“Self-actualization” represents a concept derived from Humanistic psychological theory and, specifically, from the theory created by Abraham Maslow. Self-actualization, according to Maslow, represents growth of an individual toward fulfillment of the highest needs; those for meaning in life, in particular. Carl Rogers also created a theory implicating a “growth potential” whose aim was to integrate congruently the “real self” and the “ideal self” thereby cultivating the emergence of the “fully functioning person”. It was Maslow, however, who created a psychological hierarchy of needs, the fulfillment of which theoretically leads to a culmination of fulfillment of “being values”, or the needs that are on the highest level of this hierarchy, representing meaning.
Maslow’s hierarchy reflects a linear pattern of growth depicted in a direct pyramidal order of ascension. Moreover, he states that self-actualizing individuals are able to resolve dichotomies such as that reflected in the ultimate contrary of free-will and determinism. He also contends that self-actualizers are highly creative, psychologically robust individuals. It is argued herein that a dialectical transcendence of ascension toward self-actualization better describes this type of self-actualization, and even the mentally ill, whose psychopathology correlates with creativity, have the capacity to self-actualize.
Maslow’s hierarchy is described as follows:
2. Safety, or the needs for security and protection, especially those that emerge from social or political instability.
5. And “being” needs concerning creative self-growth, engendered from fulfillment of potential and meaning in life.
Erikson created a theory of psychosocial dichotomies represented as “trust versus mistrust” and “autonomy versus shame and doubt”, as examples. In terms of Erikson’s final stage of development, that of “ego integrity versus despair”, the successful resolution of this stage corresponds with a sense of life’s meaning. It is clear that the self-actualized person might be in danger of dying, but nevertheless may find meaning in life. This means that lower level needs might be unfulfilled even in situations represented by “being values”, such as a sense of meaning in life. Note, however, that Maslow asserted that one’s needs may be only partially fulfilled at any given moment.
Mahatma Gandhi, Viktor Frankl, and Nelson Mandela may serve as examples of people who each personify a reality self-actualization. At risk of his life, Mahatma Gandhi utilized civil disobedience for purposes of freedom, Viktor Frankl was a holocaust survivor who never relinquished his grasp of life’s meaning, and Nelson Mandela maintained an attitude of meaning in life even while he was imprisoned. The safety needs of these individuals may have been threatened in these particular life circumstances, but it may be understood that many people whose safety needs are compromised may be cognizant of being values. They may find life to be meaningful explicitly because of situations of danger to their lives, situations represented by the dichotomy of life and death, in particular.