Those familiar with Maslow's hierarchy of needs know that self-actualization - be all you can be - is the highest level human need (the needs in order from lowest to highest are: BASIC: physiological (health, food, sleep, sex, water, etc), and security (of the body, of employment, of resources, of morality, of property; insurance, etc).
If basic needs are not met, there can be no movement towards self-actualization. Over and above the basic needs are the SOCIAL and PSYCHOLOGICAL needs: belonging (love, affection, friendship, family sexual intimacy, etc), esteem (self-esteem, esteem from others, personal worth, social recognition, confidence, achievement, etc) and self-actualization (morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving, lack of prejudice, acceptance of facts, etc).
Image via WikipediaAccording to Maslow's theory, if you want be on the path of true self-actualization, you need to take care of your BASIC needs first. That is, if you're hungry, you need to get food. If you feel unsafe, you constantly have to be vigilant and on guard. This is where you spend the plurality of your time and energy.
Truth be told, only about two percent of the population is actually, proactively, consciously self-actualizing, according to Maslow.
So, the question now becomes, what is it that is preventing me from being all I can be, from self-actualizing?
Here's an exercise:
Draw a stick figure of yourself. Then draw four straight lines, horizontally, each about two-to-three inches long, extending out from the center of the body, about an inch and a half away from the other lines (you're going to write on these lines, so leave room above and below each line).
On each of the four lines, write one of Maslow's needs: physiological, security, belonging, and esteem (don't use self-actualization here).
Look above, in the first paragraph, at what constitutes each of these needs. Take some time and reflect on how much of your total available time and energy (i.e., physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, social, financial, etc. as a totality) you expend on fulfilling each of the four needs and write that percentage at the right of each line.
Mary is experiencing low self-esteem issues, so she is spending a majority of her time engaged in social networking and the like which makes her feel "like somebody" and wanted. She writes 40% at the end of the "esteem" need. Her physiological needs are fairly well met so she writes 5% at the end of the "physiological" line. She has concerns about her job, so she writes 30% at the end of the "security" line. Belonging is an issue as she and her partner are having intimacy challenges (different from the "sex" element in the physiological need area), so she writes 25% at the end of the "belonging" line. Total energy expenditure is 100%. We'll return to this.
Thomas is experiencing the aftermath of a tornado. Huge damage to his home and automobile. Although his insurance will cover the material damage, he's strung out emotionally over the loss of family heirlooms that are irreplaceable but more stressed about the rebuilding of his home and how it will compare with his neighbors. He writes 30% on the "security" line. Added to that is his concern that he's being "shut out" by his friends at the local golf club. He feels he "doesn't belong" and he's not sure why. He spends a fair amount of time obsessing about this so he writes 25% on the "belonging" line. Tom feels that if he's not "socially networking" every "free" moment he'll fall out of the loop and lag behind others who know "what's the latest." So, Tom writes 20% on the esteem line as he's feeling lacking, deficient and being "left out." In addition, he feels he's not living up to his parents' expectations, so he writes 25% on the belonging line. Total energy expenditure is 100%. We'll return to this in a moment as well.
Get the picture? Now do this exercise for your self - be honest and sincere with your exploration and your scoring. Tell the truth. And, not everyone's expenditure will add up to 100%; some might even go beyond100% and that's OK.
Back to self-actualization.
According to Maslow, self-actualizers exhibited a number of qualities:
They are reality-centered - they know the difference between what is fake and what is real; what is honest from what is dishonest.
They are problem-oriented - they see life as solution, not problem, oriented; they are not victims.
They don't necessarily have an "end" in sight;' they see the journey as, if not more, important than the end.
They enjoy solitude; they are comfortable in their own skins; they enjoy fewer close personal friends than shallow relationships with a host of acquaintances.
They enjoy being autonomous - being free from or independent from physical and social needs. They consciously resist social pressure to be to "fit in."
They have a healthy sense of humor - not engaging in sarcasm, put-down humor or humor at the expense of others.
They accept others just as they are. They don't try to change others, or themselves if they have a quirk or other non-harmful quality.
They are spontaneous and simple - eschewing pretension or artificiality.
They have a sense of humility and respect towards others, all others and a strong sense of ethics.
They have a sense of wonder and appreciation, are creative and have more peak experiences (being one with life and/or God) than most.
They transcend common dichotomies: spiritual/physical, selfish/unselfish, masculine/feminine.
They need truth, goodness, beauty, wholeness, aliveness, uniqueness, completion, justice, simplicity, richness, effortlessness, playfulness, self-sufficiency, and meaningfulness in their lives.
So, you ask, everyone wants these qualities, right? Yes, most everyone does. And, here's the deal.
If you are striving, efforting or struggling to satisfy your Basic needs, then movement towards self-actualization will be halted or quite slow. If you're starving, without financial support or need a roof over your head, you're not concerned with the qualities of self-actualization, and rightly so.
BUT, if your basic needs are pretty well met, and you're spending an inordinate amount of time and energy on your social and psychological needs - at the expense of self-actualizing. So why? What is it about belonging, friendship, sexual intimacy, self-esteem, esteem from others, self-worth, confidence, achievement, and the like that takes much of your time and energy?
And, you, what did you see with this exercise? Are you on or near the road to self-actualization?
So, some questions for self-reflection are:
- Which of your needs are being met and which aren't? Why?
- Where do you spend the majority or plurality of your time and energy? Why?
- Do you often feel stressed and overwhelmed? Why?
- Do you have time and energy to move towards self-actualization? If not, who or what prevents you from doing so? Is that OK?
- Do you know folks who exhibit some or many of the self-actualization qualities Maslow describes? What's it like to be around him, her or them?
- What did you see about yourself from this exercise?
- How much time and energy do you devote to social/psychological needs? Why?
Peter Vajda, Ph.D, C.P.C. is a founding partner of SpiritHeart, an Atlanta-based company that supports conscious living through coaching and counseling. With a practice based on the dynamic intersection of mind, body, emotion and spirit, Peter's 'whole person' coaching approach supports deep and sustainable change and transformation.
Peter facilitates and guides leaders and managers, individuals in their personal and work life, partners and couples, groups and teams to move to new levels of self-awareness, enhancing their ability to show up authentically and with a heightened sense of well be-ing, inner harmony and interpersonal effectiveness as they live their lives at work, at home, at play and in relationship.
Peter is a professional speaker and published author. For more information: http://www.spiritheart.net, or email@example.com, or phone 770.804.9125.
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