-actualization as a process, due to the effort of learning, achievement of goals or finding the answers to creative problems. Following the insight and integration of accomplishment, peak experiences are characterized as a relief; an inner peace of mind that one has rarely experienced before.

Maslow said that all individuals are capable of peak experiences. Those who do not have them somehow depress or deny them. Individuals most likely to have peak experiences are self-actualized, mature, healthy, and self-fulfilled.

Peak experiences render therapeutic value as they foster a sense of being lucky or graced; release creative energies; reaffirm the worthiness of life; and change an individual's view of himself or herself. Not long before his death in 1970, Maslow defined the term "plateau experience" as a sort of continuing peak experience that is more voluntary, noetic, and cognitive. He described it as a witnessing or cognitive blissfulness. Its achievement requires a considerable period of determined effort, he stated.

Transformation occurs when existing solutions, assumed truths and past decisions are exposed as unrealistic, and this new insight allows one to view from a more appropriate and empowering perspective.

The path of personal transformation is primarily a process of becoming aware of, facing up to and taking responsibility for one's thoughts, feelings and actions, and then expanding this self-realization by communicating with others, retaining integrity whatever the response, and further enhancing the quality of communication with ever-increasing empathy and understanding. Through understanding others better, we can recognize their essential goodwill, however misguided it might have become, and begin to recognize the spirituality of humankind.

Rollo May - Love and Will on the Path of Self-Actualization
Rollo May, the American existential psychologist, authored the influential book Love and Will in 1969. The central thesis of the book is that Eros, the life force, is the fundamental energy behind Will; that Love directs our Will toward our highest potential. Eros is the force that drives men to seek God. Eros is the spirit of life and is not to be confused with the sex drive. Rollo May points out that the sex drive seeks satisfaction and release of tension whereas Eros drives us outward toward self-realization.

May was influenced by American humanism, and was interested in reconciling existential psychology with other approaches, especially Freud's. He recognized certain characteristics of individuals as they balance their drive for self-actualization with the anxieties of life:

  • Innocence - the pre-egoic, pre-self-conscious stage of the infant. The innocent is only doing what he or she must do. However, an innocent does have a degree of will in the sense of a drive to fulfill needs.
  • Rebellion - the rebellious person wants freedom, but has yet no full understanding of the responsibility that goes with it.
  • Decision - the person in a transition stage in their life where they need to break away from their parents or from conformity in order to take responsibility; or to retreat into the ordinary to avoid the anxiety of takining responsibility.
  • Ordinary - the normal adult Ego learns the need for responsibility, but finds it too demanding, and so seeks refuge in conformity and traditional values.
  • Creative - this is the authentic, self-actualized person who, accepting destiny, faces anxiety with courage.
Rollo May May was a critic of the narcissism rampant in modern society. For example, he perceived the sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s, as well as commercialization of sex and pornography, as having planted the idea in the minds of adults that love and sex are no longer directly associated. In this way, emotion has become separated from reason, making it socially acceptable to seek sexual relationships and avoid the natural drive to relate to another person with feeling and create new life together. May suggests that the only way to turn around the cynical ideas that characterize our generation is to rediscover the importance of caring for another, of loving service, which May describes as the opposite of apathy. The choice to love, then, is one of will and intentionality, unlike the instinctive drive for sexual pleasure. Therefore real human existence demands thought and consideration.

May describes the anxiety caused by a threat to some value which the individual holds essential to his existence as the self that he knows. He also quotes Kierkegaard: "Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom." May's approach is existential: he conceives the self as a dynamic entity, alive with potentiality. His approach is also holistic, seeking to understand the whole reality and essence of a person's being. Man is thought of as being and becoming, as a dynamic process, as a complex organism in relation to the universe. However, if an insight or perception is too hard at the moment, if it causes too much anxiety and threatens established beliefs - of self and/or of others - then it may be repressed and afterwards be hidden by defenses.

Jung's path to Individuation, the Ego development required to overcome the Freudian Superego, Adlerian theory and the Stages of Development of intellectual ability, all support May's concept that the family environment and subsequent socialization are primary factors in enabling the self to face the anxiety inherent in existence, where one's highest values may often be under threat. Families in Western society today tend to be an open system. Teachers, clergy, relatives and friends play important roles in a child's life and along side the primary caregivers are often a significant source of support - or alternatively sometimes a threat - to the development of the individual. In addition, societal beliefs and expectations regarding gender roles, child-rearing practice, judgments about 'appropriate and inappropriate' behavior, and numerous other beliefs and values all impact human development.

Personal Development for Self-Actualization
The courses of personal development offered by Trans4mind follow the natural developmental progression described by Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs.

Basic needs of physical and mental health, plus adequate security and safety, are assumed starting points for students on the courses. Our courses provide skills that help the student better meet his or her social needs for belonging and acceptance. Learning to perceive acutely, concentrate, read, and study very well aid the individual's integration with society and the work place.

The courses teach skills that give a dramatic increase in performance. The certainty of being able to excel gives a corresponding rise in self-esteem.

Furthermore, our courses provoke an independence of thought, so that the student becomes free to think and live outside of the box of their cultural upbringing - to be truly themselves and in a much better position to fulfill their needs for Self Actualization.

Through the preparation obtained by well-done personal development, the student is in an ideal position to proceed in the natural direction of Transpersonal discovery, to find their own spiritual truth, independent from existing religions and philosophies. Trans4mind offers an ideal program to accelerate this process: The Insight Project.