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Self-Actualization Theory

Self-actualization is a term that has been used in various psychology theories of Goldstein, Maslow and Rogers. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory, people have lower order needs that in general must be fulfilled before high order needs can be satisfied. As a person moves up Maslow's hierarchy of needs, eventually they will reach the summit, self-actualization.

Self-actualization theory was originally introduced by the organismic theorist Kurt Goldstein for the motive to realize one's full potential. According to Kurt Goldstein, self-actualization is the master motive indeed, the only real motive a person has, all others being merely manifestations of it.

Self-actualization theory was brought to prominence in Abraham Maslow's hierarchy of needs theory as the final level of psychological development that can be achieved when all basic and mental needs are fulfilled and the "actualisation" of the full personal potential takes place.

According to Maslow self-actualised person "possesses an unusual ability to detect the spurious, the fake, the dishonest in personality, and in general to judge the people correctly and efficiently"

Self-actualization is "the tendency to actualize, as much as possible, individual capacities" in the world. The tendency to self-actualization is "the only drive by which the life of an organism is determined." - Kurt Goldstein's book The Organism: A Holistic Approach to Biology Derived from Pathological Data in Man.

Kurt Goldstein defined self-actualization as a driving life force that will ultimately lead to maximizing one's abilities and determine the path of one's life; compare will to power.

Maslow explicitly defines self-actualization to be "the desire for self-fulfillment, namely the tendency for him, the individual, to become actualized in what he is potentially. - Abraham Maslow in his article, A Theory of Human Motivation.

The term self-actualization was used by Maslow to describe a desire, not a driving force, that could lead to realizing one's capabilities. Maslow did not feel that self-actualization determined one's life; rather, he felt that it gave the individual a desire, or motivation to achieve budding ambitions.

Goldstein defined self-actualization as a driving force, Maslow used the term to describe personal growth that takes place once lower order needs have been met.

Self-actualization is at the top of Maslow's hierarchy of needs and is considered a part of the humanistic approach to personality and the humanistic approach is one of several methods used in psychology for studying, understanding, and evaluating personality.

Maslow's Self-actualization is predicated on the individual having their lower deficiency needs met. Once a person has moved through feeling and believing that they are deficient, they naturally seek to grow into who they are, that is self-actualize.

The Failure of Self-Actualization Theory - A Critique of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow
Leonard Geller, Journal of Humanistic Psychology January 1, 2008 48: 116-135
Abstract: This inquiry critically examines the self-actualization theories of Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow. Neither theory, it is argued, is correct. The fundamental claims of each, especially about the self and the human condition, are shown to be radically mistaken. Rogers's theory is unacceptable insofar as his conception of the touchstone or standard of self-actualization is false, incoherent, and unworkable in practice. Beyond critiquing Rogers and Maslow, I attempt to establish the general presumption that self-actualization theory as such has very little to offer toward understanding and improving the human condition within late-twentieth-century Western society.

The Myth of Self-Actualization - Michael Daniels
Section of Psychology, Liverpool Polytechnic, Journal of Humanistic Psychology January 1, 2006
Abstract: I argue that the primary function of a theory of self-actualization is to establish a myth of human development that provides conceptual support for people seeking fulfillment and offers clear normative guidance. An examination of Maslow's theory reveals inadequacies as a mythical interpretation of personal development. There are ambiguities and contradictions in the self-actualization theory, and several conceptual elements may inhibit or corrupt the process of selfactualization.

Self-Actualization in the Corporate Hierarchy
North American Journal of Psychology, 2006 by John M. Mahoney, Hester L. Dorer
Summary: It has been argued that the level of individual actualizing contributes to not only the success of the individual, but also to the success of the organization. The present study used a profile analysis to examine the relationship between corporate organizational levels and reported degree of self-actualizing as measured by the Personal Orientation Inventory for 149 managers and employees spanning four corporate hierarchical levels. It was found that the individuals in the different hierarchical levels did exhibit parallel POI profile patterns but did not exhibit different levels of actualizing. Individuals at the higher organizational levels rated their job as more important than did those at lower levels. The level of self-actualizing was correlated to job satisfaction regardless of the hierarchical level, and level of actualizing was correlated to type of work environment.

Compatibility of self-actualization and anxiety - Orin Dodez, Paul F. Zelhart, Robert P. Markley
Journal of Clinical Psychology, Volume 38, Issue 4, pages 696–702, October 1982
Abstract: Dabrowski's (1972) theory of positive disintegration argues that anxiety appears to be the dynamic of self-actualization. A study to assess this hypothesis (Wilkins, Hjelle, & Thompson, 1977) reported that self-actualization was incompatible with chronic, debilitating or neurotic anxiety. The current study further examined the empirical and conceptual relation between anxiety and self-actualization. A measure of self-actualization (the POI) and two measures of anxiety were taken from Ss (N = 126). Thirty-three items from the POI were found to be measures of anxiety and were scored negatively for self-actualization. Removal of anxiety items and rescoring of the POI yielded self-actualization measures that were related positively to anxiety test scores.

Social Behavior and Personality: an international journal, Volume 18, Number 1, 1990.
Abstract: The previously unexplored relationship of self-actualization to life stress and perceived social support from family and from friends was investigated. Measures of all variables were administered to 54 female and 52 male adult undergraduate students (age range of 18-81 years). The relationship of each variable to psychological adjustment (depression) also was assessed. As predicted, correlational results revealed self-actualization to be related positively to perceived social support and inversely to depression and life stress. Social support was inversely related to depression, and life stress was related positively to depression. Significant sex differences discovered in the relationship of self-actualization to perceived social support are discussed in terms of possible sex differences in the developmental process of self-actualization.

A cognitive-systemic reconstruction of maslow's theory of self-actualization, Francis Heylighen, Behavioral Science, Volume 37, Issue 1, pages 39–58, January 1992
Abstract: Maslow's need hierarchy and model of the self-actualizing personality are reviewed and criticized. The definition of self-actualization is found to be confusing, and the gratification of all needs is concluded to be insufficient to explain self-actualization. Therefore the theory is reconstructed on the basis of a second-order, cognitive-systemic framework. A hierarchy of basic needs is derived from the urgency of perturbations which an autonomous system must compensate in order to maintain its identity. It comprises the needs for homeostasis, safety, protection, feedback and exploration. Self-actualization is redefined as the perceived competence to satisfy these basic needs in due time. This competence has three components: material, cognitive and subjective. Material and/or cognitive incompetence during childhood create subjective incompetence, which in turn inhibits the further development of cognitive competence, and thus of self-actualization.

Effects of defensiveness and self-actualization on a Herzberg replication
John Paul Szura1 and Mary E. Vermillion, Illinois Institute of Technology, USA
Journal of Vocational Behavior, Volume 7, Issue 2, October 1975, Pages 181-187
Abstract: Two hundred workers were tested for self-actualization, internal vs external locus-of-control, repression vs sensitization, need for approval, and the tendency to attribute job satisfaction and dissatisfaction to motivators and hygienes. Results indicated that self-actualization is related to the attribution of satisfaction to both motivators and hygienes and that external locus of control, sensitization, and low need for approval are related to the attribution of dissatisfaction to both motivators and hygienes.