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Self Actualization

Self Actualization is the ultimate goal of Personal Sovereignty. We cannot achieve this ideal human state when we allow others to interfere with the direction our lives must take.

Specific traits of a mature, self-actualizing person

 If you don't know what healthy adjustment is, how can you ever get there? Self-actualization generally includes being knowledgeable, emotionally aware, self-directed, and at peace with the world (O'Connell & O'Connell, 1974). Several specific traits were consistently found in Maslow's self-actualizing subjects (Jourard, 1974):

 
  1. They see reality, and knowing "the facts are friendly," they accept reality more than most people. They see through phoniness, deception, and "games"--and avoid them. They cope with problems, rather than avoid them.
  2. They accept themselves and others; thus, they can honestly self-disclose and forgive others' shortcomings.
  3. They are spontaneous with their ideas, feelings, and actions, being genuine and confident.
  4. They focus on solving problems but their "problems" tend to be outside themselves. For instance, they often have a "mission" that may be difficult to accomplish but gives excitement, challenge, and purpose to their lives.
  5. They enjoy privacy, withdrawing sometimes to be free to have their own thoughts. Occasionally, they may have mystical experiences in which they become part of all mankind or of nature.
  6. They resist culturally prescribed roles, e.g. masculine or feminine. They resent unfairness caused by social roles and prejudice. They insist on thinking for themselves and completing their mission, even in the face of social criticism.
  7. They enjoy and appreciate the commonplace, the little things in life--a rose, a baby, an idea, a considerate comment, a meal, a loving touch, etc.
  8. They feel a kinship, a closeness, a warmth, a concern for every human being.
  9. They are close to a few people, although not always popular. They can live intimately and love.
  10. They do not judge others on the basis of stereotypes, like sex, age, race, or religion, but rather as individuals.
  11. They have a strong self-generated code of ethics--a sense of right and wrong. Their values may not be conventional but they do guide their lives.
  12. They are creative and do things differently, not in rebellion but for the joy of being original and talented. They are clever, even in their ability to be amused instead of angered by human foibles.

 Unfortunately, Maslow assumed, without evidence, that these self-actualizing traits can not be pursued directly via self-help. He thought self-actualization automatically resulted when you met your basic needs and committed yourself to a worthy cause, such as beauty, truth, justice, love, etc. He believed that without a cause--a mission--we stagnate. I think it may be possible to accelerate our self-actualization via self-improvement. We can select our own mature values and goals. We can gain self-control. We can avoid slavishly conforming to social roles and stereotypes. We can develop tolerant attitudes. We can gain self-understanding. We can do these things early in life.

 Shostrom (1983), based on humanistic theories, suggests it would be healthy to learn to express all of our genuine feelings (the full range), not just selected emotions and roles in which we get stuck.

    A. Dominant response B. Response to be strengthened C. Synthesis
    anger loving assertiveness
    strong bending (adaptation) courage  
    critical supportive appreciation of differences
    controlling dependent interdependence

 If a response in column A is habitual for you, then strengthen the response in B. If the B response is stronger and A is suppressed, strengthen A. To be fully alive, we must experience all our emotions. When the feelings in A are integrated in a wholesome way with B, we experience C. All of us have the potential to experience all kinds of feelings, the self-actualized person is free to express them without denial, faking, or manipulation. This is, I assume, a learnable skill. We don't scientifically know the limits of self-help yet.

 Please note: No one knows for certain what a mature, healthy personality is. Maslow, as a humanist, had his opinion, but what you consider to be an insightful (self-knowing), optimal personality depends on your values and ideals. An authoritarian or a technocrat would pronounce a different kind of person to be "healthy," "mature," or "self-knowing" (Wicklund & Eckert, 1992).

Sow an act and you reap a habit.
Sow a habit and you reap a character.
Sow a character and you reap a destiny.

Self-Insight Can Come In Many Ways

Get in touch with the inner child

 Within the last 10 years, the phrase "your inner child" has become popular, especially within treatment programs for shame-based compulsives, addicts, and depressives.In a dysfunctional family, the inner child is likely to believe the troubled parents are OK and "normal." Moreover, children often feel "to blame" for Dad getting mad, Mom being drunk, Mom and Dad getting divorced, etc. The child feels shame and thinks, "I must have done something bad" or "I'm a terrible person." Years later when the child becomes an adult, he/she may be unhappy and have problems similar to his/her biological parents--or different problems, e.g. he/she may find it impossible to trust and express emotions, he/she may feel like he/she doesn't fit in, or he/she may constantly take care of others. The shame-based, insatiable child often seeks another addiction rather than the one that ruined his/her parent's life, e.g. eating rather than alcohol. This troubled, needy, inner child can seriously mess up our lives.

 Many therapists and treatment groups attempt to reach this wounded inner child. This isn't easy because re-living the childhood experiences and seeing clearly what really happened to us as a child can be very painful. Also, returning to childhood may make us very mad or scare us because we doubt that the childhood distortions and pain can ever be eliminated. It is a hard choice: continue a miserable adult life or re-live a hurtful childhood. Therapy and self-awareness offer hope if we can accept our inner child and take care of some of its needs (Hancock, 1989; Bradshaw, 1989).

The doorstep to the temple of wisdom is a knowledge of our own ignorance.

Let the parts of your personality speak for themselves

 Another insight approach is interesting. By knowing what parts to look for inside, we can discover more about ourselves. Example: Give several of your parts a name, such as "Baby" for your dependent child, "Toughie" for your aggressive bully, "Spock" for your reasonable adult, "Hunk"/"Beautiful" for your flirty part, etc. Talk to them. Let them talk to each other. Realize that you can control your life by controlling which part is in charge. By reading psychological cases and explanations of dynamics, we can learn about ourselves. By knowing the stages of development that others go through, we understand our growth better. By realizing how certain personality traits and characters develop, we have greater insight into our personality. By recognizing the drives, needs, and scripts that push us in different directions, we may gain better control over where we are going. Recommendations: read a lot of psychology, especially explanations of actual cases. Don't be afraid of your unconscious. These forces can do less harm if we realize unconscious factors may be at work. Indeed, exploring our unconscious can be fascinating and enlightening but seldom easy.

Self-understanding is a life-long project

 It concerns me that a few people might believe that a few pages about personality types or parts and about basic human motives or needs contain all they need to know. No! No! There is so much inside each of us to try to understand--our growth, our thoughts and feelings, our dreams (last night and in the future), our values and motives, etc. Understanding ourselves and others are endless tasks. Don't fail to get to know yourself. You are fascinating. If you find problems, there are many sources of help.

A book is the only place in which you can examine a fragile thought without breaking it, or explore an explosive idea without fear it will go off in your face... It is one of the few havens remaining where a person's mind can get both provocation and privacy.
-Edward P. Morgan

Suggested additional readings for self-understanding (or just browse in a library)

    Baumeister, R. F. (1993). Escaping the self: Alcoholism, spiritualism, masochism and other flights from the burden of selfhood. New York: Basic Books. Most of the other references are for personal growth, but some people get obsessed with self-growth, perfect bodies, and self-aggrandizement. This book might help.

    Cirese, S. (1985). Quest: A search for self. New York: Holt, Rinehart and, Winston.

    Cross, J. & Cross, P. B. (1983). Knowing yourself inside out for self-direction. Berkeley, CA: Crystal Publications.

    Frisch, A. & Frisch, P. (1976). Discovering your hidden self. New York: Signet.

    Gordon, S. & Conant, R. (1975). You. Quadrangle Books.

    Hamachek, D. E. (1987). Encounters with the self. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

    Harvey, J. C. & Katz, C. (1985). If I'm successful, why do I feel like a fake? New York: Pocket Books.

    Horner, A. (1990). Being & loving. Northvale, NJ: Aronson.

    James, M. & Jongeward, D. (1971). Born to win: Transactional Analysis with Gestalt experiments. Readings, MA: Addison-Wesley.

    Jourard, S. M. (1974). Healthy personality. New York: MacMillan Co.

    Liebert, R. M. (1987). Personality: Strategies and issues. Chicago:Dorsey Press. (Or, any other recent personality text.)

    Missildine, W. H. (1974). Your inner conflicts--How to solve them. New< York: Simon and Schuster, 1974.

    Newman, M. & Berkowitz, B. (1974). How to be your own best friend. New York: Ballantine Books.

    Oldham, J. M. & Morris, L. B. (1990). The personality self-portrait. New York:

    Perls, F. (1971). Gestalt therapy verbatim. New York: Bantam.

    Powell, J. (1976). Fully human, fully alive. Niles, IL: Argus.

    Prather, H. (1976). Notes to myself. New York: Bantam.

    Rogers, C. & Stevens, B. (1971). Person to person. New York: Pocket Books.

    Samples, B. & Wohlford, B. (1975). Opening! A primer for self-actualization. Menlo Park, CA: Addison-Wesley.

    Shapiro, E. (1973). Psychosources: A psychology resources catalog. New York: Bantam Books.

    Singer, J. (1975). Positive self-analysis. New York: Ace.

    Steiner, C. (1975). Scripts people live. New York: Bantam.

    Stricker, G. & Merbaum, M. (1973). Growth of personal awareness: A reader in psychology. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

References for Understanding Development and Aging

    Davitz, J. & Davitz, L. (1976). Making it from 40 to 50. New York: Random House.

    Eisdorfer, C. & Lawton, M. P. (1973). The psychology of adult development and aging. Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

    Erikson, E. (1964). Childhood and society. New York: W. W. Norton.

    Fries, J. (1989). Aging well. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley. A good overall guide to the aging process.

    Gould, R. (Feb., 1975). Adult life stages: Growth toward self-tolerance. Psychology Today.

    Le Shan, E. J. (1973). The wonderful crisis of middle age: Some personal reflections. New York: David McKay Co.

    Le Shan, E. J. (1990). It's better to be over the hill than under it: Thoughts on life over sixty. New York: Newmarket Press. Good advice with wit.

    Levinson, D. J., Darrow, C. M., Klein, E. B., Levinson, M. H., & McKee, B. (1978). The seasons of a man's life. New York: Ballantine Books. A survey of mental health professionals (Santrock, Minnett & Campbell, 1994) rates this book as the best among those dealing with adult development.

    Lowenthal, M. F., Thurnber, M., Chiriboga, D. and associates. (1975). Four stages of life: A comparative study of women and men facing transitions. San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.

    Mace, N. & Rabins, P. (1981). The 36-hour day: A family guide to caring for persons with Alzheimer's Disease, related dementing illness and memory loss in later life. Baltimore, MD: The Johns Hopkins University Press.

    McLeich, J. A. B. (1976). The Ulyssean adult: Creativity in the middle and later years. New York: McGraw-Hill.

    New light on adult life cycles. (April 28, 1975). Time, 69.

    Schuckman, T. (1975). Aging is not for sissies. Phil., PA: Westminster Press.

    Sheehy, G. (1976). Passages: The predictable crises of adult life. New York: Patton. Like many books written by journalists, professionals think the mid-life crises are overdramatized.

    Sheehy, G. (1992). The silent passage. New York: Random House. A book about menopause by a journalist who interviews people to get case studies. Researchers, however, have found much fewer problems and less dramatic cases than Sheehy describes.

    Trotter, R. J. (1976). East side, west side: Growing up in Manhattan. Science News, 109, 325.

    Veninga, R. (1991). Your renaissance years. Boston: Little, Brown. A good guide to retirement.

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