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MASLOW'S HIERACHY OF NEEDS
The term was used by Abraham Maslow in his article, A Theory of Human Motivation, Maslow defined Self Actualization to be "the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him [the individual] to become actualized in what he is potentially.
This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming." He used the term Self Actualization to describe a desire, not a driving force, that could lead to realizing one's capabilities.
Maslow didn't believe that Self Actualization determined one's life; rather, he felt that it gave the individual a desire, or motivation to achieve budding ambitions. His usage of the term is now popular in modern psychology when discussing personality from the humanistic approach.
The definition of Self Actualization according to Maslow is simply "the full realization of one's potential".
More specifically he defined Self Actualization as "intrinsic growth of what is already in the organism, or more accurately of what is the organism itself...self-actualization is growth-motivated rather than deficiency-motivated." Accordingly self-actualization cannot normally be reached until lower order necessities of Maslow's hierarchy of needs are satisfied. He uses the term to describe personal growth that takes place once lower order needs have been met, one corollary being that "self-actualisation...rarely happens...certainly in less than 1% of the adult population." The fact that "most of us function most of the time on a level lower than that of self-actualization" he called the psychopathology of normality.
Maslow considered self-actualizing people to possess "an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, and the dishonest in personality, and in general to judge the people correctly and efficiently."
Maslow based his theory partially on his own assumptions about human potential and partially on his case studies of historical figures whom he believed to be Self Actualized, including Albert Einstein and Henry David Thoreau. He examined the lives of each of these people in order to asses the common qualities that led each to be to become self-actualized. Generally most of these individuals were very accepting of themselves and of their life circumstances; were focused on finding solutions to cultural problems rather than to personal problems; were open to others' opinions and ideas; had strong senses of privacy, autonomy, human values and appreciation of life; and a few intimate friendships rather than many superficial ones.
MASLOW'S CHARACTERISTICS OF SELF-ACTUALIZERS
A self-actualizer is a person who is living creatively and fully using his or her potentials. In his studies, Maslow found that self-actualizers share similarities. Whether famous or unknown, well-schooled or uneducated, rich or poor, self-actualizers tend to fit the following profile.
Efficient perceptions of reality. Self-actualizers are able to judge situations correctly and honestly. They are very sensitive to the fake and dishonest.
Comfortable acceptance of self, others, nature. Self-actualizers accept their own human nature with all its flaws. The shortcomings of others and the contradictions of the human condition are accepted with humor and tolerance.
Spontaneity. Maslow's subjects extended their creativity into everyday activities. Actualizers tend to be unusually alive, engaged, and spontaneous.
Task centering. Most of Maslow's subjects had a mission to fulfill in life or some task or problem outside of themselves to pursue. Humanitarians such as Albert Schweitzer and Mother Teresa represent this quality.
Autonomy. Self-actualizers are free from reliance on external authorities or other people. They tend to be resourceful and independent.
Continued freshness of appreciation. The self-actualizer seems to constantly renew appreciation of life's basic goods. A sunset or a flower will be experienced as intensely time after time as it was at first. There is an "innocence of vision", like that of an artist or child.
Fellowship with humanity. Maslow's subjects felt a deep identification with others and the human situation in general.
Profound interpersonal relationships. The interpersonal relationships of self-actualizers are marked by deep loving bonds.
Comfort with solitude. Despite their satisfying relationships with others, self-actualizing persons value solitude and are comfortable being alone.
Non hostile sense of humor. This refers to the wonderful capacity to laugh at oneself. It also describes the kind of humor a man like Abraham Lincoln had. Lincoln probably never made a joke that hurt anybody. His wry comments were gentle prodding of human shortcomings.
Peak experiences. All of Maslow's subjects reported the frequent occurence of peak experiences (temporary moments of self-actualization). These occasions were marked by feelings of ectasy, harmony, and deep meaning. Self-actualizers reported feeling at one with the universe, stronger and calmer than ever before, filled with light, beautiful and good, and so forth.
In summary, self-actualizers feel safe, nonanxious, accepted, loved, loving, and alive.
Learn more about Self-Actualization HERE.