Most of us recognise the triangle of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but the pinnacle of it still eludes us. As humans with rational thought, self-actualisation is one of the highest levels of our growth. It is the fulfilment of one’s potential, that is, being the best version of yourself. Contrary to popular belief, everyone can attain self-actualisation; it is simply a matter of how long you can stay there. Who is this Self-Actualised person, and what characteristics does he or she have?
Maslow studied individuals whom he believed to be self-actualised, including Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Albert Einstein, to derive the common characteristics of the self-actualised person. Here is a selection of the most important characteristics, from his book Motivation and Personality:
- Accountability & openness to making mistakes: Self-actualised people do not play the blame game in a crisis but look for their role in a situation to improve the circumstances. They recognise that making mistakes is part of the learning process and they do not limit their life’s experience because of the fear of mistakes. Meanwhile, they take reasonable cautionary steps not to repeat the same mistake over and over again.
- Acceptance: Self-actualised people have acceptance of self, others and the world around them. With a high level of self-acceptance, they lack defensiveness, pose or artificiality. “They can accept their own human nature in the stoic style, with all its shortcomings, with all its discrepancies from the ideal image without feeling real concern [...] simply noting and observing what is the case, without either arguing the matter or demanding that it be otherwise.” Maslow quotes that “one does not complain about water because it is wet, or about rocks because they are hard.”
- Spontaneity: While being grounded, self-actualised individuals learn to be open to new experiences, to bring their inner child out and have fun with life. They don’t force themselves to be as others think they “should” be and go with what feels right to their core. At the same time, they do not try to intentionally hurt others and are sensitive to what is good. They are playful in nature, love to laugh, and make jokes but not at the expense of others.
- Problem focused: Self-actualised people focus on the solution from a more multi-modal perspective and are open to new ideas and options. They also try to look at a problem with their emotions removed as if they are standing outside the chaos to see what is happening to make an unbiased judgment.
- Desire for detachment and privacy: While interactive and well connected with their surroundings, self-actualised people have also a need to have time to themselves for quiet time and reflection and do not always have to be with others to enjoy their time. With other people whom they feel connected to, the presence of those people is enough and there does not have to be any open communication all the time.
- Autonomy: Self-actualised people are independent of their culture and their surroundings while being fully aware of them. They make decisions on their own without being conditioned toward any particular culture, religion or stereotype. They are aware that conditioning can be limiting and illusive, and need to be used with full awareness. Because of their self-decision, self-actualised people have codes of ethics that are individualised and autonomous, rather than being dictated by society. “They are the most ethical of people even though their ethics are not necessarily the same as those of the people around them [...because] the ordinary ethical behaviour of the average person is largely conventional behaviour rather than truly ethical behaviour.”
- Appreciation of simple things: Self-actualised people learn to enjoy the simple things in life and to connect with nature. They take time to find joy and content in daily things that come to all of us for free without any effort. Such examples include a walk in the park, looking at the stars at night, and listening to a bird singing.
- Honest: Self-actualised people are honest but know the fine line between honesty and being blunt. Others always know where they are standing with self-actualised people and relationships with them are usually drama-free since they won’t say ‘yes’ where they feel otherwise. In other words, they are assertive. Unlike the average rebel, the self-actualised person recognises that “the world of people in which he lives could not understand or accept his unconventionality, and since he has no wish to hurt them or to fight with them over every triviality, he will go through the ceremonies and rituals of convention with a good-humoured shrug and with the best possible grace.” Self-actualised people would usually behave in a conventional fashion simply because no great issues are involved or because they know people will be hurt or embarrassed by any other kind of behaviour.
- Oneness & equality: Self-actualised people become more of a global soul where their concern is more toward all mankind not just what they have been conditioned to feel more similar to. Self-actualised people tend to believe in the equal nature of humans and believe that each person has certain strengths and weaknesses. They are capable of “more fusion, greater love, more perfect identification, more obliteration of the ego boundaries than other people would consider possible” and place importance on benevolence, affection, and friendliness.
- Healthy interpersonal relationships: Self-actualised people have clear boundaries therefore, their relationship is free of drama and anxious attachments. They have more profound relationships with other adults on a deep level. They are capable of greater love and focus on the good few rather than a large number. Their relationships are very meaningful and positive.
- Creative: Self-actualised people are creative and express themselves in many positive forms like writing, speaking, playing, and painting.
- Resistant to inculturation: Self-actualised people resist transcendence to any particular culture and maintain a strong individuality while learning and at times, practising what seems positive in their as well as other cultures. This is done by choice, not by any force of attachment. They can evaluate the culture objectively to see what works for them and their loved ones. They can also assimilate naturally into a new culture if they live in it.
Are you a self-actualised individual? Take this quiz and find out!
Rad, M. R. (2011, July 11). Are You Self Actualized? Retrieved from The Huffington Post: www.huffingtonpost.com/roya-r-rad-ma-psyd/are-you-self-actualized_b_894051.html
Sze, D. (2015, July 21). Maslow: The 12 Characteristics of a Self-Actualized Person. Retrieved from The Huffington Post: www.huffingtonpost.com/david-sze/maslow-the-12-characteris_b_7836836.html