Self-actualization refers to an individual fully realizing his or her potential, as a human being. It is estimated to be experienced by approximately 2% of the human population but possible in all.

It is generally understood that self-actualizing people see life clearly. They are less emotional and more objective, less likely to allow hopes, fears, or ego defenses to distort their observations. Psychologist Abraham Maslow found that all self-actualizing people are dedicated to a vocation or a cause. Two requirements for growth are commitment to something greater than oneself and success at one’s chosen tasks. Major characteristics of self-actualizing people include creativity, spontaneity, courage, and hard work.

Abraham Maslow, the creator of the term self-actualization described it in this way:

“What a man can be, he must be. This need we may call self-actualization…It refers to the desire for self-fulfillment, namely, to the tendency for him 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.”

Maslow says there are two processes necessary for self-actualization: self exploration and action. The deeper the self exploration, the closer one comes to self-actualization.

Principles of Self-Actualization

  • The normal personality is characterized by unity, integration, consistency, and coherence. Organization is the natural state, and disorganization is pathological.
  • The organism can be analyzed by differentiating its parts, but no part can be studied in isolation. The whole functions according to laws that cannot be found in the parts.
  • The organism has one sovereign drive, that of self-actualization. People strive continuously to realize their inherent potential by whatever avenues are open to them.
  • The influence of the external environment on normal development is minimal. The organism’s potential, if allowed to unfold by an appropriate environment, will produce a healthy, integrated personality.
  • The comprehensive study of one person is more useful than the extensive investigation, in many people, of an isolated psychological function.
  • The salvation of the human being is not to be found in either behaviorism or in psychoanalysis, (which deals with only the darker, meaner half of the individual). We must deal with the questions of value, individuality, consciousness, purpose, ethics and the higher reaches of human nature.
  • Man is basically good not evil.
  • Psychopathology generally results from the denial, frustration or twisting of our essential nature.
  • Therapy of any sort, is a means of restoring a person to the path of self-actualization and development along the lines dictated by their inner nature.
  • When the four basic needs have been satisfied, the growth need or self-actualization need arises: A new discontent and restlessness will develop unless the individual is doing what he individually is fitted for. A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write–in short, what people can be they must be.

Characteristics of Self-Actualized Individuals

There are some notable key characteristics of self-actualized individuals. They are as follows:

  • Acceptance and Realism: Self-actualized people have realistic perceptions of themselves, others and the world around them.
  • Problem-centering: Self-actualized individuals are concerned with solving problems outside of themselves, including helping others and finding solutions to problems in the external world. These people are often motivated by a sense of personal responsibility and ethics.
  • Spontaneity: Self-actualized people are spontaneous in their internal thoughts and outward behavior. While they can conform to rules and social expectations, they also tend to be open and unconventional.
  • Autonomy and Solitude: Another characteristics of self-actualized people is the need for independence and privacy. While they enjoy the company of others, these individuals need time to focus on developing their own individual potential.
  • Continued Freshness of Appreciation: Self-actualized people tend to view the world with a continual sense of appreciation, wonder and awe. Even simple experiences continue to be a source of inspiration and pleasure.
  • Peak Experiences: Individuals who are self-actualized often have what Maslow termed peak experiences, or moments of intense joy, wonder, awe and ecstasy. After these experiences, people feel inspired, strengthened, renewed or transformed.

Effects of Peak Experiences

There are several beneficial results once a person becomes self-actualized. They are the following:

  • The removal of neurotic symptoms
  • A tendency to view oneself in a more healthy way
  • Change in one’s view of other people and of one’s relations with them
  • Change in one’s view of the world
  • The release of creativity, spontaneity and expressiveness
  • A tendency to remember the experience and to try to duplicate it
  • A tendency to view life in general as more worthwhile.


Identification, sympathy, and affection for mankind, kinship with the good, the bad and the ugly, older-brother attitude. Truth is clear to him, can see things others cannot see.

Interpersonal relations

Profound, intimate relationships with few. Capable of greater love than others consider possible. Benevolence, affection and friendliness shown to everyone.

Democratic values and attitudes Able to learn from anyone, humble. Friendly with anyone regardless of class, education, political belief, race or color.

Discrimination: Means and Ends

Do not confuse between means and ends. They do no do wrong. Enjoy the here and now, getting to goal–not just the result. They make the most tedious task an enjoyable game. They have their own inner moral standards (appearing amoral to others).

Philosophical, unhostile sense of humor

Jokes are teaching metaphors, intrinsic to the situation, spontaneous, can laugh at themselves, never make jokes that hurt others.

Creativity Inborn uniqueness that carries over into everything they do, see the real and true more easily, original, inventive and less inhibited.

Resistance to enculturation: Transcendence of any particular culture

Inner detachment from culture, folkways are used but of no consequence, calm long term culture improvement, indignation with injustice, inner autonomy and outer acceptance. Transcend the environment rather than just cope.


Painfully aware of own imperfections, joyfully aware of own growth process. Impatient with self when stuck, real life pain, not imagined.


Philosophical acceptance of the nature of his self, human nature, social life, nature, physical reality, remains realistically human. Resolution of dichotomies

Polar opposites merge into a third, higher phenomenon, as though the two have united, work becomes play, most childlike person is most wise, opposite forces no longer felt as a conflict. Desires are in excellent accord with reason.

How to Self-Actualize

  • Experience things fully, vividly, selflessly. Throw yourself into the experiencing of something: concentrate on it fully, let it totally absorb you.
  • Life is an ongoing process of choosing between safety (out of fear and need for defense) and risk (for the sake of progress and growth): Make the growth choice a dozen times a day.
  • Let the self emerge. Try to shut out the external clues as to what you should think, feel, say, and so on, and let your experience enable you to say what you truly feel.
  • When in doubt, be honest. If you look into yourself and are honest, you will also take responsibility. Taking responsibility is self-actualizing.
  • Listen to your own tastes. Be prepared to be unpopular.
  • Use your intelligence, work to do well the things you want to do, no matter how insignificant they seem to be.
  • Make peak experiencing more likely: get rid of illusions and false notions. Learn what you are good at and what your potentialities are not.
  • Find out who you are, what you are, what you like and don’t like, what is good and what is bad for you, where you are going, what your mission is. Opening yourself up to yourself in this way means identifying defenses–and then finding the courage to give them up.