Maslow and Self-actualisation

Self-actualised people are people who yearn to realise their full potential.   In doing so, they express their creativity, quest for spiritual enlightenment, pursuit for knowledge and their desire to give back to society (contribution).  Words synonymous with self-actualisation: self-discovery, self-realisation and self-exploration.


The 4 Characteristics of the Self-Actualised Person

These are the four characteristics of the self-actualised person.   You may want to reflect on your own life to see how you can reach your maximum potential. In a similar vein, you may want to reflect on these to see how you can help others around you to reach their maximum potential.


  1. Honesty     2. Awareness       3.   Trust       4.   Freedom


HONESTY Self-actualised people are honest with themselves, their feelings, and with being themselves
i)    Sense of Humour Self-actualised people have a gentle good natured sense of humour. It is never hostile. They never make fun of or hurt people. The humour is intrinsic to the situation (rather than added to it). It is spontaneous rather than planned (i.e. spur of the moment thing). It’s inventive and creative. And it elicits a smile rather than a laugh.
ii)   Interpersonal Relations Self-actualised people shows high levels of love for their fellow mankind. They show admiration for the qualities of the other person. They are interested in other people, their lives and their worlds.
iii) Social Interest Self-actualised people have a strong sense of identity with the human species and they like to break through the artificial barriers to socialness. They like to share their humanness and in doing so, show love for their fellow mankind. However, despite this, they can get angry.   But that anger is a result of social injustice. In other words, they don’t just get angry at the drop of a hat, but they react with anger over strong issues like perceived mistreatment, insult, or malice – (often called ‘righteous indignation’). They have a strong desire to help by getting unselfishly involved. In some religious doctrines, righteous indignation is considered the only form of anger which is not sinful (because they are willing to fight for what is necessary to make the world a better place and because of their internal desire to want to help people in general).
AWARENESS Self-actualised people know and express what is going on inside of them. They are aware of their own world and that of others.   And they are aware of those special magic moments that have a significant impact on their lives.
i)    Efficient perception


Self-actualised people live in the real world of nature and are able to see it for what it is.   Ordinary people hold stereotypes of the world.   Self-actualised people accept things for what they are rather than prejudge them according to perceived preconceptions – they have a more holistic sense of reality.. They can see through people – especially the fakes and phonies. It is difficult to con them. They come to good judgement with insufficient evidence! It’s as if they leap to the right conclusion. Their judgement and advice is good.
ii)   Freshness of appreciation Self-actualised people have the wonderful capacity to appreciate again and again the basic goods of life. The miracles of life repetitive – and they never cease to show wonderment and ecstasy. These people see these miracles for what they are – miracles and appreciate them fully unlike others. They do not take them for granted. For most ordinary people familiarisation breeds a lack of attention and this leads to a loss of emotional reaction. Thus, the average person is looking for something new all the time whereas self-actualised people continue to respond to miracles as miracles all the time.
iii) Peak Moments Self-actualised people often have mystical peak experiences – magic moments where limitless horizons open up to their field of vision. These evoke feelings of powerfulness and helplessness at the same time. They see the world in the more peak experience and in a more pure form.
iv) Ethical Awareness Self-actualised people have definite moral standards; their notions of right and wrong are often not the conventional ones. They understand the difference between ‘the ends’ and ‘the means’. It’s as if these people know what’s right and what is wrong. And they don’t get tied up in and not all about it. They know what they think is right; they have an inner Supreme Court (i.e. they look within rather than to friends, parents, society or culture).
TRUST Self-actualised people trust themselves, trust others and trust nature.


i)    Life Mission Self-actualised people have some sort of mission in life. A search for self-identity is in part a search for your life-work; discovering your vocation, your calling or constitutional destiny. Self-actualised people will do what they are best suite for – because that’s what is in keeping with their values, that what they are passionate about, that is what gives their life meaning, and that is what makes them happy. Their life mission becomes a defining characteristic of the self. They let go of their ego, self-pride and showing off; instead doing what they love doing.
ii)   Autonomy Self-actualised people look after their own development and growth (independent of culture and environment). They are their own bosses somehow. Doing themselves what they decided to do.
iii) Acceptance of Self, Others & Nature Self-actualised people are accepting of themselves, others and of nature. They accept the fundamental flaws of human nature – the frailties, weaknesses and fragility. They don’t fight with reality. They’re quite comfortable with the world in how it is. They accept the ups and downs of life.. They are more interested in how wonderful the world is rather then its weaknesses or how it should have been; they take it as it is. And that includes their fellow brother and sister – educating and showing patience in the face of ignorance for example. In short, they extend their power to help other people. They show calmness and composure, especially in a difficult situation (equanimity).
FREEDOM Self-actualised people are often spontaneous and creative and are comfortable with being with whatever one is.
i)    Detachment In times of battle self-actualised people remain unruffled and undisturbed. If something is going quite smoothly, they don’t have an internal desire to interject unnecessarily. They can let things be. They enjoy things as they are.  They are also happy being themselves – rather than part of a chaotic cluster of puppies scrambling all over the place and doing what each other is doing. They have an inner sense of calmness and direction.
ii)   Creativity Self-actualised people are inventive, original and have the universal creativity of unspoiled children. By creative – not artistic or poetic – simply creative and innovative in everyday life.   They spontaneously create whatever is needed to beautifully fit the situation.
iii) Spontaneity The behaviour of self-actualised people is marked by spontaneity and naturalness. There is no artificiality or demand for effect. They don’t do things for prestige or showing off. They don’t play to an audience or a gallery or for reward. It’s as if there is something inside that wants to be expressed rather than doing something in response to some external reward (like an applause or money).   This, in itself, gives a sense of honesty and even grace to the activity.


In short, self-actualisation is making real of the inner self.

Most of the content of this hand-out is derived from the DVD interview with Abraham Maslow in 1968 on Self-Actualisation: (adapted by Dr. Ramesh Mehay, TPD Bradford, 2014 )