Self-Actualizing vs. Self-Actualization

If you’re one of my subscribers, you’ll either be happy or annoyed that I’ve published a second post today. Hopefully, you’ll be enriched regardless.

Unfortunately, the reason I have the time to write again tonight is because I’m currently sick :/, but the positive thing is that I’ve taken a night off from working to do some MUCH welcomed reading, reflection and planning. I love quiet nights of relaxing music and mental exploration.

Ironically, I also came across something that clicked for me in a MAJOR way (as tends to happen when we take the time to venture down the rabbit-hole and seek answers to the questions we are facing).

Just one of those fortunate instances where you learn something that not only provides resolution to your search, but also brings you a real sense of peace and some valuable insight into anxiety you didn’t quite understand about yourself. Perhaps that describes the feeling you get when you figure something out about life or about yourself that you previously didn’t know. I’m weird, I find great pleasure in discovering things that help me to understand life and how to live it better.

A topic I am constantly writing about is self-actualization. Why, well, because it’s fucking awesome; that’s why. Actualizing all of your latent potential into this uber mentally healthy pinnacle of what you can be is as ambitious and cool of a pursuit as you can have. When you talk about the well-known people who have been classically described as self-actualized, you’re talking about the Mahatma Gandhis, Viktor Frankls, and Nelson Mandelas of the world. Human rock stars. But a self-actualized person can also be a homemaker, or a teacher, or a mechanic.

(Read Abraham Maslow’s characteristics of self-actualized individuals to learn more about what it means to be self-actualized.)

I’ve always loved psychology and human-development and I’ll keep studying it and growing as long as I live. I want to be the best me for myself, I want to be the best me for my kids, grand kids, wife… crickets….. whenever they decide to show up in my world…haha

Yeah, that’s just what life’s about to me. Loving, and joy, and passion, but in order to experience all of that, we have to have healthy modalities for living our lives. A fulfilling life is about being that which you can be.

But at the same time, I’m a human being and I make mistakes. Hell, I think that’s why I am on this path. I want to be self-aware. I don’t want to suck. When I do something I am not proud of or something that feels out of character, I want to call myself on my shit and take healthy corrective action. So tonight I was searching about how self-actualized people deal with mistakes, when I came across a few brilliant points that really made me go ‘WOW’.

I was quite taken aback by them because they challenged what it means to be self-actualized in ways that I think addressed some of the clear fallacies people believe about self-actualization. It made incredible sense to me and endeared the concept of self-actualization to me all the more.

When people think of self-actualized people, they tend to think of someone who sits atop Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, and they think of these incredibly rarefied, altruistic individuals in their sixties who have ‘attained’ this state of being that few people will ever attain. It certainly supports this when I provide examples such as Ghandi, Frankl, and Mandela.

And what I came across tonight didn’t necessarily negate those rare ideals, but rather, it expanded the definition to encompass a more tangible and realistic concept that we can seek to experience. So, I just want to say that academically, I don’t think these concepts cheapen Self-Actualization in any way; if anything they make it more authentic and more valuable as a paradigm that we can share with others and use to achieve growth in our own lives.

There are two key discoveries that I came across tonight in my searching.

The first I found on an internet message board (completely valid source, I know – but hey, I’m addicted to great ideas – not people or accreditation).

Essentially, a gentleman was asking ‘how to be self-actualized’ and different people were providing different answers. One answer, fitting perhaps a classic definition and assumption, was that ‘when you start doing things for other people and not yourself’.

And then, as I scrolled down I came across this post (note: I am not linking to it because it’s not necessarily a public board, although it was not protected via google)

The Post:

A self-actualized man will want to “do more”. That’s it. Doing more can be anything from becoming the best he can be, to helping end poverty. But it doesn’t have to be so altruistic, it can be downright selfish. A self-actualized man might want to be the richest man on the world and it would still be a self-actualized goal.

The only difference between a self-actualized man having this goal and a non-self-actualized man having the exact same goal, are the intentions of the two men. Even though the goals and maybe even the end result are the same, it makes a tremendous difference in how happy and even ultimately how “successful” each individual is at the end of the day.

I put “successful” in commas because what is success? Very simply, success is the achievement of your goals. The difference between the two men is that the non-self actualized individual is getting a car or making money to satisfy the need for wanting to be loved or validated. The self-actualized individual is doing the same thing because …. maybe he wants to experience new things and so he has to save up to travel. The non-self-actualized individual might not say this is why he is working hard, but its the truth. And the trouble with trying to be loved or validated is that you will NEVER be successful by seeking it externally. He might get the house and girl, but unless he begins to love and validate himself internally, it will not translate into him feeling loved and validated, or only temporarily if he happens to lose the house and girl. In fact, you can validate and love yourself without any need for external love or validation, while the opposite is not true.

So ultimately the two individuals will look the same, but one will be happy because he will be successful and lead a fulfilling life. While the non self-actualized individual will neither be happy, nor ever see himself as successful enough, and at the end of the day look back and realize his life was wasted.

What we can learn from this is that the most important thing is to deal with our inner emotional problems, some people would call this “inner game”, but I don’t know if that’s entirely accurate. But before your life is over, I hope you will be able to come to love and validate yourself completely. When you have done this, then you can become self-actualized and start striving towards what YOU truly want. You begin to put harsher demands on yourself than anyone would ever expect of you. After all, you only live one life, you’ll think to yourself, I only have 80 years to leave my mark on this Earth for the rest of Time. Every second is precious and life is beautiful. I have a feeling that OP wants to know what a  self-actualized man wants so he can himself be self-actualized. That’s fine, but it would be a mistake to think that by modeling yourself after self-actualized men, either by doing what they do, or wanting they want, you will one day become self-actualized. That won’t get you to where you want to go, because the journey that makes the difference is internal. Pay attention to what needs you are meeting.


And I think there are a lot of great points made above, but the key distinction I took away from it is that self-actualization is not altruism. They are not mutually inclusive. And from my own experience, I’ve come across CEO’s who were not altruistic beyond perhaps their immediate family, but the achievement of their accomplishments in the context of their potential was very much internally motivated. I must add, that at the same time, self-actualization is not limited to those who reach some arbitrary financial point. I would not call Donald Trump self-actualized and he certainly falls short of many of the traditional definitions, but on the other hand, I’d be inclined to say that Elon Musk is.

The second concept I discovered tonight is from the second edition of Abraham Maslow’s Towards a Psychology of Being, 1968, wherein Maslow essentially redefines Self-Actualization not as a noun or adjective, but more as a verb.

I’ll let the text explain:

… any person in any of the peak experiences takes on temporarily many of the characteristics which I found in self-actualizing individuals. That is, for the time they become self-actualizers. We may think of it as a passing characterological change if we wish, and not just as an emotional-cognitive-expressive state. Not only are these his happiest and most thrilling moments, but they are also moments of greatest maturity, individuation, fulfillment – in a word, his healthiest moments.

This makes it possible for us to redefine self-actualization in such a way as to purge it of its static and typological shortcomings, and to make it less a kind of all-or-none pantheon into which some rare people enter at the age of 60. We may define it as an episode, or a spurt in which the powers of the person come together in a particularly efficient and intensely enjoyable way, and in which he is more integrated and less split, more open for experience, more idiosyncratic, more perfectly expressive or spontaneous, or fully functioning, more creative, more humorous, more ego-transcending, more independent of his lower needs, etc. He becomes in these episodes more truly himself, more perfectly actualizing his potentialities, closer to the core of his Being, more fully human.

Such states or episodes can, in theory, come at any time in life to any person. What seems to distinguish those individuals I have called self-actualizing people, is that in them these episodes seem to come far more frequently, and intensely and perfectly than in average people. This makes self-actualization a matter of degree and of frequency rather than an all-or-none affair, and thereby makes it more amenable to available research procedures. We need no longer be limited to searching for those rare subjects who may be said to be fulfilling themselves most of the time. In theory at least we may also search any life history for episodes of self-actualization, especially those of artists, intellectuals and other especially creative people, of profoundly religious people, and of people experiencing great insights in psychotherapy, or in other important growth experiences.


Peak Experiences are one of the core defining elements within the lives of self-actualized individuals. But what Maslow has said here is that we self-actualize when we have these peak experiences.

We can then in a sense redefine self-actualization as Maslow says, and we can begin to think of it as an episodic experience that comes through peak experience. Maslow himself said that: “Peak experiences are transient moments of self-actualization.”

This also aligns self-actualization with peak experience, and provides much more tangibility to the concept.

In the wiki page for Peak Experience, which I linked to above – fascinating page by the way – there is a great passage that defines what Maslow describes as ‘lengthy, willfully induced peak experiences’ or ‘plateau experiences’:

Maslow defined lengthy, willfully induced peak experiences (plateau experiences) as a characteristic of the self-actualized. He described it as a state of witnessing or cognitive blissfulness, the achievement of which requires a lifetime of long and hard effort, and also self-actualization.

However, I would perhaps argue that these plateau experiences are not just characteristic of the self-actualized, but maybe even the defining quality of self-actualization as a state itself.

In this way, we can think of self-actualizing as a transient state, and being self-actualized as the indefinite or lasting attainment of that state.

What a wonderful way to better understand how we can experience this in our lives. I believe that through using Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs and Vailant’s Categorization of Defense Mechanisms as guides to meet our needs and cope with life in healthy ways, we can drastically improve the quality of our lives.

And for those who display some of the more unhealthy (pathological, immature) defense mechanisms on Vailant’s Categorization, it may be worth looking into Schema Therapy to better understand how our early childhood might have imparted some Early Maladaptive Schemas into our mindset, which may have had a negative impact on our ability to healthily interact with the world and reach our full potential. However, I guess the caveat might be that it is really difficult to understand or even to self-identify any of this without a therapist.

In any case, I HIGHLY recommend anyone desiring to grow to find a therapist and discuss your barriers and goals with them. I happen to love learning about psychology, and 95% of what I know is from my own studies and writings, but some of the most valuable insights and most powerful growth for me has happened with professional assistance from a qualified therapist. Therapy is awesome. It’s really healthy and rewarding.

Returning to the idea of peak experience, I am very excited because I’m nearing a transitional period with my business that’s going to allow me to have more time for activities that provide the kind of peak experience that are far too rare for most people.

I’m hoping to write about Peak Experience next, and later this year I’m going to tackle Vailant’s Defense Mechanisms in a series. Thank you for joining me on this journey. There is so much to this life, and self-actualization is possible.

7 thoughts on “Self-Actualizing vs. Self-Actualization

  1. I always enjoy your writing on self actualization. Needless to say i enjoyed reading this one too! It is a very interesting but complex topic. Most people live lives without actually knowing their purpose- another way id say someone is self actualized is to understand their purpose in life, and live to fulfill it to the best of their ability. When you find that purpose somehow because you have the passion everything will automatically fall in place. I am in Africa and well, most people are down on Maslow’s pyramid of needs.. so it is really hard for someone to think about purpose when the basic needs are missing. And when you get the basic needs you realize that you are far from fulfilled inside…. That is when you start the search for the purpose… All in all, i love this article. Have a great day!


    1. Thank you very much Annette, I’m happy to hear you are enjoying my writing! It is a complex subject, and you are so right, purpose/passion are definitely avenues of real like pursuit for people who are self-actualized. I can only imagine that being in an African nation would provide me with a very different reality of what it would mean to fulfill my needs, and that’s really something I’ve become more acutely sensitive to over this past year as I have become more globally aware. Lately I’m coming to think that perhaps any of us can feel a similar emotion to the kind of joy that a self-actualized individual frequently experiences, if only for a peak moment laughing in the sun. At 28 years old I find many aspects on Maslow’s pyramid beyond the scope of my current reality, so perhaps I just loathe the idea that being self-actualized requires so much more than I am at present. But either way, I’m committed to enjoying the journey and trying to live a fulfilled life to the degree I am able to. I’ve personally been through my own struggles where I felt the opposite of inner-peace and fulfillment (hopelessness might describe it), and it pains me to know that the feeling of hopelessness and far worse is the reality for so many people. I feel unfairly fortunate today to be in the place that I am in my personal growth and development. Thank you for sharing your perspective with me. – Lawrence


  2. Trick for you: Turn Maslow’s famous pyramid upside-down and leave the levels the same. The Siksika taught Maslow in 1938 that you don’t grow a tree from the top, but Western geometric tyranny ruled.

    For your muse:

    “We are all idividual molecules of a great social gas. — Aldous


  3. Whoops! Forgot to say that it’s all about APTITUDES, man, APTITUDES. Finding your idiosyncratic aptitudes, like tracking animals a la Gardner or seeing patterns in the maelstrom. You have to find your idiosyncratic aptitudes and actualize them into the good future. What else is there?


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