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Roya R. Rad, MA, PsyD Headshot

Psychology of Self Actualization

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I have heard it many times from many people that they are looking into modern science, including multimodal psychology and quantum physics, searching for answers to spirituality. It
is as if our mind's evolution is not satisfied with what we don't understand. We have moved above the imitation and ritualistic stages and into an era of thirst for understanding.

A more mature mind looks for answers to "why," and "how," rather than emulating rituals and following others without knowing why. As we grow emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, we feel less and less fulfilled and satisfied by acting like a sheep, following without knowing why. We don't want to be slaves of the outside world but a follower of our internal feelings and signals.

When it comes to psychology and how it can help people in being connected to their core, there seems to be this red flag. While people seem to have more and more of a thirst for using psychological concepts as a tool for understanding themselves and their role in life, at the same time some tend to run from it because they may think it is too knotty or analytical. But not all psychological concepts are like that. Some are more comprehensible. For example the concept of self actualization which was first defined by Maslow or other concepts like wholeness by Carl Jung are gaining more appreciation by general public who are looking for root oriented answers to daily challenges life throws at them and all of us.

Self actualization is in a way a process of self purification. Purifying one's self of the heavy and harmful baggage we may carry with us throughout our lives. This baggage could be anything from negative and out of balanced emotions, irrational thoughts and feelings, repressed memories that have turned into blockages, and unattended needs.

We, humans have both physical and emotional needs and are motivated by satisfying these needs in life. But many of us focus too much on desires and confuse them with needs. Our most basic needs are inborn and have evolved over many years. It is only when the lower needs of physical and emotional well-being are satisfied or compensated that we are able to take care of the higher ones. Maslow created a hierarchy of needs which he as a pyramid with the more primitive needs at the bottom and the more advanced ones on the top. This hierarchy is portrayed as a pyramid of seven main levels, each with its own characteristics.

One must take note of the fact that how each person's needs are met, and at what stage of life that need becomes a priority, is a personal factor that relates to the person's characteristics, the environment s/he was raised in, and the predisposed factors s/he came into this world with. However, it is each person's responsibility to become aware of these needs, so s/he is able to go through each in a healthy way. But we all are innately capable to reach the top part of this pyramid which is self actualization and self transformation. Whether we get there or not is not, in most cases, a matter of capability but choice. Too many of us get distracted with spending a life time fulfilling the basic needs and disregard that there might be something higher out there.

The pyramid of self growth that Maslow designed has initially four lower levels (survival/physiological, security/safety, love/belonging/social acceptance, and two types of self-esteem) which are grouped together as deficiency needs, and are all related, one way or another, to physiological needs. The top level (self-actualization) is termed a growth need, and is related to psychological needs. Later on in life Maslow added another level which was termed self transformation which seems to be more of a spiritual need.

Going from the lowest level to the top, the first level of needs, survival and physiological, are things like breathing, food, water, sleep, homeostatic which is the ability of an organism to maintain an internal equilibrium, and excursion. The second level of needs, security and safety needs, are things like security of body, employment, resources, morality, family, health, and property. The third level of needs, social acceptance, love, and belonging needs, are things like acceptance, friendship, family, and sexual intimacy. The fourth level of needs, self-esteem, is things like confidence, achievement, and respect for and by others which can be divided into two categories. The first one is a sense of self esteem which one achieves through interaction with his or her environment and the accomplishments and the second one is a sense of self esteem that the individual achieves internally and independent of his or her environment, an inner sense of being content with one's self. The fifth level of needs, self-actualization, are morality, spontaneity, creativity, productivity, lack of prejudice, and respect for others and nature.

The basic concept of the pyramid of self growth is that once the lower needs are met, the individual can move up to the next higher need. Once an individual passes one level, that level's needs will no longer be prioritized, though they may still exist. On the other hand, if a lower set of needs is persistently unmet and neglected for a long time, the individual will temporarily re-prioritize those needs by dropping down to that level until those lower needs are realistically fulfilled again. Natural growth forces continuously generate upward movement in the hierarchy, unless basic needs remain unmet indefinitely.

Some characteristics of self actualized people: they embrace the facts and realities of the world, rather than denying or avoiding them, are spontaneous, creative, good problem-solvers
who use reason rather than emotion, focus on the solution, not the problem, and appreciate life in general, with all its ups and downs, have a system of morality that is fully internalized and independent of external authority, and are aware, open, honest, free, and trustworthy in every aspect.

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