Moving toward Self-Actualization and Self-Transcendence


According to Abraham Maslow and his Hierarchy of Needs theory, every single person is capable of living at the highest levels of Self-Actualisation and Self-Transcendence. 

The only thing that stops a person from progressing is when the needs on any given level aren’t being met, or if something happens to threaten the needs at that level. When this happens, we drop back to being preoccupied with meeting those needs.

Before we get into what it looks like when a person doesn’t have their needs met at a particular level, I want to point out that this has nothing to do with class, privilege, or entitlement. A person who grew up in a mud hut with a stick for a toy and a strong sense of self could potentially progress through these levels faster and easier than a rich kid who grew up in a mansion with absent parents. Remember, these are psychological human needs that we all share, not material needs.

To work out what level you’re on, figure out what you’re preoccupied with. It’s that simple.

For example, if you’re preoccupied with getting enough food to survive, or finding water – you’re on the first level trying to fulfill your Physiological needs. You will have no energy to worry about what anyone else thinks of you, you will be in pure survival mode.

If you’re preoccupied with finding somewhere to sleep, or with how you’re going to pay your mortgage this month, you’re on the second level which Maslow referred to as the Safety level. I know this might sound weird, but that means a homeless person and someone on the brink of bankruptcy in an affluent neighbourhood are operating on the same level. Again, it’s a human level (the threat of security and safety), not a material level.

If you’re preoccupied with wanting to feel loved, accepted or like you belong, you’re on the Social level. You need to connect to others and form relationships. It’s not about feeling popular or liked, it goes back to a fundamental need to be an accepted part of a group. There is an inherent need to care for others and be cared for, and to feel valued and like you are valuable in return. We are social creatures and this is where this need stems from.

If you’re preoccupied with what people think of you, you’re on the ‘lower’ Esteem level because you are seeking validation from external sources. If you’re in a phase of building self-confidence or internal self-esteem, you’re on the ‘upper’ Esteem level.

If instead you’re focused on figuring out what to do with your life, you’re in the early stages of Self-Actualisation. If you know your purpose and have a plan on how to bring it to life, and you’re working to fulfill this, you’re in the upper levels of Self-Actualisation.

If you’re in the upper level of Self-Actualisation and you’re also starting to explore the idea of your spiritual self and how that’s connected to the universe and everything in it, you’re in early Self-Transcendence mode.

If you’re fully bringing your purpose to life confidently, you’re connected to your spiritual self as much as your physical self, and you’re aligning yourself with the universe to help you further this for the betterment of all people and things – well my friend, you are a high vibing, Self-Transcending powerhouse.

Now, life is life and there are times and situations that will knock you down. An example of this is a person on a high level of Self-Actualisation who, for whatever reason, suddenly finds themselves fighting their way through the Safety level again. It happens.

Hopefully, if it does, you would have built a solid enough sense of self to pull yourself back up. For example, you might sort out your security situation, boost up your self esteem just a little, and then find that you’re pretty much back on track. 

Highly successful people have the ability to bounce back seriously fast, and I believe it’s because they have built up such a strong sense of self and purpose that any knocks are temporary.

Permanent knock backs (and we’ve all seen people who have suffered a setback and just never recovered) usually mean there is a fundamental issue not being addressed, like the self-esteem level.

If you can remove the risk of returning to lower levels, or reduce worries at any level, you’re going to be able to develop further and with less complications at those higher levels. 

For example, having serious money worries is inevitably going to preoccupy your mind. It’s not impossible to develop at the Self-Actualisation level, but obviously those money worries are going to take up time, energy and mind space that would otherwise be spent on personal development. If you are in a position where you have no money worries whatsoever, you’re going to have more time to focus on other things.

Most of us fall somewhere in-between those two examples and that’s totally fine, but it’s worth being aware of, as you may find you can make little changes to improve your situation. And that goes for all potential concerns at all levels, not just those associated with your financial standing.

Ok, so how do we actually move to higher levels?

We’re all human – we love shortcuts, right? I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but unfortunately… in this case, there are none. 

However, there are two things that will make your journey a lot easier, smoother and probably faster. 

Firstly, genuine and true development of each level before moving to the next is imperative for success. There are no shortcuts to the end goal of connecting spiritually and truly being of service to others. A person who tries to skip the personal development or Esteem stage and jumps into the spiritual will struggle to truly ‘get it’ or to truly make use of it. It’s also not something a person can take control of for personal, egotistical or selfish reasons – again, if you’re doing this it’s a prime example of not ‘getting it’ and your endeavours won’t be successful because they’re simply not genuine. 

Focus on personal development for as long as you need – the Self-Transcendence part will naturally evolve as you do!

Secondly, it’s ok to question the spiritual levels; especially if you’ve grown up in a ‘non-spiritual’ home, as is common in western society. However, a genuine acceptance that these levels are just as normal as the physical levels is also critical if you wish to reach the final stages in Maslow’s theory. 

If you’re not quite ready to do that, don’t worry. As you move through the other stages you are very likely to find that, in fact, acceptance will come to you instinctively.

There will simply come a point (usually after an inexplicable yet irrefutable experience of your own) that you’ll comfortably accept this connection and what it means to you. Through your journey up the various levels, you will have gained the clarity, experience and confidence to welcome a spiritual connection. And once you reach this point you can really begin the exciting work of understanding the benefit it truly offers yourself and others.

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