Maslow about Self-actualizing People
In the book Motivation and Personality by Maslow is a chapter about self-actualizing people.
It is about a rather subjective, but also really interesting, research that he did on a group of, what he called, self-actualizing people.
Those people share some very striking characteristics which are at the same time rather different from the average.
His goal was, in essence, to have a blueprint of what a human being can be, instead of an incomplete picture that is used in most psychology and philosophy.
My goal in this post is to give a summary of that chapter in order to have an overview of Maslow’s view on that potential of a human being.
The healthy have a more efficient perception of reality and have more comfortable relations with it. Detect the fake and dishonesty more easy. Less based upon wish, desire, anxiety, fear, optimism or pessimism. Perception (not taste) of something that was absolutely there (reality, not a set of opinions). Live more in the real world of nature than in the man-made mass of concepts, abstractions, expectations, beliefs, and stereotypes that most people confuse with the world.
They are unthreatened and unfrightened by the unknown, they accept it, are comfortable with it. They not only tolerate the ambiguous and unstructured, they like it. They do not neglect the unknown or organize it prematurely. Doubt, tentativeness and uncertainty are a pleasantly stimulating challenge.
They accept themselves and their own nature without chagrin or complaint, all its shortcomings from the ideal image without real concern. Simply noting and observing what is the case, not arguing or demanding that it be otherwise. This is not the same as resignation in the eastern sense, but sometimes in the face of illness and death it is.
See human nature as it is and not as they would prefer it to be. Not being strained through spectacles of various sorts to distort or shape or color the reality. Live comfortably with their own shortcomings, perceived as neutral personal characteristics. Not an absolute lack of guilt, shame, sadness, anxiety, defensiveness; only the unnecessary.
Spontaneous in behavior marked by simplicity and naturalness, lack of artificiality or effect. Unconventionality is not superficial but essential or internal. Impulses, thought, consciousness that are unusually unconventional, spontaneous, and natural. Will go through the ceremonies and rituals of convention with the best possible grace.
Make a conscious effort to be conventional; as if he were conventional voluntarily and by design. External behavior can be voluntarily dropped with people who do not expect routine behavior. Codes of ethics that are relatively autonomous and individual rather than conventional. Superior awareness of their own impulses, desires, opinions, and subjective reactions in general.
The average normal person often has no idea of what he is, what he wants, what his own opinions are. We must construct a profoundly different psychology of motivation for self-actualizing people. Metamotivation or growth motivation, rather than deficiency motivation.
Our subjects develop, attempt to grow to perfection and to develop fully in their own style. The motivation of ordinary men is a striving for the basic need gratifications that they lack. But self-actualizing people in fact lack none of these gratifications; and yet they have impulses.
Strongly focused on problems outside themselves. problem centered rather than ego centered. A task that they feel is their responsibility, duty or obligation. These tasks are nonpersonal or unselfish, concerned rather with the good of mankind in general.
Concerned with basic issues and eternal questions of the type that are philosophical or ethical. Values are broad and not petty, universal and not local, and in terms of a century not moment. Implications for every area of daily living, larger horizon is lack of worry over immediate concerns.
Solitary without discomfort, want solitude and privacy more than others. Remain above the battle, unruffled, undisturbed by that which produces turmoil in others. Aloof, reserved, calm and serene; take personal misfortunes without reacting violently. Retain dignity even in undignified surroundings and situations. Stick by their own interpretation of a situation not rely upon what other people think.
In social relations, detachment creates certain troubles and problems. Interpreted as coldness, snobbishness, lack of affection, unfriendliness, or even hostility. Self-actualizing people do not need others in the ordinary sense. But since this being needed or being missed is the usual earnest of friendship, it is evident that detachment will not easily be accepted by average people.
Another meaning of autonomy is self-decision, self-government, being an active, responsible, self-disciplined, deciding agent rather than a pawn, or helplessly determined by others, being strong rather than weak. Make up their own minds, come to their own decisions, are selfstarters, are responsible for themselves and their own destinies. It is a subtle quality, difficult to describe in words, and yet profoundly important.
Relative independence of the physical and social environment. Propelled by growth motivation rather than by deficiency motivation. Not dependent for their main satisfactions on extrinsic satisfactions. Rather they are dependent for their own development on their own potentialities.
Most people need love, safety, and the other basic need gratifications from without. If external satisfiers are obtained, the true problem of individual human development begins. Deficiency-motivated people must have other people available, their main need gratifications (love, safety, respect, prestige, belongingness) can come only from other human beings. But growth-motivated people may actually be hampered by others.
The determinants of satisfaction and good life are for them now inner-individual and not social. Strong enough to be independent of the good opinion of other people, or even of their affection. The honors, the status, the rewards, the popularity, the prestige, and the love they can bestow must have become less important than self-development and inner growth. The best technique we know for getting to this point of relative independence from love and respect, is to have been given plenty of this very same love and respect in the past.
Capacity to appreciate again and again, freshly and naïvely, the basic goods of life, with awe. These intense feelings do not come all the time, but at the most unexpected moments. From nature, children or music they may derive ecstasy, inspiration, and strength. Not from going to a night club or getting a lot of money or having a good time at a party. Getting used to our blessings is an important generator of human evil, tragedy, and suffering.
Feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of great ecstasy and wonder and awe, the loss of placing in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable had happened, so that the subject is to some extent transformed and strengthened even in his daily life by such experiences.
As soon as it is divorced from supernatural reference and studied as a natural phenomenon, it becomes possible to place the mystic experience on a quantitative continuum from intense to mild. The mild mystic experience occurs in many individuals, and for some even often.
Acute peak experience is a tremendous intensification of loss of self or transcendence of it, problem centering, intense concentration, self-forgetful and intense enjoyment of music or art.
Nonpeaking selfactualizers are social world improvers, the politicians, the workers in society, the reformers, the crusaders. The transcending peakers write the poetry, the music, the philosophies, and the religions.
They have for human beings in general a deep feeling of identification, sympathy, and affection in spite of the occasional anger, impatience, or disgust. Genuine desire to help the hunian race. One’s feelings toward his brothers would he on the whole affectionate, even if these brothers were foolish, weak, or even if they were sometimes nasty. Feeling of identification with mankind. Often saddened, exasperated, and even enraged by the shortcomings of the average person. Nevertheless feels a basic underlying kinship.
More profound interpersonal relations than any other adults. Capable of more fusion, greater love, more perfect identification, more obliteration of the ego boundaries. Have these especially deep ties with rather few individuals. Their circle of friends is rather small. The ones that they love profoundly are few in number. Devotion is not a matter of a moment.
Kind or patient to almost everyone. Tender love for children. Compassion for all mankind. Not lack of discrimination. Harshly to hypocritical, the pretentious, the pompous, the self-inflated. Their hostility is not character based, but is reactive or situational.
Friendly with anyone regardless of class, education, political belief, race, or color. Learn from anybody who has something to teach them-no matter what other characteristics. Humility of a certain type. Aware of how little they know in comparison with what could be known. Honestly respectful and even humble before those who can teach them something that they do not know or who have a skill they do not possess. To all who are master of own tools or own craft.
Distinction between this democratic feeling and select for their friends elite. Elite of character, capacity, and talent not birth, race, blood, name, family, age, youth, fame, power. Respect to any human being just because he is a human individual. Strong sense of right and wrong, of good and evil. Counterattack against evil and evil behavior. They are far less ambivalent, confused or weak-willed about their own anger than average men are.
Means and ends
Discrimination between means and ends, between good and evil. Not chaos, confusion, inconsistency, conflict that are so common in ethical dealings of others. Strongly ethical, definite moral standards, they do right and do not do wrong. Notions of right and wrong and of good and evil are often not the conventional ones. Means and ends are clearly distinguishable. Fixed on ends rather than on means. Means are quite definitely subordinated to these ends. Regarding as ends in themselves many experiences and activities that are for others only means.
Likely to appreciate for its own sake, and in an absolute way, the doing itself. Enjoy for its own sake the getting to some place as well as the arriving. Most trivial and routine activity an intrinsically enjoyable game or dance or play. So creative that they can transform routine, mechanical, and rote experiences, into a structured and amusing game of a sort by doing this according to a certain system or with a certain rhythm.
Their sense of humor is not of the ordinary type. Not consider funny what the average man consders to be funny. Not laugh at hostile humor or superiority humor or authority-rebellion humor. Philosophical humor. This can take the form of poking fun at themselves, but this is not done in any masochistic or clownlike way. Humorous less often than the average of the population. Not punning, joking, witty remarks, gay repartee, persiflage of the ordinary sort but thoughtful, philosophical humor. A smile not a laugh, intrinsic not added. Spontaneous not planned, not repeated. Others consider them to be on the sober and serious side. This attitude also rubs off on professional work itself, which in a certain sense is also play, and which, though taken seriously, is somehow also taken lightly.
Universal characteristic of all the people studied or observed. No exception. A special kind of creativeness, originality or inventiveness that has certain peculiar characteristics. Most human beings lose this as they become enculturated, but some few individuals seem either to retain this fresh and naïve, direct way of looking at life, or if they have lost it, as most people do, they later in life recover it. A second naïvity. This creativeness not in the usual forms but rather may be much more humble. This special type of creativeness is projected out upon the world or touches whatever activity. A certain spirit that arises out of the nature of the character of the person performing the act.
When we speak of creativeness we are simply describing from the point of view of consequences. A greater freshness, penetration, and efficiency of perception. See the true and the real more easily. It is because of this that they seem creative. Less inhibited, less constricted, less bound, in a word, less enculturated. More spontaneous, more natural, more human. In addition to their deep spontaneity a superficial but powerful set of inhibitions. If there were no choking-off forces every human being would show this type of creativeness.
Trancendence of culture
Conventionality in choice of clothes, of language, of food, of ways of doing things in our culture. But not really conventional, certainly not fashionable or smart or chic. But acceptance of harmless folkways is not warn approval with identification. Their yielding to convention is casual, with cutting of corners in favor of directness, honesty. When yielding to conventions is too annoying it is tossed off.
Not authority rebels. Not impatience, chronic, long-time discontent with the culture. Bursts of indignation with injustice. Calm, long-time concern with culture improvement. Acceptance of slowness of change along with desirability and necessity of such change. No lack of fight when resolution and courage are needed. Not radical in the ordinary sense but easily could be. Not against fighting, only against inefiective fighting. Had their episodes of fighting, impatience. and eagerness in youth, and in most cases have learned that their optimism about quick change was unwarranted. Accepting, calm, good-humored everyday effort to improve the culture, usually from within, rather than to reject it wholly and fight it from without.
An inner feeling of detachment from the culture. Weigh it, assay it, taste it, and then make their own decisions. Not passive yielding. Not total rejection. Not fantasied heavens of perfection. Detachment from the culture reflected in detachment from people Less than average need for the familiar and customary.
Autonomous, ruled by the laws of their own character rather than by the rules of society. Members at large of the human species. Not subcultural group, but rather less enculturated, less flattened out, less molded. From relative acceptance of the culture to relative detachment from it. Is it possible to be a good or healthy man in an imperfect culture? Get along by a complex combination of inner autonomy and outer acceptance.
The ordinary mistake about the good human being is caricature. Wishes for perfection, and his guilt and shame about shortcomings are projected upon various kinds of people from whom the average man demands much more than he himself gives. Novelists who portray good people by making them into unreal projections of unreal ideals. Rather than into the robust, hearty, lusty individuals they really are.
Our subjects show many of the lesser human failings. They too are equipped with silly, wasteful, or thoughtless habits. They can be boring, stubborn, irritating. Not free from a rather superficial vanity, pride, partiality to their own productions, family, friends, and children. Temper outbursts are not rare. Occasionally capable of an extraordinary and unexpected ruthlessness. Very strong people. Surgical coldness when this is called for, beyond the power of the average man. Some of them recover so quickly from the death of people close to them as to seem heartless.
Strong and independent of the opinions of other people. In their concentration, in their fascinated interest, in their intense concentration on some phenomenon or question, get absent-minded or humorless, forget ordinary social politeness. Show themselves more clearly as essentially not interested in chatting, use language or behavior that may be very distressing, shocking, insulting, or hurtful to others. Not free of guilt, anxiety, sadness, self-castigation, internal strife, and conflict. The fact that these arise out of nonneurotic sources is of little consequence to most people, who are therefore apt to think them unhealthy for this reason.
There are no perfect human beings! Persons can be good, very good indeed, great. There do in fact exist creators, seers, sages, saints, shakers, and movers. This can certainly give us hope for the future of the species even if they are uncommon. To avoid disillusionment with human nature, we must first give up our illusions about it.
Foundation for a value system by his philosophic acceptance of the nature of his self, of human nature, of much of social life, and of nature and physical reality. Much so-called morality is largely an epiphenomenon of nonacceptance or dissatisfaction. Most morals, ethics, and values are simple by-products of the psychopathology of the average. Many conflicts, frustrations, and threats (choice expressed values) evaporate or resolve.
For the healthy, battle becomes no conflict at all but rather a delightful collaboration. So no fertile breeding grounds for anxiety, fear, hostility, aggression, defensiveness, jealousy. Enjoy differences not fear them. Pleasant collaboration rather than as a clash of wills, of authority, of dignity. Replacement of artificial dignity (easily threatened) with the natural simplicity (not threatened). Profoundly different perceptions (interpretations) of the physical world, the social world and the private psychological world are the responsibility of the person’s value system.
For the basically deprived man the world is a dangerous place, a jungle, an enemy territory populated by (1) those whom he can dominate and (2) those who can dominate him. His value system is of necessity, dominated and organized by the lower needs.
The basically satisfied person can afford out of his abundance to take these needs and their satisfaction for granted and can devote himself to higher gratifications. So their value systems are different, in fact must be different. The topmost portion of the value system of the self-actualized person is entirely unique and idiosyncratic-character-structure-expressive. True by definition, for self-actualization is actualization of a self, and no two selves are alike. Much in common and at the same time more completely individualized, more unmistakably themselves, less easily confounded with others than any average control group. More completely individual than any group that has ever been described, and yet are also more completely socialized, more identified with humanity than any other group yet described. Closer to both their specieshood and to their unique individuality.
Resolution of dichotomies
In healthy people, dichotomies were resolved, the polarities disappeared. The opposition between heart and head, reason and instinct, or cognition and conation was seen to disappear, become synergic rather than antagonists, and where conflict between them disappears because they say the same thing and point to the same conclusion.
Desires are in excellent accord with reason. “Be healthy and then you may trust your impulses.” The dichotomy between selfishness and unselfishness disappears altogether in healthy people because in principle every act is both selfish and unselfish. Duty cannot be contrasted with pleasure nor work with play when duty is pleasure, when work is play, and the person doing his duty is simultaneously seeking his pleasure and being happy.
If the most socially identified people are themselves also the most individualistic people, of what use is it to retain the polarity? If the most mature are also childlike? And if the most ethical and moral people are also the lustiest and most animal? In these people, the id, the ego, and the superego are collaborative and synergic; they do not war with each other nor are their interests in basic disagreement as they are in neurotic people.
It becomes more and more clear that the study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy. The study of selfactualizing people must be the basis for a more universal science of psychology.