Self-actualization needs--being one's true self, achieving one's
highest potential, wanting knowledge and wisdom, being able
to understand and accept oneself and others, being creative
and appreciative of beauty in the world. A self-actualized
person is happy, realistic, accepting, problem-oriented,
creative, democratic, independent, and fulfilling a mission or
purpose in life.
What are the implications of this theory for changing behavior?
First, the theory says it is necessary to generally satisfy one's basic
needs before one can turn to meeting needs higher in the hierarchy.
But once a person has taken care of the needs at levels 1 and 2, then
one is free, in fact motivated to search for love, then self-esteem, and
then finally self-actualization. Thus, if you can't achieve some goal,
such as John not being able to study, consider the possibility that
some more basic need still hasn't been met and must be satisfied first.
For example, John may have to find love or feel secure and liked by
his friends before he can study effectively and devote himself to a
profession. While thinking in terms of a hierarchy of needs may
sometimes help you figure out the real underlying problem, research
has not supported the theory that all needs at a more primary level
must be satisfied before you can move on to higher needs (just like
you might not have to go in order through all six stages of Kohlberg's
moral development, as discussed in the last chapter). So, go for self-
actualization at 15 or 19 (long before Maslow said you were ready for
it--see chapter 9), even if you lack confidence and a love relationship.
Also, remember if you make different assumptions about the basic
nature of humans, you will surely find different underlying problems.
Maslow would find unmet love or self-esteem needs; Freud would find
unmet sexual-aggression needs; Adler would find feelings of inferiority
to be overcome.
Maslow noted that learning theories (not the more recent Social
Learning Theories or cognitive theories) were based largely on hunger,
thirst, and pain (needs at levels 1 and 2) in animals, seldom dealing
with the higher levels. Maslow's theories are based on the opposite
end of the scale (needs at level 5). He studied the best historical
specimens of our species he could find, including Abraham Lincoln,
Thomas Jefferson, Albert Einstein, Jane Addams, Eleanor Roosevelt,
Albert Schweitzer, and he interviewed the most outstanding living
people available to him at the time. That's where his description of the
self-actualized person came from. His was a valuable addition to our
Secondly, according to theory, few of us ever achieve self-
actualization to any significant degree. Maslow assumed it took the
most able among us 30 to 40 years to develop self-actualization.
Although Maslow believed we became more self-reliant on our own
values and judgment as we met more of our needs, and less
dependent on rewards and approval of others, he still emphasized the
importance of the environment in determining our growth. He felt